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History of the Crescenta Valley

The land now known as Crescenta Valley was originally inhabited by Gabrieleno Indians and later settled by Don Jose Maria Verdugo, after whom the nearby mountains are named. In 1784, Verdugo was granted 36,000 acres by the Spanish Crown, uprooting many Tongva Indians (who were later called Gabrielenos by the Spanish Missionaries). He eventually went bankrupt, and the homeless bandits and thieves who roamed the foothills, Gabrieleno Indians among them, became known as "verdugos". In the early 1880s Dr. Benjamin Briggs, a physician from Crawfordsville, Ind., made a worldwide search for an ideal climate and ultimately found his way to Southern California. He named the town after three crescents or mountain peaks (creciente is Spanish for crescent) he saw while looking out his window one day. It had been his desire to devote himself to horticultural pursuits and the establishment of a health resort, but Briggs did not live to carry out all his plans. However, many people interested in his ambitions became attracted to the area. Health workers and physicians soon established clinics. Sanitariums for asthmatics and other facilities for the sick were built. As Los Angeles grew in the '20s, the health sanitariums and homesteaders gave way to orchards, vineyards and resort homes. Nature punctuated the doldrums of the '30s with a massive flash flood that swept through the valley just after midnight on New Years Day of 1934, killing 40 people and leaving hundreds homeless. After the '40s, the Crescenta Valley began to enter mainsteam suburbia, farms giving way to tract homes. This process was finalized in the early '70s by the opening of the 210 Freeway, weaving the Crescenta Valley firmly into the fabric of Greater Los Angeles.

Historical Sites of the Valley

The following are just a few of the sites that are significant to the history of the Crescenta Valley:

St. Luke's of the Mountains

2563 Foothill Blvd.

St.Luke's of the Mountains Episcopal Church was designed and built by the famous artist Seymour Thomas in 1924. Constructed of natural stone from the valley, it is reminiscent of a woodlands church in northern Europe. It is considered to be the architectural centerpiece of the valley.

Le Mesnager Barn

In Deukmejian Wilderness Park at the top of Dunsmore Ave.

Image credit: Bill Weisman

This stone barn perched high above the valley was built in 1911 by George Le Mesnager, a French patriot, to store and process grapes from his grapes from his vineyards in the Sparr Heights area. These grapes supplied his "Old Hermatage Vinyards" winery in downtown Los Angeles. There is still a Mesnager Street in the downtown area where the winery had been located. It is owned by the City of Glendale, which plans to restore it as an educational nature/history center.

La Crescenta Women's Club

4004 La Crescenta Ave.

The La Crescenta Woman's Club began in 1911, incorporated in 1923, and built this beautiful clubhouse in 1925. This structure has been the social center of the valley for most of the last century, and is the home for the organization's many charitable and social events.

Sparr Heights Community Center

1613 Glencoe Ave.

Originally built in 1930 as the real estate office for the Sparr Heights residential tract, then named Oakmont Park. It was later donated to the residents of the area, and has been a community hall and senior center since then.

Crescenta Valley High School

2900 Community Ave.

This portion of present day Crescenta Valley High was built as La Crescenta Junior High School in 1933. It was renamed Andrew W. Clark Junior High School in 1938, after a beloved citizen on Crescenta Valley. It became Crescenta Valley High with a major expansion in 1961, and the Clark name moved to the new junior high on New York Ave. Since a remodel project in 2002, this 1933 portion of the school has regained its original appearance.

La Crescenta Elementary School

4343 La Crescenta Ave.

The original school was built in 1887 at the corner of Foothill and Dyer, but soon moved to a new location at La Crescenta and Prospect. A wooden schoolhouse was built on this site in 1890. A larger school building replaced it in 1914, and the present structure was erected in 1948. The school is currently being expanded, and the front view shown here will change somewhat.

The Old School Bell

In front of La Crescenta Elementary School

La Crescenta's school bell first rang students to school from across the valley in 1890. It was placed in storage from 1948 until 1976, when it was re-hung and dedicated with a plaque listing the names of the kids in the first class at La Crescenta Elementary. The bell is now rung once a year in June by the graduating students.

La Crescenta Presbytarian Church

2902 Montrose Ave.

This striking church building was constructed in 1923. This is one of the oldest congregations in the valley, first meeting in the 1880s. In the congregation's early years they shared facilities with the elementary school, as did the Episcopals that later built St. Luke's.

Former Potts Family Store

2200 Honolulu Blvd.

The first store in what is now the Montrose Shopping Park was the Montrose Hardware and Grocery Store, built in 1914. It featured a gas pump out on the sidewalk on the Verdugo side.

Original Fire Station

2541 Foothill Blvd.

This early fire station was built in 1929. It became obsolete to the fire department when 15 feet was cut off the front to widen Foothill Blvd. It is now owned by St. Luke's Church.

Glendale & Montrose Railway Carbarn

3711 Verdugo Rd.

This structure is the last remnant of a short-lived streetcar line that connected the Crescenta Valley with Glendale and Los Angeles. It was the barn that housed the trolleys that ran up the median of Verdugo Road, around the curve along Montrose Ave., terminating at Pennsylvania. The line was characterized by the use of some single-truck cars, called "dinkys" by the locals, that pitched and rolled like a small boat at sea. This line only ran from 1914 until 1930.

Seymour Thomas Portraits

La Crescenta Elementry School & La Crescenta Women's Clubhouse

Seymore Thomas, an early resident Crescenta Valley, was one of the leading portrait artists of his time. He painted the Presidential portrait of Woodrow Wilson that now hangs in the national gallery, and portraits of Dr. Millikan and other leading early scientists of Caltech. He met his bride-to-be when he was a young art student in Paris in 1889. She was Helen Haskell, niece of Crescenta Valley pioneer Benjamin Briggs. She was in Paris after being the first teacher at the newly formed La Crescenta Elementary School. Many of his early portraits were of her and they married 1892. The drumbeats of WWI drove them back to the La Crescenta, and for the next two decades their home was the social center of the area. Helen died in 1942 and Mr. Thomas spent the last years of his life donating his portraits to schools, librairies, and hospitals. The painting on the left of Helen Haskell Thomas hangs at La Crescenta Elementary School where she taught in 1885, and the painting on the right hangs in the La Crescenta Women's Club, where she was president for a time.

The Bathey House

At the intersection of Shields and Briggs

This house was built in 1883 by the Bathey family on their 160 acre homestead. It was owned by the Batheys until the 1960s.

Rockhaven Sanitarium

2713 Honolulu Ave.

Rockhaven Sanitarium was established in 1923 by a nurse who was appalled at the treatment of mental illness in women and thought she could do better. She established Rockhaven as a "home for the feeble-minded". Residents were treated with care and respect and even housed several Hollywood celebrities, such as Billie Burke, Flo Zigfield, Francis Farmer, and Marilyn Monroe's mother. Its beautiful oak treed grounds cover 3 1/2 acres with several vintage hospital wards and guest cottages. It was run by the founder's family until 2004, when it was purchased by a large health care organization, who soon after dismantled the sanitarium, removed the residents and is currently selling the property for land value. The Valley was once known for its sanitariums, having a score or more in operation at one time. It was the last operating santiarium in the Crescenta Valley.

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