Alhambra’s roots begin with the San Gabriel Mission, founded on September 8, 1771, and the native people, Tongva, who inhabited the area before the arrival of the Spanish. The land that would later become Alhambra was part of a 300,000 acre land grant given to Manuel Nieto by the Spanish. In 1820 Mexico won its independence from the Spanish crown and lands once ruled by them became part of the Mexican Republic. These lands then transferred into the hands of the United States following the defeat in the Mexican–American War. A wealthy developer, Benjamin Davis Wilson, married Ramona Yorba, daughter of Bernardo Yorba, who owned the land which would become Alhambra and with the persuasion of his daughter Ruth named the land developed after a book she was reading. Alhambra is named after Washington Irving’s book Tales of the Alhambra, that he was inspired to write by his extended visit to the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. Alhambra was founded as a suburb of Los Angeles that remained an unincorporated area during the mid-19th century. The first school in Alhambra was Ramona Convent Secondary School, built on hillside property donated by the prominent James de Barth Shorb family. Thirteen years before the city was incorporated, several prominent San Gabriel Valley families interested in the Catholic education of their daughters established the school in 1890. The city’s first public high school, Alhambra High School, was established in 1898, five years before the city’s incorporation. On July 11, 1903, the City of Alhambra was incorporated. The Alhambra Fire Department was established in 1906.
Alhambra was originally promoted as a “city of homes”, and many of its homes have historical significance. They include styles such as craftsman, bungalow, Spanish Mediterranean, Spanish colonial, Italian beaux-arts, and arts and crafts. Twenty-six single-family residential areas have been designated historic neighborhoods by the city, including the Bean Tract (formerly owned by early resident Jacob Bean), the Midwick Tract (site of the former Midwick Country Club), the Airport Tract (formerly the landing pad for Alhambra Airport), and the Emery Park area. There are also a large number of condominiums, rental apartments, and mixed-use residential/commercial buildings, especially in the downtown area.
Downtown Alhambra, Garfield and Main, 1890
Alhambra’s main business district, at the intersection of Main and Garfield, has been a center of commerce since 1895. By the 1950s, it had taken on an upscale look and was “the” place to go in the San Gabriel Valley. While many of the classic historical buildings have been torn down over the years, the rebuilding of Main Street has led to numerous dining, retail, and entertainment establishments. Alhambra has experienced waves of new immigrants, beginning with Italians in the 1950s, Mexicans in the 1960s, and Chinese in the 1980s. As a result, a very active Chinese business district has developed on Valley Boulevard, including Chinese supermarkets, restaurants, shops, banks, realtors, and medical offices. The Valley Boulevard corridor has become a national hub for many Asian-owned bank headquarters, and there are other nationally recognised retailers in the city.
The historic Garfield Theatre, located at Valley Boulevard and Garfield Avenue from 1925 until 2001, was formerly a vaudevillevenue and is rumored to have hosted the Gumm Sisters, featuring a very young Judy Garland. Faded from its original glory, for its last few years it was purchased and ran Chinese-language films, and in 2001 went out of business. Subsequently, developers have remodeled the dilapidated building, turning it into a vibrant commercial center with many Chinese stores and eateries.
In 2003, actress Lana Clarkson was shot to death in the Alhambra home of record producer Phil Spector. Spector lived in Alhambra’s largest and most notable residence, the Pyrenees Castle, built in 1926. In 2009, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder in connection with Clarkson’s death.
The 2010 United States Census reported that Alhambra had a population of 83,089. Its population density was 10,887.4 people per square mile (4,203.6/km²). The racial makeup of Alhambra was 43,957 (52.9%) Asian, 23,521 (28.3%) White, (10.0% non-Hispanic White), 1,281 (1.5%) African American, 538 (0.6%) Native American, 81 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 10,805 (13.0%) from other races, and 2,906 (3.5%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 28,582 persons (34.4%).
The census reported that 82,475 people (99.3% of the population) lived in households, 132 (0.2%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 482 (0.6%) were institutionalized.
There were 29,217 households, of which 9,357 (32.0%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 13,679 (46.8%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 4,818 (16.5%) had a female householder with no husband present, and 2,097 (7.2%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 1,370 (4.7%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 183 (0.6%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 6,479 households (22.2%) were made up of individuals, and 2,301 (7.9%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.82. There were 20,594 families (70.5% of all households); the average family size was 3.30.
The population was spread out with 15,707 people (18.9%) under the age of 18, 7,876 people (9.5%) aged 18 to 24, 24,907 people (30.0%) aged 25 to 44, 22,687 people (27.3%) aged 45 to 64, and 11,912 people (14.3%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39.3 years. For every 100 females there were 89.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.4 males.
There were 30,915 housing units, at an average density of 4,050.9 per square mile (1,564.1/km²), of which 11,916 (40.8%) were owner-occupied and 17,301 (59.2%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 1.3%; the rental vacancy rate was 5.3%. 35,774 people (43.1% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units, and 46,701 people (56.2%) lived in rental housing units.
During 2009–2013, Alhambra had a median household income of $54,148, with 13.9% of the population living below the federal poverty line.