Piece of Mind: It's moved and shaken La Cañada

If you live just west of the Alta Canyada area and are enjoying the benefits of owning property in La Cañada, you might want to tip your hat to the La Cañada Chamber of Commerce and Community Association, which in April of 1949 formed a Boundaries Committee.

The committee came about because, according to a vintage Valley Sun, residents in the upper reaches of town found themselves “floating in space — neither La Cañada, La Crescenta, Montrose — not even ‘Catalina-on-a-clear-day.’” And so they appealed to the local chamber of commerce to help resolve their problem. The Boundaries Committee was tasked with securing public acceptance of standardized boundaries for La Cañada “by mapping the various political districts and public services.”

That’s just one historical tidbit related to the local chamber that we learned this week. Researching some of the organization’s history for us was Olga Alvarado, the cheerful woman you’ll find at the Valley Sun’s front desk any time you wander into our office. She answers our phones, helps the walk-ins, keeps an eye on our building operations and, in her spare time, lends her support to the editorial department.

In advance of tonight’s launch of the chamber’s year-long 100th anniversary celebration, the centennial committee was hunting for historical items to place on a table during its installation dinner. We could offer only photo-copied news stories from back in the day and looked to Olga to dig them out.

This is a time-consuming task, because the vast majority of the news stories that have appeared in the newspaper, now in its 67th year, were not archived except in bound volumes. (Only items published in the past decade are also electronically archived.) So Olga has been up to her elbows in old issues, hunting for stories that illuminate how the chamber has operated in the area—at least since our publication began in 1946 and up to the era of the cityhood movement in the 1970s.

Overall, those who scan the items will see that the chamber did much to drive the development of the community as it grew in the heady postwar years. It was the chamber that pushed for 24-hour emergency medical services here, supported the formation of a water district to serve the foothills, begged for increased patrols to put a halt to commercial burglaries, initiated studies toward the installation of a sewer system, called on the county to install traffic signals along Foothill, secured a reduction in fire insurance costs for local homeowners and businesses, and sought to control the installation of billboards, among other actions.

In the 1950s the chamber voted to endorse the sale of the Gouldmont Stables so that a Catholic church and school (St. Bede) could be built there, and declined to fight a proposed 60-acre expansion of JPL.

But the organization also seemed to take a curiously anti-business stance in 1954 when it did all in its power to quash an effort by a couple of local property owners to secure rezoning of Foothill Boulevard east of Oakwood from residential to commercial. The county ignored the chamber’s objections, allowing for future development of the Plaza de La Cañada and the shopping center where Ralphs is today, as well as the businesses along the south side of the boulevard on the east side of town. If you’re a thriving business or property owner in that section of the commercial district enjoying the support of today’s chamber, you might be interested to know that there was a time when the group much preferred to see homes, ranches, or even empty, undeveloped lots sitting there.

Of course, times have changed. By the 1960s our chamber was enthusiastically looking forward to businesses opening in the plaza, and in recent decades has spoken up loudly in support of commercial endeavors.

Any institution that survives 100 years is bound to have an impact, but our chamber of commerce can arguably be seen as the single most important driving force for community improvement, from La Cañada’s early days as a tiny farming town to its 1976 cityhood and beyond. Hats off to its leadership as the organization embarks on its next 100 years.

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the La Cañada Valley Sun. She can be reached at ccormaci@valleysun.net or carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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