By Jackie HOUCHIN
This question was addressed by Marlene Hitt, author of the book, “Sunland and Tujunga, From Village to City,” in a program hosted by the Little Landers Historical Society last Saturday at the Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga. More than 60 people crowded the old meeting hall to listen and learn.
Using slides of many historical drawings, photos and documents from the museum’s archives, Hitt, who is currently the docent director at Bolton Hall, took her audience on a journey through Sunland-Tujunga history. The original inhabitants were Tongva Indians who gave the area its name. “Tejunga” (old spelling) comes from the root word tux’uu, meaning “old woman.”
A year-round river along with fish, game, berries, yucca and acorns supplied all their needs, and the Tongva thrived. But later when Spanish Padres began establishing missions in the area (e.g. San Fernando and San Gabriel) and relocating tribes, their numbers decreased.
From 1832-1836, Mexico secularized the missions and granted the land to Mexican citizens as reward for military service. The 6,661-acre Rancho Tujunga (Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills, Sunland and Tujunga) was given to the Lopez brothers for cattle grazing. The peace treaty following the Mexican-American War honored the land grants.
The rancho era lasted for 40 years. In the 1880s settlers (squatters) from the East were lured to the area with promises of sunshine and fertile land. But heat, drought, and floods were hard on the pioneers. While Sunland (known then as Monte Vista) was good for agriculture, especially olives, tomatoes and peaches, the settlers in Tujunga did better raising livestock such as poultry, rabbits, and goats.
In 1907, community organizer William Smythe and real estate speculator Marshall Hartrandft founded what Smythe believed would be a “Utopia.” Their slogan was “A Little Land and a Lot of Living.” They divided their community into 1.5-acre lots called “little lands.”
One enticing advertisement (that brought knowing laughs from Hitt’s audience) read, “Bring a trowel and a sack of cement; building supplies on site.” Tujunga isn’t nicknamed The Rock for nothing!
The community center was built from local river rocks and dedicated in 1913. Bolton Hall stands today as a historical monument (#2) and museum operated by the Little Landers Historical Society.
Bolton Hall became the town hall for Tujunga when it incorporated in 1925, and included the Police and Fire departments as well as housing Building & Safety and the Health Department. It was also home to the second library in the San Fernando Valley after Burbank.
After building their homes and a meeting place, the Little Lands colony needed places to buy things. Soon small shops began springing up along Commerce Avenue. They also needed a post office, a theater, schools, and … a cemetery.
Throughout the presentation, Hitt shared amusing anecdotes about the early settlers and residents: the parson who called for the building of a cemetery then promptly died and became its first occupant; a man named Cornelius who shot “the last silver-tipped grizzly bear in the state” which probably was just an escapee from the L.A Zoo; and a family who raised grapes for the war effort providing an acid from the grapes that was used to make munitions.
Hitt also told about the members of the “Millionaires of Happiness and Contentment Club” who were “too old and too poor to do anything” but who thought the town needed a marker.
Their huge cement Cross of San Ysidro (or the politically correct T for Tujunga) stands on a peak west of town. When lit up it could be seen from Calabasas … or so they said! Sunrise Services have been held there every year but one since 1922.
And so a small agricultural community grew into a commercial and cultural city. And that’s what happened to Rancho Tujunga.
On the second Saturday of each month (September-June) the Society hosts programs relating to the history of the area. Admission is free and all are welcome.
Bolton Hall is located at 10110 Commerce Ave. in Tujunga.