Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Oldest House in CV Still Stands – But Not in CV!

Mike Lawler is the former president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the former president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Shopping at Traders Joe’s in Montrose recently, I was approached by a lady asking about Pickens Cabin. She knew some about it – first permanent structure built here back in the 1800s, a little homesteader’s cabin – and she mentioned that she had seen obviously modern film footage of it and its interior in the DVD “Rancho La Cañada – Then and Now” by John Newcombe. “So where is it?” she wanted to know. Well it’s still around. It’s just not in La Crescenta anymore.

Here’s the story.

Theodore Pickens is considered the first American settler in the valley, arriving here in 1871. In 1873, he purchased 160 acres at the top of today’s Briggs Avenue, planted barley and a fruit orchard, built a “honey house” for his bee keeping operation, and a tiny one-room cabin to live in – the first frame house in the valley. He lived there in seclusion for almost 10 years until he sold the property, including his cabin, to Dr. Benjamin Briggs in 1882. Pickens moved to La Cañada where for several years he took part in civic affairs, raised a successful cherry orchard, and even briefly married. He ended his life in the ’20s managing a resort in the Arroyo Seco. His fascinating story entwined in the roots of La Crescenta can be found in Jo Anne Sadler’s recent book, “Crescenta Valley Pioneers and Their Legacies.”

Meanwhile, Pickens’ tiny cabin became part of the wealthy Briggs’ compound on Briggs Terrace, where Briggs created extensive plantings, a cement home, a water tower (still there – now a house), and a large barn just feet from Pickens’ old cabin. The barn was in the triangle lot at the intersection of Shields and Canyonside, and Pickens Cabin was across Canyonside to the east. The properties were eventually subdivided, and subdivided again, and Pickens Cabin ended up as part of the property along the east side of Shields that has a long stone wall just before Canyonside branches off.

In the 1960s, the Crescenta Valley lost many of its 19th century landmarks to development. The original schoolhouse, the La Crescenta Hotel, Kimball Sanitarium, Briggs’ home and others were bulldozed. When Briggs’ barn across the street from Pickens’ cabin collapsed, a victim of neglect, the owner of the property that held Pickens’ cabin was shocked. They loved their history, but realized the valley was not a safe place for the almost century old cabin. They had connections in the county fire department, which was just then creating a backwoods historical exhibit at its tree nursery and conservation center at Henninger Flats on the slopes of Mount Wilson. The cabin and its contents were donated to the fire department, which disassembled the old cabin and trucked it up the Old Mt. Wilson Toll Road to Henninger Flats. There it was rebuilt and placed on exhibit as a “pioneer cabin,” along with a myriad of old mining equipment, wagons, a restored fire lookout station and a visitor center/museum.

Henninger Flats today is operated by the Forestry Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Dept., and a large scale tree nursery exists there, its purpose being to reforest burned mountain areas.

T. P. Lukens (father of modern forestry and namesake of Mt. Lukens) was one of its founders, dating to the turn of the century. Henninger Flats is only accessible on foot, a grueling three mile hike from Altadena, a steady climb in full sun the entire way. But the hike is worth it. Henninger Flats is a worthy destination – a large pine and cedar shaded terrace with incredible views of Los Angeles. Once there, hikers enjoy fresh water, toilets, a campground, the previously mentioned museum with exhibits on tree growth and wildlife, and a view of the thousands of evergreen seedlings raised there.

You’ll want to visit the 140-year-old Pickens cabin while there, set up inside just like Theodore Pickens left it. Call ahead to (626) 794-0675 to make sure it’s open, and use the Internet to find the trailheads. Pickens cabin is the oldest house in CV, but it’s not in CV anymore!

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