By the early 19th century the area was part of the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel mission system and later, the Rancho San Antonio. The area first received a separate identity when Alessandro Repetto purchased 5,000 acres (20 km²) of the rancho and built his home, not far from where the Edison substation is now located on Garfield Avenue.
By this time Old World diseases had killed off many of the Tongva, and by 1870 the area had few left.
It was at this time, Richard Garvey, a mail rider for the U.S. Army whose route took him through Monterey Pass, a trail that is now Garvey Avenue, settled down in the King's Hills. Garvey began developing the land by bringing in spring water from near the Hondo River and by constructing a high dam to form Garvey Lake located where Garvey Ranch Park is now. To pay for his development and past debts, Garvey began selling portions of his property. In 1906, the first subdivision in the area, Ramona Acres, was developed north of Garvey and east of Garfield Avenues.
In 1916, the new residents of the area initiated action to become a city when the cities of Pasadena, South Pasadena, and Alhambra proposed to put a large sewage treatment facility in the area. The community voted itself into city hood on May 29, 1916, by a vote of 455 to 33. The City's new Board of Directors immediately outlawed sewage plants within city boundaries and named the new city Monterey Park. The name was taken from an old government map showing the oak-covered hills of the area as Monterey Hills. In 1920, a large area on the south edge of the city broke away and the separate city of Montebello was established.
By 1920, the white and Spanish-surname settlers were joined by Asian residents who began farming potatoes and flowers and developing nurseries in the Monterey Highlands area. They improved the Monterey Pass Trail with a road to aid in shipping their produce to Los Angeles. The nameless pass, which had been a popular location for western movies, was called Coyote Pass by Pioneer Masami Abe.
In 1926, near the corner of Atlantic and Garvey Boulevards, Laura Scudder invented the first sealed bag of potato chips. In an effort to maintain quality and freshness, Laura's team would iron sheets of wax paper together to form a bag. They would fill these bags with potato chips; iron the top closed, and then deliver them to various retailers.
Real estate became a thriving industry during the late 1920s with investors attracted to the many subdivisions under development and increasing commercial opportunities. One such development was the Midwick View Estates by Peter N. Snyder, a proposed garden community that was designed to rival Bel Air and Beverly Hills. Known as the "Father of the East Side", Mr. Snyder was a key player in the vast undertaking in the 1920s of developing the East Side as part of the industrial base of Los Angeles. His efforts to build Atlantic Boulevard, his work with the East Side organization to bring industry to the East Side and his residential and commercial development projects along Atlantic Boulevard (Gardens Square, Golden Gate Square, and the Midwick View Estates) were a major influence to the surrounding communities. The focal point of the Midwick View Estates was Jardin del Encanto, otherwise known as "El Encanto", a Spanish style building that was to serve as the administration building and community center for Midwick View Estates and an amphitheater to be nestled into the hillside above Kingsford Street. Although the amphitheater was never built, the observation terrace from which viewers could look down to Jardin del Encanto and the fountain with cascading water going down the hillside in stepped pools to De La Fuente remains and is now known as Heritage Falls Park or "the Cascades". It was result of the Depression that brought an abrupt end to the real estate boom and the Midwick proposal. The City had little development for nearly two decades.
The end of World War II resulted in a revived growth trend and explosive population gains during the 1940s and 1950s. Until this time, the population was concentrated in the northern and southern portions of the city, with the Garvey and Monterey Hills forming a natural barrier. With the renewed growth, many new subdivisions were developed, utilizing even the previously undeveloped central area to allow for maximum growth potential. A series of annexations of surrounding land also occurred.
From the late 1980s, with a combined influx of Vietnamese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong immigrant students at the time, Mark Keppel High School (constructed during the New Deal era and located in Alhambra, but also serving most of Monterey Park and portions of Rosemead) felt the impact of this new immigration as the student population increased dramatically. This led to overcrowding. Today, many students are largely second- or third-generation Asian Americans.
In the late 1980s the city of Monterey Park passed an ordinance requiring signs to be posted in English, as well as a moratorium on new building in an attempt to regulate to massive growth the city experienced as a result of the influx of Asian immigrants. This controversial move caused many Asian residents and businesses to shift focus, establishing themselves in the neighboring city of Alhambra. These actions were subsequently rescinded once the potential loss of business revenue was recognized.
Since early 1990s, the Taiwanese have been no longer dominant in the city and Cantonese is now widely spoken and heard in most Chinese businesses of Monterey Park. The construction boom of shopping centers has declined. High property values and overcrowding in Monterey Park have contributed to a secondary movement. Furthermore, most established, wealthy Taiwanese immigrants have since relocated out of Monterey Park and northward on to wealthier cities of San Marino, Arcadia, Temple City, South Pasadena and eastward to Rowland Heights (called the "new Little Taipei" by a local Chinese-language newspaper), Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights, and Walnut with many Chinese-speaking businesses started in those suburbs to accommodate this particular movement. This path exactly follows the White Flight of the late 1970s. There are still countless Chinese-oriented businesses in Monterey Park. Development of new buildings in Monterey Park have come to a standstill and several overgrown weedy lots still remain undeveloped. Upcoming commercial developments include the Atlantic Times Square, a of commercial/retail space including a 14-screen theater within a mixed use project at the southeast corner of Atlantic Boulevard and Hellman Avenue, and the Garvey Villas at the southwest corner of Atlantic Boulevard and Garvey Avenue.
Monterey Park has not been called Chinatown as such; instead, the Chinese-dominant business district, around Garfield Avenue and Garvey Avenue, is now called Downtown Monterey Park. In the mid-1980s, Lincoln Plaza Hotel was built to service tourists from Taiwan and Hong Kong, with original plans to have it also serve as a venue as a Chinese convention center.
Monterey Park has several choices of Hong Kong fusion cafes (in fact, the first Hong Kong-style cafe opened in San Gabriel Valley actually started in Monterey Park, but it has since closed due to intense competition) and Cantonese seafood restaurants as well as some choices of restaurants offering Mainland Chinese noodles and dumplings. Interestingly, as the activity of Taiwanese immigrant activity shifted to San Gabriel, Arcadia and Rowland Heights in the 1980s and 1990s, very few trendy Taiwanese restaurants have opened in Monterey Park.
While the multi-generational American-born Latino population was generally declining in Monterey Park, there has been some new incoming of Mexican immigrants.
Monterey Park is home to the Garvey Ranch Observatory, located in Garvey Ranch Park, which is operated by the Los Angeles Astronomical Society (LAAS). It adjoins a telescope construction workshop, a historical museum and a library. The observatory houses an refractor, and the grounds are open to the public for astronomical observation (hosted by LAAS members) on Wednesday evenings.
Currently, several major construction projects are taking place in Monterey Park. Four plans have been made available for viewing on the Monterey Park website:
The Atlantic Times Square is a mixed-use project located along Atlantic Boulevard, at the southeast corner of Atlantic and Hellman Avenue. The Atlantic Times Square will offer over of retail and entertainment space adjacent to the I-10 San Bernardino Freeway. The complex is slated to feature a 14-screen AMC Theater Cineplex, a Chili's restaurant, a Cold Stones Creamery, and a Quizno's, among others. 210 condominiums will be integrated into the development.
The Monterey Park Towne Centre offers of retail space in the heart of Monterey Park's Downtown revitalization. Integrated into a mixed-use development with 109 high quality condominiums, the Towne Centre features a palm court entry surrounded by major anchors, specialty shops and outdoor dining. Residents will enjoy such amenities as a community clubhouse, recreation facilities and private, secured parking.
Cascades Market Place will be located next to the State Highway 60, Pomona Freeway, is the future site of the Monterey Park Market Place power center. This 45 acre project site has grade level visibility from the freeway unmatched by any retail project in the region.
The city boundaries include Los Angeles to the west, unincorporated East Los Angeles to the south, Alhambra to the north, Rosemead to the northeast, Montebello to the south, and unincorporated South San Gabriel to the southeast.
Additional transportation is provided by the city government (Spirit bus service and Metrolink feeder bus), the city of Montebello and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.7 square miles (19.9 km²), of which, 7.6 square miles (19.8 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (0.39%) is water.
There were 19,564 households out of which 31.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.4% were married couples living together, 15.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 22.1% were non-families. 17.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.06 and the average family size was 3.43.
In the city the population was spread out with 21.3% under the age of 18, 8.4% from 18 to 24, 30.2% from 25 to 44, 22.2% from 45 to 64, and 17.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 92.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $40,724, and the median income for a family was $43,507. Males had a median income of $32,463 versus $29,057 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,661. About 12.4% of families and 15.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.6% of those under age 18 and 9.2% of those age 65 or over.
The current mayor of Monterey Park is Benjamin "Frank" Venti. Mayor Pro-Tem is Mitchell Ing. The remaining City Council Members are Anthony Wong, David Lau and Sharon Martinez.
The City Council is the legislative and policy-making body for the City of Monterey Park. Council Members are elected at-large for four-year, overlapping terms of office. The Mayor, who is selected during each Council reorganization every nine and half months, presides over all Council meetings and is the ceremonial head of the City for all official functions.
Four school districts all serve different areas of Monterey Park. They include Alhambra Unified School District, Garvey School District, Los Angeles Unified School District, and Montebello Unified School District
Garvey Intermediate School (Rosemead) also serves this portion.
Once residents graduate from grade 8, they are zoned to Alhambra's Mark Keppel HS.