By Brandon HENSLEY
Maybe it wouldn’t be accurate to say La Crescenta residents took a walk down Memory Lane last Saturday afternoon. Oh sure, they walked. A lot.
The group, which numbered around 40, gathered to hear stories of their town by Mike Lawler, president of the Historical Society of CV. Lawler served as a guide on a walking history tour of Foothill Boulevard. The walk began at the La Crescenta Library and covered the area to Rosemont Avenue.
“We’ve done a lot of walking tours of Montrose, but we’ve never done to my knowledge here of Foothill, and it went over great,” said John Newcombe, member of the Historical Society who also served as a guide. Newcombe wrote and produced “Rancho La Cañada: Then & Now,” a DVD chronicling the history of the area, from its beginnings with founder Benjamin Briggs in the 1800s to the present day. Several sites on the video were included on the tour.
Residents learned that their town was once home to crazy people – literally. The valley had upward of around 25 sanitariums at one point. To be sure, many of them were for patients with breathing disorders – people once flocked to the area for its clean air – but there were some that housed the mentally ill.
One of those places was Kimball’s Sanitarium which used to be where the Ralphs is in the shopping center near Foothill and Rosemont. When the place was torn down, straight jackets were found along with letters and poems from patients. Included in a multi-page handout given by Lawler was one dated from June 1927. The last two lines read, “While the flies they do keep out very well/It’s the bugs inside that they restrain.”
Lawler said there were plans for creating more sanitariums, but residents weren’t exactly on board with that idea.
“Think about it; Would you want a crazy place expanding by your house?” said Lawler.
He showed the area’s first hotel, the Silver Tree Inn, where Foster’s Donuts is near the same shopping center. The hotel was built in 1890, but immediately blew down due to high winds. There were kerosene lamps in the building, and so it’s accurate to say it also burned down. The hotel was later rebuilt.
The group crossed the street to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The valley’s first teacher, Helen Haskell, who was the niece of Briggs, moved to France in the late 1800s. There she met world famous painter Seymour Thomas. They married, and moved back to La Crescenta. Thomas became a visionary of sorts. He had an idea of building a church, and did so by “setting up his easel across the street,” said Lawler, “and painting what he thought would be the best church to have on this property.”
His vision came true. The church was built as it was in his painting.
As the group circled back around, Lawler pointed out the La Crescenta Store and Post Office. There was a picture of it in the handout the way it looked in 1912. Upon closer inspection, hanging in front the American flag, a light bulb can be seen. That is the first light bulb in the valley’s history.
In all, the day went over well with its participants.
“I thought it was fabulous,” Shirley Wright, a resident since 1960. “I think Mike’s a real treasure to have in our area because of the wonderful things he does.”
Participant Liz Nelson said the day was “a rich way of knowing more about your community, bonding to a greater depth, knowing that your roots go down deeper than you realize, and that we have more commonality with things way in the past than we might have guessed.”
It was fitting the day started and ended with the new library. It used to be grounds for the first schoolhouse in the area, where Haskell herself taught.
In La Crescenta, people really do learn something everyday.