RANCHO LA CANADA: THEN & NOW
DID YOU KNOW?
The Crescenta-Canada Valley once boasted the healthiest air quality in the world?
The first settler here chopped down the valley's only old growth forest?
The Verdugo Hills Golf Course was once the site of a Japanese Internment camp?
La Crescenta's founder also pioneered California's fruit industry?
The streets of Flintridge were originally horse trails made by its founder, Senator Frank Flint?
In the 1930s, La Crescenta was the scene of one of largest Nazi rallies in America?
Movie stars were drawn to La Crescenta's sanitariums to overcome alcohol and drug addictions?
The curved streets of Montrose were intended to form the pedals of a rose?
There are three men most responsible for the development of the Crescenta-Canada Valley: Dr. Jacob Lanterman, Dr. Benjamin Briggs, and Senator Frank P. Flint.
PART I - RANCH
After California became a state in 1850 the new government was required to investigate all Mexican land claims. This included the large tract of land north of Glendale called Rancho La Canada.
When surveyors Jonathan Scott and Benjamin Hayes entered Rancho La Canada in 1858 they spent much of their time killing rattle snakes -- as many as ten a day per surveyor.
They marked off only 6500 acres of land, omitting some of the most valuable real estate in the area because didn’t want to hike up the valley’s steep grade. They later justified their action claiming, “Only bees would live up there.”
Although the Tongva Indians -- also known as the GABRIELENO Indians -- once had a village in the area east of Montrose, the first person to ever claim ownership of the land, Don Jose Maria Verdugo, considered it “uninhabitable”.
There were so few visible water sources and the steep terrain was marred by huge rocks and boulders. A Los Angeles schoolteacher named Ignacio Coronel had been given the land in 1843 as payment for his service in the Spanish army. It was Coronel who named it "La Canada", meaning a ‘glen between mountain ranges’.
But like Verdugo before him, he too considered it uninhabitable. He lived in the Verdugo Woodlands near what is today Glendale Community College -- and used the Crescenta-Canada valley for cattle grazing.
But the valley had one thing to attract people from the eastern states: the air quality. The combination of high altitude and dry, moderate temperatures proved an ideal climate for those suffering with lung disease. Over the years sanitariums would be built and thousands would flock here to find relief from asthma, emphysema, tuberculosis, bronchitis, and other chronic lung ailments.
Many Civil War veterans who had been to California for the 1849 Gold Rush, returned after the war to start a new life. The Homestead Act, which President Lincoln had signed into law, enabled veterans to claim land or buy it for little money on the condition they improved it. This did not, however, include the Mexican Land Grants which the government had put up for sale.
In 1871, a Civil War veteran named Colonel Theodore Pickens became the first U.S. Citizen to move into this valley.
He chose the most visible water source as his home. He built a small, ten-foot by fourteen-foot cabin at the top of the canyon that now bears his name, near the top of what was later called Brigg’s Avenue.
Known as “Dad”, Pickens was a hot-tempered, anti-social misanthrope who sought to exploit the land for money. First, he filed a claim for the valley’s only major water source, forcing others to pay him for the water rights.
Next, he filed a claim for the logging rights. He chopped down the valley’s only Old Growth Forest -- five square miles of Big Cone Douglas Fur trees, and sold the wood in Los Angeles as fuel. In just ten years, the old forest -- once the glory of the valley -- was gone forever. All later attempts at reforesting the mountainside have failed.
Picken’s destruction of the forest did not go unnoticed. In response to his actions and other similar endeavors, President Benjamin Harrison established the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve -- a precursor to the National Forest -- to prevent all logging of the mountains.
It was Teddy Roosevelt who later change the name to the Angeles National Forest -- the country’s second National Forest after Yosemite.
After Pickens got money for the water and the trees, he then sold the land. Although there is no record of Pickens ever buying the land, he sold 128 acres to a doctor from Indiana.
A 49er named Thomas Spencer Hall homesteaded 1000 acres just east of Pickens Canyon, naming it “Alta Canada” for its spectacular views. An amateur photographer, Colonel Hall took the earliest known photographs of the valley.
Looking southeast from his ranch on the corner of Hillard and Fairmount, there was little to obstruct his view of the new “Indiana Colony” in the distance -- later called Pasadena.
Hall had served under George McClellan whom he greatly admired. So much so he named his firstborn Tom McClellan Hall. But young Tom -- or T-Mac as he was called -- was dying from an unknown lung illness -- until the valley’s climate revived him. T-Mac would live to be 85, remaining on his Alta Canada ranch until his death in 1947.
Jovial and adventurous, T-Mac Hall was the first law here. As Deputy Sheriff of the Foothills, he kept the peace and solved small legal disputes. He organized elaborate hunting expeditions into the wild San Gabriel mountains. The men hiked, hunted, fished, played cards and fought fires. The gang called themselves the “Coyotes.”
Many well-known hiking trails in the San Gabriels were first cut by these men, such as the trail up the Arroyo Seco to Switzer Falls.
Among the Coyotes was a Basque named Philip Begue -- one of the very first Forest Rangers in the San Gabriel Mountains. Begue lived on the far western edge of Rancho La Canada, what is today Tujunga.
EARLY CALIFORNIA WINERY
In 1884, Hall planted the first grape cuttings in the valley and, over time, began producing an excellent wine. They shipped the barrels to larger wineries for bottling. Their good reputation quickly spread and the Halls began receiving orders from as far away as the East coast.
The enterprise had all the promise of a great success and they named the area “Winery Canyon”.
But the Temperance Movement was gaining steam across the country and when T-Mac married Hanna Colbert, a pious teetotaler who vehemently objected to the endeavour, trouble began. Her temperance led to some serious family quarrels -- which T-Mac always won. Unable to dissuade her husband, Hanna began secretly spiking the orders with vinegar.
After more heated debates, T-Mac opted for domestic tranquility and the valley’s first winery was abandoned.
In 1912, newspaper publisher and millionaire E.T. Earl, who invented the refrigerator car, bought most of the original Hall homestead for a new housing development. It was Earl who planted all the deodar trees. Originally called Earlmont, it is know today as “Atla Cananda.
Hall’s lawyer, famed attorney Will D. Gould, bought 1100 acres on the eastern edge of the valley. At the entrance to his ranch, he planted a row of eucalyptus trees -- many of which still stand today on Gould Avenue.
Henry and Delia Dunks built a large home in 1874 on what later became Angles Crest Highway. It became a kind of hotel or boarding house. Early settlers often lived while building their own homes.
When Mr. Dunks died of tuberculosis, Delia converted the home into a sanitarium for lung disease -- the first of its kind in the nation. Calling it Verdugo Heights, she charged $8 a week.
In 1874, a Civil War veteran named Colonel Adolphus Williams and a dentist named Dr. Jacob Lenterman, both from Lansing, Michgan, checked into the Dunks hotel. Their arrival would prove the most fortuitous event in the valley’s young existence.
Williams was dying of tuberculosis, in those days called consumption, and Lanterman suffered from bronchitis. Both men were longing to get away from the brutal Midwest winters.
They were so taken with the valley’s rejuvenating air quality, they purchased the entire Mexican Land Grant known as Rancho La Canada. They hoped to divide the land up and sell the parcels as ranches.
The cost for their purchase: $10,000, about $1.60 an acre. This was an astonishingly low price even in 1874. The reason: there was so little water. What good was real estate without water? Especially for ranching.
To make matters worse, when Colonel Pickens got wind of the deal, he damned up the water at the top of the canyon.
Lanterman and Williams pleaded with him to release the water. He refused. They offered to pay him for it but he wanted much more money than they could afford.
After two years of failed negotiations, Lanterman’s wife, Ameretta, had had enough. The well-to-do socialite grabbed a shotgun, saddled her horse, and rode up to see Colonel Pickens herself. After she made him an offer he couldn’t refuse he relented.
Pickens sold Ameretta Lanterman the water rights for $1250 on the condition she gave him a down payment of $500 in gold coin.
Unfortunately, all this did not solve the valley’s water problem. Gravity water -- or run-off -- was simply not enough to meet demand.
The fledgling La Canada Water Company (predecessor to the Crescenta Valley Water District) hired Ralph Moses to be an armed Zanjero -- or water ditch tender. It was his job not only to manually distribute water to each ranch but to prevent desperate ranchers from illegally diverting water which they usually did in the middle of the night. When Ralpph Moses slept is anybody’s guess.
DR. BENJAMIN BRIGGS
Benjamin Bennett Briggs was in terrible shape when he arrived here in 1881. Years earlier he’d been shot through the lung -- the bullet still lodged in his chest, leaving him in constant pain. He was among the very first to head west for the Gold Rush, leaving the East Coast in March of 1849.
Near Salt Lake City, he and his brothers befriended some local Indians. While showing off their marksmanship, the 22-year-old accidentally stepped in front of his brother’s target.
The bullet ripped through his right lung and imbedded in his spine, the tip just visible under the skin. His journal entry for the day reveals a stoic personality. After describing the terrain and location he merely adds, “Got accidentally wounded.”
In keeping with the medical practice of the time, he was bled. This complicated his condition, producing terrible sweats, fevers and chills. After a eight days the caravan moved on, leaving his brothers to tend to him.
Fearing they wouldn’t make the Sierras by winter, the Briggs brothers had no choice but to continue west and if need be bury him along the way. When they arrived in California, to their utter amazement, young Benjamin stood up.
His brothers worked the gold mines while he recuperated. With little to do but stare at the ground -- he became convinced that California’s soil would be perfect for growing citrus.
After some serious cajoling, he persuaded his brothers to collect the proper cuttings. This required not only the arduous journey back to the east coast -- but ocean voyages to South America and Spain, the latter in which to learn the raisin business.
Through painful trial and error -- and years of perseverance -- the Briggs brothers pioneered California’s fruit industry -- the first to plant citrus in the Sacramento Valley. George Briggs became one of the state’s first millionaires.
The Mission Padres had experimented with fruit growing before, but never on a large scale. The Briggs ranch in Santa Paula was so vast that visitors were cautioned to carry guns as flares since many a worker got lost overnight in the endless maze of fruit trees.
But a cloud followed young Benjamin. His wife Abby died of tuberculosis. Heart-broken and still suffering from his own lung injury, he abandoned the fruit industry for medicine.
He became obsessed with finding a cure for tuberculosis and other lung diseases. Over the years he earned seven medical degrees including one from the Heidelberg Academy in Germany which at the time led the world in tuberculosis research.
Despite a successful medical practice in Indiana, Brigg’s longed for a healthier climate. With his new bride (his wife’s sister) and his daughter Irene, he traveled extensively throughout Europe and America in search of the perfect climate. He found it in Rancho La Canada.
Tall, angular and bearded, Briggs reminded locals of the late President Lincoln and they took to calling him Old Abe. After moving here, Brigg’s health immediately improved.
Brigg’s purchased the entire western half of Rancho La Canada from Lanterman and Williams. He had the land surveyed and divided into ten-acre lots for sale as ranches. This included the future site of Montrose.
From his perch atop Pickens canyon, the mountains made crescent shapes -- so he named the area La Crescenta. Before that it had been called simply “The Big Rocks”.
Brigg’s started the first school in the valley, the first town center, the first church, the first public park, and the first full-time medical practice. He also planted thousands and thousands of trees.
Briggs’ daughter Irene had married the Reverend Lawrence Ward. For over 20 years, they were missionaries in the Islamic country of Persia, part of modern-day Iran. While on furlough, Briggs asked them start the first church in the valley. They formed the First Presbyterian church in Dr. Brigg’s home.
The church would later move to this cement structure on Foothill. A rare commodity in those days, Brigg’s bought the cement after it had been used as ballast on a ship from Germany. It was said to be the first cement structure in all of Southern California. The church would eventually move to its present location on Montrose Avenue.
Briggs accomplished all this in less than 12 years. When he was 66 he decided to have the bullet removed from his chest. It had been lodged against his spine for 44 years. Shortly after doctors extracted the lead ball, Benjamin Briggs died.
Col. Pickens and Dr. Briggs lived on the same piece of land for roughly the same amount of time -- during which the former chopped down an entire forest, damned up the canyon and forced others to pay him for the water -- while the latter planted thousands of trees, established a new town, and paved the way for future generations to move here.
All that honors the memory of this extraordinary man is the name of the street which once led up to his home.
THE DANCE WAR
In the 1890’s a fight broke out between two factions in the La Canada school. A group of students began using the building for dances on Saturday nights. They were met with fierce opposition from other more pious students who considered dancing immoral -- particularly the waltz.
This seemingly innocuous rift soon threatened to tear the entire community apart.
At the time, many ranchers were hurting: Some had lost money in the land boom of 1888, others in the Panic of ‘93. The country was in a depression. La Canada was hit with five years of drought -- two years of which there was no rain at all. Serious drought meant farmers were forced to shoot their horses -- to preserve grazing for more valuable animals like sheep and cattle.
In 1894, a fire broke out in the mountains above the valley. It raged for three straight months, threatening all the while to sweep down the slope and wipe everyone out.
Into the dry kindling of frayed nerves was thrown a firebrand in the form a pretty, vivacious new school teacher named Mamie Sexton. It was Miss Sexton who began hosting the Saturday night dances.
The building also housed La Canada’s only church. At first, church go-ers were miffed the dancers were leaving the building in such disarray. And more than a few worshipers slipped on the well-waxed floor.
But when several boys admitted they attended the dances not to participate but merely to watch Mamie Sexton dance -- parents became alarmed.
They were convinced the new schoolmarm was a corrupting influence and had to go. Others, however, came to her defense. Soon, the entire town was in an uproar -- with neighbor pitted against neighbor.
Charles Pate recalled, “There were only two states: a state of grace and a state of sin. And this was the war between the states.”
Finally, it was agreed they should vote on the matter.
The leader of the anti-dancing group was Jesse Knight who owned a large ranch on Foothill near Hill Street.
His fruit packing plant on Knight Way made him the largest employer in the valley. Through the Fruit Growers Association, Jesse Knight would eventually take out the patent on the name “Sunkist”. He called the anti-dancers “The Forces of Righteousness.”
Leading the pro-dancers was T-Mac and the Hall family. Sam Hall even provided the music for the dances.
Tension ran high on the day of the election. One pro-dancing student beat an anti-dancer with a buggy whip for spreading the false rumor he was courting Miss Sexton.
Jesse Knight posted armed men at the school to make sure -- as he put it -- “God’s will be done.”
As the day wore on, it was evident the anti-dancers were going to win.
But just before the polls closed, T-Mac pulled up to the school with a wagon full of Mexican ranch hands. He had hired them to clear some brush on his land -- when he reasoned that since California was their’s before it was ours, they should be allowed to vote too.
With that, the pro-dancers won the day.
The anti-dancers were furious. T-Mac had clearly stolen the election on Miss Sexton’s behalf. Young Fenton Knight remembered, “We were crushed that the shapely bone of contention was insured employment for another year.”
Jesse Knight put his money were his mouth was and formed a private school on his ranch. Half the La Canada students defected to join it. Now the La Canada school didn’t have enough pupils to receive state funding.
Once again, T-Mac came to the rescue -- filling the empty seats with the children of the Mexican ranch hands. He himself would pick them up in his wagon and bring them to school every day. Charles Pate later quipped, “This was the La Canada’s first attempt at bussing.”
Ill feelings continued for another two years -- until, ironically, Jesse Knight was elected to the school board. His first order of business: fire Mamie Sexton and ban dancing.
The anti-dancing students returned to the fold -- the private school was dissolved -- and Mamie Sexton packed her bags and left La Canada for good.
But it was the new school master, Mr. E.L. French, who finally healed the warring factions. He proposed the simple if obvious solution: the town needed a separate church building -- and separate dance hall. This being done, the “Dance War” faded into memory.
...And the “Dance War” faded into memory.
As if La Canada didn’t have enough internal strife, it soon found itself at odds with its neighbor to the west.
La Crescenta was initially populated with friends and relatives of Benjamin Briggs. They were retired professors, artisans, writers, painters... They were well-educated, well-traveled, erudite... They may have looked down on the rough, hard-working, hard-drinking ranchers in La Canada.
But the real source of their resentment was that all of La Crescneta’s water was being siphoned out of Pickens canyon over to La Canada. They saw Pickens’ grab for the water rights for what it was: an exploitation of the Homestead Act.
The earliest photographs reveal a sharp contrast between the two communities -- one is obviously well-watered -- the other not. Photos taken in La Canada before irrigation show the same arid landscape as that of La Crescenta.
Charles Pate recalled the “incessant bickering” between La Crescenta and La Canada over the Pickens water.
In the summer of 1895, in the spirit of neighborliness, the two communities sought to reconcile their differences by hosting a “Love Feast”.
On the 4th of July, everyone gathered at Reynolds Hill for a barbecue and fireworks. This is where the car wash is today on Foothill near Briggs.
No sooner had the festivities got under way, when the teen in charge of the pyrotechnics accidentally fired a Roman Candle into the stockpile of fireworks -- exploding them all at once. This immediately started a brush fire.
Instead of celebrating, residents spent the entire night battling the blaze. Rumor spread that the offending youth had done it on purpose. Many La Canada teens abandoned the fire line to get drunk on the Hall Ranch.
The end result of the Love Feast -- was to deepen La Crescenta’s resentment of its water-stealing neighbor.
of La Canada's two founders -- it led all the way to the supreme court.
Lanterman sued his old partner, over Williams alleged incompetence in surveying the lots. Judge Ignacio Sepulveda sided with Williams. Lanterman appealed. The case was in the courts so long it outlasted the defendant. Williams died of tuberculosis before the matter was finally settled -- in Lanterman's favor.
This “unpleasant tiff” -- as Williams' son called it -- had one unexpected benefit: the lawyers asked just about everybody who lived here to testify in the case -- including revealing where they lived and for how long -- leaving us a reliable narrative of the valleys' earliest days.
Born in England and educated in the finest boarding schools, Charles Pate had one dream in life: to become an American cowboy. Being a ranch hand for Jacob and Amoretta Lanterman would have to do. After the long journey west, he arrived in La Canada in 1893 at the age of 19.
Congenial and outgoing, he befriended all the early settlers: Colonel Pickens, T-Mac, the Williams family, Rob and Libby Waterman, Philip Begue... The only pioneer Pate never met was Benjamin Briggs who died the year he arrived.
After much prodding from family and friends, Pate set out to write the first history of the valley.
“Reminiscences of a Tenderfoot” is funny, well-written, engaging -- and unfinished. Sadly, he stopped after just a few chapters.
But the fragmentary manuscript does offer some uncommon observations of the early days:
Pate recalled sitting on the front steps of his home on Hilliard Avenue, watching the masts of tall ships arriving in San Pedro. At night the harbor’s fog horns could be clearly heard.
In autumn the sky filled with quail flocking to the valley to eat the wild grapes that grew everywhere.
In spring, looking east toward Altadena, a blanket of brilliant orange poppy fields stretched as far as the eye could see.
The Verdugo Woodlands were mostly vegetable gardens rented by Chinese families. Every day they filled a dozen wagons with fresh vegetables for sale in L.A.
Pate remembers the “ceaseless bickering” over water. Most ranchers hailed from the Midwest and surprised at how difficult it was to cultivate this land. They battled drought, fire, flood, wind, isolation, economic depression -- not to mention snakes, gophers, rabbits, coyotes and bobcats.
Pate recalled the first robbery in the valley. Riding his horse by the La Canada Post Office, he heard the female postmaster screaming, having just been robbed at gunpoint. The bandit escaped out the back door, leaving behind a clear footprint. The boot of every man in the valley was checked -- but no match was found. The greedy culprit was later arrested robbing another post office near his home in Eagle Rock.
Pate recalls the comical scene when one morning a mother bear and her cub were spotted in La Crescenta. Armed men quickly gathered to protect the citizenry. They chased the bears down to the Verdugo Woodlands, firing all the way -- but the pair eluded them. The men searched the brush. Suddenly the bears bolted -- heading back up hill. In La Canada, the bears kept the hunters on the run all day.
Finally, the animals headed west toward Tujunga, their enemies in hot pursuit, blasting away. As the sun set, the bears outran the exhausted hunters, disappearing up Big Tujunga Wash.
Charles Pate passed away in La Canada in 1964.
The best early photographs of the valley were taken by one man: Bradford D. Jackson.
Another health-seeker from Michigan, Jackson bought a 3-acre ranch on Alta Canada. He found the soil too rocky to farm so he tried his hand as a cab-driver bringing tourists up to the valley from Pasadena.
But it was his work as a photographer that he would be remembered for.
Known locally as “the Photog”, Jackson built photography studios in La Crescenta and Glendale and was one of the first create real photo postcards. His images of the Crescenta-Canada valley drew visitors from across the country and around the world.
PART II - HEALTH RESORT
THE AIR UP THERE
Growth in the valley was slow. An 1899 census showed only about there only about 150 people living here, with only 30 homes in La Crescenta and just 28 registered voters. But as word of the area’s healthful air quality began to spread, the valley became a tourist attraction. Hotels and sanitariums sprang up. At one time there were as many as 25 sanitariums in operation.
A sprawling ranch on the north west corner of Foothill and Rosemont -- built by F.T. Scott in the 1880’s -- one of the first in Brigg’s new La Crescenta -- was converted it into a sanatarium by Merrit Kimball.
Movie actors were drawn to La Crescenta because it was so remote. Here -- they could overcome drug addictions or mental problems in relative seclusion.
Bela Logosi came here to detoxify from his addiction to morphine. Tim Burton recreated his experience in the film Ed Wood.
Another sanitarium frequented by movie stars was Rockhaven on Honolulu Ave just east of La Crescenta Ave. Billie Burke spent time here in rehab. The building and grounds still stand today.
Troubled actress Frances Farmer was sent to La Crescenta by court-order. Here, she was misdiagnosed as "paranoid schizophrenic" and received insulin shock therapy, a brutal and dangerous treatment which began her downward spiral, ultimately leading to her notorious lobotomy.
On the eve of its demolition in the 1960’s, construction workers searched the Kimball Sanitarium for valuables. They discovered padded cells, straight-jackets and manacles attached to the walls. This once-peaceful ranch had devolved into an insane asylum.
The building was torn down -- here we see its foundation looking toward Foothill -- the hillside was cut -- and the ground made level -- for a shopping center.
In this one location we see the three stages of the valley’s evolution: first it was a ranch; then a sanitarium; and finally a suburban shopping center.
Ralph’s supermarket has replaced the madhouse.
Not all health-seekers checked into sanitariums. Hotels and Inns were built for shorter visits.
In 1890, the wealthy Mrs. Anna Fraley, built the Silver Tree Inn, later the La Crescenta Hotel, just east of the ranch. It burned to the ground almost the day after completion. Undeterred, she ordered it immediately re-built.
This 36-room hotel boasted ornately-tiled bathrooms, fireplaces -- and unparalleled views of the valley, mountains and ocean. It became a popular place for social gatherings, with local talent regaling visitors with readings or songs around the piano.
The neatly manicured gardens were designed for health-seekers to rest in quiet spots while breathing in the pure mountain air. Note St. Luke’s church in the background.
One summer day, a stunningly beautiful woman checked into the hotel under the name Miss Lillian Peet of San Francisco. Unbeknownst to the other guests, she had just murdered her millionaire husband and was on the lamb. Later, the police surrounded the hotel in search of the fugitive. Amazingly, Miss Peet stepped out of the building, walked right past the barricade of officers -- her breathtaking beauty convincing them that she couldn’t possibly be the murderess -- and boarded a stage coach for Los Angeles. In full view of the love-struck cops, she escaped. It would be another month and one more murder before she was finally caught and sentenced to life in a mental institution.
As time went on, the trees were allowed to overtake the garden -- so that the hotel was barely visibly anymore.
The pastoral goldfish pond is now an auto parts store. Later, the hotel became a rooming house, then a private home -- before being torn down in the 60’s. Today, a strip mall has taken its place.
Smaller hotels sprang up around the valley such one on Fairmount at the northwest corner of Briggs and Fairmount -- also called the Valley View Inn, seen here in 1911.
SEYMOUR THOMAS AND ST. LUKE’S
The valley’s first school teacher, Helen Haskell, left the country to study art in Paris. There she met a young artist from Texas named Seymour Thomas. They fell in love and married.
A child prodigy, Thomas won his first art award at the age of eight, illustrated his first book at the age of twelve, and began oil painting in his early teens. Thomas made this painting of the San Jose Mission when he was just sixteen.
After establishing himself as a respected artist in both Europe and America, he devoted his work almost exclusively to portraiture.
Thomas’s paintings can be found in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art -- even the White House. When Harry Truman took the oath of office, it was beneath a Thomas’ portrait of Woodrow Wilson.
For 30 years, Helen and Seymour lived a whirlwind life, traveling from Paris to London to New York.
But when her uncle, Benjamin Briggs, died, she inherited seven acres in La Crescenta. Owing in part to her frail health, the couple decided to slow down to and enjoy the simple life.
Simpler than they expected: The winding dirt road up to the prroperty had been washed out by a storm. Unable to even reach the area, they rented a house on Rosemont called Cuddle Doone -- located about where the Mormon church is today.
Thomas converted the kitchen, an old stone cabin, into his art studio. Here, he continued his work for the next five decades.
In the early 1920’s, wanting to start an Episcopal church, he composed this painting of what he hoped the building might look like. He’s said to have carried a piece of blue chalk with him at all times. When he saw a stone he thought appropriate for the new building, Thomas would mark it with a cross.
Whenever the faithful happened upon a stone thus marked, they would carry it to the northeast corner of Foothill and Rosemont. The large pile of rocks would eventually be used to build St. Luke’s church -- completed in 1924.
To this day, it is one of the most admired and recognizable landmarks in the valley. After the 1972 Sylmar quake, the state condemned the structure -- mistakenly assuming it to be masonry. Happily, the stonework was merely external and the building was spared demolition.
In 1942, Helen Haskell died unexpectedly in her sleep. Heart-broken, Thomas found solace only in his work. He continued painting well into his 80’s -- until his failing eyesight forced him to quit.
Seymour Thomas died in February 1956. Fittingly, his funeral was held at the church he helped to build.
PART III - SUBURB
FRANK P. FLINT
He had been a deputy Marshall, a lawyer, a judge, a banker, a real estate tycoon, and a United States Senator. He was bold and brash, handsome -- with the charisma of a movie star... and as corrupt as any Tammany Hall Politician.
A notorious philanderer, Frank P. Flint survived being shot by the jealous husband of one of his many lovers. But it was his association with his brother and business partner Motley, that would ultimately be his undoing.
Born in Boston and reared in San Francisco, the brothers rose to become two of the most respected leaders in turn-of-the-century California, Motley a banker and millionaire, Frank his legal counsel.
They arrived here in 1888 for the Land Boom – and made a fortune. Motley became one of the leading backers of the film industry and in 1920 rescued Warner Brothers from bankruptcy, becoming fast friends with Jack Warner. The furniture in his Flintridge home was even provided for by the Warner Brothers Prop Department.
While serving as President of the L.A. Relief Administration, which helped poor people find jobs, a newspaper dubbed him "The Santa Claus of Los Angeles." A moniker he loved and played to the hilt, posing as Santa for photos. He always wanted to be introduced as the Santa Claus of Los Angeles.
Frank Flint was not elected to the U.S. Senate but appointed by the Legislature. His ties to the First National Bank made him an ideal choice to protect the interests of the Southern Pacific Railroad. While in Washington D.C. he was on Teddy Roosevelt's Panama Canal Commission. He also fought for a military presence in California – which would ultimately result in the Naval Base in San Diego.
But the Senate rules changed and to get re-elected Flint would have to win a general election. Although a Republican, he was odds with Progressive Republicans. Fearing defeat he chose not to run.
Resuming his work at the bank, he raised money fro such projects as Occidental College and the Boulder Dam.
But 1912 he became obsessed with idea of developing a wealthy suburb for the burgeoning city of Pasadena – at the time one of the most fashionable addressees in the nation.
Frank envisioned creating a wealthy suburb - and naming it after himself.
He purchased 1700 acres of Rancho La Canada -- and much to the chagrin of the Lantermans, called it Flintridge.
An avid equestrian, he conceived of a place where horse trails would wind through rambling estates. He rode all around -- the horse trails becoming the major roads: Iverness, Highland, Berkshire, Chevy Chase...
He hired the best architects of his day -- among them black architect Paul Williams who went on to design the Shrine Auditorium, the LA courthouse, and LAX.
Williams perfected the skill of rendering drawings "upside down" so that his clients (who were uncomfortable sitting next to a Black man) would see the drawings right side up from across the table. Williams and others designed splendid mansions for Flint, on streets such as a Hillcrest, Woodleigh, Oakwood, Berkshire, Commonwealth, Meadow Grove...
By 1916, Flint had sold only a handful of estates. So he launched a more aggressive campaign to lure prospective buyers.
He built the Flintridge Equestrian Center to go with his Flintridge Bridal Paths, the Flintridge Country Club with its exquisite Flintridge clubhouse... But the centerpiece of his dream suburb -- was to be the Flintridge Hotel.
Situated on top of the San Rafael hills, the hotel would offer panoramic views of both the San Gabriel and La Canada valleys. He hired architect Myron Hunt, who designed the Ambassador Hotel, the Rose Bowl, and Occidental College. Flint poured time, energy and money into the gamble. It opened in 1927, but rooms were so expensive, and the location so remote, it failed to attract visitors. This sprawling hotel with its cottages and tennis courts, never had more than 11 guests staying there at one time. Flint was devastated. He was forced to sell it to the Biltmore Hotel chain.
During this time, Motley was embroiled in a scandal with CC Juliann called the Million Dollar Pool in which 40,000 investors were swindled out of 150 million dollars. Many lost their life savings. Frank served as legal counsel for the deal.
Motley was indicted for forgery, embezzlement, securities violations and a host of conspiracy charges.
But he was so well connected the charges were inexplicable dropped. Newspapers decried the injustice while the public fumed. Motley Flint moved to France – a broken man.
The prosecutors who dismissed the charges were themselves moved – to San Quentin.
In 1931, Motley agreed to return to Los Angeles to face new charges. While in the court house, he was asked to testify in a related case, one in which David O. Seslnick was suing the bank.
When Motley got up from the witness stand, an enraged investor named Frank Keaton, who had lost everything, gunned him down. The police discovered $63,000 stuffed in his pockets – and $33,000 worth of jewelry.
Long since divorced with no children, his will stipulated that his $750,000 fortune be donated to a children's charity. Even in death he wished to be remembered as the Santa Claus of Los Angeles..
Frank Flint was never charged in the deal, but his reputation was ruined. His reversal of fortune led to a nervous breakdown.
In those days, an ocean voyage was prescribed to restore shattered nerves. It Flint’s case, it didn’t work. He had a massive heart attack while aboard a steamer in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Eight months later, the stock market crashed. His beloved hotel went bankrupt just four years after it was built. The Catholic Church bought the property for $150,000. It has been the Sacred Heart Academy for girls ever since.
In the 1970’s, the 210 freeway was built right through his tranquil golf course. The Clubhouse became St. Francis school. La Canada High School was built on ground where Bobby Jones once golfed. Housing tracts and streets gobbled up remaining fairways and greens.
But Frank Flint’s vision of a tony suburb honeycombed with bridal paths survived -- making La Canada-Flintridge is one of the most elegant and desirable communities in all of Los Angeles.
Brigg’s daughter Irene inherited the land from her father and at the beginning of the new century, sold 2500 acres -- the southern portion of the original Rancho La Canada -- to developers Walton and Holmes. They planned to develop a new village there.
Seen here in 1911, there wasn’t much but scrub brush on the future site of Montrose. The dirt path is Verdugo Road as it curves from Glendale toward La Canada. The grove of Oak trees in the lower right corner would become Indian Springs picnic area, present site of the Vons shopping center.
Walton and Holmes laid out the town in the shape of a rose with curved streets forming the petals. On February 22, 1913 they held a heavily advertised Grand Opening and about 4000 people attended an authentic Mexican barbecue by Senor Jose Romero. Despite the promising turnout, growth in the new city was slow.
Only one building was erected that first year -- on the southwest corner on Verdugo and Honolulu. This building is visible in all the early photographs of Montrose. The building still stands today.
Just east of town a natural spring ran through a lush grove of Oak trees. In 1928, Charles Bowden built the Indian Springs swimming pool and picnic area there.
Part Blackfoot Indian, he chose the location not only for its beauty but history: it was believed to have once been the site of an ancient Tongva Indian village.
Indian Springs quickly became one of the most popular attractions in town.
In the 1930’s, Lyle Draves took over the operation of Indian Springs. Draves would coach a number of divers to compete in the Olympics. Four of them won gold medals, including his wife Vicki Draves who won two Gold Medals in the 1948 Olympics -- the first U.S. Athlete to win two individual Olympic titles and the first Asian American to win a Gold Medal.
In the 1960’s the pool cracked and was condemned.
Developers bought it with the intent of building a new hospital there. Instead, they chose a site farther up the hill -- and used Indian Springs -- to dump the excavated dirt.
The pool and grounds were once well below street level, with a road leading down to it. After the workers finished moving the earth around, the area was above street level. In a final re-configuring of nature -- the spring itself was sealed off, forcing it under ground. The area became a shopping center. The old pool -- a parking lot.
You can find cement flood channels everywhere: between houses or beside streets, all heading downhill. These drab, ugly ditches give no indication that their construction was the result of the most harrowing event in the valley’s history: The flood of New Year’s Eve, 1933.
Ironically, it was a fire that set the stage for the tragedy. In November of ‘33, a fire broke out on Mt. Lukens and raged for over a week, burning away all the chaparral and trees.
Residents immediately saw the danger. Fearing a heavy rain would send the huge rocks rolling down the mountain, they began hastily constructing catch basins, or check dams, in the canyons. But it was too little, too late.
On New Year’s Eve day, it began to rain, and rain, and rain... Measurements varied in different spots, Glendale recorded 8 inches of rain, Montrose 12 inches, and one forest ranger station recorded 17 inches.
Nine minutes after midnight, the unthinkable happened. Survivors recalled hearing heard what sounded like a hundred freight trains roaring down the mountain. It was a 20-foot wall of destruction barreling out of the canyons.
The check dams had actually compounded the problem. As they filled to capacity, they grew in size and intensity, then burst, rushing down to the next one -- until finally it all became one massive wave of water, mud, debris, silt, logs, rocks and boulders sweeping down the mountain.
They came out of three canyons: Dunsmore, Shields, and Pickens -- the latter being the worst. It’s very likely that had Picken’s canyon not been deforested 60 years earlier the force of the water might not have been so devastating. At the top of Briggs, the Picken’s floodwaters split into two tributaries of death.
The wall of destruction smashed through everything in it its wake as it followed the typography down toward Montrose. Houses exploded, many were ripped from their foundations, cars were swept away like toys, and carloads of celebrants returning from New Year’s parties were buried alive under tons of mud and silt...
The greatest death toll occurred at the American Legion Hall on Rosemont, just above Montrose Ave. Many people sought refuge there, assuming the large building would safer than their own smaller homes. But when a huge boulder slammed through the upper corner of the building, the hall filled with mud and water, pinning the refugees inside. 25 people died in this one location alone.
60-ton boulders rolled down the mountain, many stopping on Foothill Blvd. These rocks came to rest on Foothill at New York, today site of Bob Smith Toyota.
This boulder landed at the bottom of Briggs near what is today the 76 station. The boy in the middle is Eugene Rakasits. 70 years later he returned to the spot. The boulder was simply too big to move, so workers dug a hole beside the rock and pushed it into it. Enormous boulders are buried beneath Foothill wherever the flood crossed the road.
In all, 400 homes were damaged, 50 of them swept away. 44 bodies were recovered -- but the exact death toll is unknown.
This was the depression and hundreds of “Okies” and homeless living in the canyons and hillsides in tents and shanties -- like these makeshift dwellings on Brigg’s terrace. Since the wall of destruction would have hit them first, it’s possible many homeless were buried alive under the mud. But since there were no records of these people -- and it wasn’t feasible for locals to dig for bodies up there -- we will never know.
Woody Guthrie wrote the song “The Great Los Angles New Years Flood” to honor the Oakies who lost their lives but were never counted among the dead.
As the water subsided on New Year’s Day 1934, the gruesome task of searching for bodies began. One entire family was found dead in their car buried beneath Rosemont Avenue.
This is Ocean View looking south toward Montrose. Crews busily try to clear away debris. This is Foothill at Castle looking west toward Ocean View. Volunteers worked feverishly to remove rocks and mud from the roadway.
Looting became a problem. One woman returned home to hear female voices arguing inside. She discovered total strangers rifling through her clothes, bickering over who got what. Marshall law had to be declared and the area cut off to all visitors. Nor were residents allowed to leave.
Hundreds of refugees needed shelter. The Rakasits on Cross Street near Ocean View, housed over 25 refugees in their garage. Nearby, Mr. Lyons lived in a large house at the top of Palm Drive. Rakasits asked Lyons if he could take a few of the refugees. Being a stingy man, Lyons refused, slamming the door in Rakasits’ face. Rakasits fumed over this for two days, then finally returned accompanied by his oldest son carrying a sledgehammer. Rakasits informed Lyons that if he didn’t open his home to refugees, he would break the door down. Lyons had no choice. He took in about a dozen refugees. Two weeks later, he apologized to Rakasits. And thereafter this once-miserly man became known as one of the most generous in the valley.
These two photos of Pickens wash taken from Reynolds hill where the Sheriff’s station is now, reveal just how wide the swath of flood waters were. This photo was taken in 1921. The wash is a narrow band of rocks. This is the same view taken right after the flood.
The Army Corps of Engineers was brought in to build flood channels in all the canyons. By the end of 1934, every waterfall, river, creek, or stream that once graced the valley was buried under tons of steal-reinforced concrete. As ugly as they may be, they have prevented a repeat of that dreadful night 75 years ago.
On New Year’s Day 2004, the Crescenta Valley Historical Society dedicated a plaque on the site of the American Legion Hall to honor the flood victims.
Mark Higley of La Canada told his father’s story, which, perhaps more than any other, reveals how terrifying that night must have been:
The Higley home was a block above the Legion Hall, where the freeway is today. 8-year-old Lee Higley was in the kitchen with his mother, his 6-year-old sister in the living room working on a jigsaw puzzle. His father had gone outside to sand bag. Just after midnight, the lights went out, and they heard the wall of destruction rumbling toward them. Lee’s mom said, “It’s too late!” The house exploded. The three of them were instantly swept away. Lee managed to climb a moving tree as it rushed down Rosemont Ave. When it finally came to rest, he jumped out of its branches. Miraculously, his sister was swept aside and pulled from the raging waters by a stranger. The next day, Mrs. Higley was found dead in the Verdugo Woodlands. But there was no sign of Lee’s father. It would be another three days before Mr. Higley’s body was discovered -- floating in San Pedro harbor, 50 miles away.
In the 1930’s, La Crescenta became the scene of many American-Nazi rallies. They gathered in Hindenberg Park at the bottom of Dunsmore -- now Crescenta Valley Park.
The German American Bund -- a pro-Nazi group with ties to Hitler -- had relatively few members, less than 6000 nationwide. Consequently, they were zealous to convert other German-Americans to their cause.
In La Crescenta, they infiltrated the Fasching Festival -- Germany's equivalent to Mardi Gras.
While locals enjoyed traditional German music... danced... drank beer... ate bratwurst.... Nazi sympathizers gave speeches in support the Fuehrer and the Third Reich.
The Bund even rented bi-planes and showered the Crescenta-Canada valley with national-socialist, pro-Nazi leaflets -- what they called “snow-storming”.
On Hitler’s birthday 1936, the year the Olympics were held in Berlin, Nazi supporters held their largest La Crescenta rally yet -- a torchlight parade with over 2000 attendees.
When the war broke out, they all but disappeared from view. In 1944, however, 30 members of the German American Bund -- including those who organized the rallies at Hindenburg Park -- were put on trial for sedition.
After the death of the judge, the proceedings were declared a mistrial -- and they were all released.
During the war, anti-aircraft guns were placed throughout the valley. In La Crescenta, there was one on Reynolds hill above the car wash. In La Canada, there was an anti-aircraft gun hidden in the debris basin on Cross Street. And just south of Montrose there was one in the Verdugo Hills near Oakmont.
Within 24 hours of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Tuna CCC camp on the far western edge of the Crescenta valley was converted into a Japanese Internment camp -- on what is today the Verdugo Hills Golf Course.
A high barbed-wire fence and guard towers were erected around the buildings.
The Civilian Conservation Corps had constructed a number of camps in the area as part of FDR’s New Deal -- like the San Antonio camp on Beaurdy, behind the Oakmont Country Club.
The Tuna camp could house 300 people at a time -- and from 1941 to 1943 nearly 3000 Japanese were held prisoner there -- two-thirds of them U.S. Citizens.
The government also took advantage of La Crescenta’s many sanitariums. They sent Japanese detainees suffering with lung illness to the Hillcrest sanitarium at the top Lowell Ave. With guards posted at the door, it became a kind of makeshift prison hospital.
Fortunately, the commander in charge of the Tuna Camp, M.H. Scott, was well aware of the injustice being done to those in his care. Scott did everything he could to treat the detainees with respect -- fighting for their freedom whenever possible.
Hebert Nicholson, a retired Quaker missionary to Japan, then living in Pasadena, took it upon himself to help the detainees in anyway he could. At first, he became an interpreter -- but he soon found himself entrusted with hundreds of safe deposit box keys.
Eventually, Nicholson drove all over the country -- from one internment camp to another -- delivering letters and other valuables on behalf of the detainees and their families -- “everything from pillows to pianos -- even the ashes of the departed.”
When the former detainees organized reunions, they invited both Nicholson and Scott, grateful for their kindness throughout their long ordeal.
But the Tuna Camp was not the only connection the valley had to Japanese Internment.
It’s well known that Descanso Gardens has one of the world’s largest Camellia Forests. What is less well known is that Manchester Boddy purchased the camellias from two Japanese nurserymen -- Yoshimura and Uyesmatsu -- because the men were being shipped off to internment camps.
Boddy paid them fair market value for the plants, and during the war covered the mortgage, sending money to both men. At the war’s end -- he returned operation to them. To this day -- the San Gabriel Nursery is in the Yoshimura family.
There has always been a correlation between the valley’s growth and the nation’s wars.
Most of the valley’s pioneers had fought in the Civil War. This peaceful valley must have seemed like paradise to men who had witnessed unspeakable bloodshed back east.
After World War I, a number of soldiers who had been exposed to mustard gas in Europe were sent to La Crescenta’s sanitariums to recuperate. Many stayed here.
But undoubtedly the greatest influx of veterans was after the Second World War. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, many vets came here to start a new life and raise a family. That period saw the greatest expansion in population and development -- with new sub-divisions, schools and shopping centers springing up everywhere. In many ways, the valley we know today was formed during this period more than any other.
The increase in population inevitably brought the single biggest change to the valley. Plans for a freeway started as early as 1944. It was not until the late 60’s and early 70’s that those plans became a reality.
BEULAH LOUISE OVERELL
In 1947 the murder trial of a wealthy La Canada couple became national news.
Walter Overell had made a fortune in the furniture business and his wife Beulah became one of La Canada’s most prominent socialites. In a rare move, Senator Flint even named a street after her. But on March 14, 1947 the couple was bludgeoned to death while aboard their yacht in Newport Beach.
The murderers then tried to blow the boat up. Fortunately for police, much of the dynamite failed to detonate, leaving behind crucial evidence. Four days later, they arrested the couple’s only child, 19-year-old Beulah Louise, a USC student -- and her boyfriend, George “Bud” Gollum.
The pair was found in a lifeboat rowing away from the yacht when it exploded. In Gollum’s car, police discovered extra dynamite; fuse coils and the materials used for the detonating device. Beulah Louise had purchased the dynamite two days earlier under a false name.
It turns out the lovebirds -- seen here on the yacht in happier times -- had planned to marry -- when Walter Overell refused to give his consent -- even threatening to cut Beulah Louise off from the estate. In the event of her parent’s death, however, she stood to inherit over $600,000.
With an obvious motive and so much evidence, prosecutors were convinced they had an open and shut case. But they were wrong. The defense attacked the evidence with a vengeance, dragging the proceedings out to become the longest murder trial in American history up to that time.
The judge permitted microphones in the courtroom so the trial could be heard nationwide on the radio. He also allowed love letters the pair was exchanging from prison to be read in court -- portions of which were deemed downright pornographic.
The public couldn't get enough. Day after day hundreds lined up outside the Santa Anna courthouse hoping to be a lucky spectator. Newspapers -- carrying every salacious detail of the trail -- flew off the stands.
After 5 months, and 6000 pages of testimony, the jury finally convened. Their first tally was 11 to 1 to convict. 48 hours later, they declared them Not Guilty. Many jurors later admitted that they wanted to convict Bud Gollum but not Beulah Louise. Seduced by so much evidence, prosecutors made the fatal error of trying them together.
Somewhere during the long ordeal -- the love between the two grew cold and upon their release, they went their separate ways. Most of the Overell fortune went to bill collectors, back taxes, and the lawyers. Out of the $600,000 estate -- Beulah Louise received only $70,000.
Bud Gollum went through two failed marriages before becoming a homeless drifter. He served time in prison on a stolen car rap in North Carolina. When he got out, he changed his name and became a college professor.
Beulah Louise was also married twice -- first to an LA cop -- then a Las Vegas tavern owner.
She became a raging alcoholic -- and in 1964, barricaded herself inside the bedroom of her Las Vegas home, refusing to come out. When her husband finally broke the door down the next day, he found her dead.
She was lying naked on her bed, covered head-to-toe in self-inflicted bruises -- two empty vodka bottles beside her -- and a loaded, cocked rifle entangled in her feet. If she planned to shoot herself, she never got the chance. The autopsy revealed she died of alcohol poisoning.
She was 36 years old.
In the mid-30’s, residents of La Canada began complaining of strange odors, loud explosions and mysterious clouds wafting over from the Arroyo Seco. A group of Caltech students -- dubbed the Suicide Squad -- were using the vacant land to experiment with rockets.
It was an inauspicious beginning for one of the world’s preeminent centers for space exploration.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory -- still managed by Caltech -- is located in part on the eastern edge of La Canada-Flintridge -- and with over 4000 employees, the valley’s largest employer.
That group of brilliant, daring students -- prodigies of Theodore von Karmen -- would change history. Their experiments with solid-fuel rockets became instrumental in our winning World War II.
After the war, scientists aimed their rockets heavenward.
One of those students was Jack Parsons, a proud, handsome mamma’s boy whose understanding of rocketry astounded the others.
But Parsons led a double life: brilliant scientist by day, devil worshiper by night. In 1944, he quit JPL to pursue magic arts full time.
With close friend L. Ron Hubbard, future founder of Scientology, he held satanic rituals and orgies at his Pasadena mansion on Orange Grove. More than once, police broke up the ceremonies after neighbors complained of fires and screaming.
His friendship with Hubbard ended in a lawsuit over a sailboat -- and because he ran off with Parson’s ex-wife. Down on his luck, he moved into a garage behind one of the mansions and began secretly collecting illegal chemicals and explosives.
In 1952, while working in his home laboratory, he dropped a deadly mixture of mercury. The building was obliterated. The explosion was so great it was felt miles away. Unfortunately for Parsons, he survived the blast -- his body shattered -- only to die an hour later.
Many said it was suicide, others, an accident. Some even suggested murder since he had garnered a long list of enemies. After she heard the news, his mother killed herself.
His name is not well-known to the public at large -- no doubt due to his ignominious private life -- but his contribution to jet propulsion can’t be understated.
Verner Van Braun once said that Jack Parsons, not he, should be called the Father of the American Space Program.
America officially entered the Space Age in 1958 with the launch of JPL’s Explorer I. Since then, JPL has led the world in exploring our solar system -- with such satellites as: Mariner, Viking, Megellan, Voyager, Galileo, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Odyssey, and more recently the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.
Not far from JPL, hidden in the scrub brush, are the caissons for the 1893 bridge. Viewed together -- they’re like bookends of the 20th Century.
At present, JPL has rovers on Mars and over a dozen satellites roaming through space, including ones hurtling toward the very edge of our solar system.
The pioneers, who traveled across the old bridge on horseback, could not in their wildest dreams have imagined such things possible -- let alone that they would be conceived, designed and executed -- in their own backyard.
When the first settlers arrived here Los Angeles was a remote Spanish town with fewer than 9000 people. Today there are approximately 15 million people living in the L.A. Basin. It’s not surprising that the quiet rural life would vanish and the area would become an extension of great Los Angeles. What is remarkable is that the Crescenta-Canada Valley has retained so much of its original charm.
But as the population increases so does the inevitable tension between Preservation and Progress. Ultimately, it’s the mountains which not only define the valley, giving it its unique character, but also protect from rest of the city. But even the mountains are not immune to the steady advance of Urban Sprawl.