An Accident Rallies School Traffic Safety in 1935
La Crescenta Elementary School in 1935 sat on the southwest corner of Prospect and La Crescenta avenues, just as it does today. And just like in current times, traffic in front of the school was a dangerous problem. La Crescenta Avenue is a steep downhill and cars pick up speed coming down from Foothill Boulevard.
It was a sunny winter afternoon on Dec. 2, 1935. The school back then was beautiful, built in the style of Moorish architecture, with two domed towers and tiled accents. School had just gotten out for the day and kids milled about and played in front of the school. Some kids crossed Prospect, going home up the hill; others crossed La Crescenta Avenue. A few children were lucky enough to have parents with cars who would pick them up. Two girls, a tow-headed 6-year-old who lived on Henrietta Avenue, and a 9-year-old who lived near her on Orange Avenue, waited for their ride home. They sat side-by-side on the curb facing La Crescenta Avenue.
Several blocks above the school, a woman visiting from Indiana turned her big, bulky ’30s-era sedan down steep La Crescenta Avenue and began to pick up downhill speed. She may have been unaware that school kids were out.
Just as she reached the intersection of La Crescenta and Prospect, a pickup truck pulled across the intersection directly in front of her. The two vehicles crashed together, but the heavy sedan kept going, veering to the right, directly at the two girls sitting on the curb.
They screamed as the car went right over them, the two big front wheels straddling the unintentional target of the two tiny girls. They were dragged a few feet before the car managed to stop. Bystanders were able to pull the girls out from under the car and, miraculously, neither was seriously injured – cuts and scrapes, one with a sprained wrist. Both were treated locally.
I just love the way the local paper dramatically put it: “And naught but the hand of Providence saved two of the school children as the Grim Reaper reached out for them!” Wow – over the top!
Although not directly related to kids crossing the street, this accident highlighted the fact that parents had been asking for a crossing guard at that intersection for several years, only to be turned down with the excuse “lack of funds.”
The accident became a rallying point for the community and over the Christmas holiday WPA funds were approved by Washington for crossing guards for schools throughout the LA area. WPA, or Works Progress Administration, was part of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” plan to put the Depression-era unemployed to work. While the WPA is noted today for the many good works that were done (buildings, bridges, etc.), it was criticized for its inefficiency. This was the case for crossing guards for La Crescenta Elementary. After much confusion of fund allocation and crossing guards being sent to the wrong location, followed closely by derisive local press, a crossing guard was finally installed in front of the school on Jan. 16.
For parents at local schools this report from the past sounds familiar today. Schools are still notorious for dangerous traffic conditions and crossing guards are still at a premium, often begged for by worried parents. When my kids were at La Crescenta Elementary, because Prospect and La Crescenta was an intersection with a lighted signal, crossing guards were denied. As a result many close calls occurred inciting anger amongst parents. One furious mom dented the hood of a left-turning car with her fist as it tried to nose through families walking in the crosswalk. After parent activism, crossing guards were allocated and are still in place today.
As school begins once again this year, CHP officers and sheriff deputies will be cruising near the schools. Please be mindful of your driving around our many local schools. Let’s hope our children’s lives don’t have to rely once again on “the hand of Providence as the Grim Reaper reaches out for them”!