The Valley's Lure

by Danny King

The first postwar Asian migration to the San Gabriel Valley owed much to 1965's Immigration and Naturalization Act, which repealed an earlier immigration quota system.

The wave of Chinese, Korean and Japanese who had come to the U.S. largely for educational purposes began settling in West San Gabriel Valley towns like Alhambra and Monterey Park, where the Asian population jumped to 15 percent from 3 percent between 1960 and 1970.

By the late 1970s, Monterey Park had become the focal point for Asian migration, largely due to the efforts of Chinese-born real estate developer Frederic Hseih.

Hseih marketed Monterey Park in Taiwanese and mainland Chinese newspapers as a place where the educated and entrepreneurial could achieve a better life, using the city's name (which he loosely translated as "Lush Green Valley") and 818 area code at the time ("8" is seen by Chinese symbol of prosperity).

The plan worked. Monterey Park became the first American city with an Asian majority. Neighboring communities Alhambra and San Gabriel also saw their Asian populations soar in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The effect on local real estate was immediate. Unlike the "rags to riches" history of many ethnic communities in the United states, this migration brought with it no "rags."

"(Asians) could only get out of their country if they had cash," said Marty Rodriguez, owner of Glendora-based Century 21 Marty Rodriguez Real Estate, who has been selling homes in the Valley since 1978. "So people that were coming here were able to buy."

This translated to the commercial front as well, as entrepreneurs capitalized on family and commercial connections back home by opening local manufacturing and distribution businesses.

As the West Valley became saturated in the mid '80s, wealthier business owners headed north to communities like San Marino and Arcadia, attractive because of their proximity to the West Valley and highly regarded school systems.

"If you look at a lot of good school districts La Canada, San Marino, Arcadia you'll see a lot of Asians," said Kelvin Lee, managing director of San Marino-based East West Bank who has worked in the San Gabriel Valley for 20 years.

Businesses looking for greater access to freeways headed down the Pomona (60) Freeway the in the mid-'80s.

"As Monterey Park and Alhambra became absorbed, they needed to move east," said CB Richard Ellis Associate Lynn Knox, noting that the City of Industry's emergence as a business center at the time.

Home buyers followed the move east, and communities like Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights, which already had boasted a sizeable Hispanic community, became more popular with Asian families. As a result, home prices doubled in these communities between 1986 and 1989, according to Rodriguez.

In particular, Hacienda Heights' emergence as a hub of local Asian culture was illustrated by the opening of the His Lai Buddhist Temple in 1988.

With the boom of the late '90s, the Asian presence has reached Diamond Bar a destination for those whose businesses are off the Orange (57) Freeway. Walnut has joined Monterey Park and Rowland Heights as Valley communities with an Asian-majority population.

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