Treasures of the Valley

Deukmejian Park’s Stone Barn Nature Center History – 1900 to the Present

Last week we talked about the natural history of Dunsmore Canyon, where Deukmejian Wilderness Park is today, along with human history up to the planting of the vineyard there. In 1886, Frenchman George Le Mesnager had purchased the canyon for a vineyard to supply his wine-making business in downtown LA. Within a few years he had thousands of grapevines extending all the way up the canyon, along with more in the Verdugo Woodlands, about where Oakmont Country Club is today.

George was somewhat of a wildman and couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble. In 1893, the feds raided his winery for a variety of offenses and George slickly passed ownership to his wife and son. When WWI started, George vowed to fight for his native France. The fat old man (64 years old) enlisted as a private and fought bravely against the Germans.

“Meanwhile back at the ranch,” George’s son Louis built the big stone barn in about 1915 to house the vineyard equipment and to store the grapes before they were wagoned down to the winery in LA. Prohibition was enacted in 1920, putting the kibosh on the family’s wine-making business. The Le Mesnagers then shifted over to selling another liquid, just as valuable as wine – water. As the Dunsmore Water Company, they piped water from the canyon down to the thirsty homes below them while still maintaining their vineyards in the canyon for their own use.

A big fire in November 1933 burned up the stone barn. It just so happened that the barn was being leased to a group of WWI vets at that time. They had filled big wooden vats with wine inside the barn, hoping to make a killing when Prohibition ended in December 1933. Everything in the barn was burned to the ground. The vats of wine burst and spilled thousands of gallons of wine into Dunsmore Creek.

Louis Le Mesnager rebuilt the barn with a second story mezzanine and the family moved in there. By the late ’60s the family decided to sell the property. They approached Glendale and the state, but neither was interested. Instead, they sold Dunsmore Canyon to a developer who planned to build a hillside development, similar to Pinecrest, with 300 homes. While the developer was making plans, they leased the property to a horse stable operation. Many of us remember renting horses there and youth equestrian drill teams, like the Blue Shadows and the California Rangers, trained there.

Opposition to the massive hillside development grew in the community and by the early ’80s, Glendale began to cobble together money to buy the property. The City was short by $2 million, so Councilman Larry Zarian put out a personal appeal to a fellow Armenian American, California Governor George Deukmejian. Deukmejian found the money, and the 700-acres was purchased in 1989 for $5½ million. It was named for Governor Deukmejian in honor of his fundraising efforts.

The park has slowly evolved over the years. Parking and grassy areas for picnics were built on the south end while hiking trails were cut into the mountains. A demonstration vineyard was developed, overseen by volunteers who craft historic wines.

The neglected stone barn has evolved into the centerpiece of the park. Seismic retrofitting and nature center and museum displays were funded and shepherded by the untiring efforts of a remarkable Glendale Parks employee, the late Marc Stirdivant. The park is now the jewel in the crown of the Glendale park system.

On Saturday, March 19, the community will get a chance to see the interior of the stone barn for the first time in decades. It features not only displays to teach families about weekend hiking and recreation opportunities in the park, but also many features target regional elementary-age children who will visit during the week on school field trips. For many children, this will be their first exposure to our native plants and animals. In many young minds, seeds will be planted, seeds of interest in the natural world that surrounds us, right here in our beautiful valley.

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