Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

The Bullock House in La Cañada


The history of the Crescenta Cañada Valley, along with Altadena next door, is filled with narratives of wealthy folks who saw the foothills of the San Gabriels as a place to build a “mountain retreat.” These higher elevations, with their (then) crystal-clear air, were thought of as healthy places to spend a few days away from the stress and bustle of Los Angeles – to “take the air” as people used to say. In some cases, they built their retirement homes here. In other cases, they built weekend getaway homes where they could have parties and entertain family and friends. The Bullock House at the intersection of Palm and Jessen drives falls into the latter category. The Bullock name comes from its ownership by the Bullock’s Department Store family. Bullock’s founder John Bullock and his wife owned it for 30 years.

The nine-acre estate was first built in 1923 by Bert Morrison, an oil magnate, and his wife. The house was built in an unusual orientation. Instead of facing the street, the house was built with the front door facing the valley below. High on the alluvial fan of the San Gabriel Mountains, it must have had an incredible view looking down the valley and out beyond the LA basin all the way to the sea. And indeed, it was named Viewpoint. Orchards and gardens made up the nine acres below the house, and a big wrought iron gate topped with an iron archway opened onto Palm Drive. The gate and arch were made by master craftsmen at La Canada’s famous Huntington Iron Works. The highlight of the interior was the Batchelder tile fireplace.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical
Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
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Batchelder tile is considered the finest decorative and artistic tile to come out of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century. Muted blue and brown ceramic depictions of redwood trees and medieval musicians and town scenes decorated this particular fireplace.

Soon after completing the house Bert Morrison and his wife were divorced. In 1925, Viewpoint was sold to John and Louise Bullock. It was to be a mountain retreat from the couple’s 6,000 square-foot Hancock Park mansion. The 1920s were some of the most productive years for John Bullock as it was in 1929 the iconic Bullock’s Wilshire was built. Sadly, John Bullock died of a heart attack in 1933, but Louise Bullock held onto the Viewpoint property. She was remarried to attorney and judge Russ Avery and the couple continued to use it as a weekend getaway. They staged some elaborate parties, and Viewpoint was mentioned in the social calendars of newspapers.

In 1955, the nine-acre estate was eyed by the La Cañada Unified School District as a site for a new elementary school, but Louise Bullock Avery did not want to sell. Over the objections of Mrs. Avery and the neighbors, Viewpoint was seized by eminent domain. The orchards were removed and Palm Crest Elementary School was built while the house was used as an office for the school district. Since 2005, Viewpoint has been used as a storage facility.

A couple of years back, the La Cañada Unified School District embarked on an ambitious modernization plan for Palm Crest Elementary. The $31.7 million price tag would pay for significant changes to the campus such as the addition of two 11,500 square-foot two-story classroom buildings, renovations to existing buildings and removal of a storage building.

In case you haven’t guessed, the storage building is Viewpoint, the old Bullock House. In the analysis done recently by the school district, it hired a firm to weigh in on the historical nature of the building it wanted to demolish. The report notes the importance of the Batchelder fireplace and the wrought iron gates, and recommends the building be conserved (although the school district has not committed to that). Not surprisingly (from a cynical point-of-view, and to the school district’s advantage), Viewpoint was deemed in the report to be of no historical significance.

When construction begins next year, Viewpoint will be demolished. Viewpoint, once the mountain retreat of millionaires, will become a parking lot.