La Crescenta’s contribution to the history of radical politics

We just went through a very divisive national election. But historically, we here in the Crescenta Valley are no strangers to divisive politics of national impact. As a matter of fact, our little community hosted one of the initial battles of Cold War domestic politics in the form of a minor face-off between members of the Glendale American Legion and a local celebrity of leftist causes, Hugh Hardyman. That minor “battle” made national headlines. But more about that later. First, let’s talk a little about the background of La Crescenta resident and political firebrand, Hugh Hardyman.

To get a feel for who Hardyman was we have to go all the way back to 1923, when our nation was embroiled in conflicts over labor versus capitalist conglomerates, punctuated by anarchist bomb plots. Upton Sinclair was a leader in liberal causes, having made his mark nationally with the publication of his novel “The Jungle” in 1906, which exposed the unsanitary and disgusting practices of the meat-packing industry. This led directly to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration.

In 1923, Sinclair took on the cause of a dockworker’s strike in San Pedro that had been broken by the LAPD and members of the Ku Klux Klan. He asked permission to hold a public meeting about the strike from then Mayor George Cryer, who pounded his desk, ranted about foreigners ruining our country, and vowed to arrest Sinclair if he spoke.

As an aside, Cryer’s family were briefly pioneers in La Crescenta and little Georgey was in the first class of La Crescenta Elementary School. His name can be found on the plaque in front of the old school bell in front of today’s La Crescenta Elementary, located at La Crescenta and Prospect. Well worth a visit! His reign as Mayor of LA was marred with significant allegations of corruption, and portrayals of him as a corrupt Tammany Hall-style political boss are rife in LA themed literature, from Raymond Chandler novels to the recent feature film “The Changeling.” That’s CV’s legacy to LA political history!

Anyway, undaunted, Sinclair mounted a platform before a small crowd on Liberty Hill near the docks in San Pedro. He began to read the Bill of Rights, and ironically as he read the First Amendment that guarantees the right to free speech, he was arrested by the LAPD. His brother-in-law took the platform and began to read from the Declaration of Independence, and was also promptly arrested. Another supporter took his place, and protested the injustice, for which he was manacled. Next La Crescenta’s own Hugh Hardyman, took the stage and innocently remarked “This is a most delightful climate,” knowing that even a public comment on the weather would result in his immediate arrest.

The four were held incommunicado for 18 hours, on “suspicion of criminal syndicism” (whatever that means) until public pressure allowed a lawyer to arrange bail. They were never charged. From this incident the ACLU of Southern California was formed and is still a leading political force. A large plaque commemorating this significant event in LA history is at the site of Liberty Hill in San Pedro today.

Upton Sinclair lived in Pasadena, so it was only natural that Hardyman continued their involvement. Hardyman led a small cadre of left-leaning politicos right here in the very conservative Crescenta Valley. He was a leader of the Crescenta-Canada Democratic Club, and was active with the Progressive Citizens of America, a meteoric political movement that advocated immediately post-WWII for negotiations with the Soviet Union to slow down the quickly accelerating Cold War. He hosted political meetings at his home in the 2300 block of El Moreno Street, featuring speakers such as Nobel Prize-winning Professor Linus Pauling, advocating demilitarization of our relations in Europe. It was these meetings that raised the ire of local conservatives and set the stage for an inevitable showdown, known nationally as “The Battle of La Crescenta,” and locally as “The Battle of El Moreno Street.” More on that next week.