Verdugo Views: Writing history column has been an enriching experience

Leslie Brand, who brought the Pacific Electric Railway to the area, transformed a small village into a thriving town, which would later become the city of Glendale. Brand Boulevard is named after him. Pictured is a past block party along Brand.
(Courtesy of Flip Cassidy)

When I began writing this column, I didn’t know all that much about Glendale’s history. But I knew there were some great old photos stored in the Special Collection Room at the Glendale Central Library, and I set out to find the stories behind those photos.

The first column focused on a young soldier in the service of the king of Spain. His name was Jose Maria Verdugo, and he discovered the land that would eventually be his — and later the birthplace of Glendale — around 1770 or so.

Through resources such as Carroll W. Parcher’s Glendale Community Book, published in 1956, old newspaper clippings and oral histories, I learned more about the Verdugos and their legacy.

I was educated about the Tongva people, who lived in the local valleys and canyons long before the Spaniards appeared. They established their villages near the primary sources of water — the streams we now know as the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and Santa Ana rivers.

The area was rich with food, and the Tongvas became a very wealthy and powerful nation.

And I discovered a man named Leslie Brand, who brought us the Pacific Electric Railway and transformed our small and isolated village into a thriving town. He built a mansion called El Miradero and later deeded it to the city for use as a library.

There were many stories about the people who designed and built the banks and office buildings on Brand Boulevard, the churches, the schools, the houses and the parks.

The new buildings, which sparkled like a jewel in the sun, brought us a nickname the “Jewel City.” In 1930, we boasted of being the “Fastest Growing City in America.”

We even had a ship named for us. The USS Glendale served ably in the Pacific during World War II before being loaned to Russia. It returned to U.S. control in time for the Korean War and was later decommissioned and transferred to the government of Thailand.

Many of the stories and photos came out of Special Collections. I volunteered there, working with George Ellison, a dedicated historian and keeper of the newspapers clippings, obituaries, photographs, maps, history books and photo albums.

He assisted people with researching their house or neighborhoods; those who came in to look for their family’s name in one of the old city directories or their uncle’s apartment on one of the old maps.

Others were researching and writing books about Grand Central Airport, Forest Lawn and other significant locations.

George generously shared his knowledge with me and kept me supplied with photos before he retired. Later, Chuck Wike stepped in when I asked for help. Thanks to both of them and also to other staffers for their help over the years.

Writing this column has been a great experience. Thanks to all of you for your messages of support over the years.

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