Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Another La Crescenta Landmark Falls to Development

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

On a vacant lot on the northwest corner of Manhattan and La Crescenta avenues sits a tiny stone house. It’s tucked away behind trees and walls and can’t be seem from the street. No one knows when it was built or who built it – just that it was there when the Bonetto family moved there in 1905. It will be torn down in the next few weeks to make way for new construction.

Tommaso and Josephine Bonetto emigrated from Italy, and the turn of the century found them living in San Pedro where there was a large Italian community. In 1905, Tommaso bought acreage in the wilds of the Crescenta Valley and moved his wife and two small sons, Bart and Tom, to a tiny one-room stone house that was already on the property. Thomas planted a vineyard and an orchard of cherry and plum trees extending south from the stone house, approximately where the American Legion Hall and the church are on La Crescenta Avenue. The house was expanded – a wood-frame addition on the side of the stone house with a basement beneath for making wine. The two Bonetto boys walked the short trip to the one-room La Crescenta Elementary School where it was Bart’s job to ring the school bell that still hangs in front of the school today.

In their teens, the brothers worked in the orchards of the Onandarka Ranch in a Verdugo Mountains canyon at the bottom of La Crescenta Avenue, and in the vineyards that are now Oakmont Golf Course. In the early ’20s, the brothers started a feed business, Bonetto Feed and Fuel, on the southwest corner of La Crescenta and Montrose avenues. They built a large brick building with barns in the back for hay and coal. The business was well located right on the Glendale and Montrose Railway trolley line where electric freight cars would drop off coal and grain in front of the store, and where farmers could load their farm and orchard produce onto the cars for the short trip to the markets of Los Angeles. The store was a landmark for 50 years.     The brothers and their wives became leaders in the community, volunteering for many local charities and service groups. The Bonettos were part of the Sunshine Society that owned, built and operated Twelve Oaks Lodge gratis for many years.

Both brothers built homes on sections of their father’s property on Manhattan Avenue.

In 1931, while Tom and his new bride Florence waited for their new brick house to be completed at 2819 Manhattan Ave., they lived in the old stone house next door. In a few years, the stone house was incorporated into a couple of outbuildings from Tom and Florence’s home, and eventually a pool was built in front. The basement continued to be a center for the family’s winemaking.

After Tom and Florence died about a decade ago, the lot with a giant spreading oak and the stone house was sold and has sat undisturbed. The adjacent Bonetto House was declared a Glendale Historic Landmark because of the pioneering Bonetto’s leadership in building La Crescenta, and the ancient Bonetto winemaking equipment from the basement was donated to Glendale and will be featured in a winemaking museum in the stone barn in Deukmejian Park. Various community activists have explored saving the old house, but it is not architecturally significant enough to generate much traction.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the stone house will be bulldozed away to make room for three new single-family homes. I have a tough time being too hard on this particular developer. I consider him and his family to be friends of our community and I’ve worked with his wife on many community projects. He builds single-family homes that fit well in La Crescenta and, although they are packed tight, they are attractive. This is a sad part of progress. Sometimes remnants of our heritage can be preserved, but I think this is an example of one that probably can’t.