La Habra’s Boulevard of the Bells Honors History

Photo by Emerson Little

At the corner of La Habra Boulevard and Euclid, there’s a green replica bell set back from the street and mounted within a large piece of a mission-style wall. A plaque placed at an angle at the base of the wall marks this spot as “La Habra’s Birthplace.” The historic bell and plaque caught my attention as I was stopped at the intersection one day, and seeing them made me want to learn more about the city’s history.

According to what is written on the plaque, “The first post office, officially naming this settlement ‘La Habra,’ was granted in 1896 and was established in a corner of Coy’s Store, located on this site. El Camino Viejo, the old road between missions, passed this corner, which became a central trading point in the fertile La Habra valley.”

In 1976, the plaque was placed by the Orange County Board of Supervisors and Orange County Historical Commission to designate the street corner as Historical Site Number 21, according to an inscription below the County of Orange seal at the plaque’s base. On September 17, 1987, another plaque was positioned at that same location to “dedicate this monument in celebration of the bicentennial of the United States Constitution, which was adopted 200 years ago today.”

Before the community of La Habra was founded, it was part of Rancho Canada de La Habra, a 6,698 acre ranch owned by Don Mariano Reyes Roldan, according to the City’s website. “The year was 1839, and the name referred to the ‘pass through the hills,’ the natural pass to the north first discovered by Spanish explorers in 1769. In the 1860s, Abel Stearns purchased Rancho de La Habra. Soon thereafter, heavy flooding, followed by a severe drought, brought bankruptcy to many cattle ranchers.”

In 1896, the community was formally founded, and named “La Habra” once a United States Post Office opened inside a corner store. According to Eric Brightwell’s website, California Fool’s Gold, a man named W.J. Cole founded the town, and his brother-in-law, Zachary T. Coy, opened the first store, Coy’s Store.

Coy was La Habra’s original postmaster. His store was located at the crossroads of Central Avenue and Euclid, the same spot where the La Habra Civic Center is today. Central Avenue “ran east-west through the center of the village of La Habra” and was later renamed La Habra Boulevard, according to an image from the La Habra Historical Museum.

Today, there’s a replica El Camino Real bell situated on the side of the La Habra Civic Center facing Euclid. It’s one of several replica bells that commemorate the original El Camino Real route, which passed through the area during the mission days. According to the City of La Habra’s website, replica 1906 bells have been placed at significant sites along that route.

Looking up at the street sign, I noticed that this historical corridor is now named “The Boulevard of the Bells.” In fact, according to the October 1988 issue of Orange Coast Magazine, there was a recognition ceremony of the old El Camino Real bells held for the Centennial year, at which time, La Habra Boulevard was dedicated as the “Boulevard of the Bells.”

According to a July 2003 Los Angeles Times article written by Brady MacDonald, “The trail through Orange County, at least as it was mapped by the Auto Club of Southern California in 1912, closely follows Interstate 5 from San Diego County, zigzags through Santa Ana, heads north along Anaheim and Harbor boulevards, then makes a sharp left on La Habra Boulevard toward Whittier.” I drove down La Habra’s Boulevard of the Bells and counted at least eight replica bells, with each side of the street containing bell posts spaced out at varying distances.

On La Habra Boulevard, just east of Harbor, I spotted the City of La Habra’s crest positioned just above the words “Boulevard of the Bells” on a concrete sign reminiscent of mission architecture. Almost every bell post beyond that point had a small plaque on the sidewalk at its base commemorating a historic part of the community.

For example, by a bell situated close to a senior living home, there was a sidewalk plaque that read, “The first commercial avocado grove in Orange County was nearby.” I believe the sign was referring to the fact that La Habra postman Rudolph Hass “originated the popular Hass avocado in La Habra Heights” during the late 1920s, according to a 2016 article Chris Jepsen wrote for the Los Angeles Times. It would make sense as La Habra’s city tree is the avocado.

So, the next time you’re driving down La Habra Boulevard, keep an eye out for the green bells labeled with the words “El Camino Real” because that means you’re driving on the Boulevard of the Bells.