Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

New Book Out About the 1934 Flood

The Great Crescenta Valley Flood, New Year’s Day 1934 – it was one of the most dynamic events in California history and was, for most, unexpected. It was particularly terrifying because it came in total darkness, its arrival signaled by a rumbling like an approaching freight train and a shaking of the ground like a building earthquake. Those in its path couldn’t hide in their homes. Their homes were swept clean off their foundations like they were paper, and the inhabitants were in some cases torn to pieces.

In the aftermath came stories of survival, heroism, defeat and tragedy. The very land our homes are built on was the stage for an incredible geologic and human drama. The tales of our flood in 1934 are well known in college geology classes worldwide for our New Year’s flood was a classic burn/flood cycle, with great lessons on the dynamics of debris flows. Yet in our own community, the event is largely forgotten. No comprehensive book has ever been assembled to show the entire scope of this flood, its causes and aftereffects. Until now.

“The Great Crescenta Valley Flood” by Art Cobery has just hit the bookshelves, and it’s the complete story of the flood. The reader will learn about the geology of CV and the cycles of fire and flood that are natural to our landscape. The book defines the politics of managing this constant threat, and the massive failures that led to this tragedy. Cobery leads us through the cleanup afterward, the body count, and the blame-laying to the present complex flood control system that hopefully will protect us from future floods.

But the essence of the book, what makes it a page-turner and too exciting to put down, are the human stories that Cobery weaves into the narrative. When writing of the massive 1933 fire that preceded the flood, he tells the story of “the miracle of Ananda Ashrama,” the religious retreat at the top of Pennsylvania. Surrounded and trapped by the firestorm, the nuns and devotees prayed inside their chapel while firefighters lay on the ground around the outside training their hoses on the church and each other. When the firestorm had passed over them (it literally went up and over the church) not a single structure was burned, no one was hurt, yet around them was a blackened desert of charred destruction.

He tells the story of young Bob Lorenz whose family’s home was burned out and how they just barely escaped ahead of the flames. On their first visit back to their old neighborhood on New Year’s Eve, they once again were chased across the valley by destruction, this time by water and mud.

We learn of Bob Crowe who, when the rocks and mud burst through the front of his house, ingeniously fled upward. He quickly stuffed his entire family, his neighbors, pets, mattresses, food and water into his cramped attic.

The most touching story is that of little Marcy Warfield, 11 years old, who, swept from her house, was rescued and taken to the American Legion Hall where she was swept away a second time. She was so traumatized that she never returned to the valley, never spoke of it again, until she faced her demons just last year at 91 years old when she told her story to Cobery and revisited the valley.

This exciting book is generally upbeat and optimistic. It celebrates human strength and resiliency, but the dedication does contain the admonition to “remember that history has a tendency to repeat itself.”

Author Art Cobery is a retired high-school history teacher (in fact he was my wife’s teacher!) who several years ago organized the efforts to get the CV Ledger preserved on microfilm. While doing so he became fascinated with the contemporary reports of the flood in the old newspapers. He was particularly enthralled with the human stories he read and quickly became the local expert on historic floods locally.

The book is now available in local bookstores, Once Upon A Time and Flintridge Books, plus the larger Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. Reach him at