The Watts Towers of La Crescenta

Posted by on Nov 26th, 2009 and filed under Viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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Dunsmore Park on Dunsmore Avenue above Foothill Boulevard contains a fascinating example of folk art, very similar to the famed Watts Towers.

On the sloped acreage of the park are miles of decorative retaining walls snaking through the landscaped grounds. The low walls are built of a myriad of materials mortared in place to create a joyful explosion of colors and shapes. The main construction is of stones and chunks of minerals collected from all over the United States. Rocks of green, red, and pink are mixed with the occasional native granite, interspersed with construction rubble, including intact sections of brick wall placed at odd angles. The jumble is artistically punctuated with objects of daily life in the early part of the last century – wagon wheels, farm tools, kitchen utensils, and car parts. Many of the gears, water faucets, forks, and spoons are embedded in slabs of concrete in patterns that create sunbursts and smiley faces.

Some of the objects are rare enough to take center stage on “Antiques Roadshow,” such as an old trolley conductor’s ticket punch or an antique beer tap (which would explain why some objects have been pried out over the years, ending up in someone’s private collection or on eBay). A stroll through the park is a feast for the imagination!

The history of the park is nearly as fascinating as the walls themselves. Originally carved out of the sagebrush in 1933 as the Mount Lukens Sanitarium, it joined the dozens of other tuberculosis and asthma hospitals that the area was famed for. Its career as an artistic canvas began in 1946 when the sanitarium was purchased by Milton Hofert, a prodigal son whose father ran an L.A. manufacturing company (which today still produces Christmas ornaments). After some brushes with the law in the ’20s, Hofert joined the Merchant Marine. While traveling the world he married a foreign bride, but she died soon after in childbirth along with his child. He never remarried. Although he had plenty of money from the family fortune, he was known as eccentric and reclusive, and was rumored to have stayed on the sanitarium site in a pup tent.

For 10 years Hofert must have given his full attention to creating his artistic walls. It’s rumored that he was given prisoners from the Montrose jail for heavy labor and perhaps he employed patients from the sanitarium as well. Who ran the sanitarium is anyone’s guess – perhaps the “inmates ran the asylum.” By 1956, Glendale was anxious to add more parkland for its recently annexed portion of the Crescenta Valley, and Hofert was ready to move on. Hofert offered the land to the city at a reduced rate if they would agree to preserve his walls. The city wanted no part of that restriction, but a compromise was struck by 1957, and true to Hofert’s wishes the walls have for the most part been preserved. The community room is a remnant of Hofert’s sanitarium as well.

(By the way, this info was dug up by none other than our own John Drayman, who besides his talents in acting and politics has a thing for genealogy.)

But what happened to Hofert? He moved to Big Bear, where he continued his penchant for bringing joy to the world. He created Holiday Hill, a winter playground facility for kids. In the late ’90s, when he was nearly 100 years old, he donated Holiday Hill to the city of Big Bear for use as a performing arts center. His name lives on there in several plaques, and in Hofert Hall, an auditorium for the community.

The city of Glendale, with the Historical Society, is planning a plaque for Dunsmore Park for a 2010 dedication that will tell the fascinating story of the “Walls of Dunsmore.” Next time you have a free hour, take a stroll through Dunsmore Park to discover (or re-discover) CV’s own version of the Watts Towers. Take my word, it’s a real treat!

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