Treasures of the Valley

Historic stone barn is the valley’s latest gem in the making:

–Mike Lawler

Crescenta Valley residents have recently been favored with the choices that Glendale and L.A. County have made on our behalf. The city’s purchase of Rockhaven Sanitarium shows potential as an art-oriented community center. The new library just completed by the county is already trying on its new shoes as a town center for La Crescenta. Both show great promise for our future.

Another gem being polished as a future treasure for the Crescenta Valley is the Le Mesnager Barn in Deukmejian Wilderness Park. This huge stone barn was built to support the winemaking fortunes of the French Le Mesnager family in 1915. It was originally designed to store the harvested grapes from the hundreds of acres of vineyards the family owned in our valley. The grapes would then be hauled to the Old Hermitage Winery on Mesnager Street in Los Angeles. The two-story native stone barn was also the family’s home until the late ’60s, when the barn and its acreage became a battleground for a proposed mega-development, and a new park for Glendale in the late ’80s.

The barn has always been a focal point for the park, and in its early years served as a horse stable. Many of us remember the Blue Shadows mounted drill team that was based there for a couple of decades. As the park has moved toward a trailhead/hiking focus, the barn has been re-envisioned by the city as a community center , with a wide variety of potential uses such as educational programs, community meetings, film showings, festivals and musical recitals.

However, the unreinforced masonry of the barn – although beautiful to look at – is a seismological nightmare, and needs to be stabilized before it can be used by the public. Plans will focus on interior concrete buttresses and concrete bond beams to strengthen the walls and provide improved connections between the walls and roof.

I recently visited another stone structure that had been reinforced this way, and this technique does a great job of keeping the beautiful stonework visible. The internal “skeleton,” which echoes the existing external buttresses, is much more sympathetic to the character of the building than typical steel supports.

The funding for the seismic upgrade was secured as a grant from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. That $1.5 million, because it funnels through state agencies, was frozen for the last few months because of California’s budget crisis, but fortunately was recently released. A week ago, about 50 contractors showed up at a bid proposal meeting to get the particulars on the work to be done, and to hopefully bid on the contract. Work should begin in May, and could be completed by the end of the year.

After that, the busy grant writer for the Glendale Parks Department will be searching for outside funding for the next phase: the interior renovations that will create a space for whatever the community wants out of a facility like this, be it meeting rooms or classrooms, educational exhibits, an information center manned by naturalists or a museum.

The interior is about 3,000 square feet, and the cavernous space will be open all the way to the ceiling. The roof structure features unique, intricate and beautiful truss work that will create a sweeping interior visual feature. There is a stepped-down area on one side of the barn that would be perfect for a separate museum area, and the Historical Society has been collecting century-old winemaking equipment to donate for just that purpose. A series of educational panels that can be raised to open the floor space for meetings is also envisioned for future upgrades.

Thanks to a healthy public-input process and an involved community, the ultimate uses of the stone barn will be up to us. Those uses will be finalized in upcoming community meetings, so stay tuned and stay involved. Always remember: The treasures of the valley belong to us!