The Little Hills in Our Valley – Collins Hill
Collins Hill is the smallest of the little hills in our valley, nothing more than a bump really, and yet it has the most historically to write about. It’s so small in fact that it’s hard to find. Tiny Collins Hill is bounded on the east by Ocean View, the north by Barton Way, the west by Briggs, and the south by the 210 Freeway. You can drive to the top by entering a driveway at 4371 Ocean View. The driveway winds up Collins Hill to an apartment complex at the top. The hill is named for Mark Collins, an early developer who had a hand in just about every big development deal in the ’20s and ’30s. (I’ve always wondered if Markridge Road is named after Mark Collins.) Collins Hill used to extend east across what is today Ocean View, but when that street was pushed through, builders shaved off that eastern edge.
Collins Hill is first mentioned in April 1926, when the Kiwanis Club erected a large white cross on top of the hill for the valley’s first Easter sunrise service. A bugle call at sunrise opened the services, which were conducted by the ministers from La Crescenta Presbyterian, Montrose Methodist and La Cañada Community Church.
Soon after that, Mark Collins flattened the top of his hill, and built a grand restaurant there named the Hill Top Inn. It was a long low structure facing the Verdugo and San Rafael Mountains featuring a rooftop patio, and looking down to a view of Los Angeles and the ocean beyond. It was managed by Stuart Collins, Mark’s son, and its phone number was Crescenta 5. A menu survives, and has a poem on the cover:
“Up where the air is cool and sweet; where the purple range the heavens meet.
Where the view beyond and the view below, in turquoise colors softly glow.
Where the silver airship passes by, and you follow its way in the vaulted sky.
Up where your cares all fade away, and you feel you are monarch of all you survey.
Where friends and family gather in, and you sit at your ease and dine like a king.”
Dinner was $1.25, a hefty sum back then, and offered soup or salad, fried chicken with cranberry sauce, or steak and potatoes, and hot biscuits and honey. Desserts were apple pie a-la-mode, or a choice of sundaes in the following flavors: fresh strawberry, maple nut, chocolate walnut or marshmallow. “Hill Top Coffee” was served from vacuum pitchers and special coffee glasses.
A couple notable Collins Hill stories have been handed down. On New Year’s Eve 1933 just before midnight, 15 Gas Company employees were trying to dig their trucks out of the mud on Ocean View by Collins Hill. At midnight as they sloshed through the building stream buffeting their trucks, they suddenly heard the rumble and roar of the approaching mud and rock flow roaring down the Hall-Beckley Canyon. It sounded like an approaching freight train. They sprinted for the driveway running up Collins Hill to the Hill Top Inn, where they sheltered for the night, to find in the morning that everything below – houses, trucks, and people – had been swept away.
Another story reads like the fantasy of every child. One day when the Hilltop Inn was receiving a load of ice cream, the delivery truck lost its brakes and rolled down the side of Collins Hill, spilling ice cream out as it rolled. Kids in the quiet valley flocked to Collins Hill, attracted to the noise of the crash, and were rewarded with armloads of free ice cream – as much as they could carry.
We don’t know when the restaurant went out of business – it was a long time ago. The restaurant was carved up into apartments, augmented by cracker-box rental houses. In the ’70s, the top of Collins Hill was bulldozed clear and the current apartment buildings were built. The community lost a real treasure on Collins Hill. It must have been a fantastic spot for a restaurant!