Around Town: Revisiting Sun Valley's years as Roscoe

Last week, local historian Michael Patris reminded me that Sun Valley used to be called “Roscoe.”

Sun Valley was called Roscoe from 1896 to 1948.

Patris said that Sun Valley got the name Roscoe because of a train robbery. He said that the term “roscoe” is slang for a gun and guns were used in the robbery.

But first, journalistic ethics require several disclaimers. Patris is the co-author with photographer Steve Crise of “Pacific Electric Railway (Then & Now)” and “Mount Lowe Railway (Then and Now).” The duo support a nonprofit called the Mount Lowe Preservation Society. They were about to give a program to members of the La Cañada Thursday Club. I am a vice president and past president of the Thursday Club. I had taken them on a mini-tour of the club’s historic clubhouse, when Patris fell in love with the 1929 Magic Chef stove.

“Never sell it!” he proclaimed. “It is rare and valuable!”

Back to the origins of the name “Roscoe.” The uber source for all local history are the writings of Cecilia Rasmussen. Rasmussen was an Los Angeles Times reporter who sleuthed out local history items until her retirement in 2008.

Rasmussen wrote about Roscoe in 2003. She found that there were two robberies at the old Roscoe flag stop, once located at “what is now San Fernando Road and Sunland Boulevard in Sun Valley.” (Water Dispute Led to Train Robbery,” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2003.)

The first train robbery was on Dec. 23, 1893 and netted $150. The second, on Feb. 15, 1894, resulted in two deaths. After the second, “fireman Arthur Masters, 27, lay pinned against the blazing hot boiler, his legs crushed.” A “19-year-old” stowaway named Harry Daily “was hurled into the left cylinder” and died instantly.

“Masters' screams of agony could be heard over the robbers' bullets and over the explosion that blew open the safe containing a few thousand in cash and nearly 100 pounds of gold and silver coins... Masters begged [the rescuers] to put a bullet into his head or to give him a gun so he could do it himself. Instead, they worked feverishly to free his trapped body. He died an hour later as they pulled him free.”

Rasmussen noted that by 1948, “memories had dimmed, conflicting stories emerged as to whether Roscoe was the name of the robber, the train's engineer or the brakeman. Never mind that Roscoe was probably a land developer — townsfolk didn't want the community to be named for a notorious 19th century train robbery.”

Gosh, we all miss Cecilia Rasmussen’s columns. Where is she now? Maybe she’d like to see the prize Magic Chef 8-burner at the La Cañada Thursday Club?


ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.

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