Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Black Work Crews Rejected by CV


Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the  Crescenta Valley. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. Reach him at

In the pre-WWII years, racially exclusive Crescenta Valley soundly rejected the establishment of an all-black CCC camp locally not once but twice, in 1935 and again in 1941.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was part of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” designed to lift America out of the Great Depression. It was probably the most popular of Roosevelt’s programs, as it demanded work from those receiving welfare. Operating from 1933 to 1942, the program enlisted out-of-work young men 17 to 23 years old in labor projects related to conservation and natural resources. The young men received military style discipline and training, which resulted in improved physical conditioning and heightened morale. As well, they received wages, many for the first time – $30 per month, $25 of which was sent directly to their families at home. Two and a half million boys became men during the course of the program, which arguably helped ready America for WWII.

The CCC boys did great work, providing the muscle for building mountain roads, draining swamps and planting trees. Locally they were the backbone of the fire-fighting efforts in the Pickens Canyon Fire of 1933, and in the resulting flood of New Year 1934 they were local heroes in rescue and cleanup efforts.

We had three such camps locally: Tuna Camp, now the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, San Antonio Camp in Deer Canyon in the Verdugos, and another in Hall Beckley Canyon in La Cañada. Each camp housed about 200 CCC boys.

Although they were initially racially integrated, public and internal pressure to segregate resulted in the creation of white CCC companies and black CCC companies. The all-black companies received a hostile reception from many of the communities near their camps.

And so it was in 1935 when the all-white company at Tuna Camp was rotated out and an all-black company was ordered to take their place. Opposition to the plan was led by the local chamber of commerce, but once the news hit the local paper, hundreds of letters went out to the Civilian Conservation Corps’ leadership. Every organization and club in the valley, including the PTA, the Republican and Democratic clubs, and the ominously named La Crescenta Protective Association, sent letters of protest to the local commander of the CCC. We can assume that it was not the work of the CCC recruits that the community objected to – that was mostly back-country wilderness work. It was more likely the idea that in their off-hours, the 200-some young black men would descend on Montrose for some R&R time.

The CCC had a policy of not forcing communities to accept the all-black companies and so the transfer of the “negro” company was held up until the community could be consulted. The chief ranger of the U.S. Forest Service made a personal phone call from Washington to the head of the Crescenta Chamber, asking them to withdraw their opposition, but to no avail. The CCC backed down, and an all-white CCC company was brought into Tuna Camp instead.

In 1941, the scenario was played out again at Tuna Camp. A black company was slated to occupy the camp, but the same opposition was put up by the community. This time they framed their argument in terms of the community’s efforts to restrict the use and occupancy of property locally to only those of the Caucasian race. The drive to put the black company in Tuna Camp was dropped and they were instead transferred to San Diego.

At this point, the CCC as a whole was winding down as defense jobs were readily available to the young men who had relied on the CCC for employment. Tuna Camp was temporarily closed. Just a few months later, on Dec. 8, 1941, Tuna Camp was confiscated by the government and a tall barbed wire fence was strung around the barracks of the camp. The next week, hundreds of Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans were herded into the camp at gunpoint for interrogation before being shipped to internment camps.

So much for local opposition to occupancy by races other than Caucasian at Tuna Camp!