Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Freeways through the San Gabriel Valley, Rancho Potrero Grande and the Tiki Place

Paramount Boulevard Overpass Fire

The tanker fire from last December 14 irreparably damaged the Paramount Boulevard overpass along the Pomona Freeway.  More than a month has passed and commuters have adjusted to alternate routes around this Montebello juncture, although unknowing weekend visitors headed for the Town Center mall appear confused as they negotiate U-turns on Neil Armstrong Street.

View of the formerly southbound lanes of Paramount Boulevard
Vehicles traveling westbound on the Pomona Freeway along the damaged overpass
Northbound on Paramount Boulevard

A page from a 1955 Thomas Bros. map shows the region sans freeway; the Pomona Freeway would be built more than a decade later; Paramount Boulevard did not exist to link Montebello with the northern cities; back then to travel east/west, one possible route was by way of Pomona Boulevard - Potrero Grande - Hill Drive - San Gabriel Boulevard - and (off the map) onto Durfee Avenue.

Rancho Potrero Grande

Drivers are using Potrero Grande Drive more often, and they pass through sections of Monterey Park.  The street name translates to mean "large pasture" - the scenery along the drive is drab.  The name is retained from the Mexican-era Rancho Potrero Grande, once comprising 4,432 acres carved out of the early Spanish land grant to the Mission fathers of San Gabriel.  The rancho changed hands from the original Indian grantee, to Juan Matias Sanchez (emigrant from New Mexico), to land baron Elias "Lucky" Baldwin.  Baldwin foreclosed on several contiguous ranchos including Potrero Grande to collect debts, causing Sanchez to lose most of his land and prompting William Workman from Rancho La Puente to commit suicide.

The Tikis

About 1960 a theme park was built at 1001 No. Potrero Grande, called the Tikis.  Developed by Danny Balsz, the "three acres of lush atmosphere" provided luau grounds, a 200-foot underground volcanic cave, erupting volcanos, waterfalls, lagoons, thunder and rain, bird and monkey soundmakers, huts, dance halls, a 100-foot snake bar, a banana train ride and five acres of free parking.  By the early 1970s the park closed.

A visit to the area did not turn up any traces of the Tikis, but I found a marooned boat on Saturn Street near Potrero Grande.

Ramona Parkway

Northward another east/west extending freeway is the San Bernardino (today's Interstate 10) which runs along cities such as Alhambra and Monterey Park.  Originally called the Ramona Parkway when built in the early 1940s, its name was attributed to portions of land given up by the Ramona Convent of Holy Names, as well as the proximity to the town of Ramona Acres.

Convent of the Holy Names, founded in 1889

The pervasive use of the name Ramona derived from Helen Hunt Jackson's 1884 fictional work of the same name.  The story was intended to call attention to the mistreatment of the local Indians, but readers were drawn to the romance of the characters and of a colorful Southern California.  Her bestseller thrived though Jackson died a year later.  To this day the yearly staging of the Ramona Pageant in Hemet celebrates the novel's popularity.  Roadways, schools and even food products adopted the Ramona name.

Ramona Pageant postcard