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Opinion

Verdugo Views: Sites in La Tuna Canyon have long history since being constructed during Great Depression

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Camp #902 of the Civilian Conservation Corp., or CCC, was built in La Tuna Canyon during the Great Depression. Through the nationwide work-relief program, out-of-work young men found employment constructing fire roads, fighting fires and building parks.
(Courtesy of Pam Lawler and Lloyd Hitt )

Camp #902 of the Civilian Conservation Corp., or CCC, was built in La Tuna Canyon back in the days of the Great Depression.

The CCC was a nationwide work-relief program to provide “millions of young men employment on environmental projects,” according to history.com.

As part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the men “planted more than three billion trees and constructed trails and shelters in more than 800 parks nationwide during its nine years of existence.”

At one point, there were some 2,650 camps — California had more than 150, as noted in ccclegacy.org.

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A column titled “Valley Lore,” written by an unidentified “Miss Verdugo,” first appeared in the Aug. 3, 1939, Ledger. Reprinted in the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley Ledger, Aug. 2018, the column provides a close look at Camp #902 with its “numerous wood-constructed buildings, black with green roofs.” There were four large dormitories, a mess hall, library and recreation room, plus many workshops.

The camp originally opened in 1933 on the Ridge Route near Castaic, according to the writer. A year later, it was relocated to Tujunga, under the supervision of the Los Angeles County Forestry Service.

Roads, trails and fire breaks were built by the men, who also connected phone lines to fire lookouts and built water tanks to help them fight fires.

Afterward, they reseeded the burned areas. They also graded a fire road from La Tuna Canyon over the Verdugo Mountains to Brand Park in 1933, as noted in the July 28, 2016, edition of the Glendale News-Press.

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A U.S. flag flew overhead the day the writer visited. “Beneath the flag’s shadow is housed the neglected youth that would otherwise be on the street corners waiting for a chance to earn their next meal. Beneath that shadow is another home…another opportunity for education and a means of earning a wage,” according to the writer.

“Miss Verdugo” was given a guided tour by Capt. Mathison. It was 6:20 a.m., and they headed for the mess hall where she saw `"one hundred and thirty men break soft-boiled eggs into cups, butter toast, pass the salt; it’s not any different from other military camps…..The captain isn’t running a reformatory, but giving the fellows a home.”

After breakfast, she observed as the men swept the paved sidewalks, cleaned out the tool house and warmed up the five fire trucks.

“Firefighting has always been one of the things in which the Tuna camp has excelled,” she wrote. “Company #902 saw action in the Brown Mountain fire of 1934, the Malibu fire of 1935 and 1936, the Tehachapi fire of 1936, the Bouquet Canyon fire of 1937 and the Oakmont Country Club fire of 1937. The fastest getaway to a fire was 33 seconds with 60 men.’’

The author visited several buildings, but was drawn to an educational building with three classrooms. About 97% of the boys attended night classes, favoring radio repair.

“Here they are trained by certified teachers in a curriculum almost as large as any university,” she added.

The CCC camp gave way to the U.S. military after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It was converted into a detention station, with 12-foot tall, barbed-wire fences, guard posts and floodlights.

After the war, the property became Boys Camp #31126, a probation camp for low-level youth crime offenders. The guard posts were taken down but some of the buildings — and the swimming pool — remained, according to tunacanyon.org.

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In 1960, the site was sold to a group who demolished the structures and constructed the Verdugo Hills Golf Course.

Readers Write

Gary Coleman emailed regarding the column about 5 Points and Fremont Park (June 29).

He would like to know more about the cannon that was in the park and hopefully find a picture of it. The Colemans lived on nearby Grange Street for several years and attended First Methodist Church.

“They would have picnics there two to three times a year, after church. I remember Mike, my younger brother, falling off the cannon and bloodying his chin during one of my mom’s ladies church groups that met there, as well as him pulling a pot of coffee off the table onto himself. Luckily, Mom was right next to him and poured the punch from a punch bowl on top of him so he wasn’t burned.

“I do remember her being upset that a woman complained that she ruined good punch because ‘the coffee wasn’t even that hot’ and my mom telling her in a huff that she wasn’t going to wait until he got burned before protecting him.”

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