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Verdugo Views: Native village to camp to prison to golf course

Harold Breckheimer, who ran Boys Camp #31126 in La Tuna Canyon from 1946 to 1952, holds his nearly two-year-old grandson, Eric, son of Peter Breckheimer. Photo taken in 1968.

Harold Breckheimer, who ran Boys Camp #31126 in La Tuna Canyon from 1946 to 1952, holds his nearly two-year-old grandson, Eric, son of Peter Breckheimer. Photo taken in 1968.

(Courtesy of Peter Breckheimer)

As a young boy, Peter Breckheimer often went to work with his father at a camp in La Tuna Canyon, a place with a long and varied history, a history that reaches back to the days of the Tongvas.

With a reliable water source and an abundant oak forest, the canyon was a good place for a Tongva village, Wiqanga, which stood approximately where the Verdugo Hills Golf Course is presently located, according to a Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition website.

Fast forward from the days of the Tongvas to the days of the Great Depression when a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp, No. 902, was built, providing employment for young men. The camp had four large dormitories, a mess hall, library and recreation room, plus many workshops, according to the same website.

The CCC men built roads, trails and fire breaks, strung phone lines to fire lookouts, constructed water tanks for fighting fires, helped fight fires and reseed the mountains. They also constructed a fire road from the canyon over the Verdugo Mountains to Brand Park in 1933.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, brought rapid changes. The government took over the camp and converted it into a detention station. Twelve-foot-tall, barbed-wire fences, guard posts and floodlights were added.

After the war, the property became Boys Camp No. 31126, a probation camp for low-level youthful crime offenders. The guard posts were taken down but some of the buildings — and the swimming pool — remained, again according to the La Tuna website.

Harold Breckheimer, a 1928 USC graduate and teacher at Belmont High School in Los Angeles for many years, was hired to run the camp. He moved his family to Sparr Heights in 1945.

“He began working at the camp in 1946,” his son Peter Breckheimer noted in a recent email.

His father took him along to work many times. “He showed me around and introduced me to members of his staff as well as to a few of the youth that he was responsible for,” Peter Breckheimer wrote.

He recalled that the facility was set up like a school, with a large dining area, classroom and barracks.

“I also remember there were a few guards with a high fence surrounding it all. Students/inmates were there for low-level criminal activity, but security was relatively lax,” Peter Breckheimer wrote. “However, if someone did go over the fence, they were sent on to a harsher facility when they were tracked down.”

After the camp closed down in 1952, Harold Breckheimer was hired as a math teacher at Verdugo Hills High School and become head of the department before he retired in 1964. He passed away in November 1968.

In 1960, the site was sold to a group that demolished the structures and constructed the Verdugo Hills Golf Course. Peter Breckheimer, who has fond memories of his visits to that area, said he has played golf there for many years and often wonders if anything was left from the old camp.

“One building (the cafe) looks very similar to the camp buildings from the 1940s,” he recalled. “Nothing else seems to have survived from that period, however.”

Readers Write:

Tom O’Loughlin emailed regarding the July 14 column about his memories of Yo-Yo contests. “Such an accurate story. I feel I’m looking in a rear-view mirror of my life. Many, many thanks,” he wrote.

Joyce (Zars) Wolf emailed congratulations to the Youngquists on their 71st anniversary. (Verdugo Views, July 14) “I think the Youngquists were our neighbors when my family lived at 126 E. Garfield [Ave.] from 1948 to 1950. I was 7 or 8 years old at that time and sometimes played with their daughter, who was about 4 or 5 years old. My parents and I moved back to Illinois in the fall of 1950 because my dad could not find work and my mother missed her relatives. It was coincidence that I returned to the Glendale area in 1972 because of a job offer at JPL.

Regarding the May 5 column on Pikes Glen Oaks: Randy Sottile emailed to point out that Nestlé was built on the south side of the Verdugo Wash and that Pikes Glen Oaks was on the north side, as has previously been clarified in Verdugo Views May 19, 2016.

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KATHERINE YAMADA can be reached at katherineyamada@gmail.com. or by mail at 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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