Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

Tujunga’s Cross of San Ysidro


On a hilltop of the Verdugo Mountains overlooking Tujunga is a tall white cross. Standing an impressive 30 feet tall, it can easily be seen from Foothill Boulevard, although many hurrying down the boulevard never notice it. It is the Cross of San Ysidro, and it is an important part of Sunland Tujunga history. As well, the story behind it is a beautiful representation of what Tujunga is and always has been: a modest, tolerant community of working people.

The cross’ story starts in the teens and ’20s with an informal group of civic leaders who laughingly called themselves the Millionaires’ Club of Happiness and Contentment. They met daily at Tujunga’s post office to socialize and to plan for the betterment of their community. In 1921, they brainstormed the idea that their town needed a prominent landmark. They formulated a plan for a giant cross on a mountaintop and immediately got to work.

At that meeting was developer Marshall Hartranft, the “father of Tujunga,” who had founded the town as a utopian community of small plots of land. He donated an acre of land on a 2,000-foot peak in the Verdugo Mountains near the center of town. The flattened mountaintop was named Mount McGroarty in honor of John Steven McGroarty, famous poet, historian, playwright and philosopher who made his home in Tujunga. And the acre of land that Hartranft had donated was named Pasko Park in honor of one of the pioneer ministers of Tujunga.

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

The cross, finished and erected in time for Easter sunrise services in 1923, has quite a pedigree. The base was a rough pyramid of native stone, designed and built by the eccentric local artist George Harris, who called himself a “nature builder.” He and his crew of Serbo-Croatian and Mexican immigrants built many stone structures in Tujunga, foremost among them Bolton Hall.

The 30-foot concrete cross was designed by famed architect Arthur Benton. Benton was responsible for Los Angeles landmarks such as Riverside’s Mission Inn, San Gabriel’s Mission Playhouse, and La Cañada’s Wallace Castle (later known as the “Pink Castle”). He was in town to design the McGroarty House and happened to be at the meeting of the Millionaires’ Club, and so volunteered his services.

But it was the name of the cross, San Ysidro, that is most significant to representing the spirit of Tujunga. San Ysidro, also known as Isadore the Laborer, is the patron saint of farmers and day laborers. He was born in poverty in 11th century Spain. Spain at that time was a dynamic mix of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Isadore was possibly born a Jew, but became Christian. He was an extremely pious man who, although poor, gave all he had to others. He was rewarded for his charity by miracles in which the food he gave away multiplied, and his daily plowing was taken up by angels so that he would have time to help others. He was a poor peasant who performed acts of charity and was generous to all regardless of faith. He was a hard-working man living in a multi-cultural and multi-faith world. It was this spirit that the men who built Tujunga’s cross wished to express, and it’s this spirit that they chose to represent Tujunga. And thus, the cross was named for San Ysidro.

The first sunrise service was on April 1, 1923, and was attended by hundreds. Trumpeters lined the road up to the cross to sound a call as the first rays of sunlight hit the cross. A multi-denominational service was held and the mountaintop and cross were dedicated. And so it has been each Easter since. Hundreds have walked or driven up the winding road in the darkness for Easter sunrise services. The Tujunga Kiwanis Club maintains the cross and repaints it every few years. In 2010 it was declared a Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Landmark.

Tujunga is a community of multi-cultural working people. The Cross of San Ysidro, named for a multi-cultural saint of the working people, looks down on that community. We hope that spirit of tolerance, hard work and generosity still lives there.