The Three Civilian Conservation Corp Camps of CV
The story of the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in the early 1930s is one of the brightest chapters in American history. In the dark depths of the Great Depression, a newly elected President Roosevelt formed a corps of young out-of-work men to perform conservation work on state and federal lands. Between 1933 and 1941, three million men who would have been idle were provided housing, food and a small wage in exchange for labor – building roads, fighting fires and improving watershed. Hundreds of work camps were scattered across the U.S., and three were located right here in the Crescenta Valley.
Two of the three camps were temporary tent camps, while a third was a well-established site with wooden barracks and extensive facilities. One of the tent camps was called (we think) Happy Camp, located on a shelf of land overlooking Hall-Beckley Canyon in La Cañada. The camp consisted of a couple of rows of canvas tents and was populated by a small company (less than 100) of young men from Ohio. It was sited very near the base of the Earl Canyon Truck Road for easy access to the San Gabriel Mountains. Indeed, once the recruits got there, they were almost immediately thrown into the natural disaster cycle of the San Gabriels.
Arriving here just a couple months after the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, they were initiated in a “trial by fire” when they manned the front lines of the disastrous Pickens Canyon Fire in November ’33. Right away they were thrown into frenzied flood preparation building check dams in the canyons of the burn area. A month later they found themselves digging homes out from deep mud and searching for victims after the New Year’s Flood.
In mid-1934, the camp was disbanded and the 88 young men were sent back to the comparatively sedate landscape of Ohio. (As an aside, a young Ohio boy, Nick Virgalito, spent a year at Happy Camp. He fell in love with the Crescenta Valley and returned to raise his family and finish out his life here.) Aerial photos show two rows of tents on the site in late 1933, and in December of 1934 the shelf of land is bare. Today homes have been built on the site, and nothing is left of the CCC camp.
To find that site, drive up Palm Drive past Fairmont. The camp would have been between the road and the canyon, just below the intersection of Del Oro.
San Antonio Camp’s location and history is murky and anecdotal. We’re told that it was in Deer Canyon, off Beaudry Drive, above the Oakmont Country Club. It would probably have been located where the debris basin is today. It most likely would have been a tent camp. There is a small remnant left over from that era. An old cement staircase, covered in weeds and brush, climbs a short way up the hillside from the Beaudry fire road, about midway along the edge of the debris basin. It’s unclear if the staircase is from the CCC camp or from a later construction camp (1940s) that was near there. To reach it, drive up Beaudry Boulevard past Glencrest Drive. The well-hiked fire road entrance is obvious on the left side of the street.
Tuna Camp was well established and long-lasting, being a CCC camp from 1933 until 1941. It was located where the Verdugo Hills Golf Course is today, approximately where the driving range sits. It was substantial, built for 300 men, with multiple wooden barracks, shops and outbuildings. Much has been written about this camp because of its later notoriety as a WWII enemy alien internment camp, processing and imprisoning thousands of Japanese, German and Italian U.S. residents during the war. I’ve written extensively about the camp in the past, so no need to reiterate. A very nice rundown on its history including photos can be found at http://www.tunacanyon.org/history-of-the-site/ccc/.
President Roosevelt’s CCC performed invaluable work and provided a safety net in our country’s time of need. The Crescenta Valley was an important part of its history.