Treasures of the Valley

The Second Big Flood of 1934

Our tropical storm a few days ago reminds us of the dangers of flooding that we faced in the valley’s past … and who knows? Maybe in the future. Historically, most of us are aware that we had a huge flood on New Year’s Eve in 1934 that killed some 40 people and destroyed hundreds of homes. That was the biggest flood we’ve faced so far. But few of us are aware that there was another big flood that same year, 1934, in October.

Like most of our floods, the deluge was preceded by a wildfire. The western San Gabriel Mountains above La Crescenta had burned in November 1933. But to the east, the hillsides above La Cañada remained untouched until early August 1934. A multi-day wildfire charred some 5,000 acres of the San Gabriels, fought to a standstill by a thousand firefighters.

Not long after, on Oct. 17, heavy rain struck the bare mountainsides. Even though the flood control channels and debris basins had been planned to save the valley from further flooding, they hadn’t been started yet. After a day of rain, a heavy afternoon cloudburst struck the freshly burned mountains above La Cañada and things began to slide. There was a flash of lightning and boom of thunder, and the residents along the Hall-Beckley Wash heard a familiar rumble – the same terrifying sound they had heard on New Year’s Eve a few months ago. It was the sound of a debris flow, tons and tons of loose rock and mud, crashing down through the canyon and out onto the valley floor. A churning wall of debris five feet high and 30 feet across burst across Foothill Boulevard near Ocean View. Similar debris flows to the east came down Winery Canyon, Hay Canyon and Paradise Canyon, crossing Foothill Boulevard and pushing through the streets of Flintridge. Several residents there received a layer of mud inside their homes.

In the Pickens Canyon Wash, a wall of mud and debris crashed down the channel, already cleared of homes in the New Year’s flood. The flood, crossing Montrose Avenue at Rosemont, was described as 10 feet high and 60 feet across. After the initial wall passed, the flow continued about three feet deep for another hour.

Two feet of mud was deposited inside Holy Redeemer Church. A big Caterpillar tractor that had been working to build new flood control channels was tumbled over.

Surprisingly there was no loss of life. One 13-year-old girl was swept about a quarter of a mile before being rescued by a flood control employee. In another case, the flood debris hit a storefront in Montrose, caved it in and swept the owner, his wife and two daughters about two blocks before two men pulled them out in Sparr Heights. A portion of Sparr Heights was particularly hard hit and evacuations were called for.

The Red Cross set up in the Sparr Heights Community building, and La Crescenta Presbyterian, the Masonic Hall and the Verdugo City Post Office all opened their doors. The American Legion Hall, which had been the ill-fated refugee center a few months earlier only to be hit hard by floodwaters, was still an empty shell, waiting to be moved to its current location.

That night at 2 in the morning, another cloudburst hit the La Crescenta side, rolling more rocks and boulders down into the valley below. Eagle Canyon and Dunsmore Canyon both had dramatic flows, but the channels had been swept bare in the New Year’s flood, so there was no damage.

The Red Cross was vital to recovery efforts, just as it had been in the previous flood. Its members arranged alternate housing and distributed food and clothing. The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) set its young men to work clearing debris and shoveling mud from homes. The County stepped up with heavy equipment to fill in new gullies cut through neighborhoods by the flood.

The valley had suffered mightily in the New Year’s flood just a few months before, and was still digging out from that disaster. To have another flood so soon was just salt in the wound.

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