By Mike Lawler
Glendale City Councilman John Drayman has been much in the news lately, both in Glendale for his championing of a move to Brand Boulevard for the Museum of Neon Art, and locally for his brokerage of a deal to locate a new Trader Joe’s on the west end of Montrose Shopping Park. John is somewhat of a local hero. He’s a native of the area and a Montrose small businessman who has seemed to grab the reins of Glendale leadership at a time when the Crescenta Valley is just waking up from its decades of political slumber, a somnolence which has allowed downtown Glendale and outside developers to call the shots on the Valley’s direction. He’s like a celebrity in Montrose, where he runs the incredibly popular Sunday Harvest Market which he created in 2002. He can’t walk but a half a block on Honolulu Avenue without being stopped repeatedly by his many local fans, and he’s always willing to greet them with a smile, a joke and a friendly ear for the issues of the day.
I’ve known John since high school as an acquaintance, and more recently as a friend. When I began working with the local historical society a few years ago, it was natural that I would end up in John’s photo restoration shop in Montrose, where we discovered we were kindred spirits in our fascination with the valley’s history. We’ve worked together on many projects since then, and I call it a privilege to have watched his ascendance in local politics. In the time I’ve known him well, John’s always been a natural politician. He’s constantly looking between the lines on every issue, and thinks strategically, not tactically. Never play chess with this guy, as he has the winning strategy figured before the first move. He’s a “big picture” guy. I sat down with John at the counter of Rocky Cola Café for an hour recently (during which time we were interrupted twice by people thanking him for what he’s doing for our community) to ask him what motivated him to move into Glendale politics, and to maybe get a little life story background. Here’s what he told me: John’s family moved here from Maryland in 1949, joining in the mass-migration of WWII vets streaming into Southern California. His dad Jay Drayman came out first to scout the area for the best place to raise his already growing family. His first priority was to find a good school system, and Glendale was an obvious pick then as it still is today. But in Glendale proper the ethnically Jewish Jay Drayman was sensing an undercurrent of anti-Semitism, something he was unfamiliar with in his more integrated east coast neighborhoods. His efforts to buy a new house in Glendale on the GI Bill were frustrated by the then legal “racial covenants” on mortgage deeds, which commonly restricted home purchases based on race, but often extended to religion or ethnicity. These covenants were standard in Glendale, but Jay quickly learned that he could enjoy the benefits of the Glendale School District in the freer Crescenta Valley, which was then still outside the city limits. He purchased a home in 1950 in the new residential areas being carved out of the sagebrush near Foothill Boulevard and New York Avenue, an area that still retained rural features, just to the east of Highway Highlands. John has childhood memories of playing in the orange orchards and vineyards nearby, and Mr. Figgins plowing fields with a horse-drawn plow. Jay immediately launched a clothing manufacturing plant on Foothill called CV Sportswear in a building that’s still there, just to the west of the recently fought over Foothill Lumber location. But Glendale soon annexed the area and brought a different set of zoning standards that excluded manufacturing, which sent Jay first to a new plant on San Fernando Road, and soon after to downtown LA. Jay Drayman’s downtown garment factory was one of the earliest operations there to have a fully integrated workforce, and John remembers being impressed with the dichotomy of attending the lily-white schools in CV in the morning, and in the afternoon going to his dad’s shop and hanging out with blacks, Latinos, and immigrants from all over the world. At home, the seven Drayman children enjoyed an atmosphere of civic and political activism. Politics were often and freely discussed around the dining room table, and John’s dad was involved in many aspects of community leadership. He was a Glendale Parking Commissioner, a member of the Montrose Shopping Park association board, and he participated in local Chambers of Commerce. Besides his manufacturing operation, Jay had a couple of retail ventures locally as well. Remember the “Hangin’ Red Pants” stores on Foothill? Yes, that was a Drayman business. As a kid, little John was dragged to many a city hall meeting by the elder Drayman, and he began to absorb a taste for civic participation. He was student body president at Lincoln Elementary, Clark Junior High, and finally at CV High School. It was here in late ’75, during the conflagration of the Mill Fire above La Crescenta that John took on his first leadership role in the community. The high school had been approached by the county for help and as incoming student body president John volunteered to help lead efforts to help shelter the fire victims. That winter he led volunteer sandbagging crews in Pinecrest and other burn areas threatened by the seasonal rains (history repeats itself!), and in the spring, reseeding efforts. It was in this role that John had his first taste of direct “hands-on” participation in helping others in his community, a taste that has stayed with him throughout his life. Next week I’ll continue this story with John’s many years in theater and acting (yes, you will recognize some roles), his return to CV, and the origins and fruition of his political career. I’ll also list some of his many accomplishments since taking on the challenge of being a Glendale City Councilman.
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley.