The history of Montclair is as rich as that of any other West Valley city. The earliest inhabitants of the land that is now Montclair were the Serrano Indians. The Serrano Indians built their village on the banks of a sycamore tree-lined creek which followed what is now Mills Avenue. In 1774, Captain Juan Bautista D’Anza, on his historic trip to the San Gabriel Mission, named that stream “Arroyo de los Alisos,” the Stream of the Sycamores. Legend has it that D’Anza carved the initials, “IHS” on a large sycamore, which may have been uprooted when the stream, now known as San Antonio Creek, overflowed its banks in 1894.
Until the 1890s Montclair was little more than grazing land and a watering hole, but in 1897, Mrs. Edward Fraser was instrumental in founding “The Township of Marquette,” the area's first modern name. This signaled the beginning of land development which would slowly turn this area into a viable community.
In the early 1900s Emil Firth, a Los Angeles land developer, was credited with naming a 1,000-acre land tract in this area “Monte Vista.” All of the tracts were laid out in 10- 20- and 40-acre lots with special terms as enticements to plant orchards and build homes. The first settlers moved in shortly after the tract opened in 1907. The first “modern” settlement within the tract was called Narod. Among the buildings which made up the settlement was a large orange-packing house and the Little White Church of Narod.
Like most Southland areas, the Monte Vista Land Tract boomed after World War II. Fearing that it would be annexed by a neighboring city, and the right to control their destiny lost forever, long-time residents formed the Monte Vista Improvement Association. This Association proposed city incorporation of the Monte Vista Land Tract and the residents were asked to vote on the incorporation proposal in the April, 1956 election.
Results of the April election were not in until the early hours of the morning; incorporation was approved by a vote of 682 to 455, and the people of the new city had chosen their first City Council. James West received 482 votes; Paul Frame, 421; Miller Buchanan, 404; Glen Wolf, 386; and Dana Pankey, Jr., 355. These were the first five men elected to run the affairs of the infant city. Upon its official incorporation on April 25, 1956, the City of Monte Vista had a total population of 8,008 spread over 4.2 square miles. Monte Vista’s first official City Council meeting was held on May 8, 1956, in a former butcher shop at 5326 San Bernardino Street. A table and chairs were furnished by Mayor West from his home; folding chairs and a U.S. flag for the meeting were furnished by Stone’s Mortuary.
Monte Vista’s municipal government made many advances during the first year of its existence; a master street lighting plan was drawn up, zoning ordinances were passed, provisions were made for the City’s streets to be swept, engineering data was gathered, and a City recreation program began. Mr. Ben Smith was appointed Chief of Police and shortly afterwards a staff of four patrolmen and one woman dispatcher were hired. At the end of its first year of existence the City of Monte Vista had ten full-time employees.
The first Fire Department was formed by the County Supervisors years earlier in 1948, and in 1949 a $50,000 bond issue was approved to construct a station and to buy equipment. In 1950 the station was completed and housed two fire trucks. Three full-time men were employed and 13 men were paid by the call. Since that time, Montclair has its own Fire Department hosted at two fire stations.
On April 8, 1958, the voters of the City of Monte Vista went to the polls to decide upon a name change for their city because there was another community in California also named Monte Vista. Although the other city was located in the northern part of California, there was some confusion in mail services. The new name chosen by the residents of Monte Vista was Montclair. The vote was 1,399 for the new name to 212 against any change.
As early as 1953 the residents of Montclair had the forethought to negotiate a lease-purchase of land on the southeast corner of Benito and Fremont for a Civic Center. At that time the property was covered with orange trees and the revenue from them helped pay for the lease. On April 25, 1964, the Civic Center was dedicated on this property and it housed the City administrative offices and Police Department.
During its early years, Montclair struggled to locate a greater tax base to finance the services it provided its residents. In 1964, land developers approached the City with an answer to their tax problems, a large shopping center.
Three years later the first building permits were issued, and on August 3, 1968, 15,000 persons attended a Preview Ball for the new complex which contained 875,000 square feet, three major department stores, 64 smaller shops, and space for 5,000 cars. During its first year of operation the shopping complex produced an additional 20% tax revenue for the City, and today, Montclair Plaza is one of the most successful shopping centers in Southern California.
The opening of the Montclair Plaza in 1968, bringing economic stability to the City, was but an indication of things to come. Located at the westernmost edge of San Bernardino County, Montclair is the region’s premier shopping destination nestled at the Los Angeles, Orange County, and Inland Empire crossing.
Montclair is located in very close proximity to private universities/colleges, including the prestigious Claremont Colleges, State universities, and several community colleges.
Montclair is a full-service City with its own Police and Fire Departments and has a young and diverse population that represents the ethnic and cultural diversity that is characteristic of Southern California.
More information on Montclair's history can be found in the book, Images of America: Montclair, which can be purchased here.
Sources: Guide to Montclair Living, Monte Vista Incorporated in 1956, Highlights in the History of Montclair, and Guideposts to History