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Sierra Madre

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Sierra Madre, California

"Wisteria City"

Sierra Madre in California is very close to Route 66 and its attractions include the 1900s Sierra Madre Playhouse theater, the 1911 Hotel Shirley and the Guinness Record breaking Wisteria vine. Don't miss Mount Wilson and its trail or Waldo Ward Gourmet Foods (since the early 1900s).

Sierra Madre CA

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About Sierra Madre California

Facts, Trivia and useful information

Elevation: 827 ft (252 m). Population 10,917 (2010).
Time zone: Pacific (MST): UTC minus 8 hours. Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7).

Sierra Madre (See-er'-a Mad-rei) is a city located Route 66 in Los Angeles County in southern California on the San Gabriel Mountains' foothills; it is part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. (Map of Sierra Madre).

Sierra Madre and Route 66

Strictly speaking, Route 66 never went through Sierra Madre: Old 1926-1938 Route 66 ran just south of the city limits of Sierra Madre, 0.8 miles from the center of the city, in an area that was open fields north of Arcadia and easto of Pasadena. It was the only town in the area. South of Foothill Blvd. were the tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad. Then, in 1938, US 66 was realigned further south, along Colorado St. bypassing Sierra Madre permanently.

Present view of Sierra Madre's Hotel Shirley

Present view of of Sierra Madre's Hotel Shirley, Route 66, California
Present view of Sierra Madre's Hotel Shirley
Static Image by Google Street View
Click on image for Interactive Google Street View

The history of Sierra Madre

The foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains have been inhabited for over 10,000 years. When the Spanish explored the area in the 1600s they encountered a hunter - gatherer society, the "Tongva", which they named after the mountain range where they lived, Gabrieleños or Gabrielinos.

A Mission was established nearby in 1771 (San Gabriel Arcángel) and the original "Mount Wilson Trail" was built by the natives to carry timber down from the mountains to the Mission.

The land owned by the Mission was nationalized by the Mexican government (Mexico had gained its independence from Spain in 1821) and granted the land to Mexican citizens in the 1840s.

Hugo Reid, a Scotsman who had naturalized Mexican was one of them, and he receieved a land grant in 1841 which he named "Rancho Santa Anita".

After being defeated in the Mexican American war (1846-48), Mexico ceded California to the U.S., which became a state in 1850.

Rancho Santa Anita had been acquired by Elias Jackson Baldwin in 1875. He sold an 845 acre tract to Nathaniel Carter in 1881. Carter added more land in 1888 and established his Villa Sierra Madre on it.

The Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Railroad built a line through the region and linked it with the Santa Fe Railroad in 1887, the station (Santa Anita Depot) was built just south of Sierra Madre in 1888.

The Name, Sierra Madre

The words are Spanish and mean "Mother Range", it was given to them by the Spanish explorers in 1775: "Sierra Madre de California" becaue it seemed that the other ranges that spread inland: the Sierra Nevada, Coast Mountains and San Bernardino Mountains sprung up from it.

When Nathaniel C. Carter subdivided part of Rancho Santa Anita in 1881, he named it Villa Sierra Madre.

By the way, the 1948 film "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" starring Humphrey Bogart, is about another range, in Mexico, with the same name.

The Pacific Electric Railway "Red Car" tramway extended a line into Sierra Madre which ran until October 6, 1950.

The City was incorporated in 1907.

National Old Trails Highway (N.O.T.) in Sierra Madre

The Automobile Club of Southern California (ACSC) 1912 map does not show Sierra Madre. The Foothill Blvd. runs from Monrovia to Pasadena without any towns along it. It does show the location of Sierra Madre without naming it. By then, the use of the automobile had grown so much that the National Old Trails (N.O.T.) Association was created to promote a highway linking Los Angeles with New York. The road, when built, ran along Foothill Boulevard.

1926: Route 66 created

US highway 66 (Route 66) was created in 1926 and it was aligned using the roadbed of the N.O.T. highway in the San Gabriel Valley. The 1935 Road map of Los Angeles shows Route 66 following this same alignment, it also shows the town of Sierra Madre, north of "Santa Anita" racetrack and NW of Arcadia. However, the 1939 map displays a newer alignment, further south, following Huntington Dr. into Arcadia and then west along Colorado Pl. and Colorado St. into Pasadena.

The 1939 "Guide to the Golden State" written by the WPA described the Sierra Madre section of Route 66 as follows:

"SIERRA MADRE, 36.9 m. (835 alt., 3,550 pop.), is a foothill town surrounded by the deep green of orange groves. A trellised wistaria on the FENNEL ESTATE (adm. 10$), Carter St. and Hermos Ave., planted in 1894, extends over an acre of ground, and its blooming season March 10 to April 1 is occasion for the Sierra Madre Wistaria Fete, held annually since 1921.."

Just after the end of World War II, Jack DeVere Rittenhouse rode along Route 66 (1946) collecting information for his famous: "A Guide Book to Highway 66". He mentioned that there were many towns in this area, and lists them without adding too much : "... Now you pass through SIERRA MADRE at 353 mi. and soon enter PASADENA at 359 mi.".

The Los Angeles freeways and the Interstate highways that sprung up in the late 1950s and early 1960s marked the end of Route 66 in Sierra Madre, as it was finally bypassed in 1964.

Sierra Madre and the SF film, "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers"

The 1956 film "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was filmed in Sierra Madre, starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter and Larry Gates. This movie was selected in 1993 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress because of its cultural, historical and aesthetical significance". It is a classic 1950s "B Movie".

Where to Lodge near Sierra Madre

Lodging close to the City of Sierra Madre

>> Book your Hotel nearby in Arcadia Hotels or in Pasadena.

More Lodging near Sierra Madre along Route 66

Motels and Hotels close to Sierra Madre, California

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>> Check out the RV campground near Sierra Madre, in Pomona

Weather in Sierra Madre

The climate in Sierra Madre is a "Warm Summer" Mediterranean one. Rather dry and hot in summer but cool and wet during winter (which is the rainy season). The average monthly temperatures does not exceed 71.6 °F (22°C).

Sierra Madre has some 290 sunny days each year and during fall (autumn) strong dry winds blow from the desert (Santa Ana winds) drying out the area and increasing the risk of wildfires in the foothills.

The summer average high is 89.4°F (31.9°C) and the average low is 61.1°F (16.2°C).

During winter the average high is (Jan) 67.8°F (19.9°C) and the average low is 44.3°F (6.8°C) in winter, the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains receive snow, and may very rarely fall in Sierra Madre. You may experience frost during winter (Dec. to Mar.)

Rainfall averages 22 in. per year (559 mm), with the period April to October being the driest one. There are some 43.5 rainy days per year

Route 66 and Sierra Madre, CA
Location of Sierra Madre on the Old Route 66

Tornado risk

Sierra Madre is located very close to the Pacific Ocean and well beyond the Rocky Montains (which are the western limit for tornados) so there is no risk of tornados in the city.

Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.
 

Getting to Sierra Madre

You can reach Sierra Madre along old Route 66 or via Interstate 10, 15, 215, 610 or state higways 57 and 210. All of them are freeways.

Map of Route 66 in Sierra Madre

, California.

The map below shows the alignment of Route 66 near Sierra Madre and the color key is for Sierra Madre only. It is the following:
(for the other parts of the map, check the color key of the map of the corresponding city)

Pale Blue: the 1938 - 1964 Route 66 through Sierra Madre.
Black: the earlier, 1926 to 1938 Route 66 south of Downtown Sierra Madre.
Red: I-15, where it covers the old roadbed of Route 66 or where it must be driven as the old road is closed.

See Route 66's alignment in California Map

  Click to See the Sierra Madre alignment (Western CA: the road from "Devore to Santa Monica")

Remove or restore State shading
 

Google Maps. Terms. Icons.

Route 66's alignment in California: the Historic Route 66 through Sierra Madre

Route 66 logo

Route 66 across California

U.S. Route 66 does not have any Byway or Historic designation in California despite having long sections of original roadbed between Needles and Santa Monica (like this one).

Click on the following link for an overview of Route 66 across the state of California.

Below you will find detailed information on Old Route 66 just south of Sierra Madre

Sights and Attractions in Sierra Madre, California

What to Do, Places to See

Sierra Madre and its Route 66 attractions

Sierra Madre, "Village of the Foothills"

Sierra Madre though it was not located on Route 66, was very close to it. You must visit its classic theatre, the Sierra Madre Playhouse and the 1911 Hotel Shirley. The town boasts a Guinness World Record Wisteria vine. Other sights include the Mount Wilson trail and the Gourmet foods of Waldo Ward since 1891.

City tour

From Colorado St., head north via N. Baldwin Ave. (1.4 mi. - See map with directions), and visit downtown Sierra Madre at the junction of N. Baldwin Ave. and Sierra Madre Blvd.

Take a left along Sierra Madre Blvd. and after 2 blocks, on your right is the Sierra Madre Playhouse:

Sierra Madre Playhouse

87 W Sierra Madre Blvd, Sierra M

Sierra Madre Playhouse

Sierra Madre Playhouse, by www.goldstar.com.

The building dates back to 1923, it served as the Wistaria Theater until 1929 when it was renamed "Sierra Madre Theater". Later it was an arcade and now it is the venue of the "Sierra Madre Playhouse", a non-profit organization. The building was renovated in 1998.

Head back to N. Baldwin Ave. and take a left to visit Hotel Shirley:

Hotel Shirley

30 N Baldwin Ave.

The building dates back to 1911, that is, 25 years before Route 66 was created. It was restored in 1998. See a photo of it above.

Here you can see it during a 4th of July parade (maybe in the 1940s?), it has not changed.

Wisteria: the largest flowering plant in the world

535 North Hermosa Ave. See Map with location.

The city is also known as "Wisteria City", and a wisteria (also spelled wistaria) ppaers on the city's seal because of the enormous wisteria vine growing in town.

Wisteria

Wisteria (also spelled Wistaria or Wysteria) is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the pea faimily. They are climbing vines, with woody trunks, native to Eastern Asia (Japan, China, Korea) and Eastern USA.

the gigantic Wisteria vine at Sierra Madre

The Wisteria at Sierra Madre, by Xinhua

The Chinese wistaria (Wisteria sinensis) growing in Sierra Madre, has been proclaimed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest flowering plant. But we have not found it mentioned at Guiness' website, maybe an urban myth?

The wistaria (wisteria) was bought by Alice Brugman from the Wilson nursery in Monrovia in 1894. And she planted it on her home's front porch. The vine grew and the enormous weight of its branches collapsed the building.

The wisteria, after 120 years, now weighs about 250 tons and its branches span 500 ft.(150 m) covering about 1 acre in two properties. The sweet smelling pale violet blooms reach their peak in March.

Annual Sierra Madre Wistaria Festival

The event his held in the downtown at Sierra Madre Blvd. and N. Baldwin Ave. with music, food trucks, handicraft vendors and more. There is an open-house at the two properties where the vine grows.

Further afield

You can visit more sights in the area, further from Sierra Madre's downtown:

Mount Wilson

The mountain (5,710 feet - 1.740 m) is named after Benjamin "Don Benito" Davis Wilson who owned Rancho San Pascual and a winery. He built a trail in the 1860s to bring wood from the mountains to make casks for his wines. This was known as the "Mount Wilson Trail".

In 1889, Harvard College established the first Mount Wilson Observatory so the trail was expanded, to allow the telescope to reach the summit. That same year, a toll road was opened to the public, the "New Mt. Wilson Trail". It became very popular.

In 1908, the first Mount Wilson Trail Race was run, and after a long pause between World War II and 1966 it has been run continuously since then. Visit the official website: www.mountwilsontrailrace.com.

The Mount Wilson Observatory has a 60-inch (1,5m) and 100-inch (2,5 m) telescopes. The latter was the world's largest telescope until the opening of the 200-inch Palomar Hale Telescope in 1948.

Sierra Madre Historical Wilderness Area

Created in 1967 and dedicated in 1968, Sierra Madre became the first city in Southern California to own a wilderness area. Later (1993), the Sierra Madre City Council added the Mt. Wilson Trail to its Register of Historic Cultural Landmarks.

Waldo Ward & Son, gourmet Foods

273 E. Highland Ave. See map.

Edwin Waldo Ward Sr. came to Sierra Madre in 1891 and bought a 10 acre plot of land. He planted Navel oranges and Seville Oranges and began producing his own marmalade in the early 1900s. Ward is still operating and selling jams, jellies, syrups and olive oil. www.waldoward.com

Sierra Madre Trivia

  • Sierra Madre was hit by a M 5.8 earthquake on June 28, 1991.
  • The "JailHouse Inn" is located in the Historic City Hal. The former jail is now a hotel with only one cell for one or two "guests" per night. The tiny cell is only 200 sq. ft. (19 m2), and is the smallest B&B in the U.S.

Tours & Itineraries

Old Route 66 in Sierra Madre California

From Arcadia to Sierra Madre

route 66 shield California

The first highway through the area built specially for cars, was the National Old Trails highway projected in the early 1910s to link Los Angeles and New York, it passed just south of Sierra Madre.

Route 66 near Sierra Madre has two alignments

There were two alignments of US 66 close to Sierra Madre. The original one, followed by the N.O.T., along Foothill Blvd. was the one used by Route 66 when it was created in 1926, and a newer one which replaced it in 1938, further to the south along Huntington Dr. and Colorado Place.

Old Alignment from 1926 to 1938

This is shown in Black in the Map above. Driving east to west, coming from Monrovia, the old route 66 headed west along E. Foothill Blvd. across norhtern Arcadia and then, to the south of Sierra Madre. The road took a left to the south, on San Gabriel Blvd. up to E. Colorado Blvd. at this point old and new alignments meet and head straight along it westbound, into Pasadena. See the Map of the 1926-38 Route 66 near Sierra Madre.

New alignment from 1938 to 1964

This is shown in Pale Blue in the Map above. At that time, Foothill Blvd. was improved eastwards all the way to San Bernardino, work that began in 1931. So the alignment of US 66 was widened and straightened out, to make it safer. This led to the bypassing of the roundabout road across the downtown area of Monrovia along Foothill Blvd.

Instead, Route 66 kept westbound straight along Huntington Drive across Monrovia and then into Arcadia, where it curved around the racetrack and became E. Colorado Place, and continuing along Colorado St. westwards where it meets I-210 (which in those days was the railroad corridor) just south of Sierra Madre and continues all the way to Pasadena. See the Map of the 1938-64 Route 66 south of Sierra Madre.

The course of Route 66 between Arcadia and the area south of Sierra Madre is simple: both towns are so close to each other that you will not notice where one ends and the other one begins.

Colorado Street and Colorado Boulevard carried the pre-1964 Legislative Route 161 name from its west end to the merger with Huntington Drive (via Colorado Place).

> > See the previous segment Victorville to San Bernardino

> > See this segment San Bernardino to Pasadena (west)

Sources

Image Used as per Google Street View Image Api Updated Dec. 31, 2014.

A Guide to the Golden State, by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration, Hastings House, New York, 1939.

Image by Vítězslav Válka adapted under its CC BY-SA 3.0 CZ License

Map Icons by Nicolas Mollet under its CC BY SA 3.0 License