The Morning After the 1934 New Years Flood
As New Year’s Day broke through a drizzle, scenes of devastation were revealed. The flashflood of the night before had bulldozed straight across the valley from the canyons – Hall-Beckley, Pickens, Goss, Shields, Ward, Dunsmore and Cook – clearing hundred-yard wide paths through neighborhoods.
Those in houses that were intact woke up to no water or electricity. Exploring their yards they found strange items. The Harrelson family on Piedmont discovered in their backyard two pianos, a couple of trunks, a manhole cover, broken furniture and five massive boulders. In the front yard were three cars, a chest full of silverware, a radio, and the side of a house. Half- buried in the mud were a dead rabbit, a dead chicken and a dead goat, and in a muddy pool of water, two live goldfish.
The Benson children struck out for Montrose from their intact home on Prospect and found they were walking several feet above the street level on top of quickly hardening silt and sand. Helen Casey, exploring from her home on the west side of the valley, walked toward New York Avenue and found it completely gone, gouged out five to 10 feet deep, with twisted water and gas pipes sticking up. Reaching Pennsylvania and Montrose, she found just the opposite – six feet of mud covering the roadway. Reaching Rosemont she came on a group of men digging a car out of the mud. It was covered to its roof and they were sure there were bodies inside.
Young Dick Lamar on Montrose Avenue, to the east of Holy Redeemer, remembered that in the morning an old woman knocked at their door. She told Dick and his dad that she had been inside her house when it lifted off its foundations and floated half a block, until it piled up against a telephone pole on Montrose Avenue where she had crawled out dazed. While she was talking she kept her hand over her mouth as though she was embarrassed of something. The truth came out – she wanted them to climb back into her wrecked home to look for her missing false teeth. They found the wrecked house, wrapped around a telephone pole, directly across from the Catholic Church. The two climbed inside the wreckage and found her dentures in the glass of water she had placed them in the night before, amazingly still upright and intact.
Some who had lost their homes the night before spent the morning picking through wreckage looking for their possessions. Those living in the untouched parts of the valley grabbed shovels and went to help dig out and look for survivors – or more likely for bodies. Some opened their homes to those who were now homeless. As help streamed in from Glendale and Los Angeles, so did the curious and, sadly, looters. From the relatively untouched Montrose Sheriff Station on Ocean View, martial law was declared, but there wasn’t the manpower to patrol all the affected areas. The curious could park in La Cañada or Tujunga and walk in. Volunteers from the American Legion formed an ad hoc patrol force, but the area was too extensive.
Young Charles Bausback remembered that his schoolteacher returned to her wrecked home two days after the flood and found two strange women in her bedroom, bickering over her clothing. Some people hired men to guard their homes.
Sparr Heights Hall (today the Community Center) and the La Crescenta Woman’s Club were turned into Red Cross headquarters, where the injured were taken to meet ambulances, and where food and water was stockpiled for distribution. Out-of-work men (it was mid-Depression) walked in to clear streets by hand. As the approaches to the valley dug out, sightseers began showing up and, a week after the flood, a route was opened for the curious – up Ocean View to Foothill, and back down La Crescenta. Local service groups used this opportunity to hawk hastily printed photo collections of the damage, which ultimately funded some of the rebuilding.
The resilient valley needed to plan to prevent a future disaster – to create a flood control system.