Chased Out by the Fire, They Returned in Time for the Flood

Dramatic stories of the New Years Flood of ’34 are seemingly never ending, but here’s one with a twist. This somewhat ironic story was told at the flood survivor’s presentation at the Library a few weeks ago, and comes to us from life-long Crescenta Valley resident Bob Lorenz.

In 1933, the Lorenz family had a home at the top of Briggs Avenue. Even back then, there were a good number of homes tucked way up on a flat area called Briggs Terrace at the mouth of Pickens Canyon. In November of that year, a massive fire broke out on the front face of the mountains above the Lorenz home, but wind drove the fire northwest toward Tujunga. In the middle of the night, the fire’s direction reversed and came roaring back down Pickens Canyon to quickly burn several of the Briggs Terrace homes, including the Lorenz house. Bob Lorenz, just 11 years old then, remembers being hustled out of bed at 2 a.m. just ahead of the firestorm. The flames were so close, that as the family fled, Bob’s mother had to extinguish the sparks that were landing on her clothes.

The Lorenz family had lost everything, and moved in with the Grandparents down in L.A. A month later, just after Christmas, they were missing their old neighbors up on the Terrace, so they decided to drive up and spend the evening visiting in their old neighborhood. The night they chose was, unfortunately, New Year’s Eve. Unbeknownst to them, they were headed into a disaster zone.

Despite heavy rain, the family caravanned up in two cars, and spent a pleasant evening staying dry and warm with old neighbors. Just before midnight, there was a massive cloudburst, and a few minutes later as they toasted the New Year, the ground began to shake. They listened in terror as what sounded like a fast freight train roared past them. That was the sound of thousands of tons of boulders and logs headed down Pickens Canyon. For the Lorenz family, it was time to get out.

In their two cars, Mom driving one, and Dad the other, they headed back down Briggs. When they hit Foothill, where a 20-foot high wall of fast moving water, rocks and mud had jumped out of the canyon and spread, they found La Crescenta unrecognizable. Streets and buildings were gone, and massive carsized boulders were scattered everywhere. They continued downhill through deep water, over rocks and mud, and at some point the two cars got separated.

In Mom’s car, they were told by a rescue worker to head to the American Legion Hall where the Red Cross had set up a refugee station. Little did they know that the Legion Hall had already been hit bythe flood, and that the Red Cross workers and many of the refugees were now dead. They slogged along Montrose Avenue, but finally sank into deep mud and spent the night cold, wet and terrified in the car.

Meanwhile Dad’s car, with Bob inside, had picked its way west across the wrecked landscape below Montrose Avenue. They had given up getting out of the valley, and instead were attempting to reach a friend’s house on the west side. They had turned uphill at Pennsylvania Avenue, but finally bogged down in front of the Bluebird Diner at Pennsylvania Avenue and Honolulu Boulevard. The waiters waved them inside, and they spent the night inside the restaurant. Incidentally, that diner is still there, now a little non-descript office/retail place at 3991 Pennsylvania Ave.

Bob remembers one humorous incident from their night in the diner. In the wee hours of the morning, when nothing outside was moving, they spotted a big fancy sedan headed slowly down Pennsylvania Avenue. They rushed outside to flag them down, but as it rolled past them and disappeared into the dark, they could see there was no one in the car!

The Lorenz family survived, and rebuilt up on Briggs Terrace, and Bob Lorenz, proud to call himself a flood survivor, has lived here ever since.

Mike Lawler is the president
of the Historical Society of the
Crescenta Valley. Reach him at