Wild Times at CV’s Prohibition-era Speakeasy!
It’s well known that the Crescenta Valley was a hotbed of illegal alcohol production and consumption during Prohibition. It was close enough to LA and Hollywood to make for easy access, yet remote enough geographically with its many hidden canyons to make law enforcement problematic. The remains of stills and hidden rooms are still occasionally discovered in old homes here, and the tales of the infamous roadhouse in Whiting Woods are well known.
But here’s a new one, just discovered. For years now, we’ve heard rumors that Mountain Oaks, an abandoned resort in the Verdugo Mountains, had its beginnings as a speakeasy. But research into the name Mountain Oaks found nothing. Recently I came across a reference to “Verdugo Lodge.” I did some searching by that name and “bingo!” – we have our pre-Mountain Oaks speakeasy!
Verdugo Lodge first appears in the early ‘30s as a dining and entertainment establishment “close to Hollywood” with a resort- like atmosphere – swimming, horse-back riding and trout fishing. A huge two-story lodge building offered live music, dancing and, if one reads between the lines, gambling and alcohol. Patrons were greeted at the door by proprietor “Smiling Tom” Mascot. Who knows how many big Hollywood stars visited? It was a classy place!
However, two old LA Times article betray its wilder side. The first, on New Year’s Eve of 1932, involved a B-list Hollywood actor, Matt Tormino. He and two other entertainers got into a heated argument with a “boisterous celebrant” (meaning drunk). A gun flashed, everyone panicked and fled into the darkness. Tormino was found passed out on the road by a sheriff, a bullet lodged in his hip. No one remembered a thing about the night, other than the gunman “was a big guy.”
The best story happened in July 1933. The sheriff’s vice detail knew of the speakeasy’s existence, and they planned a big early-morning raid. The police squad broke through the front entrance to find a long mahogany bar crowded with patrons clamoring for alcohol next to a dance floor packed with gyrating dancers. Someone shouted “Raid!” and 500 fashionably dressed drunks piled out back doors and through windows. Upstairs where the roulette tables were located must have been even more chaotic as diving out the window would have meant a long drop. Screams and shouts echoed through the canyons as the lights went out and utter chaos reigned. The officers grabbed those in charge of the bar and the gambling operation while the orchestra packed up. The scattering patrons found their cars and hit the gas, many leaving hats, coats and money behind.
Arrested and booked was the manager for “conducting a gambling resort,” the bartender for serving alcohol, the guy running the gambling tables upstairs, and two brothers for “operating a dance hall after hours” (shocking!). Several cases of alcohol were seized along with a wide assortment of gambling paraphernalia. The police captain told the paper they “were surprised to find such an elaborate layout. It was one of the classiest places we have raided in some time, and was doing a good business, even at an early hour of the morning.”
Whether or not the speakeasy reopened is unknown, for the end of Prohibition was just a few months away, in January 1934. That effectively put the alcohol-oriented Verdugo Lodge out of business and in August 1934 we read of the auction of Verdugo Lodge’s contents – 125 chairs, 40 tables, a bar, a back bar, a novelty box (whatever that is!), a piano and lots of kitchen and dining room equipment.
It must have been soon after this that the Kadletz family bought the place and turned it into a more family-oriented resort. All the outdoor recreational facilities that the Verdugo Lodge had built were included with the sale of the lodge, now renamed Mountain Oaks.
For several decades the resort hosted weekend company picnics and school celebrations, and the once licentious lodge was the scene of school proms and civic events. In the ‘60s the resort operations ceased and the mountains have been reclaiming the abandoned resort/speakeasy ever since.