Verdugo Views: Chevy Chase Canyon and its portal pillars

When Burt Farrar bought the remote Sycamore Canyon in the early 1920s, he replaced the dirt lane that ran along the stream with a wide concrete road and called it Chevy Chase Drive.

He then began developing streets and lots in the canyon, and in January 1925 announced the opening of Chevy Chase Estates.

Farrar opened a street or two at a time, as the many hills and canyons made traditional development impossible. Two 7-foot portal gate columns were erected at the entrance and were pictured in some of Farrar’s earliest advertisements.

An April 18, 1925, article and photo, posted on the Chevy Chase Estates Assn. website, shows a car driving through the entrance with one of the columns visible on the right.


The columns survived rains, floods and other natural disasters until the end of the 1960s.

Graeme Whifler, who maintains the association’s website, has posted many photos and newspaper articles about Chevy Chase on the website. The canyon was periodically flooded by heavy rains, but the columns were still there through the rains and mudslides of 1952, 1957, 1958 and 1967.

Two years later, Chevy Chase Drive was torn up, and new storm drains were installed. A Sept. 24, 1969, Glendale News-Press photo clearly shows the old columns. But the photo also reveals that they had sustained major damage.

Longtime Chevy Chase resident Brit Trydal said the old columns were torn down in 1969 when the street was widened. New columns were designed by architect Howard Van Heuklyn, a Glendale native who also designed the Chevy Chase Branch library. The new columns were installed where the old ones had once stood.


The library opened in May 1972, according to Chuck Wike of the Glendale Public Library, and it is possible both projects were done at the same time.

The new columns are built of brick and have lamps on the top, Trydal added.

Over the years, the columns have been maintained by the Chevy Chase Estates Garden Club, founded in 1947 by Ruby Barnett, who lived in the canyon for many years.

Mary Betlach, who is in her second term as president of the garden club, said members have a tradition of decorating the columns for various holidays.

For many years, two angels holding glittering silver trumpets were placed on top of the old columns, heralding the advent of the Christmas season, as noted in a Glendale News-Press Dec. 24, 1964, article preserved in the club’s scrapbook. The angels were made by Mrs. Russell A. Moody and first installed in 1948 when she was president of the garden club.

Each year, Moody mended the weather-beaten angels and, with the help of neighborhood youths, placed the angels on the old columns.

“The garden club has tried other decorations over the gates in past years, but somehow none have held the same nostalgic appeal to residents of the canyon as Mrs. Moody’s angels,” the article concluded.

Nowadays, toy soldiers designed by garden club member Joan Binzley decorate the columns during the Christmas season, Betlach said.


Binzley’s husband, Warren, and their son, Russell, who lives in the canyon with his wife Candyce, erect the United States flag at the columns on every national holiday.