Montebello (Italian for beautiful mountain) is a city in Los Angeles County, California, United States, located in the southwestern area of the San Gabriel Valley on east of downtown Los Angeles. It is considered part of the Gateway Cities, and is a member of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments. In the early 20th century, Montebello was a well-known source for oil reserves. At the 2010 census, the population was 62,500; according to the California Department of Finance, the estimated population of Montebello on January 1, 2011, was 62,789.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards in the area known today as Montebello, the land along the Rio Hondo River was populated by the Tongva (Gabrielino) portion of the Uto-Aztecan family of Native Americans. The Tongva occupied much of the Los Angeles basin and the Santa Catalina islands, San Nicolas, San Clemente and Santa Barbara; when Spanish explorer Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo arrived off the shores of Santa Catalina in 1542, he was met by the Tongva people. Because the language of the Tongva was different from the neighboring tribes it was called "Gabrielino" by the Spanish. As more non-natives arrived and settlements were established, illness and disease came with them. By 1870, the area had few remaining indigenous inhabitants as disease brought by the Europeans killed many of the Tongva.
Father Angel Somera and Father Pedro Cambon, both Franciscan missionaries, founded the original Mission San Gabriel Arcangel on September 8, 1771; the location is today near the intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and the Rio Hondo River. The establishment of the mission marked the beginning of the Los Angeles region's settlement by Spaniards and the fourth of twenty-one missions ultimately established along California's El Camino Real. The mission did well initially as a farm and cattle ranch. Six years after its founding, however, a destructive flood led the mission fathers to relocate the establishment farther north, to its current location in what is the present day city of San Gabriel. The original mission site is now memorialized as California Historical Landmark #158.
During the early years of the mission's existence, the region operated under a "Rancho" land grant system. The current city of Montebello consists of land from Rancho San Antonio, Rancho La Merced, and Rancho Paso de Bartolo. The Juan Matias Sanchez Adobe, built in 1844, still stands at the center of old Rancho la Merced in East Montebello. Recently restored, Rancho la Merced is the city's oldest standing structure.
On January 8, 1847, the Battle of Rio San Gabriel took place in what are today parts of the cities of Whittier, Pico Rivera and Montebello. The battle was a decisive victory for the U.S. Army, giving control of Los Angeles and Alta California to the United States, and is viewed by historians as a critical juncture in the Mexican-American war. Today the site is California State Historical Landmark #385; and there are two cannons and a plaque commemorating the battle that overlook the river on Bluff Road and Washington Boulevard.
Following the American Civil War, some of the East Los Angeles area was owned by Alessandro Repetto, an Italian immigrant settler from Genoa, Italy. Following Repetto's death in 1885, his brother sold his rancho to a consortium of five Los Angeles businessmen including banker Isaias Hellman and wholesale grocer/historian Harris Newmark for $60,000, approximately $12 per acre. The land was later divided among the partners, one large parcel of approximately going to a partnership of Newmark and his nephew, banker Kaspare Cohn. It was out of the Newmark and Cohn share of that city Montebello had its beginnings in May 1899. After receiving the advice of hydraulic engineer William Mulholland for the drafting and building of the town's water system, the land was subdivided. In 1900 the completed water system was incorporated as the Montebello Land and Water Company.
An area of adjacent to the tracks of what was formerly the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was developed into a townsite called Newmark. The remainder of the land was subdivided into lots suitable for small-scale agriculture. On Mulholland's suggestion, Montebello was adopted as the city's name, replacing the original name Newmark. The name, Montebello, means "beautiful mountain" in Spanish.
Originally an agricultural community, Montebello was formerly known for its prolific production of flowers, berries, fruits, and vegetables. The first public flower show was sponsored by the Montebello Women’s Club and held in the Montebello High School auditorium on Whittier Boulevard in 1912. The Montebello – El Carmel (South Montebello) Improvement Association, the predecessor of the Montebello Chamber of Commerce, operated from September 1907 to April 1912. with its stated purpose “to improve and beautify the community.” Some of its early achievements included: seeing Whittier Boulevard paved, trees planted along the streets, establishment of the city's first high school, working to drop the name of "Newmark" and having the entire area incorporated as "The City of Montebello". On October 19, 1920, the city was incorporated and its name officially changed to "Montebello". In honor of Montebello's agricultural roots, the city's official seal contains a red poinsettia in the center.
The Standard Oil Company discovered oil in the Montebello hills in 1917 on the Baldwin and Temple properties; this discovery changed the face of Montebello. What were formerly hills full of agriculture became oil fields. Eventually, the oil taken from the soil in Montebello would produce one-eighth of the crude-oil in California. Over the course of sixty years, the Montebello hills were filled with producing oil wells.
Montebello is home to the oldest Armenian Community in Los Angeles County and home to Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, the only Armenian cathedral in California. The Armenian Martyrs Monument at Bicknell Park commemorating the victims of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turks is the only such monument on public property in the world. The inscription on the memorial reads: "This Monument Erected By Americans Of Armenian Decent, Is Dedicated To The 1,500,000 Armenian Victims Of The Genocide Perpetrated By The Turkish Government 1915–1921, And To Men Of All Nations Who Have Fallen Victim To Crimes Against Humanity."
Montebello has a history of being home to a significant Japanese community. Prior to being sent to internment camps during World War II, the city's four plant nurseries were owned and operated by Japanese-Americans. Many of those sent to the camps found they had lost their land, homes, and businesses upon their return to Montebello. Montebello was also home to a significant Japanese community. The city's Japanese residents operated the four nurseries in town, but were sent to internment camps during World War II. Japanese-Peruvian and Japanese-Hawaiian communities later settled in the area after WWII. When the Japanese citizens returned from the internment camps after the war, most found they had lost their property. One of the nurseries had been taken over and cared for by a loyal employee, a young French-American, Fred Sarrazin. After the war, he returned the nursery to its rightful owner, George Mori. In turn, Mr. Mori gave Sarrazin employment at the nursery for his lifetime, and the Mori Nursery was able to continue under its original name. Today, the Japanese population in Montebello is over 11% of the total population.