The Verdugo Hills Sunshine Society was formed in the early 1930s with the goal of operating a home-like boarding home for elderly people of culture and refinement.
Charter members James and Effie Fifield helped form the society with the specific intention of donating their home, named Twelve Oaks Lodge, to the group.
The Fifields, from Minneapolis, wintered in what was then called Verdugo City for many years.
When James Fifield died in 1933, Effie Fifield took over his publishing business. She also wrote several novels, and one, ‘‘Rejuvenated,’’ was illustrated by her niece, Inez Brown, who lived in this area. After her husband’s death, Effie Fifield spent more time here and began the process of turning her home on Sycamore Avenue over to the society.
Grace J. Overbeck, secretary to the Fifields and the society’s historian, wrote numerous articles about the project; they were printed in the Glendale News-Press and The Ledger in the 1930s. Recently, these articles were placed in scrapbooks by Joy Lang, a past president of National Charity League, Glendale Chapter. They are on file at Twelve Oaks.
In one article, Overbeck reported that members were “busily engaged in arranging the club’s rooms. They were choosing dishes, silverware, draperies and other household items in preparation for entertainments to which they are happily looking forward.”
“The society’s ‘No Debt’ slogan put them in a class by themselves in this debt-depressing decade,’’ she wrote another time. Their entertainment often included card parties, potlucks and open houses for members who wanted to see the facilities for themselves.
In 1935, the Sunshiners decorated a large Deodar cedar tree at the corner of the Fifield residence, laying claim to the first lighted Christmas tree in the valley. Overbeck added that, somehow, they also managed to put a lighted cross on the roof.
When Effie Fifield celebrated her 80th birthday on Valentine’s Day, 1937, more than 100 guests brought greeting cards. They also planted a tree, another Deodar, in her honor.
She died in November 1937 after a lengthy illness, and her contribution to the society was recognized at their next annual meeting. There, leaders stressed that Twelve Oaks was not a charity home, but a home that could be had at a nominal sum, according to a 1938 Ledger article.
Soon after their founding, 12 rooms in the administration building were open to members and other guests. More rooms were available in the guest cottages.
At the time, the amenities included a large library, along with a recreation room, croquet court, a ground checkers area and more than five acres of tree-filled parkland.
The Sunshine Society didn’t just focus on their retirement home. They were also keeping an eye on their community in general. In the 1940s, the society packed and distributed Thanksgiving baskets to the needy. A newspaper article requested that contributions be left at Moise Electric Shop on Honolulu Avenue in Montrose or at Twelve Oaks Lodge in what was by then referred to as La Crescenta.
In 1952, the facility was again renovated, at a cost of $22,000. An open house exhibited improvements to the dining room, kitchen, sitting rooms and men’s annex. A few years later, National Charity League, Glendale Chapter, took over operation of the lodge. It is now operated by be.group, founded in 1955 as Southern California Presbyterian Homes.
“Just a quick thank you for your always interesting articles; the one in this morning's paper (Verdugo Views, April 28) reminded me that my parents' home stood in the way of the freeway, the 210, on Briggs Avenue, in Montrose many years ago. Great work as always.”