Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Why is Some of Crescenta Valley a Part of Glendale?

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

The answer is simple and basic to life in Southern California – water. It’s the commodity that has played a major role in the development of nearly every community here.

In the late 1940s, the Crescenta Valley was experiencing a population boom. Millions of veterans of WWII were cashing in on their GI loans and buying new homes in Southern California, many in the Crescenta Valley. CV’s water supply at that time was managed by a handful of small privately owned water companies that held the water rights to various canyons and wells. At best, it was a hodge-podge of water sources. A doubling and tripling of the population, combined with a series of mild rainfalls, strained the ability of these private companies to supply water to new homes, and by 1948 some wells were running dry. Anecdotally I’ve heard that strict water rationing was being imposed in some neighborhoods. Imagine buying a brand new house and finding you couldn’t water your new lawn, or that you could wash clothes just twice a week. On top of that, the hundreds of new cesspools being built were threatening to pollute the steadily lowering water table. We needed to import water and build a sewer system.

There were two available solutions to the problem. We could attempt to form the privately owned wells into a water district and apply for water from the Metropolitan Water District, which was receiving water via aqueducts from northern California and Arizona. At that time, areas not already cities (like the Crescenta Valley) were restricted in being able to buy into the MWD. It could be done, but only by raising millions of dollars for membership and building all the pipelines needed – a complicated task. The other solution would be to annex to Glendale, which was already receiving MWD water, and already had pipelines and sewers up to their civic border at the top of Sparr Heights. That would be cheap and easy.

In 1949, a group of residents began the process of annexation of the entire valley to Glendale. There existed then, as now, a mistrust of “big government” and in December of ’49 the valley voted no to annexation. At the same time, the county, which oversaw the unincorporated Crescenta Valley, held an election to form a water district for the area. Perversely, the valley again voted no. Meanwhile the water situation worsened and in 1950 Glendale began to supply emergency water to some CV neighborhoods that had literally run dry. At the same time, another attempt was made to form a valley water district, which again was voted down by the nay-saying community.

The “head in the sand” attitude of the valley as a whole wasn’t working, and in frustration, small areas – Montrose, Verdugo City, Whiting Woods – began to calve off and apply for Glendale annexation on their own. That vote came in late 1951, and perhaps because Glendale had shown good faith by supplying emergency water combined with the tactic of voting by smaller neighborhoods, the vote was yes.     Highway Highlands, Verdugo City, the business district of Montrose, and the area above Foothill to the west of Pennsylvania Avenue all voted to join the City of Glendale. Those areas received water and sewers and Glendale got the acreage, population and prestige of becoming the third largest city in Greater Los Angeles.

The rest of the valley, above Montrose and east of Pennsylvania, pinned their hopes on the strong leadership of La Cañada’s Frank Lanterman. Lanterman was elected to the State Assembly in 1951 with the specific goal of easing the financial path for unincorporated areas like CV and, like La Cañada at that time, to buy imported water from MWD. His legislation was successful, and in the early ’50s Altadena, La Cañada, and the portion of CV that hadn’t annexed to Glendale all were able to form water districts and lay pipe to receive Colorado River water.

Thus we became a valley divided. Although united geographically, the valley is split down the middle – half Glendale and half unincorporated county – because of water.

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