1972 – Bombs and Drunk Drivers

Something I notice when looking through old newspapers is the casual attitude toward drunk drivers and, particularly, explosives in the past. I can remember in my teen years that explosive devices like “cherry bombs” and M-80s were fairly commonplace. Today, use of those would be a big deal, as would drunk driving. As my brother-in-law, who was a wild teenager, likes to say: “All my best memories are now felonies!”

In 1972, someone locally was having fun making homemade bombs. The first incident took place in the Crescenta Shopping Center parking lot. An abandoned 1956 sedan suddenly exploded in the middle of the night. A bomb planted under the hood destroyed the car and shattered windows of nearby stores. Because it was the middle of the night, no one was injured. Investigators found that the unregistered vehicle had been pushed onto the lot the day before. There appeared to be no motive.

The second bomb incident was more serious and more focused. Near Glorietta Park in the lower part of the valley is an electrical substation, located right at the intersection of Glorietta and Verdugo Road. That substation today is a substantial cinderblock building built in 2011, looking more like a recreation center than an electrical facility. But in 1972, the substation was open, surrounded by an eight-foot fence topped with barbed wire.

One night at 11 p.m., someone scaled the fence and planted two pipe bombs atop the transformer controls. They lit the fuses of both before scrambling back over the fence. The smaller of the two bombs went off first and the force of the blast snuffed out the second bomb’s fuse. Shrapnel from the pipe bomb destroyed the transformer control box and gauges, and damaged the transformer cooling system.

Local neighbors described the blast as sounding like a gunshot or firecracker.

The damage to the equipment set off a red light at Glendale Water and Power headquarters and a technician was sent out to the substation. That’s when the second undetonated bomb was discovered. The pipe bomb was big – a three-inch diameter pipe, 30 inches in length, capped at both ends and filled with gunpowder. Glendale police responded and at 1 a.m. evacuated the neighborhood using loudspeakers. One hundred and fifty pajama-clad people were herded down the street, gathering at Verdugo and Opechee Way while the bomb was dealt with.

Bomb specialists from the sheriff’s department carefully pulled the fuse out of the homemade explosive device then transported it to the unfinished 2 Freeway where the device was dismantled. The evacuated neighbors were allowed back to their homes at 3 a.m.

Again ­there appeared to be no motive other than to disrupt service as no threatening letters or phone calls were received by the power department. About $5,000 damage was done.

That same week, further destruction was wrought by a local drunk behind the wheel of a big Cadillac. It was a wild event, comical only because no one was injured.

The drunk driver was westbound on Honolulu Avenue approaching Ramsdell Avenue. He apparently missed that he was coming up on traffic stopped for a red light. He plowed into one car, which was pushed into the intersection. The Cadillac turned sharply to the right and jumped the curb on the northeast corner. He took out the traffic signal pole, but didn’t stop there. He went back off the curb onto Ramsdell, crossed Ramsdell, then veered left, traveling south across the intersection. There he just missed the front of a Glendale Police Dept. car that was facing eastbound on Honolulu, waiting to turn left. He then pulled a U-turn and headed north again, passing behind the police car.

Last stop on this zigzag journey was Yor Donut Shop at 3009 Honolulu (that’s the northwest corner of Honolulu and Ramsdell where Jeremy’s Coffee Shop is today). The Cadillac plowed into the front of the donut shop, rolled over the racks of fresh donuts and finally came to rest several feet inside the store. Although there were several customers and employees in the shop, no one was injured.

The 59-year-old driver of the Cadillac was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

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