The Verdugo Hills Memorial Hall located at 4011 La Crescenta Ave. serves as the home for local American Legion Post 288 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It also hosts church groups, exercise classes and Boy Scout meetings. But unbeknownst to most, this hall was the site of swift and powerful violence that took the lives of at least 12 men, women and children and injured many more. Perhaps the word “Memorial” in the hall’s title should give us a clue that the quiet Legion Hall was once a death trap.
Here’s the story behind this recently re-discovered revelation.
In the 1920s, Crescenta Valley was booming and hundreds, including many WWI veterans, moved here to take advantage of our beautiful climate. An American Legion Hall was built on the corner of Rosemont and Fairway avenues to serve the growing town as both a home for newly formed Legion Post 288 and as a community center.
In October of 1925, the Crescenta Valley celebrated its dedication with huge fanfare and speeches by dignitaries. It served the community faithfully for nearly a decade, no one knowing that it had been built in the destructive path of the geologically regular flash floods that swept the valley a couple of times each century.
In late 1933, a destructive fire cleared the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains of vegetation and heavy rains through December generated mud flows. By Dec. 31 the Legion Hall had been set up as a Red Cross evacuation center for those whose homes had been flooded. American Legion Auxiliary members Myrtle Adams and Dr. Vera Kahn were in charge as dozens of refugees crowded into the hall, and the word went out across the Valley to head for the Legion Hall for safety.
At midnight on New Years Eve of 1934, a huge cloudburst hit the rain soaked hillsides above our valley and the mud and rocks cut loose and roared down the canyons. The 20-foot high debris flow, a slurry of mud and rocks with massive boulders being pushed in front, flew down Pickens Canyon at about 30 MPH, crossed Foothill Boulevard and tore through the populated areas above the Legion Hall. The debris flow clipped the edge of the hall, knocking the back wall in. The interior of the hall filled quickly with a mud and rock mixture, which swirled a couple of times crushing the occupants against the walls, and then punched a hole in the front wall and exited, carrying all inside with it. At least 12 of the refugees, including Mrs. Adams and Dr. Kahn, were dead and scores were injured. Overall the flood killed scores and left hundreds homeless.
CV was a place of great resilience back then and the community immediately started rebuilding, including making plans for a new American Legion Hall. The Bonetto Family who lived on Manhattan Avenue near La Crescenta Avenue donated land for a new Hall, and by July steam shovels began excavating the new site.
The old Legion Hall on Rosemont, although it had a big hole in both the front and back, was still standing. Being the Great Depression, money and materials were tight. The decision was made to reuse the building, and it was jacked up off its foundation and set down on wheels. An L.A. Times photo from August of ’34 shows the intact building being towed down Montrose Avenue by a pitifully small truck. It was set in place on its new basement foundation on La Crescenta Avenue in a reversed position, with the old front of the hall facing the rear of the property and 12 feet of new building, now the entry and offices, was added on the street side. The labor and materials to finish it were donated by the community and the hall was rededicated as a memorial to Adams and Kahn.
A community eager to put a tragic past behind it quickly forgot that this was the same building that had once been the site of a deadly natural disaster and for decades no one has considered the ghosts of those who died there.