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Investigating Your Vintage Home

Helpful hints and detailed instructions on how to compile a historical record of your old (or new) home.

Most of the questions directed to the Monrovia Historic Preservation Group fit into just a few categories. One of the most common inquiries concerns the process of delving into the history of a vintage home. Homeowners like to bond with their homes, and learning about the home’s early inhabitants and changes made to the home over the years can make that possible.

But how to go about it – that’s the rub. Escrow closing papers include details about the property itself – square footage, rooms, utility service, etc. – but lack information on its history. And, unfortunately, there is no central repository of this information. It must be gleaned from a variety of sources, one piece at a time. Here are some suggestions of how to go about tracing your home’s history.

First of all, make sure you have the assessor’s information for your home. This can be found on your property tax bill and is made up of the following:  assessor’s ID number, map book, page, and parcel number. Any other information you may have – first owner, year house was built, etc. – will be helpful, but then again those may be items you are seeking. You must choose where to begin but there are several options.

On the Internet, search “parcel viewer” and go to assessormap.co.la.ca.us. This will yield the square footage, year built, and an assessor’s description of the property (which may not always be accurate!). To look for the original owner of the home, check the city directories and telephone directories which are located at the Monrovia Library. Knowing the year the house was built will narrow your search. Usually, the person residing at the address will be the owner, but it could be a renter. Corroborating the information elsewhere will improve your chances for accuracy.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, created for insurance purposes, can help determine when a house was built in a subdivision and when additions to the structure were built (or a home’s original location if it was moved). There are maps for 1888, 1892, 1897, 1907, 1913, and 1923.

A copy of the home’s original deed is available at the Norwalk Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Office, 12400 Imperial Highway, Norwalk. Information cannot be obtained by an Internet search or by phone, so a trip to this location may be necessary. However, it is possible to mail a request for the information.

There are a few books which have information about early Monrovia, and these may assist you in your search, especially if one of the owners of your home was a well-known figure in the city. They are:

(1) History of Monrovia (John L. Wiley, 1927, 291 pages), a history of the area from the time of the Indians up to 1927.

(2) Picturesque Monrovia (Charles F. Davis, 1929, 64 pages) that is mostly pictures of older homes and buildings.

(3) Monrovia-Duarte Community Book, (Charles F. Davis, 1957, 384 pages) that contains the history of Monrovia from 1542 to 1957 (mostly from World War I to 1957) with over half the book dedicated to biographies of noteworthy Monrovians.

(4) History of Monrovia and Duarte, (Charles F. Davis & Mr. & Mrs. E.B. Newman, 1938)

(5) Monrovia Blue Book, (Charles F. Davis, 1943).

(6) Monrovia Centennial Review  (Peter C. Ostrye, 1985, 268 pages), a one-hundred-year history from 1886 to 1986.

(7) Monrovia’s Heritage, Volumes 1 & 2 (T.M. Hotchkiss, 1982) contains house histories with pictures.  Volume 1 covers houses built 1886 to 1900, Volume 2 covers 1900 to 1920.

(8) Monrovia Messenger, Souvenir Edition (1897, 24 pages), a history information about the major business buildings and homes built before 1897.

All of these publications are available at the Monrovia Library. Also check out their History Blog at www.ci.monrovia.ca.us/monrovia-public-library.

Early Monrovia newspapers can contain information about houses being built, including cost and first owner. They are on microfiche at the library, and a new microfiche reader obtained by the library within the past year allows the user to send page scans directly to an email address, eliminating the need to hand-copy data. Newspapers on microfiche start in 1886, but the years 1892-1906 are unfortunately missing.

Properly conducted research can uncover a myriad of historical data on an older home and give the owner valuable information on its history. The search itself can be rewarding. Happy hunting!

A special thanks to Steve Baker and Pam Barkas, both of whom have done extensive historical research on early Monrovia and have compiled these sources from hours of painstaking exploration.

Gayle M. Montgomery July 30, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Jim, thank you for continuing to chronicle Monrovia's history and how to preserve it. As a long-time museum buff, this really is something I find of value.

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