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Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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Devil’s Gate Dam – Portal To Hell?

That’s what several sites on the Internet say (so it must be true?). Devil’s Gate is a deep, narrow spot in the Arroyo Seco separating La Cañada from Altadena, spanned now by a dam and a couple of bridges. It used to be called Devil’s Gate Gorge until the dam was built across the opening in 1920. It gets its “Devil” name from a rocky outcropping that vaguely resembled a devil’s profile, located on the east side of the narrow opening that the stream flows through. The outcropping today, now located below the dam, is even more vague in its satanic resemblance, as it received a thick coating of cement at some point in the dam’s construction.

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

So where do we get this “portal to hell” stuff? It all starts with Jack Parsons. Parsons was a self-educated rocket enthusiast who in the ’30s attached himself to several Caltech students conducting rocket experiments in the Arroyo Seco behind the dam. He has gone down in history as one of the founders of JPL. But he also attached himself to the infamous Alistair Crowley, an occultist, Devil worshiper, and so-called “most evil man alive.” Together Parsons and Crowley performed bizarre satanic rituals at Parsons’ home in Pasadena and supposedly at Devil’s Gate Dam as well. According to several paranormal enthusiasts, in the early 1940s they inadvertently opened a “portal to Hell” in the Arroyo.

So what is the evidence to support this theory that an opening to the netherworld exists on the fringes of quiet La Cañada? Of course, there is a whole laundry (dirty laundry) list of murders and suicides that have taken place in the undeveloped land behind the dam. The most cited are the disappearance of several children over the years. For example, in 1956 two children riding their bikes in the area vanished although their bikes and jackets were found nearby. Many years later a serial killer confessed to their murders. He had buried them and three other victims in freeway construction sites, where creepily they remain buried under the concrete today.

Another disappearance is more mysterious. In 1957 a boy was hiking with his family in the area. He ran just a few yards ahead, rounded a corner and vanished. Extensive searching with helicopters and bloodhounds never found a trace of him.

Another piece of evidence the “Portal to Hell” enthusiasts point to is the presence of “Suicide Bridge” (aka Colorado Street Bridge) a couple of miles south of Devil’s Gate. More than 150 people have tossed themselves off that bridge. And speaking of bridges, the 210 Freeway bridge across the Arroyo, just a few hundred yards below the Devil’s Gate, was the site of a terrible fatal disaster during its construction in 1972. During a big cement pour, the forms gave way and tons of wet cement, scaffolding and workers plunged into the Arroyo, just under the evil eyes of the rocky devil’s face. Six men died in the accident, two of them encased in quick-dry cement.

The list of tragedies and paranormal experiences is long for this site, augmented today by the proliferation of amateur ghost-hunter organizations. The myriad websites of these groups report presences at Devil’s Gate, such as the tortured spirits of the child-killing serial killer and Jack Parsons, and sightings of a woman in a white gown with white hair covering her face. My favorite is the report of a milk-white humanoid creature with bat-wings climbing the devil’s face in the gorge.

So there it is: All evidence points to a rift in the humdrum normalcy on the edge of Flintridge. It surprises me that La Cañada Flintridge remains a desirable neighborhood. Who would want to live next door to the Portal to Hell?

On a different note: Regarding the Montrose Theater being destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1987 – A reader wrote that he had done some a/c work in the theater a year before the fire and observed some burned wires in an electrical panel. He told the manager to get it looked at, but perhaps she never did. That was possibly the source of the fire!

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