I wrote this piece back in February. The idea was to throw a bunch of ideas onto paper with the hope that some of them could be used for a brochure about Colorado Boulevard for the Take Back the Boulevard initiative that TERA, The Eagle Rock Association is putting forth.
The essay itself is the result of an “interview” with Eric Warren, the Eagle Rock historian. I put the word interview in quotation marks because it was less formal and more enjoyable than that term would imply. The truth is I got to spend a great afternoon with Mr. Warren as he talked about the history of the Boulevard and we looked at a few of the many photographs he has documenting the history of our part of town.
Colorado Boulevard has a history.
When we in the twenty-first century look back on that history we are apt to see only the history that fits our rose-colored vision. The truth is more complex.
Whether the native Americans used the route will always be open to debate as they left no sign, an aesthetic we could perhaps emulate.
The earliest vision of the Boulevard may have come from the Spanish landowner, Jose Maria Verdugo. There is record of his buying up land along the route possibly as a connector between the San Fernando and the San Gabriel missions.
The reason that this earliest of real estate deals may have been in the making is simple: to keep one’s feet dry.
The simplest way to get around the Los Angeles basin, in those days before roads, was to follow the rivers and streams. The problem lay in staying dry. Many of those areas were boggy in the best of times and raging floods in the worst of times.
So, like it’s sister road, Foothill Boulevard, Colorado may have been originally envisioned as a dry, upland route between centers of religion and commerce.
In the earliest pictures of the Eagle Rock Valley, though, no trace of Senor Verdugo’s vision remains. There is no trace or track at all, only farmland connected by a few pathways between the farms themselves.
The driving force of Southern California has always been real estate. And it was a desire to sell land that brought the roads, first in the form of trolley lines, to our valley.
Bustling street life was not a characteristic of the Boulevard in those early days. Beyond the point where Tritch Hardware stands today, our six lane mother road was a goat path.
Rails had to be put up along pedestrian routes to keep walkers from pitching off the sides of the hill.
Development began in small nodes where the trolleys ran and developers thought the town might grow. Stores began to grow close by these trolley stops because people wanted to shop close by where they lived, the easier to carry the groceries home.
And, while it was possible to live and shop locally, early pictures of pedestrian traffic reveal rough paths with sharp drop-offs. Our Boulevard was not the Champs-Elysee.
There is a story, without a doubt apocryphal, that the bandit Vasquez used to hide out by the Eagle Rock to raid downtown Los Angeles. This may have been more true of early denizens of Eagle Rock than it ever was of the famous bandit.
The “Golden Age” of public transit in this city enabled the development of the earliest suburbs. It was possible to live in idyllic Eagle Rock, then to work and shop in downtown Los Angeles.
The commuter life was born of real estate speculation. The plain facts were that land was more valuable when developed as single family dwellings than it would ever be as farm land. And the strawberry fields became people’s back yards.
Then came love, a passion that stirs Los Angeles, and Eagle Rock to its very core: the automobile and Colorado Boulevard changed again.
While modern Eagle Rockers lament the demise of public transit and the rise of the car culture, the citizens of the time embraced those wheels and the freedom they gave. While our current relationship with the auto is one of love and hate, our forebears had no such ambivalence: they loved their flivvers and supported the building of more roads to accommodate them.
The real history of Colorado Boulevard, then, begins with the designation and building of State Route 134. Before that Eagle Rock was a series of small developments along side the trolley stops. With the advent of a central road there was born and ease of movement that characterizes not just our community, but all of Southern California and now the world.
And that love would have continued but for the blinkered vision of the road builders. The state wanted to put a freeway, eight lanes of high-speed traffic right down the middle of Colorado Boulevard.
It made sense from an engineering view point. It would have been much easier to destroy Eagle Rock than to bridge the San Rafael Hills.
If the automobile and old State Route made Colorado Boulevard then it may be true that the Department of Transportation’s ambition led to the galvanizing of Eagle Rock as a community. Almost no one here wanted to have our little village erased to build a freeway.
Community opposition was so vehement that the route was changed, and change is not something Cal Trans is noted for. By the same token, citizens rising up to oppose a road was also entirely new. The fifty year battle of our neighbors in South Pasadena to stave off their own extinction is a child of that fight.
From the fury that the threat of annihilation engendered was born the seed of a new way of looking at our streets. Maybe, just maybe, our streets are more than a throughway to some place else. Maybe they are the heart of our community.
At the centennial of our Eagle Rock we look back on and celebrate our history. We recognize that it took vision and a certain combativeness to make this village our own. We know the future will require more foresight and toughness.
If you scratch and Eagle Rock resident they will almost unanimously tell you that the biggest problem we face is an unusable Colorado Boulevard.
Drivers routinely hit fifty and sixty miles an hour. Pedestrians have to take their lives in their hands if they wish to cross the street. The old trolley line has become a median strip of indifferent landscaping; it has to be maintained, but it cannot be said to inspire.
As we begin the journey to the second hundred years of Eagle Rock we are developing a vision of what we want our community to look like. We will face difficult opposition from powerful forces from outside who want to jam their ideas down our collective throats. There are those downtown who see us as little more than the road between Glendale and Pasadena.
The future of our Boulevard will not look like its past. We are not an autopia, we are a community. Our identity is still evolving. We need the help of everyone who lives here to make of our Boulevard a place of commerce, of beauty, and of public life that we will be proud to pass on to our children.