Treasures of the Valley

Further Memories of a La Cañada Pioneer

Recently I was browsing the collection of the History Room at the Glendale Central Library. I came across this fascinating letter written in 1967 by early La Cañada resident Starr Barnum, relating a few of his early memories:

“A week ago we had a bad fire in Winery Ravine. I went over to see what was left of it, but ‘Keep Out’ signs were on display so didn’t see much of it. Terracita Lane was part of our ranch and we always called it ‘The Point’ as it lay between two ravines. Dad planted almonds on it as it was rather hard to get to.

“I remember Dad bringing home plats of eucalyptus seedlings and planting them in the ravine. That was 1897. Everyone was planting eucalyptus for the wood, and also raising Belgian hares to eat.

“About where Terracita comes into Louise Drive, I remember [there] lived a couple of Mexican families. They lived in brush-covered abodes and were employed by Colonel Hall grubbing out the sage and grease roots to make way for the extensive vineyard, which he planted in 1898.

“The Mexican families got their water out of the ‘sand box’ nearby, which Mr. Moses cleaned out periodically, so we could get water in our reservoir free of sand. The cement pipe from Pickens Canyon gave a lot of trouble, always having root trouble, getting in the pipes.

“I played with the Mexican children and learned to speak Spanish and eat tortillas. I can still taste them yet; tasted good to a hungry child. Mother had as helper one of the girls and tried to teach her English. It was during canning season. ‘Mrs. Barney cut the peachy and put ’em in the pail’ was a byword in our family in later years.

“The vineyard was a success. The Hall boys put up their winery and it was quite a resort for years, to drink wine and play poker.

“The Old Soledad Road was originally to be built as a toll road across the mountains to the upper Soledad gold mines in the early 1870s. The building of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1976 made the building of it useless. It was graded as far as Dark Canyon or Woodwardia Canyon, about two miles above Angeles Crest Ranger Station.

“In the early 1920s, the Edison Company made use of the road in erecting [its] transmission lines across the mountains. Portions of the old road can still be seen paralleling the Angeles Crest Highway above the highway just past the Country Club golf course. Early settlers in La Cañada made use of the lower portions of the road to go to Los Angeles down the Verdugo Canyon.”

A great set of memories about early La Cañada, when it was an agricultural community. A word about the so-called “Mexican families.” As a farming community, hard labor was needed. The labor force was made up of a wide variety of races and ethnicities: Spanish-speaking Californios (descendants of the original Spanish settlers), Native Americans, immigrants from Mexico, African Americans, plus a wide variety of immigrants from Asia and Europe. But to the Anglo ranchers of La Cañada this cheap labor force was simply and wrongly lumped under the broad term of “Mexicans.” They were, as in this case, made fun of and looked down upon.

The “sand box” referred to here would have been a crude filter for water being piped down out of the canyons.

The “Soledad Road” – I’ve written about it before. Overgrown parts of it still exist, running above and parallel to Angeles Crest Highway. But we forget that it also went all the way across La Cañada and down Verdugo Canyon, and that very early settlers would have made use of it. It ran diagonally across La Cañada from Angeles Crest to where the U.A. Theater is then switch-backed down the hill toward Montrose, and then down Verdugo Canyon. As the 2 Freeway was being graded, Starr Barnum posed for a picture of himself standing on the last portion of the old roadway, just before it was bulldozed away.

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