a brief respite from the rains of January 2005, I find myself sitting
here at my laptop once again, listening to water pouring down my rain
gutter spouts. The un-sidewalked side of my street periodically turns
into a gushing streambed as I type, the dog yard behind my house is now
a muddy pond. Within two hours
the rain gauge records four inches of rain. While I feel relatively safe
that my house is not dangerously close to the
mountain hillsides, and I have some faith in modern flood control, I am reminded of "Noah-type" storms of the past that
wreaked great havoc on my community and the neighboring ones in the last
waters in the Tujunga Wash submerge a section of Oro Vista Ave.
(far left), temporarily isolating the community of Riverwood.
New Years Eve Comes
Moments before 1934 arrived, the anticipation and excitement of a
new year would quickly turn to terror as heavy rains sent great walls of
debris, mud, and water down the San Gabriel Mountains to the
unsuspecting residents of the Crescenta and Tujunga Valley communities
below. The La Crescenta and Montrose areas reported at least 40 people
dead, and 400 homes seriously damaged or destroyed. Amongst the dead
were New Year's Eve celebrants at the local American Legion Hall.
In his book, The Control of Nature, John McPhee, describes
iceberg size boulders amongst the debris that washed down the mountains
on that fateful New Years Day of 1934. Dozens of people were killed,
hundreds of houses destroyed. One major debris flow came down from Pickens
Canyon, past Foothill Boulevard, and through the
business district of Montrose. An eight foot boulder laid to rest on Honolulu, three miles south
of the mountain front where it originally came from. The streets of La
Crescenta "were like braided rivers of Alaska, with channels of
water looping past islands of debris." The square roofs of Model
A's sticking out of the mud throughout the area, looked more like river
rafts than automobiles.
Harrowing Train &
Automobile Ride In The Deluge
A letter submitted by Mrs. Bill Barker, of Ojai, appears in June
Dougherty's Sources of History La Crescenta.
Mrs. Barker, who was known
as Margaret Repath in 1934, describes a harrowing account of her
family's New Year's Eve train and car trip from Santa Barbara
to Glendale. The weather was
relatively dry until they hit San Luis Obispo. By Oxnard
and Chatsworth it
was wet enough to delay their train travel progress.
Each side of the track was filled with water, slowing them even
more. The train came to a halt between Burbank
and Glendale, three hours behind
schedule. After another two hours of starting and stopping the going was
to rough to continue on.
At this last stop so close to Burbank, Margaret and her children
ages three and five, suddenly saw Chuck, whom she was married to at the
time, running through the train to them. He was "drenched to the
skin, barefooted, trousers rolled up above his knees", and surely a
sight for sore eyes. Chuck and friends had waited at the Glendale
train station until
it became apparent they were not arriving, then took off by automobile
to get to them.
The drive to Glendale
was even more
terrifying than the train ride had been. Streets were described as
"regular rivers" with abandoned
cars everywhere. The car stalled at San Fernando Road
and water got in the
distributor. Margaret and children waited in the back seat, while the
men got out to find help. They must have watched
in horror as the men were nearly swept off their feet by fast moving
water. Inside the car, water was starting to come in the floor, and
everyone braced themselves for the worst. At last, Chuck found two boys
in a Buick helping people. Margaret and children were carried
across "the torrent" to some realm of safety. Meantime,
the Packard they left behind had filled up to the running boards in
The family was slowly driven through Glendale, stopping often at
apartment houses asking if there was room for them to stay until it was
safe, but every place was already full of flood refugees. As they
the Buick stalled,
and they were stranded once again. The men shivered from their wet
clothes as they tried to wrap up in a half wet auto robe. Then at last a
man in oilskins managed to wade to their car and offered them the
comforts of his home. They were provided food and a place out of the
rain to sleep, while the owner of the home kept an eye out in case the
wash half a mile away decided to change course and head towards them in
the night. The next morning, the family neighbor was called to come get
them in his big car and take them to their home on Crown Street
in La Crescenta.
Although the street ran "curb to curb" with water, they felt
they were in a safe haven at last.
Before the debris was hauled away, Margaret and her family
managed to get down to the flood areas of Montrose and La Crescenta.
Margaret's last paragraph of her letter describes what they saw,
"We stood back about 100 feet from where they were digging
out a woman and her children. They had been drowned like rats in their
bed and covered with silt and debris at least 10 feet deep."
The scene was too horrible for her to continue to describe in her
own words at this point, and from here she relies on a Times
reporter's account: "It is impossible to believe such a tragedy
could happen, unless actually seeing it." The end of Margaret's
letter to her mother notes that "rainfall
are 17-1/2 inches for this section in the one storm, believe it or not.
received about 8
Eleven Year Old Girl
June Dougherty's book also reprints copy from a local newspaper
during the time of the great 1934 flood. The bold headlines read "CHILD
HEROINE OF MONTROSE RECOVERING: Eleven-Year-Old Girl Saves Unconscious
Father and Brother." The
Warfield family had sought refuge at the America Legion headquarters
when it became apparent they could no longer save their Mayfield Avenue
home in Montrose
from the swirling torrents of water. As they waited at the American
Legion, their home was crushed to bits. Unfortunately, the American
Legion building soon was engulfed with a wall of water as well. Mr.
Warfield, who had worked so hard to save his own family, was knocked
unconscious when this wall of water hit. Eleven year old Marcia Warfield
swam to a car on higher ground, dragging her father and six year old
brother, Buddy, with her as she did so. She told reporters, "I held
my breath a long time every time I went under and prayed for God to save
and He did." The family's housekeeper, Mrs. Genevieve Wood died
from injuries sustained in the floods, but Mr. Warfield recovered in
Good Samaritan Hospital, his spine and skull fractured. Six year old
Buddy sustained only minor injuries.
Fourteen year old Charles Jr. was reported at Physicians' and
in Glendale, with a crushed foot
and broken leg. Doctors at General
reported that young
Marcia suffered from a broken ankle, loss of vitality from exposure and
serious body bruises. Another child, Edith, also 6 years of age, was
still missing at the time of the story.
Sarah Lombard's book Rancho
Tujunga also makes mention of the floods of 1934, and the havoc that
was wreaked on the Sunland-Tujunga communities.
She describes gas and water mains being ruptured and escaping gas
making weird fountains in surging water.
Eastward roads were blocked by boulders and mudslides.
The only way in or out of Tujunga
was through Sunland Blvd
Electricity and phone service were both disrupted.
The direct phone line from Tujunga to Van Nuys Police Station was
the only means of communicating to the outside world.
Flood waters began their course from Blanchard
to the southeast,
damaging three vineyards before crossing Foothill Boulevard
a bit east of Begue
Ranch. Fifteen homes were
destroyed in Blanchard
The 21,000 gallon water tank of the Blanchard Canyon Mutual Water
Company near Fern and Blanchard
broke lose causing
destruction as it rolled down the canyon.
The tank finally stopped at 6407 Valmont Avenue
as it came to a
pepper tree. Two cabins in
area of Haines
canyon were destroyed. One of the
cabins filled completely with mud. A
channel that had been
created by a flood waters of the year 1914, provided a path for water in
to flow down once
A mere ten months later, in October of the same year, the
foothills once again experienced heavy rains, and more damage.
This time as waters from
let loose, a CCC
workman was drowned and 4 children were washed away.
Two of the children managed to rescue themselves, but the other
two were dug out by someone who had heard them crying.
Newspapers complained that there had been plenty of time between
the two floods to build even
a temporary debris diversion, and many in the foothill communities had
been under the impression that because men were employed and money had
been spent, the work had actually been done.
Unfortunately, protective work had barely started three weeks
before the second flood, and there were disputes over moneys that should
have been available for more work and where it had actually gone.
Regardless of why the second flood had happened, it was evident
that a remedy was needed before the next deluge would arrive.