American Legion Hall Beginnings
Today is Veterans Day when we honor those who have served in the U.S. military. Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day and was created in 1919 as a remembrance of the end of WWI. That same year the American Legion was created by American veterans of “The Great War.” As the servicemen returned home, they enthusiastically embraced the concept of the American Legion, and American Legion posts sprang up across the nation.
Here in the Crescenta Valley we had a fair number of WWI veterans. In late 1923, those veterans began plans to start their own post. On Jan. 12, 1924 Verdugo Hills Post 288 was chartered. Soon after, the veterans started having meetings at La Crescenta Elementary School. Almost immediately the members began raising funds and making plans for their own hall. They initially purchased a lot south of Montrose Avenue, but soon traded that lot for a better site above Montrose Avenue, at the corner of Rosemont and Fairway avenues. In November 1924, fundraising was kicked into high gear. A “buy a brick” campaign and a charity vaudeville show at the Montrose Theater quickly raised $1,000.
The first task was to clear the new lot of boulders, some the size of cars. Dynamite and muscle were used for that. An army of volunteers showed up the day of the foundation cement pour, and the job was completed in a single day. Next came a parade of volunteer craftsmen and businesses. Labor was always donated, and sometimes the cost of materials as well. Some of the businesses even competed with one another for the most donations. Two of those businesses are still around today: Anawalt Lumber and Harris Plumbing. A contingent from the local Odd Fellows Lodge showed up to lay the hardwood floors. One unusual volunteer crew was the carpentry class from Roosevelt High School (assuming the one in Boyle Heights?).
The teenagers laid the subfloor and raised the stud walls. A Montrose dress shop, Scanlon’s, donated drapes, and an eighth-grader painted the Legion Constitution over the fireplace. The Legion’s women’s auxiliary raised money and fed the work crews each day.
The building was completed in one year and two days. The estimated cost of the building, $8.000, had been trimmed to under $3,000. It was entirely valley-built, from foundation to rooftop. The exterior was stucco, a natural cement grey, with green trim. A huge rustic rock porch fronted the building with cement steps to the ground. The interior walls were a cream-colored plaster, with dark brown trim. A complete kitchen occupied one corner. An 18 x 22 foot basement was reserved for a Boy Scout troop.
The Legion members had their first meeting in their new hall on Oct 7, 1925. The dedication ceremony took place the next evening, Oct. 8. The guest of honor was John Steven McGroarty. McGroarty, largely forgotten today, was a big deal back then. The Tujunga resident was a prolific writer of poems and plays and, for 40-some years, he penned a popular LA Times column called “As Seen From The Green Verdugo Hills.” In fact the naming of the post “Verdugo Hills” was due to the popularity of that column. The ceremony was followed by a community dance.
The American Legion Hall served the community well as a community center, meeting hall, Red Cross clinic and, of course, as a place for veterans to meet. In December 1933, the Red Cross set up the hall as an evacuation center for deluge of rain approaching New Year’s Eve. As most of us know, on New Year’s Eve, a terrible flood roared down from the San Gabriel Mountains, clipping the edge of the Legion Hall. The refugees inside were flushed out by the floodwaters, mud and rocks, and 12 people died. The building itself was only slightly damaged, and it was patched up and moved in its entirety to its current location at La Crescenta and Manhattan avenues. It has been there ever since.
As the hall approaches its 100th birthday it still serves the valley and its veterans. The community built it, but today it builds the community.