Neighborhood Spotlight: La Crescenta-Montrose is a Mayberry on the edge of an update

February 1, 2023,

Nestled between the much larger San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys lies the unincorporated community of La Crescenta-Montrose.

Its first European name was La Cañada Valley, so named after the 5,000-acre spread of Ignacio Coronel, a Los Angeles schoolteacher whose exploits as a cavalry officer were rewarded with a massive land grant from the Spanish government. How rewarded he truly felt is unclear.

Although the Tongva people had resided near the site for thousands of years, the view among European and Mexican settlers was that the relative lack of free-flowing water in the valley presented an insurmountable obstacle to creating permanent settlements.

Coronel’s was no exception. He built his home in the relatively verdant Verdugo mountains and left the valley floor to his cattle and sheep, which coped with the canyon’s parched conditions and prodigious rattlesnake population as best they could.

At the end of the Civil War, American veterans began to drift into the valley, with the first among them a former Southern soldier named Col. Theodore Pickens. He was by all accounts an intemperate, unpleasant man, a reputation he earned by promptly deforesting the valley highlands to sell as firewood in L.A. and for his questionable claim to the rights to the valley’s meager water supply.

In 1881, former ’49-er, ex-fruit magnate and medical doctor Benjamin Briggs visited the valley and found what he deemed the most healthful air in California. Briggs had earlier endured the death of his wife from consumption, a trauma that led him to dump his fruit business to pursue medicine and a cure for tuberculosis.

The warm, dry air of the valley seemed to Briggs to provide the perfect climate in which sufferers of lung diseases could convalesce. He bought the better part of the old Rancho La Cañada, renamed it La Crescenta and began the process of building a sanitarium on the land.

Eventually more sanitariums followed, including Kimbal and Rockhaven, both of which became renowned for their celebrity patients during Hollywood’s early era through its Golden Age. The towns that sprang up around these places of healing became popular destinations for well-to-do families seeking country living close to L.A.’s urban amenities.

Today’s La Crescenta-Montrose continues that tradition, with its proximity to Glendale (which has actually annexed some portions of the community), Pasadena and Los Angeles making it a popular bedroom community.

Neighborhood highlights

Main Street, USA: Montrose Shopping Park is a walkable concentration of stores and restaurants, the type emulated by modern open-air shopping malls such as the Grove.

Close, but not too close: From La Crescenta-Montrose you can drive anywhere from Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles in 30 minutes, but the area retains its distinct, suburban vibe.

Scenic beauty: Located adjacent to the Angeles National Forest, La Crescenta-Montrose offers access to plenty of scenic hiking and mountain biking trails.

Neighborhood challenge

A touch of gray: The population of La Crescenta-Montrose skews a little older, which may give pause to some younger home buyers looking for a more exciting lifestyle.

Expert insight

During her 28 years of living in La Crescenta-Montrose, Sharon Hales of Dilbeck Real Estate has seen the community develop an identity based on great schools, safe neighborhoods and plenty of recreational opportunities.

“There’s a joke here that we’re like Mayberry — one of the last frontiers,” Hales said. “Kids ride their bikes to school. Everyone meets up at the farmers markets.”

She added that the neighborhood has grown much denser over the last decade and that instead of building anew, people are upgrading older homes.

“We’re at the precipice of a renaissance here. Younger families with dual incomes are coming in and fixing up houses, and our identity is changing from ’50s and ’60s homes to properties fit for a more modern lifestyle.”

Market snapshot

In the 91214 ZIP Code, based on 25 sales, the median sales price for single-family homes in December was $833,000, up 8.1% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

Report card

All five public schools within the La Crescenta-Montrose boundaries performed well on the 2013 Academic Performance Index. Monte Vista Elementary scored the highest, at 946, followed by Mountain Avenue Elementary, at 942, and Rosemont Middle, at 937.

Crescenta Valley High scored 888, and La Crescenta Elementary scored 877.

Times staff writer Jack Flemming contributed to this report.

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