The Little Hills in Our Valley – Dunham and Reynolds Hills
Unnoticed by nearly everyone are three small hills, only a couple hundred feet high, located oddly on the surface of the valley floor. The most storied of the hills, Collins Hill, I’ll write about next week. This column will talk about Dunham and Reynolds Hills.
The Dunham Hills are the small rises that Foothill Boulevard passes through as one drives into La Cañada, around where the YMCA is. They’re a set of hills, and appear to be a small northward offshoot of the San Rafael Hills to the south of La Cañada. They extend from just above Foothill where Ross Dress-For-Less is, down to the east side of Montrose where the 2 and the 210 freeways meet. That interchange flattened a good portion of the Dunhams when it was built in the late ’60s, and split the hills in half. There were a couple of neighborhoods nestled in the Dunham Hills that were taken out entirely by the freeway, but there are still a good number of hillside homes there along Hilldale Drive south of the 210 and La Granada Way north of the 210.
The watershed from Winery Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains passes through the Dunham Hills. The little streambed goes underground at Foothill, and used to re-emerge as the spring at Indian Springs swimming pool. Now it merely flows into a flood control channel deep beneath the parking lot of Indian Springs Shopping Center.
The Dunham Hills are named for the Dunham family, early La Cañada landowners, who had their large house on the upside of Foothill from the present YMCA. The most notable Dunham Hills residents were Rob and Liz Waterman, who in the 1880s with Perry Switzer developed the resort at Switzer Falls. Skiing destination Mt. Waterman is named for Liz Waterman, and in early CV the Dunham Hills where they lived were known as “Little Mt. Waterman.”
Reynolds Hill, named for early owners of the property, is the little hill on the north side of Foothill between Briggs and Ocean View. You can drive to its top by going up Ocean View one block from Foothill, and turning left onto Conle Way.
When Foothill was first laid out it curved around Reynolds Hill. Sometime before the ’20s the southern flank of Reynolds was shaved off so Foothill could run straight. That’s the big cut you see when driving Foothill, right next to the car wash. As a matter of fact, both the car wash and the mini-mall next to it were carved out of the flank of Reynolds Hill as well.
Geologically Reynolds Hill makes little sense. It sticks up like a solitary bump from the sloping alluvial plain, and isn’t connected to either the San Gabriels or the Verdugos. In the ’40s and ’50s students regularly came to the Reynolds cut from a geology class at Pasadena City College to study the apparently unusual exposed rock formations.
Historically this hill is first noted as a sheep corral in the 1860s before anyone had settled in the valley. Supposedly a natural bowl on top of the hill made an easy corral for the sheep and over time it filled with fertilizer. Early residents hauled wagon loads of it to scattered ranches to boost the fertility of the valley’s rocky soil. Another early anecdote tells the story of a turn-of-the-century Fourth of July fireworks show, to be set off from the top of Reynolds Hill. A group of boys got to the fireworks stash on the hill early, and accidently set them off, which in turn ignited the surrounding sagebrush. Angry valley residents spent the rest of the holiday fighting the fire. The hill was a favorite high spot for early photographers, providing a 360-degree view of the valley floor, and we have several photos taken from there in the early part of the 20th century. During WWII, a lone anti-aircraft battery was stationed on top of Reynolds Hill, probably to guard northwest approaches to the aircraft factories in Burbank.
Next week I’ll address Collins Hill, just south of Reynolds Hill.