A 1937 Spanish-style garden apartment complex located in southwestern Alhambra was among four properties honored with Alhambra Preservation Group’s 2011 Heritage Home Awards for historic preservation. “Presenting a Heritage Home Award to a multi-unit property is something new for Alhambra Preservation Group,” said Christine Olson, APG President. “We are pleased to present this property’s owners with this award, in recognition of their continued care and preservation of Alhambra’s architectural history.”
The apartments are located in the Granada Place Tract, which was developed as a residential neighborhood in the 1920s—the heyday of the nearby Midwick Country Club. The Pacific Electric Railway line, with daily passenger service from Los Angeles to San Bernardino, ran close by, traversing the center of Ramona Road, which is now the San Bernardino Freeway.
Atilio and Viola Guardia were the first owners of this apartment complex. The son of Italian immigrants, Atilio had grown up on a farm in Illinois. He and Viola came to Southern California in the mid-1920s, and Atilio was employed as head gardener on the Sierra Madre estate of Grace Hall, an elderly widow. While living in a cottage on the estate, they saved their money and, in the Fall of 1937, purchased a vacant lot in Alhambra and hired a local contractor, Lindsia Elkanah “Caney” Dowell, to draw up plans for a four-unit garden apartment complex. Each of the four apartments had one bedroom and one bathroom. Construction on the small 600-square foot apartments, which were designed in the Spanish style with terra cotta roof tiles, fireplaces and casement windows framed by decorative wood shutters, was completed in early 1938. Over the next 40 years, the Guardias rented to an assortment of hard-working people—laundry drivers, waiters, stenographers, warehousemen, aircraft workers—all of whom called these modest, but attractive, apartments home.
The current owners purchased this apartment complex in the early 1980s. Having moved to Alhambra in the 1970s and living in the nearby Midwick Tract, they had often admired this apartment complex as they drove their children to school. When the complex went on the market in 1983, they jumped at the chance to purchased them. These new owners already possessed a well-developed appreciation for historic architecture. (Others among their family have, for many years, owned and maintained an early Los Angeles landmark, El Milagro Market and Albion Cottages, a store and five houses, built circa 1870 for Southern Pacific Railroad workers.) Since 1983, they have maintained the apartments conscientiously, restoring the original wood casement windows and mitigating extensive termite damage and dry rot throughout the complex. Among other benefits, their tender loving care of the property has resulted in excellent landlord-tenant relationships—some of which have lasted for decades.