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The Case for Landmarking Monrovia High School

Conferring landmark status on a public building like Monrovia High School requires a bit of hurdle jumping but the building’s importance to the community may trump the hassle.

The citizens of Monrovia have valued the education of its youth from day one.  When wished to establish a school district to provide for the education of his children and those in the area, he found that under the law there needed to be at least 15 children of school age who would attend before that could be done. 

His four children, brother C.O.’s three children and five more nearby were still three short of the required number. stepped in and “loaned” the district a family with three children, thus making possible the official start of education in Monrovia.

The first school was built at a cost of $18,000 in 1887 at the corner of Mayflower and Orange (Colorado Boulevard) and was called the Orange Avenue School. The architect was Luther R. Blair, whose Victorian home stands today at 508 N. Ivy (to learn of the home’s move from and then return to an Ivy Avenue location, see the Monrovia Patch article ). 

A high school was begun in 1893 as a result of a city election (the vote was 75-1 in favor) and was located on the second floor of that Orange Avenue School building. During 1911-12 a new high school building was constructed at the corner of Ivy and Palm Avenues.

With student populations growing and the need for a facility to handle that need, the cities of Arcadia and Duarte joined Monrovia to form a joint high school district, with Duarte and Arcadia being admitted in 1920. A site at the corner of West Orange Avenue (Colorado Boulevard) and Sixth Avenue (now Madison) was selected for the location at which to build a new high school that could accommodate students from the three communities. 

Work on the $600,000 building began on Jan. 6, 1928.  The cornerstone was set in place on April 28, with 55 items placed in a foundation box by school children. The school was dedicated early in 1929. It was not until 1951 that Arcadia left the district, with Duarte following in 1957.

With recent construction now completed after four years of work, it is an appropriate time to ask, “Why not landmark the high school main building?”

The primary reason for doing so would be to recognize the importance of this vintage structure to the community and acknowledge the role that the school has played in the education of the area’s youth. 

A second reason to landmark is the building itself: The neo-Spanish architecture with a dominant bell tower has been a striking edifice in the community for decades, and it contributes to the historical and architectural heritage of Monrovia. 

A third justification for landmark status can be found in the architect of the building. John C. W. Austin (1870-1963) was born in England and became a noted Los Angeles architect who designed the current high school building in 1928. His work as an architect in Southern California includes the Shrine Auditorium, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles City Hall and the Memorial Branch Library in Los Angeles. At least three of his works are on the National Register of Historic Places. His importance as an architect adds to the argument for landmark designation of this structure.

The biggest drawback, of course, would be if there are restrictions placed on the structure as a result of a landmark designation. Those restrictions would have to be understood and agreed upon by the parties involved–the school district administration, the school board, the Historic Preservation Commission and the City Council.

The restrictions notwithstanding, the designation of the main building as a landmark structure is an issue that should be addressed and discussed. Attaining landmark status would make a fitting conclusion to the recent renovations and improvements of the high school.

Monrovia Betty January 09, 2012 at 02:21 AM
That would be a great attribute to the rich history Monrovia already has. That way, we can almost guarantee that the main building will stay that way and not be torn down and made into something more modern. I love how Monrovia has a very beautiful collection of old homes that are well taken care of. I think it's a wonderful idea!
Carol B January 09, 2012 at 06:30 PM
I agree. I love the historic aspect to Monrovia. It feels like a quaint and charming town and I hope that we continue to ensure that remains. Landmarking the high school is a good idea and I think it should be pursued further.
Lorraine grindstaff January 09, 2012 at 08:06 PM
I hope the City and School District will seek landmark status for the main building of Monrovia High School. I attended MHS and was always so proud of our beautiful school and felt that no other high school in the San Gabriel Valley and beyond was as unique and majestic.

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