Sierra Madre Historical Timeline

Local History of Sierra Madre
Roughly 500 A.D.:
 Tongva Indians, the original inhabitants of the Los Angeles Basin, arrive from the Mojave area. Their name has been translated to mean “People of the Earth”. Their main language is a Uto-Aztecan Shoshonean language, displaying roots in the Aztec empire and ancient Mexico.

1500: About 25 Tongva villages exist in what will become Los Angeles County. The population is about 300-500 people.

1769: The first Spanish settlers arrive in the region, encountering an estimated 5,000 Tongva living in 31 villages.

1771: Mission San Gabriel Arcangel is founded in modern-day Montebello, causing the Tongva communities to fall into rapid decline. Many Tongvas were assimilated into mission culture, and the tribe became known as the Gabrielinos.

1864: Benjamin (Don Benito) Wilson builds the Mount Wilson Trail with the aid of Mexican and Chinese laborers.

February 1881: Nathaniel Carter purchases the original 1103 acres that comprise Sierra Madre – 845 from “Lucky” Baldwin; 108 from the Southern Pacific Railroad Company; and 150 from Levi Richardson.

1882: First schoolhouse is built – Sierra Madre’s first public building.

October 10, 1882: Sierra Madre Water Company files articles of incorporation as a mutual, non-profit organization.

1882: First burial in Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery.

1885: New schoolhouse is built at what is now Kersting Court.

1885: Sierra Madre Cigar Factory established.

1886: Episcopalian Church of the Ascension is built.

July 1886: Sierra Madre Library founded.

1887: Pinney House built on North Lima Street.

1887: Town Hall is constructed. It houses the original post office, the town’s first grocery store, and Emile Deutsch’s cigar factory, and also serves as a meeting place for a number of religious groups.

1887: Sierra Madre Dramatic Club is formed.

Summer 1887: First library building is completed.

1888: Santa Anita railroad station is built.

1888: Episcopalian Church of the Ascension is rebuilt after original building was destroyed by a windstorm in 1887. It is later registered as a National Landmark in 1971.

March 17, 1888: Publication of The Vista begins, Sierra Madre’s short-lived first newspaper.

1890: Original Congregational Church building is completed; since 1886 the congregation met in the Town Hall and the library.

December 1893: S. R. Norris is appointed as the City’s first postmaster.

April 1894: Mrs. Brugman purchases the now famous, “Wistaria Vine” from a Monrovia nursery for seventy-five cents.

Summer 1898: Sturtevant Camp opens to public.

1900: First street signs are erected, marking 18 streets.

1904: Nathaniel Carter dies at age 64.

1905: Jewish families in Sierra Madre form the Temple Beth Israel, later to become the Foothill Jewish Community Center.

January 1, 1906: Pacific Electric Railway begins Red Car passenger service to Sierra Madre.

1906: Third schoolhouse is built on West Highland Avenue between Auburn and Hermosa.

Spring 1906: Located at the mouth of the Little Santa Anita Canyon, Carter’s Camp opens.

October 1906: First electric lights in Sierra Madre are installed by Edison Electric Company.

October 11, 1906: The first installment of Sierra Madre News is issued, printed in the home of Mr. R. T. Cowles.

December 1906: First telephones are installed – 250 of them – by the Home Telephone Company of Monrovia.

1907: Baldwin Avenue is paved.

February 2, 1907: First citywide election held; citizens vote 71-25 to officially incorporate Sierra Madre, population 500.

February 20, 1907: Sierra Madre becomes incorporated as a California city. Charles Worthington Jones serves as first mayor.

February 23, 1907: Sierra Madre Woman’s Club established.

1908: Hoegee’s Camp opens.

1908: First Mt. Wilson Trail Race. (The race was discontinued during WWII and reestablished in 1966.)

July 1, 1909: Sierra Madre Woman’s Clubhouse completed.

1910: Sierra Madre Public Library is brought under the domain of the city government.

1910: Construction of the first chapel of St. Rita’s parish, founded by Father Barth in 1908, is completed.

1910: New York filmmaker D. W. Griffith, of the American Biograph Moving Picture Co., begins producing motion pictures in town, using townspeople as extras.

April 1911: First Flower Festival, sponsored annually by the Woman’s Club until they began organizing the Wistaria Fete in the 1920s.

1913: Carter’s Camp is sold and subdivided.

1914: After a long legal battle, the city acquires title to all water rights, lands, and distributing systems of the Baldwin Estate and the Sierra Madre Water Company.

1916: Fern Lodge opens.

January 1, 1917: Sierra Madre makes its first entry in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses parade.

1918: Wistaria grounds open for public viewing. First Wistaria Fete sponsored by the Sierra Madre Chapter of the American Red Cross.

1921: A disastrous bakery fire at Windsor Lane and Montecito Court prompts the official organization of the Sierra Madre Volunteer Fire Department.

1920: First general hospital opens on N. Baldwin by Dr. George Groth and Dr. Mary Groth.

1921: Building begins on the First Church of Christ, Scientist, which has met since 1911 and was officially organized in 1916.

January 1, 1922: Dedication of Bethany Temple, the domed cobblestone church designed and built by nearly blind Louis D. Corneulle.

1922: St. Rita’s Catholic Church parochial school opens.

1924: Nazarene Church purchases original Congregational Church property on Sierra Madre Blvd. and begins services.

1925: Sierra Madre Japanese Language School opens at 231 North Grove Street.

1925: Sierra Madre Masonic Temple (Lodge #408) is dedicated.

1925: Second St. Rita’s structure is completed, designed by W. J. Schiltz.

April 1926: Heavy rains pour down the Little Santa Anita Canyon changing the course of the stream, filling the canyon pool with debris and damaging 20 homes. 

January 20, 1928: First official City Hall building formally opens.

1928: The Los Angeles Country Flood Control District completes Canyon Dam for $68,229.18.

1928: The new Congregational Church structure is completed at 170 W. Sierra Madre Ave. The Romanesque Revival building was designed by Marsh, Smith, & Powell.

1928: Gordon MacMillan inaugurated as first Chief of Police, beginning the city’s police system, as we know it today.

1928: Sierra Madre Kiwanis Club is established.

July 1929: Sierra Madre Canyon Pool opens. Built by the City with special area taxes, the pool held approximately 175,000 gallons of cold water.

1930: Fourth Sierra Madre Elementary School is built on same W. Highland site. Classes move in on November 28.

1931: Temple Beth Israel purchases land at the corner of Lima and Laurel and acquires a portion of the third Sierra Madre School buildings, which are moved to this site.

1931: Mater Dolorosa Monastery’s first permanent structure is built.

April 21, 1931: First meeting of the Sierra Madre Historical Society takes place, in conjunction with the City’s fiftieth anniversary celebration.

September 1931: British Home opens.

December 1935: City completes spreading grounds and settling basin project; cost $71, 500.

January 8, 1936: A City ordinance officially changes the name of Central Avenue to Sierra Madre Blvd.

1937: Town Hall building is demolished and replaced by an oil station.

1938: Sierra Madre Arts Guild is established; first meeting is held at Alfred James Dewey’s Old Adobe Studio on East Montecito.

March 1938: An additional 13.95 inches of rain falls on an already saturated watershed causing severe flooding in the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  Several cabins destroyed.

1939: City purchases 760 acres of land in San Gabriel Mountains near Orchard Camp to avoid contamination of water supply.

1941: The Great Man’s Lady is filmed at the Pinney House, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea, and Brian Donlevy.

May 14, 1942: The whole of Sierra Madre’s Japanese population is required to depart for the assembly center at Tulare.

1944: Mama Pete’s Nursery School opens at 71 Suffolk Ave.

1944: Sierra Madre Civic Club is founded.

1946: Sierra Madre Lion’s Club is organized.

1947: Sierra Madre Community Nursery School is established.

Arnold’s Hardware opens.

Episcopal Church of the Ascension starts a parish school.

1949: New retreat house is built and dedicated at Mater Dolorosa Monastery.

January 13, 1949: Heaviest recorded local snowfall blankets Sierra Madre, covering the town with 3-4 inches overnight.

January 20, 1949: Sierra Madre Civic Club begins Toy Loan program.

June 1949: First Pioneer Days Parade.

1950: Annals of Early Sierra Madre book is published by the Sierra Madre Historical Society.

October 6, 1950: Last Pacific Electric train leaves from Sierra Madre.

1951: Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team established by Larry Shepherd and Fred LaLone.

1952: First Aqua Fair in Sierra Madre Canyon Pool.

1953: Sierra Madre United Methodist Church is established.

1954: Sierra Madre Rose Float Association is founded.

1954: Sierra Mesa School is built on Canon Avenue.

1954: The Seven Little Foys is filmed at the Pinney House, starring Bob Hope and Milly Vitale.

January 1954: Floods and mudslides tear through Sierra Madre Canyon, damaging hundreds of homes and businesses and depositing up to 8 feet of silt on city streets.

1955: New library facility is constructed, replacing original structure.

1955: Friends of the Library organization is founded.

1956:  Invasion of the Body Snatchers is filmed in town, starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, and Larry Gates.

1956: Cobblestone Church demolished to make way for Bethany’s new edifice.

September 1957: Sierra Madre Canyon Pool closes.

1960: Creative Arts Group started.

1961: Sierra Madre joins the Pasadena Unified School District.

1963: First Art Fair held by the Friends of the Library in Memorial Park, with a net profit of $244.

1964: Permanent post office building constructed, after moving among seven different locations since 1882.

1966: Temple Beth Israel closes its Sierra Madre site and joins with the Foothill Jewish Temple-Center, Arcadia.

1967: Sierra Madre Historical Society begins sponsoring annual bus tours of the town’s historical buildings.

1967: Sierra Madre becomes the first city in Southern California to own a wilderness preserve.

1967: Princess Margaret visits the British Home.

1969: The Sierra Madre City Council, for the purpose of “defining cultural and aesthetic landmarks throughout the City of Sierra Madre and to recommend how such landmarks be preserved” establishes The Cultural Heritage Committee.

1969: City purchases the Woman’s Clubhouse to serve as the site of a new City Hall building. The Clubhouse is demolished October 15, 1973.

September 27, 1969: Community Recreation Center is dedicated.

January 1970: Dedication of St. Rita’s third structure, designed by John Gougeon, after the second was demolished in 1968.

January 1971: Sierra Madre Environmental Action Council is formed.

1972: Richardson House restoration project begins.

September 27, 1972: The Woman’s Club holds its first meeting in the recently purchased Essick House, built in 1914.

September 1973: Sierra Madre Church of Christ, Scientist votes to disband. The property is subsequently purchased and occupied by the Gloria Dei Evangelical Lutheran Church.

October 27, 1974: Dedication of Bell Tower in Kersting Court. The bell tower houses the school bell from the 1885 schoolhouse.

1975: The newly restored Richardson House opens for tours.

1976: Alfred Hitchcock films segments of Family Plot in Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery.

1976: The Sierra Madre Historical Society publishes a pictorial history book titled Sierra Madre Vistas.

March 19, 1976: Bicentennial time capsule is buried beneath flagpole at the new Fire and Police Department Facility, dedicated on May 8.

July 4, 1976: Lizzie’s Trail Inn is dedicated; opens for tours.

1977: New City Hall building dedicated at 232 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.

1979: The Sierra Madre historical 56-patch quilt, sponsored by the library and funded by CSLA, is completed to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial.

February 24, 1980: Dedication of Senior Citizens’ Center Memorial Park House.

1981: Sierra Madre celebrates the centennial of its founding, complete with a Centennial Royal Court and dance, a special Historical Society dinner, and rides on a Pacific Electric red car brought back to town Independence Day weekend.

February 28, 1983: Queen Elizabeth visits the British Home and greets every resident.

November, 1983: Paramount Pictures releases Testament, starring Jane Alexander and William Devane with a supporting role by Kevin Costner. The production was filmed entirely in Sierra Madre.

June 28, 1991: At 7:43 a.m., Sierra Madre is the epicenter of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.

October 1993: A massive brush fire started in Eaton Canyon ravages the San Gabriel Mountains and threatens homes in Sierra Madre and surrounding foothill communities.

1998: Hotel Shirley in downtown Sierra Madre restored.

April 24, 1999: The Weeping Wall Veterans’ Memorial, designed by Lew Watanabe, is dedicated in Memorial Park.

October 2001: Youth Activity Center dedicated at Sierra Vista Park.
Plaque honoring fallen firefighters from 9/11 is installed in front of Fire Station.

July 2003: MTA begins operation of the Gold line from Union Station to Sierra Madre Villa. Sierra Madre expanded local transit service as part of the new operation.

July 2003: Groundbreaking ceremony for the Sierra Vista Apartments at 70 Esperanza Avenue. The 2 story affordable housing project includes 46 units designed by PBWS Architects and developed by the Foundation for Quality Housing.

October 11, 2003: Veterans’ Photo Wall, spearheaded by John Grijalva, is dedicated in Memorial Park.

March 2005: Marilyn Diaz is named Sierra Madre Chief of Police, the first female police chief in Los Angeles County.

2007: Sierra Madre celebrates the centennial of its incorporation as a California City. The planning committee, co-chaired by Toni Buckner and Judy Webb-Martin, plans events throughout the year ranging from a gala ball at Alverno Villa to a community picnic at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center.
Sierra Madre wins All-America City Award, given by the National Civic League.

June 2007: Paramedic service begins. It is funded by the sale of an unused fire station in the canyon. Sierra Madre is the last city in Los Angeles County to provide paramedic service to its residents.

October 2007: The refurbished World War I cannon in Memorial Park dedicated.

March 26, 2008: Goldberg Park, located at 171 South Sunnyside, is dedicated. It is the City’s first new park in over thirty years.
Santa Anita Fire breaks out burning 584 acres north of Sierra Madre.  Costs estimated at $2.8 million in damages and mitigation.

May 22, 2008: Debris flow from recent burn areas causes $50,000 in damages. Mitigation measures include K-rail installation by Los Angeles County Department of Public Works at a cost of $2.4 million.

June 2008: Mt. Wilson Trail Race centennial celebration. The race had been postponed due to fire and erosion damage to the trail.

2009: The Sierra Madre Historical Preservation Society publishes Southern California Story: Seeking the Better Life in Sierra Madre by Michele Zack.  The history book receives an Award of Merit from the American Association of State & Local History and an American Design Award.

November 30, 2011:  Fierce winds of up to 140 mph batter Sierra Madre.  Uprooted trees and fallen limbs block city streets.  Power outages last several days and the City pays some $700,000 in damages.