The Gabrielino Indians once inhabited the land that is now known as the City of Duarte. In 1841, the governor of Alta California granted to ex-Mexican Corporal Andres Duarte and his wife nearly 7,000 acres of prime land in the upper San Gabriel Valley. He named the place Rancho Azusa de Duarte.
In the mid-1800’s, most of the Rancho was sold to help defray Andres Duarte’s debts. One of those who purchased land was Dr. Nehemiah Beardslee, who started the first school in Duarte and laid out the first section of Duarte’s water lines. Much of the remaining land was divided into 40-acre plots and sold individually.
Many of Duarte’s earliest pioneer families came to Duarte in the mid-1800’s for their health , the pleasant climate, and the fertile soil. English settlers, Americans from the Midwest and deep South, Latinos who remained from the Rancho and Japanese immigrants enabled Duarte to grow into a thriving agricultural community specializing in citrus production.
Two medical institutions were started in Duarte in the early part of this century. In 1913, the Jewish Relief Association started a tuberculosis sanitarium on 40 acres of land South of Duarte Road. This later evolved into the world-renowned City of Hope Medical Center, a recognized leader in fighting cancer and other catastrophic diseases. In 1930, a group of Carmelite Sisters established the Santa Teresita Rest Home, known today as Santa Teresita "Medical Center".
In 1957, a dedicated group of community members led the fight for incorporation, and on August 22, 1957, their efforts paid off with the formation of the City of Duarte and the Duarte Unified School District. The leadership of the Duarte City Council and the Duarte Unified School Board helped the previously fragmented community to come together, set goals and establish priorities for the newly created City of Duarte.
Preserving its history is very important to the City of Duarte. The City has an all-volunteer museum which is a resource for the community and a wonderful site for visitors to the area. The museum is located at 777 Encanto Parkway and is open the first and third Wednesdays of the month from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. For more information on the Historical Museum, please call (626) 357-9419 or visit their website at http://www.duartehistory.org
The Chappelow Avocado tree was the first recorded avocado tree grown in California. William Chappelow, Sr. received his tree from the US Department of Agriculture in July of 1893.
The City's oldest building is its 1909 school house, now home to the world renowned Old Spaghetti Factory Restaurant.
The popular 1950's song, "Cinco Robles", composed by Larry Sullivan, was named after a street in Duarte of the same name.
Lucille Gertrude Phillips Morrison, Philatnropist and writer, wrote the "Lost Queen of Egypt" which became a bestseller.
Loretta Turnbull, International Speedboat Champion, won the American Woman's Championship; the College Humor's Intercollegiate Gold Cup; Championship on River Po; International Championship at Lak Garda; Mussolini's Cup; Gabrielle D'Annuzio's Cup and over 300 other boat racing awards. She was also a master boat mechanic.
AC Thompson came to Duarte in 1875. Thompson was noted for his development of the "Thompson Improved Naval Orange," which became world famous.
In the late l930's, Glenn Miller, the famous band leader, purchased land in Duarte near what is now Valley View Elementary School. The house he had constructed on the property was named "Tuxedo Junction", after the well-known piece written by Miller, who said that the song had sold enough copies to pay for the Duarte property. The house was originally built with enough garage space to accommodate the cars owned by band members, who apparently used the Duarte house for band practice. It also contained a band room. After the untimely death of Miller in the early l940's, his in-laws continued to live in the house until it was finally sold.
It stood as a sentinel, perhaps observing ghastly events back in the wild west days. It witnessed the rise and fall of the citrus industry, and the birth and rebirth of Route 66. The two hundred year old oak, its graceful limbs reaching fifty feet into the valley sky, has historically served as a mainstay in the San Gabriel Valley town of Duarte, California on what was once Route 66 and now Huntington Drive. Sadly, the gnarly oak suddenly collapsed during the wee hours of October 8, rendering some damage to the surrounding townhouses.
To most Duarte residents this old oak was referred to as “The Hanging Tree.” Its history is steeped in myth and lore and many believed that it was used to render swift justice during the 1800s. Like many small towns between Santa Monica and Chicago, the bedroom community of Duarte, some twelve miles east of Pasadena below the looming San Gabriel Mountains, began to blossom when the Mother Road was established. To serve the growing number of motorists, the town answered with motels, gas stations and eateries. The Oakleigh Motel and Motor Court was one of those motels and it once was shaded by the hanging tree.
Jim Parrillo, 53, traces his Duarte family roots to the 1950s, only a few seconds in time compared to the roots of the fallen oak. He covets many memories of local interest, not the least of which is that old tree. He remembers the Oakleigh Motel and recalls that he would have breakfast there and look out over the tree. “It had chains embedded in it and a metal plate which I pictured as where the rope went through when it was a hanging tree,” says Jim. He remembers that the motel rooms were very small and that in the 1970s there was a fire and it was demolished. The tree, however, persevered. He said the myths about that tree were hushed because “there are those who believe that ghosts reside in the branches of old trees.”
Pat Sleeter, Jim’s mother, worked as a nurse at Duarte’s Santa Teresita Hospital for forty-four years and was familiar with the Oakleigh Motel because an extended family member managed it for a time in the 1960s. “Although it was just word of mouth,” says Pat, “it was a common belief that this was where justice on the Rancho Duarte was dealt by Circuit Judges.”
Since that time, that local stretch of Route 66 has seen many changes. Local Route 66 icons such as The Trails Restaurant, The Blvd. Café, and the Big Sky Drive In have disappeared. A mission-bell style median was installed, and flags posted on the light poles. The Route 66 traffic came to a slow crawl when the 210 Freeway was completed in the late 1960s, cutting into the heart of the south section of Duarte known as Rocktown. Soon the number of motels along Route 66 was reduced to but a few as fickle drivers opted for the new freeway and overnight accommodations were no longer needed. The tree remained and was eventually surrounded on three sides by townhouses.
Long-time resident Everett Adams recalls that after the motel was gone, there was an establishment near the site called The Crystal Tea Room which sold crystal vases and glassware. He said the Post Office at that time was located on Huntington just east of the tree, and was later moved around the corner on Highland Avenue.
During WWII, Bruce Staller’s family lived in a rooming house which offered kitchen privileges for breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. Thus, his mom would take Bruce and his brother on the streetcar from Monrovia to Duarte to “eat out.” He recalls a small French restaurant Route 66 called “The Yves” located just west of the hanging tree.
Many locals first learned of the tree’s collapse when they tuned in to the morning news, recognizing the oak’s familiar branches at first glance. By mid morning the major TV news stations were on the scene and local residents stood teary eyed nearby. A few days later the old oak had been cut up and hauled off. A piece of the tree was salvaged and remains on exhibit at the Duarte Historical Museum, 777 Encanto Parkway, Duarte.