Old Town La Canada?
In architectural preservation circles, the City of La Cañada Flintridge doesn’t get much respect. For evidence of that, refer to the Los Angeles Conservancy’s annual Preservation Report Card, in which L.A. area cities are graded on their efforts to preserve their historic buildings. Burbank and Pasadena received an ‘A’ grading, and a city many of us belong to, Glendale, also received a well-deserved ‘A.’ However, La Cañada Flintridge was awarded a big fat ‘F.’ (In all fairness, unincorporated county areas like La Crescenta also received an ‘F.’)
Some would argue that La Cañada’s grade was harsh and undeserved. After all, they have the Lanterman House, which is on the National Register, and Descanso Gardens and the Boddy House, along with many beautiful homes by famed architect Paul Williams. But the reality is that La Cañada has no laws governing the treatment of these historic structures, so property owners can, and do, tear down historic homes and buildings at their whim. The common joke is that a “La Cañada home remodel” consists of bulldozing the lot and building new.
Despite this reputation, there are still some hidden architectural gems to be found in La Cañada. A great example is three Victorian-era houses dating to the 1880s that sit next to each other on Curran Street. Although they aren’t spectacular, they are the sole remnant of what used to be the “town center” of old La Cañada, a busy cluster of houses and retail structures in a block bounded by Foothill, Indiana, Curran, and Union. It’s worth seeing sometime when you’re out running errands. The following info comes from an old La Cañada Historical Society (now defunct) pamphlet from the 1980s.
At the corner of Foothill and Indiana was a reservoir from which residents got a once-a-week allotment. It was fed by a small seasonal stream, now in an underground storm drain, beneath Indiana. A half-block down Indiana are two huge eucalyptus trees, survivors of an 1880 wind break that continued east to the intersection of Foothill and Verdugo. On the corner of Curran and Indiana was the best of the Victorian homes of old La Cañada, with all the classic architectural flourishes. It was two stories and had recessed corner windows. In a big flood, a small house floated down the hill into their yard, and they adapted it into a guesthouse. Both are gone now.
Next door at 1421 Curran is the first of the surviving 19th century homes. The Victorian roots are evident by its tall thin windows, and the once open porch has been enclosed.
Moving to 1417, we find another fairly modest home, but still showing 19th century styling – high-peaked roof, tall windows and fish-scale shingles that would have been laboriously hand-cut by some 1800s carpenter. This home was bought in 1914 by Jim Huntington, who founded the Huntington Iron Works behind his house on Foothill. Starting as a blacksmith shop, it eventually became a center of artistic iron work that was sought after by the affluent. Rockhaven Sanitarium features some fantastic decorative railing by Huntington Iron Works.
Jim Huntington faced two problems when he bought this house. First, the house had been hit by one of our frequent floods and sat crooked on the lot, so he lifted it up and set it right. Second, his city-bred new bride chafed at the rough country life in La Cañada. Jim’s installation of new-fangled electricity seemed to satisfy her.
One more house, at 1411, shows its Victorian roots with tall, thin gables in the roof. This was the Oseguera family’s home. The Oseguera family was associated with the Carpenter Squab Ranch, located down the street near Foothill and Oakwood.
At Foothill and Union was the general store and post office, where you could buy fresh-caught trout from the Arroyo Seco.
Just below Curran, where the freeway is, was the Mexican section of La Cañada, where a relatively large and poverty-stricken working class lived.
There you have it – a small remnant of La Cañada’s past, a surviving section of old town La Cañada. Go see it soon. It may not be there much longer.