A vacant storefront behind the Denny’s bears an old but legible imprint: “Sears Outlet.” Other big names, like Kmart and Dearden’s, came and went.
While Pasadena has the Rose Bowl and Temple City its iconic camellias, El Monte’s pride is Longo Toyota, Jimenez said — an anchor in the city since 1967 that is often called the biggest car dealership in the country. The dealerships, he said, “have been keeping the city going.”
“It always feels a bit like we’re waiting for that financial shoe to drop — something in the economy that sets us back,” said Andre Quintero, who was mayor of El Monte for 11 years. “We laid a good foundation for where the city could be, but there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. We’re in transition.”
El Monte must plan for about 8,500 new units of housing — nearly 1,800 for very low-income residents — by 2029, according to the Southern California Association of Governments.
It’s a logical place to build, some argue. Downtown L.A. is an easy drive on the 10. Residents can also catch the Silver Line bus or Metrolink’s San Bernardino line.
“There is a lot of potential here,” said James Acevedo, founder and chief executive of Grapevine Development, which is building a housing and retail development near the El Monte Transit Center, the busiest bus station west of Chicago. “You just have to stick with it.”
Acevedo’s company is betting on young professionals moving to the area. But the pressure to build more housing and bring in new investment has brought fears of gentrification for some residents who live paycheck to paycheck.
Nearly 6 in 10 city residents are renters. About 17% live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, and the median income of $54,000 is about two-thirds the county average.
“You may leave El Monte, but it never leaves you,” said Joe Torosian, 57, a pastor of Burbank Faith Church of the Nazarene who was raised in El Monte and was editor of the high school athletics website Mid Valley Sports, based in the city, for 15 years.
Torosian said he grew up in the mid-1970s as the lone “half Armenian Protestant kid” on a street of Mexican Catholics, where kids became “El Monte tough,” bonding through Boy Scouts, Little League and church groups as their families pieced together a living.
The modest two-bedroom home on Kings Court where his single mother raised three children was bulldozed more than a decade ago to make way for the 114,000-square-foot Santa Fe Trail Plaza — a strip mall that includes Petco, Superior Grocers and Ross Dress for Less.
Even after the destruction of his old family home, Torosian feels close to his El Monte roots.
“I have friends who live in other states now and across the country who always identify as being from El Monte,” Torosian said. “It’s who we are.”
Times staff writer Grace Toohey contributed to this report.©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.