Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

La Tuna Canyon Road’s 40-Year Construction Nightmare

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

Trouble in many forms plagued the construction of La Tuna Canyon Road connecting CV and the San Fernando Valley. Man, money and nature all played a hand in delaying the building of this road, which today leads from CV through the Verdugo Mountains, crossing semi-rural horse property, finally terminating in semi-industrial Sun Valley.

The route from CV to Sun Valley was mapped out in the late ‘20s, and a two-lane section of La Tuna Canyon Road was paved between Wheatland east to where the road today climbs up into the Verdugos. But the onset of the Depression took the money and urgency away from the road’s completion, and it languished for 25 years as a dead end road. After WWII, the post-war housing boom in CV returned both money and motivation for what was then planned as a main highway to the San Fernando Valley.

For the difficult roadbed through the mountainous portions of La Tuna Canyon, county jail prisoners were sent to do the hard labor of grading a winding road through the Verdugos. For three years, starting in 1957, convicts shoveled dirt. We can imagine that scenes from “Cool Hand Luke” were played out in the mountains above CV. But what happened next epitomized the phrase from the movie: “What we have here is a failure to communicate”.

The property owners in the eastern flatland portion of La Tuna Canyon had enjoyed a veritable paradise of semi-rural living and peaceful horse trails since the 20’s. In 1961, as local government finalized plans to pave and open La Tuna Canyon Road, they met a very organized wall of opposition in the form of the La Tuna Canyon Homeowners Association and their attorney. Meanwhile construction on the still closed roadway continued in a minimal fashion while nature put up its own opposition in the form of several rock slides along the new roadway.

The homeowners association failed to get the support of their city councilman Louis Nowell, a fatal mistake in any preservation battle. He remained in support of the finished road and by ’65, when the road widening project portion of the La Tuna Canyon project pushed through their horse corrals, the homeowners association began to fight an increasingly desperate delaying action. As the project crept unceasingly through their neighborhood, the homeowner’s association focused its attention on the last unfinished connection, a 3,000-foot stretch between Wheatland and Sunland Boulevard.

In 1966, the homeowners association fought its Waterloo with a two-pronged attack. In the canyon, the residents staged massive demonstrations on horseback carrying picket signs. They “horse-picketed” the crosswalk in front of Vinedale Elementary School, stopping traffic and making some great photo ops for the media. Meanwhile, in the courts, their attorney filed several lawsuits on behalf of the homeowners association. A general “taxpayers lawsuit” against the city and county claimed the construction funds were illegally allocated, but 35 individual civil lawsuits were a little nastier. They were filed against the five members of the board of Public Works, the city controller, and the construction firms doing the work, claiming the “defendants acted with malice and oppression and with a wanton disregard for the feelings and Constitutional rights of the plaintiffs”.

But construction marched on, and the road opened without fanfare in early 1967. However, “nature bats last” in the game of development, and the road was almost immediately closed by a massive landslide.

As they cleared that one, a second landslide closed it again. Indeed, La Tuna Canyon Road has been plagued over the years by reoccurring slides and, at one point in a concession to nature, the roadway has been permanently shifted out, away from a cliff face that seemed to perpetually shed rocks and dirt. The development of L.A.’s freeways has lessened the road’s function as a major artery and it has shifted towards recreational uses. In fact, a lane in each direction was closed recently to construct bike lanes.

Today, La Tuna Canyon Road remains a pleasant alternate road to San Fernando Valley and an access road to hiking, biking and equestrian pursuits, deceptively quiet despite its tumultuous history.