The Historic Oak of Deukmejian Park

Last Saturday Glendale reopened part of Deukmejian Park. I urge you to hike up to the massive oak tree, to view the rebirth of what had been a scorched landscape. That oak has seen a lot of our history. This is how it may have gone.
Imagine that 250 years ago a small group of Tongva Indians from the village of Wikangna, located where the Verdugo Hills Golf Course is today, paused here before continuing further up the canyon. They were headed to their summer camp higher up under the pines that kept the air cool all summer, to a spot where the water in the stream flowed year-round. After a short rest they picked up their supplies, including baskets of acorns harvested last fall from the oak forests lower in the valley. An acorn fell out and landed in the dirt, where it sat until it sprouted a few months later after the winter rains.
Two hundred years ago, a small group of Indians again paused here, but perhaps for the last time. These Indians were outcasts from San Gabriel and San Fernando Missions. They had worked at the missions for many years and had become disillusioned with the new life they had chosen. They tried to return to their childhood village of Wikangna, but found it completely abandoned. Wary of the soldiers that might chase them back to the Mission, they stopped briefly by this young oak before disappearing forever up into the mountains.
Perhaps 150 years ago a woodcutter named Dunsmuir stopped under the shade of this oak on the way up to his new timber claim a little further up the canyon. He briefly considered felling this mid-sized oak tree, but changed his mind when he remembered how rock-hard the wood was on these oaks, compared to the softer Big-Cone Fir trees growing higher up.
One hundred years ago, a middle-aged George LeMesnager rested with his sons under this oak. They had been working the small vineyard that the elder LeMesnager maintained across the creek from here. Those were his special vines, grown from cuttings brought from his native France. From those grapes he would make wine for his family, so they wouldn’t have to drink the lesser quality wine that he produced at his winery in Los Angeles. It was right here that he outlined his plans for a big barn to be built from stone in a French style.
And 75 years ago, LeMesnager’s sons and grandsons stopped under this big oak on their way up the canyon with another load of water pipes. They were going to have to rebuild the water collection system that had been destroyed by the huge flood that scoured this canyon a year before. They were supplementing their income by selling water to the farms and orchards below, since their winery had been put out of business by prohibition.
Fast forward to the late ‘70s. Surveyors used this tree as a landmark while laying out a proposed housing development, as an uneasy neighborhood below watched. The tree would be cut down of course, and back then no permits were needed.
We come to the ‘80s. Glendale responded to the community’s desires by buying all 700 acres. A young Glendale Parks Director Bob McFall used this massive oak as a resting place as he explored the new park he had just coordinated the purchase of.
Now we look back less than a year as the Station Fire crept down the hill toward the park. Assistant City Manager Bob McFall asked the firefighters to save this oak, so they set up their line of defense right here, and lit the backfires from here.
Last Saturday just days before Bob McFall’s retirement, the Glendale City Council and grateful residents of the community gathered under this historic oak. A plaque had just been placed naming the tree “The McFall Oak”, and they were there to celebrate the rebirth of this beautiful park. From this point volunteers would spend the next few years rebuilding the trails, replanting trees, and marveling at a historic cycle of nature.

Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the
Crescenta Valley. Reach him at