Onondarka Ranch Becomes the Community of Oakmont Woods
In my last two columns, we’ve followed the evolution of Onondarka Ranch – from a wild canyon tamed by one of the first Americans to settle here in 1875, through its “cowboy” years as a horse ranch in the 1930s and ’40s, and right up to its joining the rest of the valley in the post-war development boom. On Aug. 1 of 1950, the ranch was annexed to Glendale, and within two weeks it was sold to Glendale-based developers Minkoff and Anderson of Dignified Homes Inc. Bulldozers set to work clearing the orchards, equestrian rings and stables, and reshaping the former ranch into a series of streets lined with pads for new homes. The bridge from La Crescenta Avenue across Verdugo Creek had to be built new as the old bridge was a rickety patched-together mess, actually held up by stacked wine barrels.
To Hyman Minkoff went the naming rights for the streets in the new development. (I’m often asked about the origin of various street names. Most origin stories are lost to time, but this one survives, giving us insight into the mindset behind the naming of streets.) Minkoff named the streets for his four daughters – Shirleyjean Street for Shirley Jean Minkoff, Camann Street for Camille Ann, Eilinita Avenue for Eileen, and Delorita Avenue for Delores. Emanual Drive was named for a business partner, Emanual Fagen. The generous Minkoff gave each of his daughters a lot in his development as they married.
According to an article by Glendale historian Katherine Yamada, 36 high-quality homes were initially built on Eilinita. However they were put up for sale just as new housing financing legislation went into effect that curtailed home sales. Minkoff nearly went broke, and the rest of the homes were built by other developers.
Before the bust, Minkoff’s daughter Delores announced her engagement to a race car driver from Glendale, Chet Knox. Delores and Chet were given their choice of lots in the new development. They roamed the freshly paved streets looking for just the right pad to build their new home. While exploring they came across Colonel Baldridge’s old house, the original Onondarka (“house on the hill” in the Seneca American-Indian language). While peering through the dusty windows of the rambling old mansion they saw the huge rock fireplace and the rustic interior. They fell in love with the old place and decided to take it rather than a new house down below. Along with the Onondarka house came six acres of oak covered hillsides and expansive views of the Crescenta Valley. And they’ve lived there ever since.
Some of the highlights of their 65 years of living in Onondarka have been the daily visits from a wide variety of wildlife – deer, bobcats, raccoons, coyotes, rattlesnakes and mountain lions. When they first got the house they had a visit from Colonel Baldridge himself, still spry and active in his 80s. He walked them around the property regaling them with colorful stories. Chet and Delores happily overlook neighboring Camp Max Straus, a refuge for underprivileged kids that is owned by the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. The 112-acre camp founded in 1938 offers a wilderness experience to at-risk urban kids. Every summer the Knoxes look forward to horses being brought in for the kids to ride.
Besides their amazing 100-year-old house the Knoxes have enviable life accomplishments of their own. Delores is an accomplished artist and her paintings line the walls of Onondarka. Chet, after a successful racing career in midget auto racing, has owned a string of small businesses, all related to automobiles and performance parts. For many years he owned the Cyclone Headers company and, more recently, the famous Autobooks Store in Burbank. Autobooks Store was legendary for its association with Hollywood stars such as Jay Leno, a regular customer. Chet retired in 2007.
And so a piece of old La Crescenta lives on. The “ranch” in Onondarka Ranch is now a beautiful secluded neighborhood of single-family homes. But Onondarka itself, the “house on the hill,” lives on, hidden in the oak forests of the Verdugo Mountains.