Treasures of the Valley

Memories of Early Montrose/La Crescenta – Part 3

This week I finish up a wonderful set of memories penned by Bob Potts in 1953. Bob was the son of T.O. Potts, who in 1915 opened the very first store in Montrose at the intersection of Honolulu and Verdugo. That’s the building that recently housed the closed restaurant Benitoite. The memories have some fascinating details of the beginnings of Montrose and life in early La Crescenta. I’ll continue my plagiaristic ways by printing the words Bob wrote with my notes in [brackets].

“The school was the center of all community life. It was a tall white wooden building with a belfry [the first La Crescenta Elementary School]. Also a bell. It had one classroom and a small office. Restrooms were two widely separated structures out in the brush. Pupils came from miles around, some tethering their horses out in back. The first public library was in this building. On Sundays the community church held session, and any town meeting was of necessity held there.

“About 1916 or 1917 the La Crescenta Improvement Association was formed, with my father being elected the first secretary treasurer. When you consider that everyone knew everyone from Arroyo Seco to Tujunga, you will realize that we had some crowds. Parliamentary procedure was rarely observed and old friends and neighbors thought nothing of calling each other anything that came to mind. Strangely this never seemed to create enmity.

“It must be realized, however, that we were strictly on our own. Half the county supervisors didn’t even know where the valley was. There wasn’t a sheriff, fireman or doctor within miles, and our problems were strictly our own. When a fire broke out every man, woman and child had at it. When one of those terrific winds deroofed a house, it was up to the community to fix it. When sudden sickness or a fast delivery [childbirth] occurred, the community took over. Therefore, at those improvement meetings, everyone took a personal interest in the matter of self-defense. If it wasn’t a water shortage, it was a washed out road or bridge.

“About 1917 was built a new school [the second La Crescenta Elementary School]. We were really in the chips. We had wonderful restrooms in the basement and outward opening windows. There were four classrooms with only two grades per room. Of course, we had grown. Where there were 18 pupils when I enrolled in 1915, we now had almost 100. We also had a huge flagpole before the front entrance, trapeze bars and a maypole, a summer house and free baseball equipment. We also had a real modern white enamel drinking fountain.

“But best of all we had an auditorium – and with a projection room at that. As usual, all town meetings were held here and a church utilized the auditorium on Sundays, although other churches had by now arrived. Also by this time we had a separate public library on Montrose Avenue, just east of La Crescenta Avenue.

“Every other night we had movies [in the new auditorium]. The projector was run by Harvey Bissell, heir to the Bissell Carpet Sweeper fortune, and our one and only millionaire. Incidentally, it was he who donated the drinking fountain to our new school. My father, an accomplished musician, played the piano at the shows and the results were not always edifying. Old T.O. wasn’t one to waste his time watching the picture. Consequently, if the scene was gay comedy, he would like as not mumble through ‘Asleep in the Deep’ whereas if the protagonist was lying moribund on the bed and the heroine was searching the house for laudanum tablets, he would blithely break out in the corniest ragtime. But it was the only movie we had, and we loved it.”

“After WWI, the southland and the valley enjoyed a real estate boom. The story since 1921 is modern history, so I’ll drop the narrative there.”

Mike Lawler is the former president of the Historical
Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
Reach him at