It may not surprise you, but Los Angeles has a history of lawlessness. In the period after California entered the Union, from about 1850 to the late 1870s Los Angeles was ruled by outlaws and vigilantes, boasting a murder rate inconceivable by today’s standards. In some years of that period our per capita murder rate (murders per thousand residents) still stands as a record unbroken for any city in America even today.
During that period the Crescenta Valley was uninhabited, other than drifting bands of displaced Indians, and was used more than anything else as an escape route for outlaws running into the San Gabriel Mountains. Tujunga Canyon Boulevard, where it passes by the Verdugo Hills Golf Course and up into Tujunga, began as a Indian trail and then was a Padre’s trail between San Gabriel and San Fernando Missions. During the period of lawlessness it became a favored route of horse and cattle rustlers driving their stolen stock from L.A. up into Big Tujunga Canyon, and through the early history of the Crescenta Valley Tujunga Canyon Boulevard gained the local name of “Horse Thief Pass.”
The spirit of this piece of history is being revived, albeit in a way filled with whimsy and good-will, by Sunland resident Richard Stewart, whose internet name “Bandito” has an entirely different meaning than those early L.A. outlaws. Richard Stewart “steals” trash and weeds from other people’s property!
Stewart, a successful large-scale painting contractor by day, becomes a “guerrilla gardener” in his off hours, cleaning up abandoned vacant lots in his neighborhood. His most visible work is in “Horse Thief Pass,” specifically a several acre empty parcel on the west side of Tujunga Canyon Boulevard just above the Verdugo Hills Golf Course. He’s hauled tons of trash and debris off that lot, clearing the weeds but leaving the trees and bushes. He says he’s checked with the owners and they’re thrilled, as he’s saving them thousands in debris abatement costs.
His cleanup efforts in that lot have evolved into something even more interesting when, noticing the beauty of the many rocks he found under the weeds, he began stacking them in interesting ways, thereby creating what some locals are calling art. Stewart, one of the most unassuming men I’ve ever met, told me that he just found these rocks to be beautiful to look at, so he just impulsively began stacking them in crazily balanced stacks so people would see them. “It gives me a lot of joy, ‘cause every morning I drive by on my way to work and I say, ‘Look, they’re still there!’” People even add to them! When he decorated them for last Christmas with big gold ornaments, someone stopped off and put several Santa hats on them.
Stewart got started on this path when, as a professional painter, he found himself painting over graffiti. That stoked his desire to beautify his neighborhood by taking on these abandoned eyesores which pull down entire neighborhoods. He has a huge sense of community as evidenced by his recent outdoor wedding, which incidentally took place on the lot he and his bride-to-be cleaned up on Tujunga Canyon Boulevard. He put out a sign on the street that said “Bandito Wedding – Everyone Welcome!” and hundreds of well-wishers stopped by. The community good will he engenders certainly equates into better business for his painting company. He tells me, “I’ve gotten some painting jobs from people that stopped by while I was pulling weeds, just to see what I was doing.” I’d certainly hire him, given his conspicuous good values.
So do yourself a favor and drive by CV’s newest beautified vacant lot on Tujunga Canyon Boulevard. Also take a look at the video on his website at www.richardstewartpainting.com/art-park.php or on YouTube under “Richard Stewart” or “Bandito Artist.” In the video Stewart challenges others in the community to do as he has done, and beautify our community. I can think of several vacant lots here in La Crescenta that could use being raided by El Bandito.
Crescenta Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org