Local News Highlights of 1964

A lot happened here in the valley in the year 1964. Here’s a rundown of the top stories for that year.

Cityhood for both La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta was a constant source of news. On the La Cañada Flintridge side, things got hot and contentious. A La Cañada school district had been formed in 1960 that included both La Cañada and Flintridge, so joining the two communities seemed obvious. Plans were made for cityhood combining the two. However, an incorporation merger between wealthy La Cañada and super-wealthy Flintridge was nixed when Flintridge turned up its nose at a close association with the lesser La Cañada. The vote failed and there was bad blood between the two neighbors. (They did merge in 1976.)

On the La Crescenta side, there was a big push to incorporate the “City of La Crescenta,” the portion of the Crescenta Valley that was not part of Glendale. That vote ended with a yawn. Most La Crescenta residents were disinterested and the few that did vote overwhelmingly turned down the measure.

It was a painful year for residents opposed to the creation of the 210 Freeway through the valley. A couple of contentious hearings rendered the Foothill Freeway a done deal and late that year a route was finalized. It was a long-fought battle with much bitterness at the outcome. Over 1,200 homes in CV were determined to be in the freeway’s path.

In March 1964 a huge wildfire raged through both the Verdugo Mountains and the San Rafaels. One hundred mile-per-hour winds whipped the fire into an uncontrollable frenzy. The fire burned for days and charred 9,000 acres. Glendale College was threatened at one point and was saved by groups of brave students. In the end, 38 homes were destroyed with scores more damaged, and 49 firefighters were injured.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada made big news in July with the successful Ranger 7 mission to the moon. It was basically a missile with a TV camera in its nose designed to crash into the moon while transmitting images of the approaching surface back to earth. As well, Mariner 4 was launched that year for a flyby mission to the planet Mars. They transmitted the first close-ups of the planet the next year.

In 1964 the baby boom had local elementary schools bursting at the seams. Early that year a school bond measure passed allowing the GUSD to make plans for a new elementary school on the east side of the valley. The five-acre Bishop Estate was targeted over the owner’s objections. Eminent domain was declared, setting off an epic court battle. (The property was finally condemned in 1966 and today it’s the site of Mountain Avenue Elementary School.)

Two major shopping centers opened up in the valley. The biggest was the Crescenta Shopping Center at Foothill Boulevard and Rosemont Avenue (today’s Ralphs and the recently closed Rite Aid). The major stores there were Builder’s Emporium, Food Giant, Nahas department store and Thrifty Drugs, plus several small retail shops. Further west on Foothill (where Ace Hardware is today) a Shopping Bag supermarket was converted to a Vons with Merit Mart department store taking the lower floor. Our local Montrose branch of the Automobile Club of Southern California opened that year in a new building.

Republicans swept local elections with Newt Russell taking a seat in the State Assembly and Ed Reinecke being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. (Reinecke was later convicted of perjury in the Watergate scandal.)

And lastly, some items on the crime beat. The La Crescenta branch of Bank of America was held up in a daring daylight robbery. On North Verdugo Road, a Glendale police officer shot and killed a burglary suspect who was trying to escape. And over in Big Tujunga Canyon, a 15-year-old boy kidnapped and robbed an elderly couple. A short time later he gave himself up and returned the money he had stolen.

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