Thursday, January 21, 2010

Around Town: The Great Montrose Flood of 1934

La Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, California

Around Town: ‘Down that mountain rolled’

In November 1933, the Pickens Canyon Fire tore through 7,000 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains. Sound familiar? On Jan. 1, 1934, after a week of constant, heavy rain, a flash flood roared down Pickens Canyon, through parts of present-day La Cañada, La Crescenta and Montrose.

Unlike our mudflows this week, back in 1934, the walls of water were 20-feet high. The debris pushed down into the town of Montrose. Giant boulders crashed into houses. Hundreds of people went missing. Their bodies were never found.

There were many acts of courage. Marcia Warfield, an 11-year-old girl, swam through walls of water to rescue her unconscious, injured father and baby brother on Mayfield Avenue in Montrose.

In the years that followed, basins were built to catch debris flows from the San Gabriel Mountains. But in 1934, the old channels were insufficient to protect homes that stood on alluvial fans, on land built up originally from debris carried down Pickens and Hall canyons.

Within two years, Congress passed The Flood Control Act of 1936, which funded the creation of the Los Angeles debris basins, flood control basins and concrete-lined stream channels, mostly constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The work had barely gotten started with the reinforcement and concrete lining of the Los Angeles River, when most of Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties were inundated by the Great Los Angeles Flood of 1938. Nearly 5,600 homes were destroyed. The damage would have been worse, but for the creation of the debris basins in the mountains above La Cañada after the Montrose flood.

Woody Guthrie (“This Land is Your Land”) wrote a song about the Great Montrose Flood of 1934:

Kind friend do you remember,

On that fatal New Year’s night?

The lights of old Los Angeles,

Was a-flickering oh so bright.

A cloudburst hit the mountains,

It swept away our homes.

And a hundred souls was taken

In that fatal New Year’s flood.

The little towns of Montrose,

Glendale and Burbank, too.

From Flintridge to Tujunga,

Along that mountain blue.

They all were struck like lightning,

Down that mountain rolled.

The wild Los Angeles River,

In that fatal New Year’s flood.

The news it rocked the nation,

As of that story told.

A million hearts was grieving,

For the dear ones that they loved

This world will long remember,

The dear ones that we loved

That crossed that golden river,

In that fatal New Year’s flood.

La Canada Valley Sun January 21, 2010


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