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Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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Bonetto’s Feed and Fuel – A Landmark Business

Anyone who grew up in our valley in the ‘50s and ‘60s is familiar with Bonetto’s Feed and Fuel. The store sat central in the Crescenta Valley, on the southwest corner of La Crescenta and Montrose avenues. A long rambling brick building ran west along Montrose Avenue, its shelves stocked with canning supplies, animal remedies, gardening tools and insecticides, while a big barn full of hay, firewood and sacks of feed stood to the south. It was run by the Bonetto brothers, Tom and Bart, both community leaders. They lived in two side-by-side homes just around the corner on Manhattan Avenue.

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

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

The feed business started in 1922 with Emil Busch, the father of Tom Bonetto’s future wife Florence. He had a chicken ranch and discovered that he could buy his chicken feed wholesale by starting a feed business. Those were boom years in the valley, and Emil soon found his feed business was so popular that it interfered with his chicken ranching. After one year he sold the growing business to the two young Bonetto brothers. They were the only two sons of Italian immigrants Tommaso and Josephine Bonetto. The Bonetto family had bought acreage in CV around 1905 and so, in 1923, Tom and Bart set up a storefront for their new feed business on the corner of the family’s property, at La Crescenta and Montrose avenues.

That was a great time to start a business here. New residents flocked to the area in the ‘20s, and many of them had livestock and gardens, ensuring a steady stream of customers for the new business. The brothers supplied firewood and coal as well for the relatively small requirements of our mild winters. Quite often their stock could be delivered to the store by rail, as the Glendale and Montrose Railway’s electric trolley tracks ran on Montrose Avenue. Electrically-powered freight cars loaded and unloaded at a freight platform right in front of the store.

The two brothers became community leaders, Bart active in the Rotary Club and Tom in the Odd Fellows, CV Water District and American Legion.
In fact the Bonetto family donated the land that the American Legion Hall sits on today along La Crescenta Avenue. Tom’s wife Florence was somewhat of a gender anomaly for that era, in that she was highly educated. In the ‘20s she drove herself each day to UCLA where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history, followed by a masters from Berkeley. She was classmates with another student breaking stereotypes, African-American Ralph Bunche, and they shared their class notes with each other. Bunche later went on to win the Nobel Prize, the first American of color to do so, and Florence went on to teach history at the college level.

As the decades went on, the business of Bonetto Feed and Fuel changed. They had started with chicken feed, grain and hay for livestock, and bags of coal for newly moved easterners who were used to coal fire as a heating source. During WWII, the needs of the valley shifted to gardening supplies and seeds for “Victory Gardens” and feed for rabbits raised for meals on the meat-deprived home front. As the post-war valley became a suburban paradise, the shelves were stocked with bare-root roses, lawn supplies and firewood. But throughout the store’s history, it remained a time capsule from another era, with a small Midwestern town “general store” atmosphere.

By 1971, it was time for Tom and Bart Bonetto to retire. They sold their inventory and the land the store sat on. The brick building came down and today an apartment building occupies the same footprint as the old store did. Although the store is gone and all the Bonetto descendants have moved away, a legacy of the Bonetto family remains. In 2007, the beautifully preserved Bonetto House at 2819 Manhattan Ave. was declared a Glendale Historic Landmark. In doing so, the city acknowledged not just the loving restoration done by the home’s new owner, but also the contributions of the Bonetto family to the development of the Crescenta Valley.

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