Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

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

We have several small tucked-away communities in the lush canyons of the Verdugo Mountains, such as Mountain Oaks and Whiting Woods, and each of them seems to have its own unique and fascinating history. Glenwood Oaks, across the street from La Crescenta Nursery at La Crescenta and Shirleyjean is another such place.

When I talk to old-timers about their favorite memories of growing up in old CV, the Indian Springs swimming pool is the number one favorite. But a close second is the Onondarka Stables. In the ’30s and ’40s, Onondarka was a smaller-scale L.A. Equestrian Center with adult and youth riding groups, rental horses, stables and several rings, including a big rodeo sized ring. The “half-hour trail,” “hour trail” and “three hour trail” provided incomparable vistas as riders climbed the rocky ridges and forested canyons of the Verdugos. The “Moonlight Rides” were a popular feature at Onondarka, as riders rode the crest of the mountains on hot, clear summer nights, a carpet of lights spread before them. Onondarka was the site of a couple of big “Montrose Rodeos” in 1946 and 1948, capping the Western Days celebration, a week of parades, celebrities and silliness. In the rodeo, Montrose merchants were pitted against real cowboys in roping and riding.

For kids being raised on the Westerns of Tom Mix and Roy Rodgers, Onondarka was a real-life link to the Old West. For those with an appreciation for CV’s history, it was a chance to rub elbows with descendants of the legendary California Vaqueros as Onondarka was where the Verdugo and Urquidez families kept their horses.

The history of the property now called Oakmont Woods goes way back. In 1875 a German immigrant, George Englehardt, purchased 148 acres of the canyon (formerly part of the Verdugo Rancho) and planted the lush canyon in fruit trees. In 1900 he sold to a couple other families who added vineyards to the ranch. In 1912, Colonel (honorific, not military) Homer Baldridge passed through the valley and fell in love with the little canyon. He owned livery operations in Pasadena and so brought horses to his new ranch. It was a real garden spot with its own springs higher up in Englehardt Canyon. In 1913, he built his big mansion on a hill way back in the canyon and named it “Onondarka,” which means “house on the hill” in one of the American Indian languages.

It seems there’s a Hollywood connection to nearly all of our local history and this one is no different. Lawrence Tibbitt started as a ranch-hand at Onondarka. The story goes that he lived on the ranch with his little family, and that he could be heard singing opera as he worked the vineyards and orchards. People began to take note and he was asked to perform for the guests at the La Crescenta Hotel at Rosemont and Foothill. The right people heard him there and he was on his way. He built an outstanding operatic career as a baritone with the New York Met, but easily and successfully stepped into musical theater as well. He became internationally famous, and even briefly became a movie star and radio personality. His descendants still live locally.

In 1950, the ranch was sold and subdivided to become the pretty little single-family community of Glenwood Oaks. A notable aspect of Glenwood Oaks is the story that the streets are named for the developer’s daughters: Shirleyjean, Delorita, Ellenita and Emanuel. The old mansion Col. Baldridge built 99 years ago is still up a canyon at the end of a long driveway and is now owned by Chet and Deloris Knox. The Onondarka Riding Club continued on, moving first to Burbank and then to Saugus and Calabasas. They have apparently done very well since the ’50s as an Internet search gave me thousands of sites that rave about the “famed Onondarka Riding Club.” There is even an “Onondarka Medal” that seems to be akin winning an Oscar.

Not bad for humble CV roots. And you know, I bet the Onandarka Riding Club doesn’t even know their history!