After the 200 boys of CCC Company 548 arrived at La Tuna Camp and set up tents beneath the oak trees, they began clearing a natural plain, approximately where the driving range is today. They quickly threw up 11 wooden Army-style buildings, which included seven 50-man barracks, a mess hall, an infirmary, and an office. Other structures included garages and a blacksmith shop. They immediately set to work building fire roads and water storage tanks in the Angeles National Forest. On Saturday nights they would march in formation to the business district of Montrose to have a couple of beers, take in a movie at the Montrose Theater, and flirt with the local girls.
The boys of Company 548 didn’t know it at the time, but they had arrived in the Crescenta Valley just in time to help this community through a disaster of nearly Biblical proportions: the New Year’s Flood of 1934.
Most of us know already what happened that fateful night, but to summarize: A fire in November of 1933, followed by torrential rains in December combined diabolically to create a massive flash flood at midnight of New Year’s Eve. It swept across the darkened valley, destroying hundreds of homes and killing scores of residents. The shocked youth of La Tuna Camp showed up in the worst areas of the Crescenta Valley the next morning with shovels in hand to search for bodies buried under tons of mud and rock. They were employed to dig out the buried streets, clear debris and keep order.
In April of ’34, Company 548 was rotated out and Company 902 arrived. The fires and floods of the previous year had provided plenty of work for the newly arrived Company. They cleared brush and built new fire roads, built four steel fire lookout towers and assisted with flood control projects.
Company 902 built a respected reputation locally and when they were set to rotate out in ’35, to be replaced with Company 2924, the valley rose up in protest. You see, Company 2924 was a “colored” unit made up of 200 African-Americans. The community wasn’t ready for that, complained bitterly, and the all-white Company 902 was allowed to stay. As the decade wound down and the focus of the government began to change to that of a war-industry footing, the mission of and need for the CCC began to fade. In early 1941, the last white Company was rotated out of La Tuna Camp, and one more attempt was made to assign an all black unit to the site. Again the Crescenta Valley objected, citing the community’s current efforts to “restrict both the Crescenta-Cañada and Tujunga valleys against use and occupancy by races other than Caucasian.” The camp was abandoned in the fall of 1941.
The CCC was an interesting phenomenon of depression-era America, and it had an immediate economic effect. These young men who were assigned to camps like La Tuna Camp in the Crescenta Valley were given meaningful work in a time when none was to be had. The money that was sent back to their families was, in many cases, that family’s only income, giving these boys a sense of maturity and great responsibility. The work they did is all around us today – one form being the hundreds of miles of fire roads that firefighters use to both fight and prevent wildfires, and that our community regularly uses for hiking and biking.
But it also may have had far reaching effects on America’s involvement in WWII. The CCC program provided thousands of youth with Army-style training and leadership skills, well used when America was thrown into a world war we were ill-prepared for. The fact that a vast pool of young men who were unafraid of hard work, knew how to function in a team, and were physically strong and self-reliant helped create an army quickly to face enemies that were years ahead of us in technology. Some seeds of our victory in WWII were sown right here at La Tuna Camp.
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the
Crescenta Valley. Reach him at email@example.com.