There was once a place in Duarte which kept the town together and provided fun and friendship for residents. It was a place where residents could sing, dance, picnic, and yodel. Yes yodel. It was a location where families and organizations could stage large or small events in a grand hall or in a park like setting. It was a perfect facility for concerts, weddings, family reunions or sporting events.
This place graced our town and for several decades it was the hub of local social life. In 1947, seven and a half acres of land behind where the Trails eventually stood were purchased by a conglomerate of Swiss organizations. The members of these clubs were united in a passionate goal to create a place to keep their homeland traditions alive and to gather for various activities that anchored their lives.
The plan at the outset would be to use the facilities for their own uses and to rent to outside groups. The dream became a reality which was known as “Swiss Park.” The rise and fall of this facility are never far from the memories of those who spent so much time there.
Hans H. Sulzer, along with his wife Ella, was largely responsible for turning this vacant land into a lush area of pine trees, palms and gardens planted by dedicated volunteers. A small building was moved to the property and extended over and over, until the facilities included a chalet-like structure that encompassed a dance hall, meeting rooms, a large kitchen, and outside patios. It was known as a place perfect for “fast tempos of polkas and schottisches.”
Swiss Park’s grand opening celebration in August of 1948, coincided with the 637th year of Swiss independence. At the dedication Swiss Consul Dr. Walter Schmid stated that because of the facility “the Swiss and Swiss Americans community of Los Angeles and surroundings will assume an even more prominent role among the Swiss people in this great country, and thereby further add prestige to the Old Home Land.”
One notable event at Swiss Park was the annual Fiesta de Duarte, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce which attracted more than 8000 people.
Over the next several years Swiss Park saw success and happy times. However, in the end it fell victim to Duarte’s Redevelopment Agency and was razed to make way for the homes that occupy the land today. The pride of the City was demolished, to remain only in the memories of those who spent many happy hours there.
In 1980 Swiss Park was paid off and bid farewell. The land was stripped of its structures, cleared of its trees and gardens and shrubs, leaving no trace of the gay times it once witnessed.
Today there is a new Swiss Park that encompasses 2 ½ acres in Whittier and there the Swiss clubs and other organizations hold their activities.
Nothing will ever replace the warm memories established at Duarte’s Swiss Park between 1947-1980.
Duarte's Chapel Inn
Once a house of worship and later a steak house, Duarte’s Chapel Inn is a part of local history which lives on in the memories of long-time residents. It was located on what is now the west side of Highland Avenue, north of Huntington, just south of the current Fire Station.
A group of English ranchers deeded land to Junius Maddock for the building of a mission and in1896 the cornerstone for the All Saints Episcopal Church was consecrated by the hierarchy of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Following the dedication, the parishioners spent Sundays working for the church. After services they would drive their wagons to the river to collect rocks for the walls of the church, building the little Norman Chapel.
Stained glass windows for the church were shipped from England, around the Horn, and arrived in Duarte “without a crack,” according to the book: On the Duarte. The first services were held on January 6, 1898, officiated by Bishop Johnson before a congregation of parishioners from Duarte and Monrovia.
After St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was opened in Monrovia, the congregation at All Saints dwindled down to six families. In 1926 it was deconsecrated and was resurrected as a restaurant.
The structure was purchased by Clarence and Delia Gordon and became a restaurant renowned throughout Southern California. Appropriately naming it The Chapel Inn, they preserved the church atmosphere and out of respect prohibited alcohol to be sold within its walls. Clarence, an accomplished carpenter, crafted the furniture for the Inn using old pews for special tables.
Dinners, served by candlelight, cost $2.75, lunches $1.75. The regular menu consisted of steamed, battered and deep fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, a vegetable, and salad. Hot biscuits and homemade pies were served.
It is said that many famed stars graced the restaurant including Claudette Colbert, Jean Harlow, Mary Pickford and Bette Davis. When the Gordons moved to Oregon, they sold the establishment to Annie Parsons of Pasadena. She carried on the tradition of excellence until World War II and personal issues led her to sell the building to the Duarte Post of the American Legion.
In time, the Legion ran into financial difficulties and in an effort to raise funds held a raffle in 1963. The winner of one of the prizes was Isabel Zelasko who won a beautiful unsigned painting of the Chapel Inn by artist George Dickenson. Isabel hung the painting at her residence where it remained until she moved into Leven Oaks. Her friend and agent, Odettte Cuccaro, a charter member of Duarte American Legion Post 830, on her behalf, graciously donated the painting to the Duarte Historical Museum where it is now on display.
This story is now approaching its sad ending. Sold by the Post, the building was bought by another entity which ran into trouble meeting tax obligations. In the end, and to the dismay of the community, the building was destroyed. History-minded residents swore to see that such a thing would never happen again to Duarte’s historical buildings. However, since that time, Duarte has seen many of its historical icons vanish including The Evergreen Motel, the Trails Restaurant, the Blvd. Café, the Big Sky Drive In, and the Columbia Bowl, to name a few.
The original altar of the All Saints Church is on display in the Chapel Room at the Duarte Museum. It is covered with an altar cloth from the San Gabriel Mission, donated by the late Victoria Duarte Cordova, the great, great granddaughter of Andres Duarte.
Rancho Vasquez Operating for Three Generations in Azusa
1703 Ranch Road, Azusa, CA
Rancho Vasquez Organic Avocados Lewis and Zack Vasquez
It is definitely a family affair culminating in lovely, perfect organic avocados grown on the 136-acre ranch in the foothills of Azusa. Greeted by two of the grandsons, Lewis and Zack, we marveled at the beautiful bags of avocados and asked dozens of questions which Zack gleefully answered. He is an expert! What kind of avocados do they grow? They harvest Hass, Fuerte and Lamb Hass avocados by hand, and deliver them to local restaurants and markets throughout Los Angeles. This time of year, Haas is in season.
Rancho Vasquez is a local family owned and operated business dating back three generations. Originally, they harvested organic avocados to supply the Vasquez family restaurant. Since then, they have grown into an approximately 136-acre organic avocado orchard where the Vasquez family all reside.
Art and Geri Vasquez are the proud owners of Rancho Vasquez. Art has been harvesting avocados since childhood. He always had avocado trees in his yard and shared the passion of fruit growing with his children just as his father and grandfather had done with him. At one point or another all five of Art and Geri’s children have shared in the growth of the ranch. Today on the ranch, harvest time is a family affair. Art and Geri can be caught At the ranch with one or all of their 10 grandchildren, sharing the family tradition of organic fruit growing.
Art and Geri’s third son, Vincent Vasquez is vice-president of the ranch. His cousin, Damien Vasquez is chief of operations. Together they attend to the daily operations and participate in every aspect of the ranch, from planting to harvesting to delivering the avocados. They are the arm in the trademark and the backbone of the ranch.
I learned of the ranch while reading Next Door and there found a glowing review by Karen Vance: “We visited this local ranch last weekend. Best avocados ever, creamy, and exactly what a real avocado is meant to be. They grow multiple varieties, but the Hass are in right now. The caracara oranges were also fresh and tasty.”
She reminds us “They are survivors, having experienced various nearby massive fires over the years.”
Why avocados? Because they are tasty and healthy. While avocados are high in dietary fiber and contain nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, it is their fat content that elevates them to superfood status. High in monounsaturated fat, avocados help increase the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Avocados have long been a part of the Mexican diet. Archaeologists have found evidence of avocado consumption going back almost 10,000 years in central Mexico. Back then, humans were simply gathering and eating wild avocados. Researchers believe that humans began cultivating avocados about 5,000 years ago. Used by Aztecs as a delicacy and an aphrodisiac, the fruit got its name from the Nahuatl word “ahuacatl,” which means "testicle." To the Aztec, avocados, which grow in pairs, were symbols of love and fertility.
Vasquez Ranch also sells their own lemons, oranges, and honey. When covid times are over, tours are conducted. In the meantime, stop in at their sales room and get your avocado questions answered. The ranch address is 1703 Ranch Road in Azusa.
Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of McDonalds
A party was held on December 12th, 2018, at the Historic Site of the Original McDonalds Unofficial Museum celebrating the 70 year anniversary of the McDonalds Hamburgers that opened December 12, 1948. In 1961 Ray Kroc purchased the rights for Franchising from the McDonald brothers for 2.7 million dollars.
The celebration was attended by McDonalds fans, including Miss Route 66, and the mayor of San Bernardino. Also present was Albert Okura, who owns the museum, the Juan Pollo restaurants and the town of Amboy on Route 66. Artists Rory and Phil, creators of the famous mural on the exterior of the building, were on hand. Mark Montgomery represented Duarte.
California Citrus State Historic Park
1870 Jackson St., Riverside, CA 92504
Much of this 377 acre park is covered with citrus groves and a free tasting tour is led by volunteer rangers several times a day. The museum features exhibits, movies and artifacts educating the public on the citrus industry. Park admittance is free, but a $5 parking permit must be purchased. It is a wonderful family-friendly experience. Take a picnic lunch.
Meetings Held 1st and 3rd Tuesday, 12:00pm - 1:30pm
1420 Santo Domingo Ave, Duarte, CA 91010
Click link to view Calendar of Meetings and Additional Events
California Citrus State Historic Park
A one hour drive to Riverside will take you to the California Citrus State Historic Park where the family can enjoy a hike among the endless thick citrus groves for a unique tasting experience. The park entrance features an old fashioned roadside fruit stand in the shape of an orange – a nostalgic memory for many.
The 377 acre park boasts a lovely picnic area, trails winding through the many groves and an interpretive museum where visitors can learn how oranges came to Riverside County, a story that reflects our own Duarte citrus history. During the late 1800s Duarte farmers realized that the essentially frost-free climate belt and fertile soil at the top third of the old Rancho de Duarte was responsible for the fact that our local citrus trees produced oranges larger, more perfectly formed, juicier and sweeter than any place else in California. These conditions attracted pioneers from near and far to Duarte, much like during the gold rush.
Oranges were first grown in California in the late 1700s, brought from Mexico by the Spanish colonists. In the beginning, oranges were grown mainly for local consumption. When the railroad linked Southern California with the rest of the nation an eastern citrus-free market resulted in a boom for our local growers causing a rapid influx of new settlers who recognized the agricultural promise of riches.
The first citrus-growers faced many challenges in this fledgling industry such as how to pack, ship, identify and advertise a perishable product for customers hundreds of miles away. Among the many innovative results was replacing the baskets and barrels with rectangular shaped boxes that could be easily handled and packed in railroad cars. Although the first of these boxes were labeled by branded trademarks or stenciled images, they were superseded by large paper labels designed to rapidly catch the attention of prospective purchasers. These posters developed in the 1880s and 1890s in the hands of artists and graphic designers and are coveted today by collectors. Most early labels are rare, reflecting a graphic form of American commercial art.
The Duarte Historical Society & Museum’s Citrus Room has on display a few dozen such labels. One label, the St. Patrick’s Brand, is from the original Mt. Olivet Ranch in Duarte and is sold at the Museum as a postcard.
Duarte’s oranges became famous and in 1890 won first prize at the State Citrus Fair for the “finest specimens of Washington Navel Oranges.” Oranges from Duarte also enjoyed premium prizes in National competitions.
Duartean Everett Adams grew up on Duarte’s Baird Ranch where his father supervised the crews that harvested the orange groves. He remembers that during the war, German prisoners of war were brought to the ranch to pick the fruit.
Trekking through the shady groves at the Citrus State Park, one could imagine how our local ranches looked and smelled. Ripe fruit covered the grounds, and boughs hung low weighted by the golden fruit. Often the ranger would cut branches, tear off the fruit, and hand it out for our tasting. Some were sweet, some sour, some divine and a few inedible. There are several varieties of mandarin and navel oranges, kumquats, many types of limes, grapefruit, and the strangest of all: the fingerling lime.
The park is located at 1879 Jackson Street, Riverside and is open all year, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a $5 charge for a parking permit but no entrance fee. The museum offers exhibits, displays, a movie and identification of many varieties of citrus fruit. Fruit tasting tours are led by volunteer docents several times a day and are free. A gift shop features citrus-related gifts. Food is not sold in the park, but the picnic area is lovely.
Check back for the next Speaker date.
Duarte Historical Society & Museum
777 Encanto Parkway
Duarte, CA 91010
Phone: (626) 357-9419
Send Mail to: P.O. Box 263, Duarte, CA 91009