Incorporated in 1887, early Monrovia, California was first known as home to the “finest“ chicken ranches in the state and as the site of the largest date packing plant in the world. With air and climate officially certified as one of the “most healthful” in America by the American Medical Society, the town’s population grew 66% by 1923. Conveniently located forty-five minutes from Los Angeles via the Glendora line of the “Pacific Electric,” local boosters promoted Monrovia as the “Gem City of the Foothills.” Described as the ideal place to live with air “laundered every twenty-four hours…washed clean and sparkling” by sea breezes, the poultry and fruit center quickly grew to twenty-four residential subdivisions and a $500,000 country club. (Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1923) The demand for new housing was keen and developments “sold out before the engineer’s maps are completed or the street work more than started.”
As Monrovia grew, the first City Manager, Harry Scoville and the Board of Trustees proposed in 1924 an ambitious civic building program for a city hall, fire department building, justice and police department building, and a city garage—the Administrative Group. The project was to be paid with an initial issuance of bonds totaling $50,000. Proposals were received from a number of Los Angeles County architects and the Trustees made their selection on the evening of May 6, 1924. The winning rendering for a complex of mission-style buildings with red tile roofs and stucco walls was submitted by a young Paul R. Williams and his project partner, structural engineer Milton W. Nigg. Set in a park of mature oak trees and covering a half block, their proposal was “distinctly Californian in style” and aesthetically compatible with the rest of the town. (Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1924 and Picturesque Monrovia, 1929) The Monrovia Administrative Group would be one of Williams’ earliest successes in large scale public ventures.
Built of reinforced concrete and plaster with a tile roof, the initial phase of the Administrative Group—the Fire Department and Hall of Justice/Police Department/Jail buildings was completed in 1925 by Stanton & Hubert and occupied in February. (Southwest Builder and Contractor, June 6, 1924) The Municipal Plunge (swimming pool) and bathhouse, tennis courts and athletic fields were completed the same year. Though the partnership of Nigg & Williams included a design for a new City Hall, the City of Monrovia did not complete the master plan. A contentious relationship between the city manager and the Trustees brought the building program to a halt. In 1954 a new mid-century style Monrovia City Hall was built replacing the original 65 year old building. In 1963 the Nigg & Williams’ designed Hall of Justice and the Fire Department were razed to make way for new buildings. The original Municipal Plunge was preserved, becoming the home of the Monrovia Historical Museum.Special thanks to Stephen R. Baker, Monrovian City Historian, for his help with this essay.