For some years during the middle of the last century, there was a springtime tradition in La Cañada: Various denominations of local young Christians — those not sprawled out on the sand at Newport or Balboa, enjoying what was then commonly called “Easter vacation” — would hold an Easter sunrise service on a hillside behind Descanso Gardens. Organizers were part of an inter-denominational council affiliated with the United Christian Youth Movement. La Cañada, La Crescenta and Montrose churches were represented.
We can find photographic evidence of this ritual in fading, springtime issues of the Valley Sun. In advance of the event, a photographer would coax the teens to pose for a publicity shot advertising it. After hiking up the hillside toting their choir robes, the teens would catch their breath, don the robes, gather around a large, white wooden cross, and muster up a respectably pious smile for the camera. The then-burgeoning La Cañada Valley is seen behind them, hugged by the San Gabriel Mountains. It's a very picturesque tableau.
I've seen the gathering place variously referred to as “Inspiration Point” and “Lanterman Hill” in vintage papers. I can tell you, from reading a 1952 account, that members of the public were invited to attend the service and were advised to park at the end of Encinas Drive, south of Descanso, where they would find signs directing them along the trail to the cross.
Apparently, that year the publisher of the newspaper, Joe DuPlain, was enlisted to help guide the youths to the site for a photo shoot. He thought he knew the terrain behind Descanso better than anyone, but was proven wrong. A hike that should have taken about five minutes—had he followed the directions he had been given and parked on Encinas — ended up taking them considerably longer. “…with this intrepid scout in the lead, claiming that he knew every rock and draw in the hills as well as the coyotes, they were guided in long circles through a tangled wilderness until every member of the party was prepared to abandon all hope,” DuPlain wrote.
His mistake, he confessed, had been in trying to get to Inspiration Point from a parking space on Hampstead Road. When the girls in the group finally convinced him to return to his car and ferry them to Encinas so they could take advantage of the easier trail access, the party met with success.
“A fresh climb was undertaken which brought the girls — weak and exhausted — to the summit just two hours after the expedition began,” DuPlain wrote.
The Easter sunrise service tradition went on for several years, as documented by the paper. I don't know when the last service was held or why it was abandoned. Maybe turnout was low or interest dwindled. Perhaps a longtime reader can clue us in.
If memory serves me correctly (it might not, so don't bank on this), the cross on Inspiration Point (or Lanterman Hill), which appears from photos to have been about 15 feet tall, was knocked over by some heavy equipment one year when a public works crew was tending to some project on the brushy hillside.
This long-ago local tradition came to mind when I read that the Youth Ministry of La Cañada Presbyterian Church plans an Easter sunrise service in Hahamongna Watershed Park this Sunday. May the trail be an easy one to find for all involved, and a joyful service held. Happy Easter.
CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.