A peek into Irwindale’s past

Editors’ Corner column:

Irwindale is a perfect example.

I was talking to a reporter recently about the departure of longtime editor Phil Drake a few months ago. She asked me what the impact on the paper was.

Institutional memory was my first thought. Drake was a sounding board when it came to the history of the San Gabriel Valley and the events we had covered.

I was reminded of that after several recent Irwindale stories. I went through our archives to learn about the city’s past and found its history filled with recurring themes and names.

Mining pits, recall efforts and investigations. Breceda, Miranda, Diaz, Silva and Tapia.

Irwindale is a perfect example.

I was talking to a reporter recently about the departure of longtime editor Phil Drake a few months ago. She asked me what the impact on the paper was.

Institutional memory was my first thought. Drake was a sounding board when it came to the history of the San Gabriel Valley and the events we had covered.

I was reminded of that after several recent Irwindale stories. I went through our archives to learn about the city’s past and found its history filled with recurring themes and names.

Mining pits, recall efforts and investigations. Breceda, Miranda, Diaz, Silva and Tapia.

Those were just a few of the historical connections in the nearly 10-square-mile city that popped up in almost all of the decades of stories I read. Most of the connections are still relevant. Reporter Fred Ortega was working on a story about a pit along the 605 Freeway that was slated for commercial development. Now, apparently, any construction could take a few more years because of questions on how the pit was filled. The city has had a long love-hate relation with mining companies. They battled in court for decades over mining operations, but Irwindale earned millions in
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revenue. But the city tired of being thought of as a pit town, and residents wondered about health effects.

The city is also entangled in a recall effort that seems to have lost steam. Rosemary Gutierrez, a former Irwindale councilwoman, filed a recall petition against councilmen Manual Ortiz and David “Chico” Fuentes. It was supposedly prompted because Fuentes and Ortiz voted to approve a contract for City Manager Robert Griego.

Earlier, after a story about Irwindale’s lavish junkets from reporters Jennifer McLain and Tania Chatila, the District Attorney’s Office opened up an investigation into thousand-dollar meals, Broadway and Yankees tickets, and chauffeurs used by city officials.

All interesting and important revelations but nothing compared to the old days, according to the past stories I read.

In the early ’70s, Richard Diaz, who was a longtime mayor, was the target of a blackmail plot that involved spiked enchiladas, lewd pictures, drugged drinks and chloroform. All were an attempt to blackmail him into backing legalized gambling in the city. The effort failed, and people went to jail in connection with that mess.

A ’60s investigation into corruption prompted me to hunt down the picture on the photo above.

I read a July 10, 1961, story written by several reporters, including recently retired editor Bill Bell, who used Lewis Bell as a byline and who Frank Girardot, our city editor, believes is the young man with glasses typing away at his computer in the photo.

In the article, the prose rattled with condemnation and characterizations of crooked elections, investigations, recalls, hamstrung law enforcement and dictatorial leaders.

“Irwindale is a city scared out of its wits. Appearance of a stranger is enough to send women scurrying into their yards to fetch their children indoors.”

The headline on the story was: “Irwindale Exclusive: City Scared, Honest Cops Wait It Out.”

The photo was taken while reporters were working on the scandal. A West Covina police officer was there for protection, and reporters were armed when they went to Irwindale meetings. Yes. It was a simpler time.

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