Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Montrose History Book on the Horizon

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

There have been two books and one DVD released in the last few years on the history of the Crescenta Valley (“Images of America: La Crescenta,” “Crescenta Valley – Then and Now” and the DVD “Rancho La Cañada: Then and Now”), but that pace of book releases is now increasing. Just in the last year, two more books have been written (“Crescenta Valley Pioneers” and “The Great Crescenta Valley Flood”).

Next year will see an amazing four books out about our local history! The first out will be a history of Montrose, timed to release just before the Montrose’s centennial celebration, and I’ll write more about that later in this column. The next will be a look at the history of wine making in the L.A. area, with a strong emphasis on the Crescenta Valley, written by long-time local Stuart Byles. Byles is one of the founders of the Stone Barn Vineyard Conservancy, who tend the vineyard at Deukmejian Wilderness Park, and hand-produce, in historic fashion, a small quantity of wine from the grapes grown there. After those two books will come a pair of local crime books, written by long time CV High School teacher Gary Keyes and myself.

But getting back to the Montrose book – I’m thinking about this book in particular because this weekend I have the proof copy in front of me to help look for any last-minute errors. It’s a phenomenal work! The book is written by my friend Robert Newcombe, a Chicago transplant, but now an un-apologetic Montrose-phile. He lives in a historic home that overlooks the Montrose Shopping Park, and every evening he takes a walk down Honolulu Avenue with his family and his giant white poodle Jack. He wrote the book and assembled the photos in a grueling one-month period, triggered when last summer he realized that there was no book planned for the Montrose Centennial. I’ve collaborated with Robert before, and he’s one of the best writers I know – a screenplay writer who, when family happened, concentrated instead on his day job but never lost that ability to tell a compelling story.

And tell a story he does! In “Montrose” he begins with a mystery no one knew existed – where the name “Montrose” really came from. There are many stories floating around that make sense – named after a founder’s hometown in Pennsylvania, named for a popular novel of the time “The Legend of Montrose.” But when Newcombe dissected those local legends none of them held up to scrutiny. His findings and theories of the real story will make you chuckle. As well, he riffs on the often overlooked fact that the streets of Montrose are laid out to look (from the air) just like a rose – a mountain rose! There is also the story of Montrose’s miracle transformation in the ’60s from a classic dusty Midwest-style mainstreet to the winding tree-covered shopping “park” that we love to stroll today.

Newcombe amassed an incredible treasure trove of historic Montrose photos, most of which have never been seen before, from photos of pre-Montrose as a lonely patch of sagebrush, to stills of some major Hollywood films that I’ll bet you didn’t know were filmed in our own Montrose. He painstakingly went door-to-door in the shopping park looking for photos and stories and tracking down surviving Montrose pioneers. In the process he’s put together an easy to read (it’s almost entirely photos) reveal on the origins of Montrose, and the stories behind the people and places that have kept Montrose the charming and homey town it is today.

The book “Montrose” from Arcadia Publishing is expected to release just before the big three-day celebration of Montrose’s 100th birthday planned for the end of February. Obviously the major point of purchase for the book will be Montrose’s own bookstore Once Upon A Time. I just got word that they will be taking preorders of the book, which will make great Christmas gifts, redeemable on the day of the book’s release. “Montrose” will be a great kickoff to a prolific year of local history books.