Indian Springs Resort’s Beginnings
There was once in our valley a beautiful oak-covered canyon that offered recreation to kids and adults – a resort, open to the public for swimming, socializing and relaxing, called Indian Springs Resort. That canyon was on the eastern edge of Montrose, just off Verdugo Road as it climbs the hill to La Cañada near Verdugo Hills Hospital. The Indian Springs Resort is perhaps the most fondly remembered aspect of our valley to residents who grew up here in the boom years of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Today the canyon and the resort are gone and in its place is the Indian Springs shopping center with a Vons and a CVS pharmacy.
Originally the little canyon would have been well known to the Indians that traversed the valley. It had a small spring and was cool under spreading oak trees. The spring was small, and perhaps seasonal, and so probably would not have supported a village. But it would have been at least an adequate seasonal camp, a good place to stop and rest when foraging and hunting. It lay right on the trade path between the village of Hahamongna, near today’s JPL, and Wikangna village to the west around La Tuna Canyon and further on, Tujungna village in Big Tujunga Canyon.
Later, when the Indians were gone, the padres walked and the soldiers rode between San Gabriel mission and San Fernando Mission along that same path. They may have stopped in the canyon for a rest and to fill their water bags. The vaqueros that worked for Jose Verdugo knew of the little canyon, a place in the dry northern reaches of the Rancho Verdugo that had a little water, but not enough for their cattle. After the Americans came it was part of the large land purchase made by two men from Michigan, Williams and Lanterman. The canyon in turn was sold along with the western half of the Williams and Lanterman tract to a doctor, Benjamin Briggs. Briggs focused his development efforts on the upper slopes of his new town of La Crescenta, largely ignoring the canyon.
The canyon still sat untouched into the 1900s when Benjamin Briggs’ daughter sold the land that was to become Montrose, including the little canyon, to the Holmes-Walton company, which developed the Montrose streets we know today. These developers brought a trolley line to the valley, which spurred building in their new town. But the canyon and spring were only looked on by the developers as a potential park site and water source that never panned out.
It wasn’t until 1927 that a new resident, Charles Bowden, purchased the canyon for a purpose. Bowden had a vision. He saw here in this beautiful spot a place of rest and recreation for the growing families of Montrose. He envisioned a resort with swimming pools, tennis courts and riding stables, all sheltered under the massive oak trees already growing in the shady little canyon. Bowden was part Blackfoot Indian and proud of his heritage, so he also wanted to create a place where Indian traditions could be kept alive. In honor of his ancestry, and in a nod to the now vanished local Indians that had used the canyon for thousands of years, he named the site Indian Springs.
He had a driveway graded from Verdugo Road that wound down to the floor of the canyon. There he built an Olympic-sized pool with attached dressing rooms and grandstands, and a few outbuildings including a home for himself. He utilized a faux-American Indian architectural style resembling today’s southwestern styling – blocky with flat roofs and exposed log roof beams. And at Verdugo Road, at the entrance to the road leading down to the canyon, he built the entry arch that was to become iconic of Indian Springs. The massive archway was perhaps 20 feet high and 15 feet wide, with a slight arrowhead shape to it, and painted on it were the words “Indian Springs.” In March 1928, Charles Bowden was ready for Indian Springs’ opening day.