MONROVIA - CITY OF PETUNIAS
In 1932, as the City of Los Angeles prepared for the Summer Games, the towns and cities in Los Angeles County prepared for the influx of visitors from across the country and around the world. The Olympic Beautification Project activated residents across the County to create an inviting welcome to Southern California.
Monrovia selected the petunia as its flower of choice, and set a goal of planting a million petunias. Organized under the leadership of Fred Schwartz, the city was divided into six sections, each with one leader directing 60 assistants. A man on each block was charged with ensuring the planting plans were carried out.
The whole city got involved, from the Chamber of Commerce and the Business and Professional Women's Association, the American Legion and the Parent-Teacher's Association, Boy Scouts and the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs. The newspaper ran a petunia song contest. High school art students created numerous posters to generate excitement about the project. The City Nursery in Recreation Park, managed by city gardener Fred Cole, gave away 35,000 petunia plants to residents over a two-day span in April 1932.
A million petunias were planted in parkways and planters, along railroad tracks and in vacant lots, in tubs in front of businesses and even along the edges of orchards. Additionally, the city planted 200 live oak trees along Huntington and Foothill Boulevards, the main thoroughfares through Monrovia. Being on Route 66, Monrovia became the main entrance to Southern California for many Olympics-bound travelers. Nothing less than the good will, the honor, the fealty and the loyalty of Monrovia was at stake!
Why the petunia? It's easy to grow in sunny situations, and with a little cultivation produces colorful trumpet-shaped flowers. Many other cities participated in the Olympic Beautification project, including Sierra Madre (ivy geranium), Glendale (gladiolus) and Long Beach (petunias). The City of Los Angeles planted 40,000 palm trees as part of the project, many of which still stand today.
Monrovia's efforts did not go unnoticed. The Christian Science Monitor carried a front-page article commending Monrovia for the petunia planting, stating "the city was noticeable among all the beautiful cities of Southern California." And Mrs. Frances Duncan, a horticulture writer for Ladies Home Journal and McCall's Magazine, remarked that the results obtained by Monrovia's activities were by far the most effective of the ones she had investigated.
In 1963, after a city-wide contest under the leadership of the Monrovia Garden Club, the Blue Iris became the official city flower.