Mountain Oaks – Will It Ever be Developed?
Last week I described the origins of the pretty little community of Mountain Oaks located below CV Park at the bottom of New York Avenue. Today it’s a piece of paradise for the 12 homeowners who share the 45 acres of oak-shaded wild land. But in 1929 it was conceived as a resort scheme. The business plan never really took off, timed badly at the beginning of the Depression. After the resort plan failed, the Kadletz family operated it as rental recreation grounds for company picnics and school functions. Sampling old L.A. Times I see an article from 1950 about the L.A. Grain Exchange holding its company picnic there. In 1952, the Pasadena City employees kicked off their annual picnic at Mountain Oaks with a softball game, culminating with a beauty pageant to select “Miss Crown City.” In the late ’40s, the Montrose Rodeo was held there after the previously used Onandarka Ranch fell to development. And I’ve heard from a few locals that local schools rented the grounds for their end-of-school celebrations, and that school dances were held on the dance floor of the lodge. As well, the big pool was opened to the public during the summer. This provided barely enough income for the Kadletz’s to hold on to Mountain Oaks.
But as time went on, the aging facilities began to decline and in the ’60s the crumbling lodge was torn down. The Kadletz family sold what was left of their holdings and developers began to eye the property. The City of Glendale was one of the first to throw in development proposals. In 1959, Mountain Oaks was proposed for a massive sports stadium, but Glendale High was chosen instead for what is today Moyse Stadium. In the ’60s, the city considered purchasing Mountain Oaks for redevelopment, laying out streets and selling the improved land, but didn’t follow through. Other developers took swings at it as well. But there were problems with the way the land had been subdivided.
A subdivision map created for Mountain Oaks from 1929 shows 400 tiny, tiny lots. What strikes anyone familiar with Mountain Oaks is that many of these lots were on nearly vertical hillside, and not buildable. Even these lots did sell back then, perhaps to investors hoping to flip them, perhaps to those who were unaware of the topography. We hear anecdotally that the sales records were informal, sometimes a penciled note on a scrap of paper, and that records today of who owned what are a mess. And that has been the crux of the problem for developers.
Nonetheless, developers over the years have cobbled enough of the lots together to take a stab at development, always failing. The most recent was in 2007, when a developer purchased the large central flat meadow lot and proposed a private Armenian high school surrounded by up to 300 condominiums. The Crescenta Valley rose up against the plan and demanded the City of Glendale stop the scheme. The city took the position that they considered the property an illegal subdivision, due to its 1929 origins, and that no development proposal would be taken seriously until the mess of conflicting property titles was cleaned up, a nearly impossible feat. The development firm promptly defaulted on the property and the land they had cobbled together went back to the original investors. It’s now split between three owners, who have at various times attempted to unload this white elephant. In 2008, one owner put their portion up for auction, and didn’t receive a single bid. Recently a couple owners again approached the city to buy it for dedicated open space, but the city takes the position that since they won’t allow it to be developed, it will remain open space by default.
To me it’s clear that this battle to preserve Mountain Oaks will be fought again. In real estate there’s a sucker born every minute. As one of the owners attempting to sell recently said about who would buy this troubled property: “If it’s not the city, it’s going to be somebody else.”