The history of Alhambra and the San Gabriel Valley begins in the Alta California territory of New Spain. In the earliest record of the region, Native Americans and Spanish explorers fought for control in Southern California; however, it was not until the 1770s that any colonization occurred. The first contact between Europeans and Native Americans occurred in 1542 when Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed up and down the coast of California. Seventy-five years later, another European explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino, would set foot on what is now known as San Pedro Bay. The native people who lived in the area were of three general groups: Tongva, Serrano, and Tataviam.
The historical roots of Alhambra can be traced back to the first Spanish colonial land grants in the area now known as Whittier Narrows. The Spanish considered Rancho San Rafael strategically important for controlling trade routes between their new territories and those located further north. In 1810 Governor Felipe de Neve issued four more ranchos, including one between what is now Alhambra, El Monte, Covina, Cucamonga, and Azusa. This was the first land grant within the boundaries of Alhambra.
Alhambra during Spanish, Mexican, and early American rule was similar to much of the history of California in general. At times, early Alhambrians united to defend themselves against lawless raiders. The city’s population more than quintupled from 1850-2000.
The original townsite comprised a small cluster of homes situated near a large plaza that fronted central portions of San Gabriel Boulevard and Walnut Street for about two blocks each way. The portion that extended eastwardly from Washington Avenue was surveyed as part of the township line survey conducted by Benjamin Dreyfus in 1849. One of the first events in Alhambra’s was the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga, which took place at Campo de Cahuenga near present-day Hollywood on January 13, 1847, between General Stephen W. Kearny representing the United States and Mexican General Andrés Pico. Residents were divided over whether to secede from Mexico or remain part of Mexico when California became a U.S. territory. The city’s population continued to grow during this early period despite some significant setbacks.
In the 1930s and 40s, the city of Alhambra, CA, was home to many Japanese Americans who were forcibly relocated into Military internment camps. But even with these hardships, Alhambra has been able to maintain a history of being a thriving and vibrant community.
In the 1960s and 70s, the population of Alhambra changed drastically. In a time of racial segregation, white flight, and urban decay in other California cities, Alhambra was the affordable next-door neighbor that attracted middle-class families who were leaving those cities. During this time that Asian American history began to play a significant role in the area.
Latin history intersected with local history as well through the 1980s-2000s as Latino Americans took advantage of opportunities available in formerly all-white neighborhoods. Since then, whites have generally left central Alhambra, Latinos have continued to move into surrounding areas, and businesses in the Downtown Los Angeles region have relocated there due to better transportation routes.
Today San Gabriel Valley is home to one out of ten Californians and is experiencing rapid growth despite the rise in the cost of housing. Presently, Alhambra, CA, continues to be a city thriving with commerce and business. It has also flourished into a significant hub of multiculturalism in the entire Southern California region.