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The Crescenta Valley: Then and Now

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Foothill Blvd. After the Flood

Then: Foothill Blvd. the morning after the huge flash flood of New Years Eve, 1934 was swept clean by the torrent of the night before. Right here, at the intersection of Foothill and Briggs is where Pickens Canyon crossed under the boulevard. Pickens Canyon was one of the main funnels through which poured tons mud and debris down from the San Gabriel Mountains onto the valley floor during that tragedy. It was at this point on the road that witnesses that night reported seeing a 20 foot high wall of water, rocks and mud blast across Foothill Blvd. Now: Foothill Blvd. at Briggs Ave. gives no clue to the cataclysmic event that happened here on New Years Eve nearly 75 years ago. The only permanent change to the landscape is the usually dry flood control channel that now runs under Foothill at this point. Geologists tell us that mud flows like this one are regular occurrences on a geologic time scale, and that the '34 flood was only a "moderate" event. It's chilling to contemplate how this small channel could ever handle the kind of volume of mud that came down Pickens Canyon on New Years Eve, 1934.

Hindenberg Park

Then: Hindenberg Park, what is now the west end of Crescenta Valley Park at Dunsmore and Honolulu, was owned for decades by the German-American League, a group that promoted German culture. The Crescenta Valley was a magnet for German immigrants in the early part of the last century, and Hindenberg Park hosted many German cultural celebrations. Honored guests at this German gathering in 1936 were the officers and crew of the German battle cruiser Karlsruhe, which was anchored in Los Angeles Harbor on a cruise to "show the flag" in the Pacific. Less than 5 years later these officers in this photos found themselves in the cold North Sea, after being torpedoed by an English sub during Germany's invasion of Norway. Now: Old Hindenberg Park, now officially owned by the County of Los Angeles, and part of the larger Crescenta Valley Park, is still the scene of cultural celebrations. This Armenian Scouting group has rented the park for a day of fun and a celebration of their Armenian heritage. Parents and siblings of the young Scouts relax under the trees in nearly the same spot as the German navel men of the Karlsruhe did 70 years earlier.

Indian Springs Diver

Then: From the early '20s to the late '60s Indian Springs Swimming Pool was the social and recreational outlet for the valley's youth. When famed diving coach Lyle Draves ran the pool in the late '40s/early '50s, competition diving was the name of the game. Under Draves' tutelage several valley youth won regional and national awards, most notably his wife Vicki, who won double gold medals in the '48 Olympics. Now: By the late '60s the pool was getting old and needed major repairs. A developer bought the property, and found the oak-filled canyon the pool occupied a convenient place to put the dirt from the grading being done for the new Verdugo Hills Hospital just up the hill. The canyon, once below Verdugo Road, was filled to the same level as the street and a shopping center was built on top. Vons and CVS Pharmacy, on Verdugo just east of Montrose, now occupy the site of the Indian Springs Swimming Pool.

Kimball Sanitarium

Then: This large Victorian ranch house was built in late 1880's on the north side of Michigan Ave. (now Foothill) just west of Rosemont. Situated amidst a fruit orchard, it was one of a string of mansions along the Boulevard. By the time this photo was taken in the late '20s, it had been purchased by Merritt Kimball, and had been converted to a sanitarium. The valley had become a Mecca for health seekers, and several hospitals, rest homes, and sanitariums had cropped up, including some, like Kimball Sanitarium, that treated mental illness. Expansion plans for Kimball's facility were fought down by residents uncomfortable with the valley's growing reputation as "the place where the nuts are". Despite the setback, Merritt Kimball became a community leader and head of the Glendale School Board. Kimball Sanitarium's lasting claim to fame is as the sanitarium that Bela Lugosi used to fight his morphine addiction as portrayed in the recent film "Ed Woods". Now: When Kimball's was torn down in the early '60s, demolition crews found padded cells and manacles in the old sanitarium. It was rebuilt as a large shopping center, with a Builders Emporium and Food Giant (later Alpha Beta) supermarket as the anchor tenants. Today the newly expanded Ralph's Supermarket sits directly on the site that was once the Kimball Sanitarium.

La Crescenta Library Opening

Then: When Glendale annexed a big chunk of the Crescenta Valley in the early '50s, La Crescenta's only library became part of the Glendale Library system, leaving the unincorporated area with no library of its own. Years of badgering the County for a new library produced nothing. Local car dealer W. O. Williamson (Williamson Oldsmobile) pushed the issue by using his own money to have a library built, which he then sold to the County. Here are the opening day ceremonies in 1963 with librarian Caroline Lehmann receiving the "key to the library" from a group of local and County officials. Now: The little La Crescenta library has served the community faithfully for 44 years. A growing valley population has mandated the need for a larger library, and ground has already been broken on the corner of Foothill and La Crescenta. Last Saturday the library staff held a "closing day" party, and at 5 PM Head Librarian Vicki Guagliardo locked the door for the last time, while her staff looked on. The old library will be demolished soon, and in two years the new library will open.

La Crescenta Pharmacy

Then: When Dr. Benjamin Briggs laid out the streets for the new town of La Crescenta in the 1880's, the intersection of Foothill and La Crescenta was envisioned as the "town center". And indeed, an "old west" style post office and general store was located on the southeast corner of that intersection. By the '20s the old wood building had been replaced with this brick structure housing the La Crescenta Pharmacy. Now: The brick building was remodeled and reopened as the iconic Spike Jones Market, a La Crescenta landmark through the '50s and '60s. However, the masonry building was damaged in the '71 Earthquake, and was torn down, to be replaced more recently with this smaller retail center housing a florist and dry cleaner.

Lincoln Elementary

Then: Originally built as Westside Elementary School in 1924, the name was changed to Lincoln very soon after opening. The school was built at the intersection of New York and Altura Avenue. Note the stone wall in front of the school. Now: Lincoln Elementary was rebuilt in the '50s, both in response to stricter seismic codes for school buildings after the '33 Long Beach Earthquake, and to accommodate increasing enrollment from the "Baby Boom". But look... The original stone wall is still there, incorporated into the newer retaining wall along Altura Ave.!

Montrose Shopping Park Construction

Then: This newspaper photo from June of 1967 shows the new curbing being finished for the soon to open Montrose Shopping Park. We're looking east down Honolulu from Ocean View. In a bold move to save the declining shopping area, the businesses along Honolulu assessed themselves a fee to pay for the radical new concept of a "shopping park", featuring a winding thoroughfare and lots of landscaping, which encouraged pedestrian traffic. The idea worked, as we see today. Now: The "bump outs" from the original sidewalk edge are now filled with mature trees, making the Montrose Shopping Park a beautiful garden spot, perfect for strolling. Montrose recently hosted a celebration... the 95 year anniversary of the founding of Montrose, the 40th anniversary of the Shopping Park, and the official naming of Montrose as "Old Town", a designation that will help it preserve its charm.

Pickens Flood Control Channel

Then: Our valley is composed of layers of eroded rock and sand from the San Gabriel Mountains. During the floods that have been a regular occurance in the geologic history of our valley, the rocks and mud flow quickly down the canyons. Once they reach the relative flat of the valley they spread out, forming alluvial fans. In the New Years Flood of 1934 the debris flows remained mostly in the stream bed of Pickens Canyon, until they crossed Foothill Blvd. They then fanned out, cutting a wide swath of destruction through Montrose. In this view, the photographer is standing where Mayfield Ave used to be, looking down toward the intersection of Rosemont and Montrose. The flood had spread out at this point, creating a wide moonscape where houses and streets had been the night before. Now: After the '34 Flood, Los Angeles County Flood Control came in with steam shovels and created deep narrow concrete channels to contain the spreading nature of future floods. The streets were rebuilt over them. This is the view looking southwest down Pickens Flood Control Channel, taken from Mayfield just east of Rosemont.


Then: This is a photo of the original "Rock - Haven", literally a haven for the mentally ill made of rock. This is the stone house that the young nurse Agnes Richards purchased in 1923 for her six female patients. The quality care she provided allowed Rockhaven Sanitarium to quickly expand to the 15 buildings we have there today. Now: The original stone house that was the seed of Rockhaven survived until 1971, when the Sylmar Earthquake so damaged the structure, it needed to be demolished. It was replaced with the larger Spanish style building seen here, which served as the main office until the facility closed a year and a half ago. The landscaping has grown wild for several years, and the property has a dark, overgrown feel to it. The City of Glendale will this week begin the huge process of trimming the trees, clearing out the dead foliage, and getting a little water on the surviving plants.

Rosemont and Fairway Avenue

Then: Shortly after Midnight on New Years Day of 1934, a sudden cloudburst in the San Gabriels sent a wall of water, mud and rocks crashing down Pickens Canyon. When it reached the American Legion Hall at Fairway and Rosemont, it punched through the back wall and filled the building, killing 12 local residents that had taken refuge there from the deluge. Here the Legion Hall, at what had been the intersection of Rosemont and Fairway, can be seen after the disaster, seemingly intact. In reality a portion of the back wall is gone and the interior is filled with debris. Rosemont has become a rockstrewn gully. Dirt stains on the walls of the building attest to the height of the mud flow. Now: Four years ago the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley built a monument at this intersection to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the tragedy. But what ever became of the American Legion Hall? As you can see in the "Then" photo it's relatively intact, despite the carnage that went on inside. This was the depth of the Depression, so materials for a new Legion Hall were hard to come by. The building was patched up, loaded onto a house-moving truck, and moved to the intersection of La Crescenta and Manhattan, where it is still an American Legion Hall today!

Verdugo Road After the Flood

Then: The combination of late summer hillside fires, followed by a rainy winter has historically doomed foothill communities to mudslides. In 1933, November wildfires in the San Gabriels, chased up with a couple of weeks of heavy rain in late December, and topped off with a cloudburst on New Years Eve, caused massive mudslides in CV just after midnight. Scores of people died and hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed. This is the view on New Years Day 1934 looking up Verdugo Road from Glencoe Way, looking toward Ocean View. A couple of feet of mud has obliterated the roadway, burying the car in the foreground past its axles. The line of telephone poles marks the center median of Verdugo Road. Now: The same view now marks the center median of Verdugo Road with a line of mature deodar trees that were planted soon after the flood. This landscaped center median is a common street feature in Los Angeles. Many of them are the abandoned trackways of interurban trolley lines, in this case the Glendale and Montrose Railway, which had gone out of business a couple of years before mud and rocks covered the right-of-way on New Years 1934.

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