Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the land along the Rio Hondo River was populated by the Tongva (Gabrielino) part of the Uto-Aztecan family Native Americans. The Tongva occupied much of the Los Angeles basin and the islands of Santa Catalina, San Nicolas, San Clemente and Santa Barbara. When the Spanish explorer Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo arrived off the shores of Santa Catalina, the Tongva came out in their canoes to meet with him in 1542. The language of the Tongva was different from the neighboring Indian tribes and it was called Gabrielino by the Spanish.
The Gabrielinos lived in dome-like structures with thatched exteriors. Both sexes wore long hair styles and tattooed their bodies. During warm weather the men wore little clothing, but the women would wear minimal skirts made of animal hides. During the cold weather they would wear animal skin capes.
European diseases killed many of the Tongva and by 1870 the area had few remaining native inhabitants.
Franciscan Missionaries, Fathers Angel Somera and Pedro Cambon, founded the original Mission San Gabriel Arcangel on September 8, 1771, near where San Gabriel Boulevard now crosses the Rio Hondo, which is also near the present day Sanchez Adobe Mansion. This marked the beginning of the Los Angeles region's settlement by Spaniards.
The San Gabriel Mission was the fourth of 21 missions that would ultimately be established along California's El Camino Real. The San Gabriel mission did well as a cattle ranch and farm, but six years after its founding a destructive flood led the mission fathers to relocate the establishment to its current location farther north in present day city of San Gabriel. The original mission site is now marked by a California Historical Landmark.
During the early years of the mission, the region operated under a Rancho system. The lands which now compose the city of Montebello were originally parts of Rancho San Antonio, Rancho La Merced, and Rancho Paso de Bartolo. The Juan Matias Sanchez Adobe, built in 1844, remains standing at the center of old Rancho La Merced in Eastern Montebello in the La Merced area and is the city's oldest structure.
Another important event that took place in Montebello was the Battle of Rio San Gabriel on January 8, 1847. This battle is re-enacted every year in September. It was this battle that gave the United States the opportunity to win California in the Mexican-American war. Today the site is California State Historical Landmark #385, and there are two old cannons and a plaque commemorating the battle overlooking the river on Bluff Rd. and Washington Blvd.
Following the American Civil War, some 5,000 acres (20 km2) of the East Los Angeles region was owned by an Italian settler from Genoa, Alessandro Repetto. After Repetto's death in 1885, his rancho was purchased by a consortium of five Los Angeles businessmen including banker Isaias Hellman and wholesale grocer/historian Harris Newmark. Later the land was divided among the partners, one large parcel of approximately 2,000 acres (8 km2) going to a partnership of Newmark and his nephew, banker Kaspare Cohn. Eventually, they subdivided this land, after seeking the advice of hydraulic engineer William Mulholland in the design and construction of a water system.
An area of 200 acres (0.81 km2) adjacent to the tracks of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad (now part of the Union Pacific Railroad) were developed into a townsite called Newmark, and the remainder of the land was subdivided into larger lots suitable for small-scale agriculture. On Mulholland's suggestion, this land was given the name Montebello, which was adopted as the city's name, replacing the original name Newmark when it incorporated in 1920. The name, Montebello, which means beautiful hill in both Italian and Spanish, is shared with several other communities in Europe and the Americas.
Newmark was originally an agricultural community. The discovery of oil by Standard Oil Company on the Anita Baldwin property in 1917 brought about a revolutionary change to Newmark. The agricultural hills soon became a major contributor to oil production. By 1920, its oil fields were producing one-eighth of California's crude oil. On October 19, 1920, the city's name was changed to Montebello and it was incorporated as the 35th of the present cities in Los Angeles County.
Montebello is also home to a significant Japanese-Peruvian and Japanese-Hawaiian community, who settled in the area after WWII and the internment camps
Montebello is known to be home to the oldest Armenian Community in Los Angeles County and home to the only Armenian Cathedral (Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral) in Western United States constructed in 1981.
Montebello is located 8 miles (13 km) east of downtown Los Angeles at the southwestern part of the San Gabriel Valley. The surrounding cities are Monterey Park, South San Gabriel, and Rosemead to the north, Commerce to the south, Pico Rivera to the east, and Los Angeles and East Los Angeles to the west. It is also sometimes considered part of the Gateway Cities, and the city is a member of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 8.4 square miles (21.6 km²), of which, 8.2 square miles (21.4 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (1.32%) is water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 62,150 people, 18,844 households, and 14,867 families residing in the city. The population density was 7,536.9 people per square mile (2,908.6/km²). There were 19,416 housing units at an average density of 2,354.6/sq mi (908.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 46.82% White, 0.90% African-American, 1.23% Native American, 11.64% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 33.85% from other races, and 5.48% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 74.57% of the population.
The majority of residents who reside in The City of Montebello are Mexican / American. Montebello is the neighboring city just east of East Los Angeles and is well known for its Mexican / American history and culture as is the majority of the South East Cities in Los Angeles County.
There were 18,844 households out of which 40.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.5% were married couples living together, 20.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 21.1% were non-families. 17.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.28 and the average family size was 3.67.
In the city the population was spread out with 28.6% under the age of 18, 10.4% from 18 to 24, 30.3% from 25 to 44, 18.2% from 45 to 64, and 12.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 92.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $38,805, and the median income for a family was $41,257. Males had a median income of $30,423 versus $26,590 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,125. About 14.2% of families and 17.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.3% of those under age 18 and 10.7% of those age 65 or over.
Though its residents are predominantly Mexican / American, White, and Asian, Montebello also has a significant Armenian population.
In the state legislature Montebello is located in the 30th Senate District, represented by Democrat Ronald S. Calderon, and in the 58th Assembly District, represented by Democrat Charles M. Calderon. Federally, Montebello is located in California's 38th congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of D +20 and is represented by Democrat Grace Napolitano.
The United States Postal Service operates the Manhattan Beach Post Office at 145 North 5th Street and the Montebello Hills Post Office at 2547 Via Campo.
The city is served by the Montebello Unified School District.
Montebello High School and Schurr High School(1972) are the 2 public high schools in the City of Montebello. Cantwell Sacred-Heart of Mary High School , a private school, is also located in Montebello.
One of Montebello's best-loved city parks is Grant Rea Park, which houses the Montebello Barnyard Zoo. The Montebello Genocide Memorial is in Bicknell Park.
The current Mayor is William M. Molinari.