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Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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Flood Stories – Tales from The American Legion Hall

Like the armchair adventurer, we can now look back on the cold terror of the 1934 New Year’s Flood from the comfort of a warm spring day. Here is another story from our valley’s greatest tragedy from over 80 years ago. This took place at the American Legion Hall, then located at the corner of Rosemont and Fairway.

In the ’34 flood, the Legion Hall was a focal point. Leading up to the flood it was an emergency center and gathering place for wet, cold refugees flooded out by two weeks of rain. When the flood hit, it was the center of the flood’s wrath, killing 12 people there.

On New Year’s Eve, the Legion Hall was manned by Red Cross volunteers who had mobilized to provide shelter for about 10 refugees driven there by flooding in their homes, and to provide a central location to receive calls for aid and dispatch men to help. Leading the volunteers were two strong women, Myrtle Adams and Dr. Vera Kahn. Volunteer Charles Poole was manning the phone lines. As the clock struck 12, there were two tremendous downpours back-to-back, and a loud rumble began to grow in volume. Several people headed for the front door to see what the noise was. Charles Poole looked up from his phone just as the back wall burst in. He watched the piano there slide toward the front door, picking up speed, as he managed to shout, “Mayday mayday!” into the open phone line. He started toward Myrtle Adams near the front door where she was praying, when he was slammed by a wall of water and mud.

On the front porch, Tob Lamar, commander of the American Legion, stood next to Dr. Vera Kahn. They had just rushed there from inside in response to the increasing noise coming from up the hill behind them. As they peered into the blackness of the pouring rain, the roar became almost deafening. The roar was punctuated by the crashing sound of the back wall of the hall giving way. As the wall of water hit the front door behind them, Tob Lamar instinctively made a tremendous leap sideways off the porch and caught the limbs of a small sycamore tree growing by the front corner of the building. He desperately grasped the branches as behind and below him the contents of the Legion Hall shot out the front door – furniture, emergency supplies and people.

Charles Poole had been amongst the debris shot out the front door, and now he tumbled underwater, boulders hitting him and splintered wood tearing at him. When he reached Montrose Avenue a block down the hill, he grabbed and held onto a bush that stopped his uncontrolled rolling. He found himself upright, buried in mud to his armpits. He tried to cry out, but his mouth was packed solid with mud. He pulled himself out of the mud and crawled to the shelter of a big stump where he crouched until rescuers found him. His back was wrenched, he had a broken shoulder and four broken ribs, along with numerous cuts that became infected. It took the doctors three days to clear his mouth of mud.

Back at the sycamore tree, a dazed Tob Lamar dropped to the ground. Finding no one around, he wandered through the black downpour in shock, finally reaching his house several blocks away. After collapsing he joined the rescuers in the dawn light. They eventually retrieved the bodies of both Myrtle Adams and Dr. Kahn.

The Legion Hall had not been destroyed, but merely gutted – emptied of its contents but intact. It being the Depression, it was not demolished. It was patched up and moved whole to where it sits today at La Crescenta and Manhattan. Back at the corner of Rosemont and Fairway today is a monument memorializing those who died. Just to the east a newer home sits almost exactly where the Hall once stood. In its front yard, the sycamore tree that saved Tob Lamar still grows, over 80 years after that traumatic night.

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

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

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