Local historian Art Cobery offered detailed accounts of the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 1934 following a flood that washed away local residents and homes, and buried buildings under mountains of mud. His presentation was part of a self-driving tour hosted by the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley on Saturday morning.
A group of about 75 people splashed on sunscreen and donned hats and comfortable shoes in preparation of visiting the five sites that the society felt were particularly significant to the New Year’s event. Meeting at a small park just east of Mountain Avenue Elementary School at 10 a.m., Cobery directed tourists to the bridge spanning Pickens Canyon, pointing out a path that the floodwaters took on the fateful morning.
Charles Bausback, one of three flood survivors on Saturday’s tour, recounted his experiences as an 11-year-old boy living on Evelyn Street when the flood hit. He told of the noise that the roaring waters made as they crashed down from the foothills — foothills that had been burned bare from a fire earlier in the year.
The 1934 event is not unique to the area. In the summer of 1975, fire again swept through the foothills, making the area susceptible to flood as the second stop on the tour detailed.
The group made its way to the very top of Pine Cone Road, off La Crescenta Avenue, where the Shields Canyon Debris Basin is located. Cobery explained that after the fire of ’75, heavy rains again soaked the foothills in 1978, causing the Shields Canyon dam to overflow. The rushing waters crashed down Pine Cone, smashing into the Genofile home at Pine Cone and Markridge. Thankfully, no one was killed in the home, but it took months for the Genofile family to dig themselves out and make the house livable again. The home is still in the Genofile family.
The next stop on the tour was Holy Redeemer Church where Cobery told of how the local priests and nuns offered shelter to those left homeless after the 1934 disaster. He also told of the appearance of law enforcement.
“The Los Angeles Sheriff came to assess the damage,” Cobery said. “He stepped out of his vehicle into a sinkhole up to his armpits. His deputies had to pull him out, whereby the sheriff, covered in mud, climbed back into his car to return downtown never to be seen in these parts again!”
At Fairway and Rosemont avenues stands a monument to the flood victims. The location was the site of the American Legion Hall, “a social center of the day” according to Cobery, where some local residents had taken refuge as the rain pounded early on New Year’s Day. Unfortunately, it was not immune to the devastating force of the waters; boulders and debris crashed through the rear of the building, sweeping away its occupants. Twelve lives were lost.
It was at this stop on the tour that the three flood survivors, Bausback, 86; Norma Quinn, 85; and 87-year-old Eloise Benson-Nicholl, had a chance to tell some of their stories and to reacquaint themselves with each other, as the three had gone to Glendale High School together back in the ’30s.
The American Legion Hall, heavily damaged from the flood, was eventually moved to La Crescenta Avenue, the next stop on the tour. Cobery explained that a nearby neighbor, Florence Bonetto, was supposed to be at the hall on New Year’s Eve to help with a planned party there, but was told that the hall had enough people to handle the celebration. “Otherwise, I would have been gone,” she had told Cobery in a conversation he had with her prior to her 2004 death.
The disastrous flood of 1934 ended up killing 28 local residents, though exact figures were never verified due to the unknown number of homeless that were living in the foothills.
The flood tour ended at Deukmejian Park, which offered a sweeping view of the Crescenta Valley, including the debris basins that have since been established. Following the flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District embarked upon a major construction of dams, channels, debris basins and continued efforts to control erosion.
The next event that the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley has planned is the Verdugo Hills Mountain Tour later this month or in early March.
• For more photos of this tour, visit www.crescentavalleyonline.com and click on Photo Galleries.