LLocated only 13 miles north of Los Angeles in the country’s second most populous metropolitan area, La Cañada Flintridge is a semirural community that holds tight to its equestrian/hiking/bicycling culture that has been years in the making.
In the midst of this natural beauty that has been enhanced by restaurants, retailers and other accoutrements of modern life, are several attractions that fascinate, educate and entertain residents and visitors alike. Annual special events also enhance community life and attract visitors to the community.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Space aficionados, as well as those with an interest in rocketry and science, in general, need not travel to Florida or Houston to get a glimpse into the world of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). One of NASA’s 11 major centers is located on 177 acres in La Cañada Flintridge and is open for free, prescheduled tours on Monday and Wednesday afternoons.
“You can schedule a tour by visiting www.jpl.nasa.gov, clicking on ‘public events’ and then on ‘tours,’” said Kim Lievense, manager of the Public Services Office for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “The tours involve lots of walking and stairs and must be scheduled at least three weeks in advance. The average wait, however, is five months. So visitors need to plan ahead.”
Those who schedule a visit will see a multimedia presentation; browse the Jet Propulsion Laboratory visitors’ center/museum; and then view the Space Flight Operations Facility and the laboratory’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility for many of its robotic missions.
JPL’s roots date to 1936 when a group of Caltech students and experimenters tested rocket engines in the Arroyo Seco on the border of what is today La Cañada Flintridge. During World War II their tiny effort grew into the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
JPL developed missiles for the Army during the 1940s and 1950s, then created America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, launched in 1958. Later that year, NASA was born and JPL took on the role of robotic exploration to the moon, planets and beyond, noted Erik Conway, JPL historian.
“The Defense Department, Army included, spent an enormous amount of money during the 1950s to develop ballistic missiles and the rocket technology that they developed was used to help get our exploration of space started,” he said.
In early 1959 the JPL facility was given to the new space exploration agency, NASA, and work done there allowed the United States to launch its first satellite into orbit. Later, JPL switched its emphasis to planetary voyages, starting with lunar missions to survey and photograph the moon, and then moving on to explore planets, starting with Venus and later moving on to Mars, Saturn and the others.
Robotic explorers with names like Mariner II, Voyager, Viking, Cassini and Mars Pathfinder were all developed in La Cañada Flintridge. In fact, in 2015 JPL celebrated the 50th anniversary of Mariner IV’s flyby of Mars in 1965, Conway said.
Space technology is also being used to study the Earth from space, studying everything from moisture in the soil to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, he added.
JPL scientists are also employing orbiting infrared telescopes to study star and planet formation and planets orbiting other stars.
Approximately 5,000 engineers, scientists and support personnel are employed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
La Cañada Flintridge’s best-known attraction is Descanso Gardens, a cultural institution and botanical garden located at 1418 Descanso Drive. Approximately 350,000 visitors come to Descanso Gardens annually to experience its collections – including camellias, roses, oaks, California native plants and lilacs – and to enjoy family-friendly festivals, summer concerts, classes for all ages and more. The Sturt Haaga Gallery also presents three curated art exhibitions each year.
The Descanso property was purchased in 1937 by E. Manchester Boddy, owner of The Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News. He named his estate “Rancho del Descanso” which means “Ranch of Rest” and managed his property as a working ranch while also running his successful newspaper. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, when people of Japanese ancestry were forced into internment camps, Boddy purchased almost 100,000 camellia plants from two local Japanese American-owned nurseries which formed the basis of the camellia collection that continues today. Later, he added roses, lilacs and other flowering plants to Descanso.
In 1953, Boddy sold the property to the County of Los Angeles and four years later local volunteers formed the Descanso Gardens Guild to maintain and care for the land. The Guild’s public-private partnership with the county continues today. In 2004, Descanso Gardens was accredited by the American Association of Museums as a “museum of living collections.” Descanso Gardens is a member-supported garden. Members receive free admission to the garden and summer concerts, discounts and other benefits.
“Descanso Gardens continues to evolve to meet the needs of the greater Los Angeles community and garden lovers worldwide,” said David Brown, Descanso executive director. “We are very excited by the addition to Descanso of new garden exhibitions such as the Oak Woodland, which celebrates the native landscape of this region; the Ancient Forest that takes visitors back to the earliest days of plant life on this planet; and the New Look for LA demonstration garden, designed to inspire lush and beautiful landscaping ideas for the home in these times when conservation of water is so important.”
In 2012 Descanso Gardens was recertified as an International Camellia Garden of Excellence by the International Camellia Society and the Canadian Garden Tourism Council deemed it one of the “Top Five Gardens Worth Traveling For” in North America. National Geographic even named Descanso Gardens one of the world’s 10 most beautiful gardens.
Descanso Gardens is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (closed Christmas Day). Admission is $9 general; $6 seniors 65 and older and students with ID; $4 children 5 to 12; free for children 4 and younger. For more information, visit descansogardens.org or call (818) 949-4200.
The Trails of La Cañada Flintridge
An extensive, 22-mile trail system used by equestrians, hikers, runners, mountain bikers and dog walkers is La Cañada Flintridge’s hidden gem. It consists of a series of easements through private property, public fire roads and public paths and bridges that are maintained by both the city and Los Angeles County. It is protected for the future by the city’s master plan and even connects to the Pacific Crest Trail.
The trails, which so many people enjoy today, have a long and colorful history. If it were not for a small group of dedicated equestrians, hikers and open space advocates, notably Liz Blackwelder, the trails as we know them today might not exist for the enjoyment of the public, noted past LCF Trails Council president, Randy Strapazon.
U.S. Senator Frank P. Flint, founder of Flintridge, built approximately 35 miles of bridle paths through his land in the early 1900s and his neighbor, Will D. Gould, did the same on his land. In fact, Gould opened his trails to the public shortly before his death in the 1920s.
Throughout the Depression and World War II, local residents enjoyed the use of the extensive trails that Flint and Gould had created. When post-war expansion and the Baby Boom caused much of the area’s open space to be replaced by homes during the 1950s and 60s, trails users became concerned about their way of life.
By the late 1960s, the trails system had become fragmented as developers built over them and land owners fenced them off due to worries about liability and privacy.
In the past 40 years, the Trails Council has worked with the city, Los Angeles County, Southern California Edison and other groups to preserve, extend and improve the multi-use, multi-ability trails, creating an uninterrupted 12-mile loop around the community, as well as many off-shoot trails.
An old flume over the 210 Freeway, for instance, was enhanced to provide a trail crossing over that impediment. Retaining walls and drainage pipes have been installed to stabilize hillsides; court cases have been fought and won; and the 40-acre Cherry Canyon parcel has been purchased by the city and preserved as open space. Most recently, a tree-shaded water station for both horses and people has been established at the Ultimate Destination Point in Cherry Canyon.
The Trails Council continues to look for opportunities to develop new trails and expects to carry on the traditions of “Trail Day” each spring and marching in the Fiesta Days Parade each Memorial Day, said Caroline Craven, current council president. Council members actively promote the community resource through social media, letters to the editor, word-of-mouth and print ads for special events. They are also concentrating on educating trail users on how to safely use multiuse trails that are routinely shared by horses, dogs, humans and bicycles. This is one of the premium recreation opportunities for residents of Los Angeles County, Craven noted.
For more information, visit www.LCFTrails.org.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the impressive home of Dr. Roy Lanterman and his wife, Emily, is now owned by the City of La Cañada Flintridge and maintained and administered by a nonprofit foundation. This huge home, which Executive Director Melissa Patton calls a “super-bungalow” because it covers 11,500 square feet, including the basement, was the first totally reinforced concrete home built west of the Mississippi River. It was designed by Arthur Haley in 1915 and features a U-shaped Mexican Colonial hacienda design with a fountain courtyard in the middle, pergolas with plantings on all four sides and English Arts and Crafts design elements throughout.
“Roy Lanterman was a doctor who spent lots of time in public service. He wanted to retire back to the Crescenta-Cañada Valley that his extended family had owned since 1875. But it was truly the hinterlands in those days and his wife, Emily, wanted no part of it,” Patton said. “She was from a wealthy Santa Monica family and she was not at all interested in living in a hardscrabble place like La Cañada Flintridge. So he built her this house as a bribe. He even built a ballroom on the second floor at a time when no one else in La Cañada Flintridge would have had any idea what to do with a ballroom.”
Dr. Lanterman was particularly interested in building a concrete house not only because of the high risk of fire from the native chaparral surrounding the property but also because he had seen firsthand the dangers of fire while running an emergency hospital in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.
Roy and Emily Lanterman lived in the home from 1915 until their deaths in 1948 and 1949, respectively. Their son, Lloyd, was a mechanical engineer who was known for designing race car engines. He left the family home and all of its original furnishings to the city in 1987. His brother, Frank, was an accomplished silent movie organist until “talkies” ruined that gig. In 1950 he was elected to the California State Assembly and he became a famous and powerful politician who, among other things, championed the rights of the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill, authoring landmark legislation that acknowledged their rights and provided them with state services.
The home was opened as a museum in 1993 after undergoing years of exterior restoration using money raised by the museum foundation and through both city and state grants. Interior restoration continued until 2008. It has a volunteer board of directors and a staff of three, all part time.
Located at 4420 Encinas Drive, the museum is open for group and school tours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings and to the general public Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and the afternoons of the first and third Sundays of every month. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors and free for those under 12.
In addition, the museum holds a range of special events including two annual open houses, lectures, exhibits and an annual ragtime tea dance. Its extensive archives are open for research on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment.
For more information, call (818) 790-1421 or visit www.lantermanfoundation.org.
Memorial Day weekend and the first Friday of December are times of great excitement among residents and visitors to La Cañada Flintridge, alike, as the community gathers to celebrate.
Maybe you have been one of the thousands who have enjoyed the Annual Fiesta Days and Memorial Weekend celebration in previous years. This four-day festival is the signature event for the city and is organized and sponsored by the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce.
Prior to La Cañada Flintridge’s incorporation in 1976, several business leaders wanted to call attention to this wonderful area of the county, and it was decided to celebrate residents’ Spanish heritage with a “Cinco de Mayo” festival. Once La Cañada Flintridge was incorporated, Fiesta Days was moved to the Memorial Day weekend so that the number of days increased and the number of activities expanded. Today the celebration honors both local veterans’ sacrifice and the community’s Spanish heritage and is known for unequaled family fun, food, fireworks and a parade that brings out thousands each year. This year marks the 43rd annual Fiesta Days event.
For information on sponsorship or entering the parade, call (818) 790-4289 or www.lacanadaflintridge.com.
Each December for the past 20 years, the coming of winter has also been celebrated. Its arrival is heralded with “Festival in Lights,” which is also organized by the Chamber of Commerce. Eight tons of snow is trucked in to give added atmosphere to the arrival of Santa and his live reindeer. Santa is escorted into town by the Los Angeles County Fire and Sheriff’s Departments. Soon after he arrives, Santa flips a switch and illuminates the plethora of lights in Memorial Park and beyond.
For more information about these special events, visit