We're Exploring LA County's 88 Cities. Here's Your Guide To La Verne

(Map created by Angelica Quintero)

Los Angeles County has 88 cities, and KPCC/LAist plans to explore them all. We're recruiting listeners and readers to take us to the neighborhoods they live in and love. From Long Beach to Lancaster, follow our journey here and on the radio with Take Two.

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LA VERNE: A SMALL TOWN WITH A WELCOMING HEART

An orphan orange tree grows on the side of Los Encinos Park in La Verne. The city was named after the green foothills of the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)

This city of nearly 32,000 rests at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains and was once known as the Heart of the Orange Empire.

Orange groves used to sweep across the landscape. However, decades of fruit diseases and the demand for new homes squeezed out groves to just the two that remain (one of which you can pick from every spring!)

Budding orange trees at the La Verne Cooperative Citrus Association, ca.1920. (USC Libraries and California Historical Society)

Nowadays, La Verne is a sleepy bedroom community filled with white picket fences and small-town charm.

The most disturbance it's gotten are from wedding crashers. The local United Methodist Church is where Dustin Hoffman's Ben Braddock interrupted the ceremony at the end of The Graduate — and where Mike Myers spoofed the same scene (twice) in Wayne's World 2.

But it's the story of another church that helped La Verne become the city it is today.

OUR GUIDE: KATRINA BELTRAN

Katrina Beltran grew up in La Verne. Her grandfather Chuck Boyer was an influential figure at the Church of the Brethren in La Verne, an Anabaptist denomination, and holds peace and humbleness among its core tenets. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)

Beltran, 24, grew up in the city and, aside from a few years in Maryland for college, has lived in La Verne nearly her whole life.

Favorite thing about La Verne: It's a small college town that's blossomed in her lifetime.

EXPLORING THE CITY

(Map created by Angelica Quintero)

1. OLD TOWN LA VERNE

Old Town is where small-town Americana comes to life. A handful of blocks along D Street make up the area, with newcomers like the trendy Cactus Coffee next to long-time businesses such as Warehouse Pizza.

"If you ask anyone from the area, they'll highly recommend the Warehouse Salad," said Beltran. "It's lettuce with just a big bunch of cheese on top!"

A mural in La Verne's Old Town nods to the city's past as the "Heart of the Orange Empire." (Andrew Cullen for LAist)

It can get really bustling, too; On a recent Monday afternoon, many of the restaurants were packed with people eating and enjoying the nice weather on the patios.

There are also landmarks that point to the city's past life when it was once known as Lordsburg.

The Lordsburg Taphouse & Grill, situated in a building that once served as a citrus packing shed in La Verne's Old Town, takes the original moniker granted to the city by its founder Isaac Wilson Lord in 1887. The bar is decorated with historical photos of the town and the railroad and citrus industries that dominated its early days. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)

Beltran explained how the town was founded by a Los Angeles developer named Isaac Wilson Lord.

In the 1880s, he convinced the Santa Fe Railroad company to build a train depot in the area. He established a town named after himself - Lordsburg - and created a 60-room hotel with the dream of it becoming a vacation destination.

He even sent out brass bands to L.A. and San Bernardino offering free train rides to the town.

The Lorsdburg Hotel, ca. late 1800s, built in La Verne by developer I.W. Lord. (Courtesy La Verne Historical Society)

"But unfortunately by the time he was done, the land boom had ended," Beltran said, "and so there was no one that wanted to stay out here."

To make ends meet, he needed some salvation.

2. UNIVERSITY OF LA VERNE

Today, the University of La Verne has 8,600 students across 10 campuses. (Andrew Cullen/Andrew Cullen for LAist)

Lordsburg was a bust, but help eventually came in 1889 from Midwesterner M.M. Eshelman.

Eshelman was from the denomination German Baptist Brethren, and he traveled along the railroad in search of a place to establish a West Coast school.

He loved the area, bought the defunct hotel and reopened it in 1891 as Lordsburg College.

"Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana — that's where a majority of the Brethren folk were," said Beltran.

And the idea of a school in sunny California was a major draw to Brethren retirees who wanted to settle down and also give their families a Christian education.

Churchgoers raised their families alongside the long-time orange farmers, giving rise to a very close-knit, residential community.

In 1917, shortly after Isaac Wilson Lord died, the city voted to rename itself La Verne, a French tribute to the area's green hills. The college followed suit with the new name La Verne College (and eventually University of La Verne in 1977).

Today, the city is still a college town, with about 8,400 students attending the university in 2016.

3. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN

The Church of the Brethren purchased Isaac Wilson Lord's failing hotel in 1889 to found the University of La Verne. The current church sits adjacent to the original location, and its presence and the college it started proved to be the main catalyst in the development of La Verne. (Andrew Cullen/Andrew Cullen for LAist)

Beltran believes the heart and soul of La Verne rests at the Church of the Brethren.

The denomination is one of the three peace churches that includes the Quakers and Mennonites.

"A big part of the Church of the Brethren are its pacifist values," said Beltran, "and specifically here in La Verne, inclusion and equality are two of the biggest values."

A "peace pole" stands outside the church, with welcoming messages in different languages for all the cultures in the area, and rainbow flags fly on both sides of the chapel's doorway.

In fact, the La Verne congregation created a worldwide controversy among the denomination in 1993 over LGBTQ rights.

It was because of Beltran's late grandfather, Senior Pastor Chuck Boyer.

He was the first leader to say he welcomed LGBTQ people into the faith, and would be open to them taking leadership roles.

"If you talk to other Brethren people, sometimes they don't like the La Verne church as much," Beltran said. As recently as 2012, the church protested when the denomination passed a resolution opposing same-sex marriage.

But she believes that seeing the diversity of Southern California helped drive her grandfather to reach out to all

Shortly after 9/11, he contacted a nearby Muslim school and had the congregation usher children into and out of classes, shielding them from anti-Muslim demonstrators.

Those values hold true today where the current senior pastor, Susan Boyer (no relation), called the same school after the 2015 San Bernardino shootings so congregants could once again shield students.

"We have a strong voice of inclusion and welcome that is absolutely 100 percent who we are and normal for us," she said.

Pastor Susan Boyer is the current pastor of the Church of the Brethren in La Verne. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)

Beltran adds that you can see those same values in newcomers to La Verne, even if they aren't a part of the church.

"Maybe they don't realize how strong the values that the Church and the University have set in the city," she said. "But I see a lot of parents volunteering. You see a lot of people who never thought they'd be refereeing or coaching a soccer team or something like that. They're volunteering to help improve the community."

MORE TO LOVE ABOUT LA VERNE

The Lordsburg Taphouse & Grill, situated in a building that once served as a citrus packing shed in La Verne's Old Town, takes the original moniker granted to the city by its founder Isaac Wilson Lord in 1887. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)
  • Lordsburg Taphouse and Grill - this local haunt in Old Town features photographs and memorabilia from the city's past as Lordsburg. It also has a wall of beers on tap, and is a great place to grab a bite and a pint.
  • Heritage Park - A park that pays tribute to La Verne's orangey past, this place provides lots of opportunity for fun. Whether it's orange picking, a pumpkin patch or their summer concert series, Heritage Park provides a great opportunity to spend time outside.
  • Wahfles - Whether you're looking for something sweet, savory, or highly caffeinated, Wahfles has a coffee shop atmosphere with some trendy waffles to boot.
  • Norm's Hangar - A cute diner-esque restaurant where you can sit and watch planes take off and land.
Patrons can watch the busy small-plane traffic at Brackett Field Airport from Norm's Hangar, a runway-side cafe in La Verne. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)

Editor's note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it on KPCC's Take Two.