The Beginnings of a Small Community – Highway Highlands
Between Boston and Dunsmore avenues, and below Foothill Boulevard, is a neighborhood that is markedly different from other neighborhoods in the Crescenta Valley. It is typically made up of very small lots and tiny houses. The streets are named differently from the typical street names locally: 1st Avenue, 2nd Avenue, 3rd Avenue, 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue, and those streets are very narrow. When driving through this area, one seems to be in a different community than the rest of CV. This was the community of Highway Highlands, although the name is largely unknown today. Now it merges into the larger geographic designation of Crescenta Highlands, and I’m told that some locals call it “The Avenues.” Let’s look at the beginnings of that particular neighborhood and why it is different.
In 1923 the valley was experiencing a housing boom. Two local developers, Mark Collins and Rory Q. MacDonald, bought 50 acres of Sagebrush far outside of the developing areas of La Crescenta, Montrose and Sparr Heights.
Mark Collins was a juggernaut in local development. He had made a fortune in developing real estate in Maine but was forced to move to the Crescenta Valley by chronic asthma, which disappeared soon after he arrived. He built a large home (still there today at 2654 Prospect Ave.) and with his brother and son began a development career here.
Rory Q. MacDonald was involved in the development of local schools and served on the Glendale board of education and the board of Glendale Junior College. His family was active in the schools as well, and the auditorium at Crescenta Valley High School was named the R.Q. MacDonald Auditorium in honor of his service.
Since the 50 acres they had bought was adjacent to Foothill Boulevard, which was at that time State Highway 118, the development was named Highway Highlands. The business plan cooked up by Collins and MacDonald would concentrate on the entry-level housing market. Since the land they bought was far out of town and divided into very small lots; the lots were very affordable, especially since the houses would be, by necessity, small as well. One could buy prebuilt “bungalows” or folks could buy a lot and construct their own. Some chose to buy two lots and build larger structures.
The construction tended toward more affordable rock houses and the unique “kit homes.” Kit homes, also known as mail-order homes or catalog homes, were a popular way in the early part of the 20th century to build affordable homes with little or no technical skills. A great example of the misadventures of kit home building is seen in the classic Buster Keaton silent film “One Week.” The houses came disassembled in a big box from Sears and Montgomery Ward, and were advertised in their catalogs and in the backs of magazines.
Most housing developments of this era followed the railroads and trolley lines as people needed to get to work. Since Highway Highlands was far from any mass transit, a unique sales tool was employed. Here’s a quote from their advertising: “With each bungalow the company sells in Highway Highlands, an automobile will be in the garage ready for carrying the new owner to and from work, or to take the wife and kiddies for that pleasure jaunt on Sunday.” That’s right – a free car!
Here’s more advertising: “Automobile given with each bungalow we sell in our modern town of Highway Highlands. Pretty four room and bath bungalow, all hardwood floors, fireplace, garage. Price only $2400 including good auto with $50 down and $25 a month including interest.” A couple of interesting features of the development were the availability of good clean water and the installation of septic tanks on each lot, rather than cesspools.
Highway Highlands also featured its own post office and grocery store. For spiritual sustenance, two churches were there, a Quaker church, and the new-age metaphysical church, the Church Truth Universal – Aum.
Today suburban sprawl has overtaken Highway Highlands blurring its boundaries. But with its rock houses and kit homes, it still remains a historically unique community within the larger Crescenta Valley.