Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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A Country Girl Visits Los Angeles in 1948

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

In the past, people kept diaries to record their thoughts and experiences, somewhat like people use Facebook or blogs today. Reading these diaries is a wonderful insight into the past. My mom recently shared her diary from 1948, when she and her brother and sister, just out of their teens, drove from their home in rural Wisconsin to glamorous Los Angeles, scouting with the hopes of moving here eventually:

“Los Angeles is wonderful! It isn’t beautiful – it’s too dry. The trees and grass aren’t very green. But I love it. It’s where I want to be, if ever I am able to do as I choose.

“We went to the beach that afternoon. It was sunshiny and nice when we went, and then, all of a sudden a wet and cold fog came in, and drove everybody away. And the traffic on 101 was like something I’ve never seen! We were able to drive about one mile in 10 minutes – four lanes of cars bumper-to-bumper.

“On Friday about 1 p.m. we stopped at a plain, old market on Wilshire Boulevard. Much to our amazement we found Fred MacMurray there, shopping alone for groceries. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but when I heard his voice there wasn’t any doubt about it. The clerk said that he, or his wife, or his Chinese-boy come in two times a week, from a good distance, to buy their groceries. That was quite a treat! He was in there for a long time and nobody bothered him. I was close enough to touch him several times. He was much better looking than he is on the screen, and very tall and broad-shouldered, and doesn’t look as old as he is (about 40, I think). The clerk said they are the commonest, nicest people you could see anyplace. My sister heard him tell the clerk his wife was ‘laid-up’ that day. He has a wonderful smile. He wore dark-colored glasses and was dressed beautifully.

“In the evening we drove to Hollywood. We stopped at a radio store and watched a television broadcast of a baseball game in the window. I’d love to have a set. Several times on the trip we saw near-accidents. We saw dozens of English cars, with the steering wheel on the right.

“One day when we came home on the bus, we saw a young man – quite good-looking and dressed nicely. He wore dark glasses. At first I couldn’t figure out what was the matter with him – if he was drunk or crazy. He couldn’t stand up straight, kept leaning back and he was shaking and jerking. He’d screw up his face, trying to concentrate, or relax, or something. It was awful. And then he got out of the bus at the Veteran’s Hospital on Wilshire. That just made me sick. I still worry about the poor boy.

“My sister and I accepted jobs with the Automobile Club at $155 a month, but after figuring up, we decided we wouldn’t be able to get along on those salaries. We called up and told the man we didn’t want the jobs. On Tuesday we called Ma and Pa and told them what the situation was, and they advised us to stay a little longer.     Thursday, we took the car to a Chevrolet garage and found that there was something terribly wrong with the car. They had to change the rings and valves and it cost almost $100! And that was our downfall of course. We couldn’t stay with the small amount of money we had.

“We left L.A. about 8:30 on Monday morning. After we got through Pasadena, we drove through orange grove country, and the perfume from the blossoms was simply tantalizing! It was like heaven.”

It’s a classic story. A combination of lack of money and homesickness had driven them back home. But soon they returned, joining the throngs of Americans moving to California in the post-war years. My mom eventually settled in beautiful La Crescenta. And I’m so glad she did!

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