The New Year’s Flood and the Taste of Maple
The New Year’s flood of 1934, 80 years ago this New Year’s Eve, was a defining moment in the history of our valley. It was at midnight, New Year’s Eve, when the year changed from 1933 to 1934 and our community changed overnight from peaceful neighborhoods into a barren moonscape scattered with twisted, broken wreckage.
After a prolonged rain on Dec. 31, big chunks of the sodden San Gabriel Mountains had broken loose, slid down the mountain and out across the valley right at the stroke of midnight. Scores were killed in the midnight darkness and hundreds were left homeless. Last year, CV resident Art Cobery wrote a wonderful book about this dramatic occurrence, “The Great Crescenta Valley Flood.” I’d recommend it for an exciting read.
Since Art wrote the book, several flood survivors have stepped forward to share their previously untold stories. One such survivor is Paul Brown who was a young boy when the flood roared through his neighborhood on Glenada Avenue, above Montrose Avenue and to the west of Ocean View. (This portion of Glenada was taken by the freeway.)
Paul remembers that it had rained very hard all day leading up to New Year’s Eve. Little Paul went to sleep to the sound of the pounding rain but woke at midnight to a rumbling roar outside and the sound of his mother screaming, “God is going to kill us all with flood for our sins!” The family stood transfixed at a window looking at a river where their yard used to be. Boulders, trees and parts of houses rolled by their house while, on her knees, Paul’s mother prayed aloud. They heard a loud banging at their door, which turned out to be a soaked party of men that had just been washed out of the American Legion Hall a couple blocks to the west. Paul was ordered to bed while his mom and dad got hot coffee and food together for the men.
When young Paul awoke in the morning, the rain had stopped and the flood was now a trickle. He was anxious to explore the wrecked landscape. After a small breakfast and a promise to Mom to be careful, he filled his pockets with maple taffy left over from Christmas and stepped outside. The yard now had a trough gouged diagonally through it, 25 feet wide and six feet deep. Boulders the size of refrigerators were strewn about the yard, along with the remains of someone’s car. Walking down Glenada he passed a newer rock house that had only the exterior walls still standing. The interior wooden walls had disappeared.
On Montrose Avenue he passed a house that had floated down intact from the streets above, and had lodged against a telephone pole. He came upon a group of men removing the body of a woman from the mud. As he munched on the maple taffy from his pocket he watched a workman clean the mud from her head. Revealed was the horrible image of her dead face, the mouth wide open and packed with mud, her lifeless eyes staring from sockets loaded with mud. That face, tied to the taste of the maple candy, has haunted Paul all his life. As the boy stumbled away from the gruesome scene, his shoes filled with mud and he took them off. Very soon his bare foot was pierced by splintered wood and he hobbled home again.
Within 24 hours, Paul’s foot was infected and he ended up in the hospital with the other flood victims. He later found out that the dead woman had been his music teacher. When Art Cobery heard the story, he immediately knew that the woman had been Eleanor Clark, the daughter of Andy Clark for whom Clark Magnet High School is named.
For us today the reminders of the flood are the many debris basins and concrete channels built to prevent future disasters. For Paul Brown, the reminder is the taste of maple. He says that he still sees that dead woman’s face whenever he tastes maple.