The Mystery Mine of the Verdugo Mountains
In the ’70s, ’80s and even into the first part of the ’90s, drivers on the north Foothill  Freeway near the La Tuna off ramp might have looked left and caught a glimpse of a very old concrete structure barely visible in the thick undergrowth of the Verdugo Mountains. Many thought it was a military building, like a bunker or gun emplacement. Others like me, who took the trouble to get off the freeway and bushwhack their way up to it, found it to have a more “early industrial” feel to it. At that time, no one seemed to know exactly what it was, as it sat seemingly in the middle of nowhere on the hillside directly opposite the Verdugo Hills Golf Course.
The odd structures caught the attention of the Crescenta Valley when it was laid bare in the couple of decades after the last big Verdugo Mountains fire in the early ’60s. In the ’70s, the local paper ran a photo of the mystery structure asking old-timers to ID it. They got several responses, none in agreement as to its purpose.
Bart Bonetto said it was a gravel mining operation owned by the Switzer Brothers and that trams were used to lower the rock from the mountainside quarry to a concrete loading dock. He said that the mine was in operation until the ’30s. He also said there was an earlier graphite mine on or near the same spot that went bust in the ’teens.
Someone else wrote that there were dirt roads running to the mine and that crosstrees nailed to nearby mature oaks indicate there was electricity serving the site. He thought a lot of rock had been removed and perhaps it was used to construct Hansen Dam.
Another respondent said a nearby ravine was full of old equipment parts and rock debris with drill holes in it.
Ruth Fehlhaber wrote that her family operated a silica mine in the Verdugos about a half-mile from that site, the silica ore being hauled to the railhead of the Glendale and Montrose Railway on Montrose Avenue. It was mined with dynamite and she remembered the men shouting, “Fire in the hole!” before blasts echoed across the valley. She confirmed that a family named Gillen operated either a silica or graphite mine at the site of the mystery structures.
The Little Landers Historical Society of Sunland-Tujunga recently shared a document with me that clarified what structures are on the site but not their purpose. The survey was done perhaps in the ’70s in relation to a property owner’s development plans that never came through. It maps in detail several structures and concrete footings running up the mountainside (supporting the idea of a tramway). The document guessed the structures were built between 1915 and 1935, and that they were related to some sort of mining activity. It notes some mine tailings below the structures. It further documents the property being owned from 1913 to 1927 by Josie Hostetter. (The nearby fire road coming off La Tuna Canyon that everyone hikes up is called Hostetter Road.) In ’27, the land was sold to James Bonner Jr. (The same “Bonner’s Rental” family that I believe still owns property in La Tuna Canyon?) I think the property is now Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy land.
Today, the old mine isn’t visible at all and I recently spent several hours crawling through dense brush in the area I thought I remembered it being in. I found nothing. A friend familiar with the mine said he recently found a section of 16-pound rail like a mine would use, and the base of an ore car made out of flat-iron typical of the ’teens. Another acquaintance said they found some cable and a big wheel, like a flywheel or big pulley for a mine.
Thick sage and poison oak make investigation nearly impossible. I’m afraid the mine itself and the equipment that served it won’t be revealed again until after our next big Verdugo Mountains wildfire.