The Foothill Boulevard Riot, Part 1
Cruising in cars, starting in the post WWII boom, became a standard part of life for American teens. All across the U.S., masses of teenagers were driving slowly up and down the main street of town, socializing, stopping for food, showing off their cars and occasionally racing each other. In L.A., Van Nuys Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley was the Mecca for cruising as each Wednesday night thousands of youths “cruised Van Nuys.” The phenomenon peaked in the ’70s, and the release of 1973’s “American Graffiti,” a movie about cruising, cemented the concept in the minds of that generation as a rite of passage.
In the Crescenta Valley in the ’70s, most teenagers considered La Crescenta dead and void of entertainment. Someone came up with the idea of establishing a Monday night cruise on Foothill Boulevard between La Cañada and Tujunga, and on May 18, 1975 the first Foothill Cruise Night was inaugurated. All went well for two successive Monday nights, but as Cruise Night gained in popularity, attracting bigger crowds, the police decided to tighten down.
On the night of June 1,there were approximately 400 cruisers out on Foothill, and the first of several confrontations between the cruising teens and police occurred. The western turn-around spot was the Lucky’s parking lot (now Albertsons) just west of Lowell. A crowd of youths had gathered there and the LAPD and Glendale Police decided to roust them out. They closed Foothill at Lowell, routing traffic south down Lowell, while two police helicopters hovered over the Lucky’s parking lot, demanding the crowd of teenagers disperse.
The indignant kids scattered through the neighborhoods, but found their way back to Foothill, and about 200 now angry kids reassembled on both sides of Foothill at the eastern turnaround spot in La Cañada, where Pier One Imports and Ross Dress-For-Less are today. It now was up to the CV Sheriffs to break this end of the cruise circuit up, supported by CHP and Glendale Police. They assembled at what is now Big Lots, and moved east in force toward the crowd where they found the kids had barricaded Foothill Boulevard. As the police cars entered the area, they were barraged with rocks and bottles. One officer was hit and several police cars had their windows broken out. They waded into the crowd, making arrests, and again the kids scattered.
It was now midnight, and most of the teens had had enough. There would be plenty of stories to tell the next day at CV High School. A few returned to the Lucky’s parking lot in Tujunga, but for the most part the night’s excitement was over. In all, there had been 17 arrests ranging from loitering and reckless driving up to narcotics possession. Along Foothill Boulevard there had been a reported $20,000 in property and vehicle damage, including a tractor-trailer that was partially dismantled and a motor home that had its roof caved in by kids jumping on it.
The police vowed this wasn’t going to happen again and promised to have an army of officers out the next Monday night. Sheriff Peter Pitchess offered a stern “No more” to the Monday night cruising. Of course, to the kids this sounded like a challenge. Fliers were passed out at high schools as far away as Glendale High and San Marino with the following message: “The pigs think they can stop you from cruising Foothill on Monday nights. Foothill is publicly owned property. You have the right to do what you want to do – so do it! Remember, there’s safety in numbers.”
Other messages were less belligerent, but still urged the kids to come out the next Monday. The local paper published a letter from a group of teenagers that read: “This town has been dead long enough and we need at least one night where we have something to do. Let’s show them we can have fun cruising, and at the same time conduct ourselves maturely.”
The next coming Monday night, June 8, a larger confrontation would be inevitable.
I’ll continue this story next week.