By Mark Gutglueck
The city of Montclair evolved out of what was originally called the Monte Vista Land Tract, which was created by Los Angeles land developer Emil Ferth. The Monte Vista Land Tract was 1,000 acres that extended from the wash on the north, to the railroad tracks near State Street on the south, eventually expanding southward to Phillips Avenue. A settlement nearby was that of Narod, at a latitude 34.058 and longitude of 117.685, located between what is today Benson Avenue and Vernon Avenue just north of Mission Boulevard. Narod included a dry goods store, a hotel, a packing house and the Little White Church of Narod. Two pumping plants provided water along with cisterns. About fifteen families were spread around in various locations in the land tract. Most of the houses were wood frame duplicates of those from back east Most were hidden by orange groves. The roads were oiled rather than paved. Mission Avenue was a through street. Horses and buggies were the most common form of transportation at that time, although a local train from the Salt Lake Line would stop and take passengers to Pomona or Ontario. The quality of goods at Narod Market attracted shoppers from Ontario and Pomona. Farmers provided local markets with fruit and vegetables. Old Monte Vista School was in place during the first decade of the 20th Century, but was moved to Holt Avenue around 1911 or 1912 . Afterwards parents hired a man to take children to Chino Schools. The following year Ontario sent out busses for the students.
The Monte Vista Land Tract grew on the northwest but the northeast boundary with Ontario remained sparse. The constantly overflowing wash on the north made that area an unpredictable place to reside. Twenty inches of rain caused it to overflow in 1916.
In 1927, the Monte Vista area was covered with orange and lemon groves. Houses were no closer to one another than a half mile away . A group of men headed by C. Earl Wetherbee, who was the secretary of the Limited Mutual Water Company, which delivered irrigation water to the orange and lemon groves, concluded that water should also be furnished for domestic purposes. Those in Monte Vista were drinking, cooking with and bathing in irrigation water stored in their own cisterns normally located at the high end of their groves. This would give each house about five pounds of water pressure.
The service area of the Limited Mutual Irrigation Company was bounded by 8th Street , known as Arrow Highway, on the north, Central Avenue on the West, Benson Avenue on the East and San Bernardino Avenue on the south. The remaining area now known as the Monte Vista County Water District bounded by the Santa Fe Rairoad tracts on the north the San Bernardino County line on the west, Benson Avenue on the Ontario City Limits on the east and Francis Avenue on the south were served by the Palomares Water Company, the Monte Vista Water company, the Century Water company and the Monte Vista Irrigation Company and several privately owned wells. Many of those in the area who were not served by the Limited Mutual Water Company heard of the creation of a domestic water company and asked to be included.
Petitions to form the new entity were sent out on June 1, 1927. seeking permission to set up a water district under the general laws of the state of California. The original name of Narod for the district was dropped and the name Monte Vista was adopted. The initial elected board members of the district were C. Earl Wetherbee, V.C. Wecks, G.W. Naftel, O.V. Barr and A.B. Tato. Wetherbee was selected board chairman. W. Hartley, manger of the West Ontario Citrus Association, was appointed secretary of the board. The board obtained a 122 to 2 vote of those within the district to pass a $75,000 bond. The money was used to build a reservoir on land owned by the Limited Mutual Irrigation Company with a 49-year lease. Also purchased were 60 shares of water stock at $100 per share in the Limited Mutual Irrigation Company, which entitled the Monte Vista Water Company to fill the reservoir. On May 28, 1928 a contract was let for main lines and services to the West Coast Pipe and Steel Company. L. H. Kreigh was hired as field superintendent and secretary of the company During the month of November 1928 those lines that were under contract were completed and paid for. That month the district sold 3,501,000 gallons of water for domestic use. In 1929, the district operations had grown to the point that it had insufficient reservoir capacity and had to undertake to build another reservoir.
In 1937, the worst freeze in the history of Montclair hit in January. The fruit was saved by smudge burning. In 1938 a huge flood racked the area, bringing debris down from Mount San Antonio. Water damage to homes and underground tanks occurred.
In 1946, the Limited Mutual Water company was unable to supply the district with enough water, so it was necessary for the Monte Vista Water District to develop it own supplemental water supply. A new pump and gas engine was installed to obtain water form a well drilled in 1935 and which had never been used. The district began pumping water directly into its system.
In 1950, the Monte Vista County Fire Department opened its first fire station on land provided by the Monte Vista County Water District and the West Ontario Citrus Association.
On April 10, 1956 the residents in the district voted to incorporate the municipality of Monte Vista District as a general law city, and selected five men to form the first city council James West, who was an orange grower and pest control company operator was chosen mayor. Paul Fremo, a real estate broker and builder; Miller Buchanan, a poultryman; Dana Pankey, a minister; and Glen Wolfe, the proprietor of an equipment sales and rental business were elected to the council. Two years later the city’s name would be changed to Montclair. The council held informal meetings at West’s home. The city’s first address was Post Office Box 867 in Pomona. After several meetings at West’s home, the council met with representatives of the League of California Cities. They selected a building owned by Phil Hurst at 5326 San Bernardino Avenue as the council’s meeting place. They hired Henry Busch as Montclair’s city attorney, setting up May 8, 1956 as the first official meeting date of the city council. On April 25, 1956 Montclair was certified by the state of California as a general law city.
The council chose Larry O’Rourke, who had been acting as city administrator in Tehachapi for fifteen months, to serve as the city administrator and clerk.
West subsequently praised O’Rourke as “a brilliant young Irishman who not only proved to be an excellent administrator but also a hard worker who was willing do such menial tasks as painting the floor of the city hall one weekend, Kelly green, of course! He was a patient and thorough teacher of government procedures. None of us were schooled in the field of government.”
That council at its maiden meeting did a “voluminous amount of work,” adopting such resolutions as certifying the boundaries of the city and creating a planning commission and adopting several emergency ordinances setting up a special gas tax fund, creating wholesale and retail business licenses and setting a retail sales tax and a use tax. “We had to have income to run our new city,” West said in 1963.
By Mark Gutglueck