Verdugo Views: Photo rouses memories of a poet laureate

The young children had just celebrated their first communion and had gathered on the lawn of the Tujunga home of John Steven McGroarty, California’s Poet Laureate, to have their picture taken.

McGroarty, an important figure in the history of Tujunga — and of the state — was born in Pennsylvania in 1862 and displayed his writing skills early in life. As a child, he had severe respiratory problems, and during one illness when he was just 10 years old, he wrote a poem that was published in the Boston Pilot.

Despite continuing poor health, McGroarty studied hard and was teaching school by the age of 16. He then turned to journalism, working at the Wilkes-Barre Evening Leader. By the time he was 21, he had been elected a justice of the peace, as noted by Mary Lou Pozzo, author of “Founding Sisters, Life Stories of Tujunga’s Early Women Pioneers, 1886-1926.”

In 1901, after his marriage to a young woman named Ida Lubrecht, the couple made their way west and eventually settled in Tujunga, in hopes that the clear air would ease his asthma.

That same year, he joined the Los Angeles Times, writing a weekly column called “Seen from the Green Verdugo Hills” as well as poetry and several plays. His most notable work was the “Mission Play,” a three-hour pageant portraying the history of the California missions, according to the McGroarty Arts Center website.

The play was so popular that a new theater was built especially for the pageant near Mission San Gabriel. Featuring a cast of 300, the pageant ran for 20 years and was seen by over 2 million people.

McGroarty often showed up here in Glendale. In 1930, he was the speaker at a huge fiesta thrown by the San Rafael Park Assn., formed to save the old adobe on Dorothy Drive from demolition. (Yes, they were successful. It is now one of our foremost city parks.)

So, by the time this communion group gathered in front of his home, McGroarty was a very well-known public figure. But, to one of the children — a young girl named Geraldine Glynn — he was just a friend of the family.

“He was a sweet gentle person, a very positive person who always left you with the feeling that the world was beautiful and you could conquer it,” she recalled.

Now known as Jeraldine Saunders, whose book “The Love Boats” was the basis for “The Love Boat” TV series, the former Geraldine Glynn said the McGroartys were neighbors and close friends.

“He was close to everyone in Tujunga, especially our family since we were Catholic,” she said.

Saunders chuckled as she recalled that she had a crush on McGroarty’s very handsome son.

“I was just a little girl of 5 or 6. I would sit in church and stare at him,” Saunders said.

In 1933, McGroarty was appointed Poet Laureate of California. Two years later, he was elected to the House of Representatives, serving two terms.

He died in 1944, at the age of 82. The house he and his wife built is now the McGroarty Arts Center. And the front yard where this photo was taken? It’s a park — McGroarty Park.

To the Readers:

The Verdugo Views, Feb. 13, 2014 column about a little glass bottle filled with grains of rice that I found in an Oregon antique shop last summer has created quite a stir across the United States and in Armenia.

Since the story of the bottle (part of a fundraising appeal for orphans during the Armenian Genocide) was published, I’ve received letters from collectors, a documentarian and a museum in Armenia.

To learn more about the ways concerned citizens in the United States responded to the genocide, come to tonight’s “One Book, One Glendale” program featuring “Sandcastle Girls,” written by Chris Bohjalian.

The book details the efforts of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian Genocide. Bohjalian will discuss his novel at 7 p.m. tonight at the Central Library, 222 E. Harvard St. For more information, call (818) 548 2027.

If you have questions, comments or memories to share, please write to Verdugo Views, c/o News-Press, 202 W. First St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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