Intersections: Swap meet buy leads to Glendale history lesson

I've called Glendale home since I was a toddler, but I've only recently begun to explore the history of the city I find comforting yet peculiar at the same time.

Glendale makes you work to find its personality. It's also a vortex filled with relics from another time. Lately, I've found myself gravitating toward learning more about it.

Maybe it's because I'm older; maybe it's because the opportunities of leaving the Jewel City behind have presented themselves in irresistible ways, which has brought on nostalgia. Maybe it's this column, which has given me a great space to explore issues, people and places I find fascinating.

It was probably a combination of the above that led me to immediately buy a book called “Glendale Area History,” dated 1974 at the Glendale Community College Swap Meet a few months ago. When I opened it, the nostalgic old-book smell filled the air, a scent scientists at the University College London recently described as “a combination of grass notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

“Glendale Area History,” as you might imagine, details the beginnings of our city, from Jose Maria Berdugo (later Verdugo) — a soldier of the Spanish king who received a land grant and established Rancho San Rafael, which includes the present-day areas of Glendale, Eagle Rock, La Cañada and Montrose — to the history of the inception of the Glendale News-Press and everything in between.

Interesting anecdotes and unintentionally hilarious details carve out Glendale's history. One paragraph of note was about how the city came to be called Glendale.

“Among the names which had been considered were Etheldean, Minneapolis, Portosuelo, Riverdale, San Rafael and Verdugo,” the authors wrote. “Following the famous Thanksgiving dinner of 1883, the early settlers met at the schoolhouse on lower Verdugo Road, which served also as a community church and discussed all of these possible names. Finally, a young woman painter from Chicago offered the two word name, Glen Dale, and it won a consensus of approval, although with no logic that can be deduced today. It took eight years to persuade the Post Office Department that the name Glendale should be used, because, as they pointed out, there were other Glendales.”

There's also mention of Glendale's prohibition history, a town so dry that “it occupied an important place in a statewide campaign against liquor interests.” It also had a staunch opposition to saloons being opened. The first, opened in 1887, managed to last only three weeks.

And what about how Glendale almost became the film capital of the world instead of Hollywood? In the early 1900s, the city became home to Kalem Company, one of the oldest film studios to do business on the West Coast.

At times the details were laugh-out-loud funny. For example, the Glendale of 1921 was not without problems, and lest you think it had to do with crime, the book follows up with this gem: “On May 2, a meeting took place at the city hall to consider how to cope with the gopher and his depredations.”

Rodents aside, Glendale had an official flower (hibiscus) and official colors (buff and amethyst blue), quite uncommon adoptions for a city. The book also covers founding members of the city, businesses of interest and local government, but my favorite part is the police log from 1914: “Lady at Vermont Hotel complained of rumpus in the picture theatre next door,” or “Boys swimming without bathing suits in pumping plant reservoir near old packing house according to complaint,” and even, “Dairy cow bawling for its calf has disturbed neighbors.”

Glendale tends to bring on a range of emotions that stretch from deep pride to utter apathy. But I find that the city, like most things in Los Angeles, is better understood and appreciated if you make the effort to peel its layers back, which reveal a rich, if not eclectic history.

LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at liana.agh@gmail.com.

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