Guest Post: Growing up in the Foothills, Sunland’s Lancaster Lake (part 2 of 4)

Use this boating MAY -  1920 ~~ UN Lancaster Lake 09MORE TO LANCASTER LAKE THAN JUST MUDDY WATERS

When “Grandpa” Lancaster first opened his lake to the public in 1925, swimming, as well as fishing and boating, were the main attractions. To the dismay of most kids (and by the time I came along in the late 1930s), swimming was no longer allowed. This prohibition was strictly enforced. The restriction was probably made for health and safety reasons; but it might also have been because the lake had become so muddy that it was no longer an attractive place to swim, anyway– at least not to adults. Us kids couldn’t have cared less that the lake’s waters had become so dark and so muddy you couldn’t see more than an inch beneath the surface– we still liked it enough to sneak in at night and take a dip.

(Photo, courtesy Little Landers Society)

Although boating and fishing continued to pull the public in, these were not the only attractions. Also drawing small crowds to the lake were such things as a quaint little museum, a soda pop stand, and picnic tables scattered around the shore. Some of the tables were in a covered pavilion, with a wooden floor. The pavilion had been part of a movie set and then left behind by the studio. (More about Lancaster Lake and the movie industry to come in my next post.) Anyway, there was also some playground equipment and handcrafted animals fashioned from old tree trunks or limbs. All of these latter attractions had been made by Grandpa Lancaster with his own hands, as had, more significantly, the lake’s fleet of rental rowboats. (Marshall Murray, one of Lancaster’s grandsons, helped his grandfather craft the last boat ever launched on the lake.)

Consistent with Grandpa’s devotion to his Christian faith were the many wood carvings placed around the lake that reflected biblical themes. The museum, though, was his pride and joy. He had included old colored bottles and broken glass in the walls of the building and, when you were inside, the sunlight streaming through the pieces of colored glass created an illusion of being in a small cathedral or church. The main difference was that the light was probably shining through broken beer bottles, rather than a stained glass window.

There was a nominal charge to enter the museum, but you couldn’t just pay and go inside. Grandpa kept the museum locked up tight. He had a big metal key to the front door which he rarely used to allow anyone inside unless he could accompany them and tell the stories related to each of the artifacts in the museum’s collection. His wide range of relics included such things as an old buffalo gun, a fine coin collection, and some rare old farm implements.

Next to the museum stood a covered wagon that, throughout my childhood, I believed was the means by which Grandpa Lancaster had brought his family to California. It was only later in life that I learned this wasn’t true.

Covered wagon and carved wooden steer, next to Lancaster Lake museum, early 1930's. (Photo, courtesy Little Landers Society)

Covered wagon and carved wooden steer, next to Lancaster Lake’s museum, early 1930’s. (Photo, courtesy Little Landers Society)

Present-day Lancaster descendants have no idea where the wagon originally came from, although they seem sure it was an authentic covered wagon that was probably used by some other family to come to California.

Thinking of Grandpa Lancaster toiling away on his lakeside projects reminds me of just how hard the old gentleman worked. He always seemed to be making something. In fact, my most enduring memory of him is seeing this tough, wiry, old fellow swinging away with a ten-pound sledge hammer and splitting firewood all day long. He was still swinging away too, almost to the very end, when he died at the age of 92. To those who knew him, he was a living testament to the health benefits that can be achieved by performing hard, physical labor well into old age.

In the end, a number of things contributed to Lancaster Lake’s eventual demise. These included diminished access to a water supply that was periodically required to keep the lake full, as well as the increasing cost of the water when it could be obtained. Declining use by the public also made continued operations less commercially viable; it seemed once World War II ended and gas was no longer being rationed, local residents began traveling to more distant destinations for their recreation. By 1950, all operations had been shut down for good and Lancaster (or Lancaster’s) Lake was soon sold to developers. They filled in the lake and constructed the trailer park that is there today.

(Photo, courtesy Little Landers Society)

(Photo, courtesy Little Landers Society)

When Lancaster Lake finally closed, the remnants of the museum collection were stored in our family’s barn. Over the course of the next four or five years, Marshall Murray and I were both away at college and/or serving in the Armed Forces– and, unfortunately, by the time we returned and tried to retrieve the museum collection, it was nowhere to be found. All we knew for sure was that it was not in the barn anymore and, since my father had passed away during the interim, no one seemed to know what happened to it. A rather ignominious ending, indeed, for what had been a rather fine collection of odd artifacts.

[Coming soon – Part 3: Lancaster Lake and the Movies]

Guest Post: Growing up in the Foothills – Sunland’s Lancaster Lake, (part 1 of 4)

SUNLAND, CA: Lancaster Lake is a name that conjures up fond memories in the minds of many old-time Sunland-Tujunga residents. My own boyhood memories of the lake are no exception.

Carved out of a swampy area in the lower Foothills just below Sunland Park by Edgar “Grandpa” Lancaster, the lake opened to the public for swimming, fishing and boating in 1925.

"Grandpa" Lancaster and crew digging out his lake from the swampy area located below Sunland Park, c. 1924. Today,  (Photo, Courtesy Little Landers Historical Society)

“Grandpa” Lancaster and crew digging out his lake from the swampy area located below Sunland Park, c. 1924. Today, the lake site is home to a trailer park on Sherman Grove Avenue. (Photo, Courtesy Little Landers Historical Society)

It didn’t take long for this bucolic, almost tropical, retreat to catch on as the place to go to cool off on a hot summer day. Grandpa initially managed nearly all the operations himself, but as time wore on– and with his increasing age– these responsibilities were gradually shifted to his daughter, Marie Murray, and her two sons, Harold and Marshall, who lived next to Grandpa at the lake.

Summer weekends during World War II were Lancaster Lake’s real heydays. No doubt this was largely due to wartime gas rationing, which required local residents to find their recreation close to home. During these years, my brother Dick and I were in grammar school, and at that age, particularly during the summer, we found the lake to be an almost irresistible magnet on a daily basis. If we couldn’t be found somewhere in Sunland Park, we were horsing around at the lake and, in the process, probably annoying one or another members of the Lancaster family. Indeed, we hung around there so much that eventually we became unwelcome little pests– so much so that seventy-odd years later I can still hear one of the Lancasters or Murrays saying something on the order of: “Boys, I think I hear your mother calling,” or “Don’t you boys have some place else you can play?” Eventually though, when the family finally reconciled itself to our constant presence, they did the next best thing to getting rid of us– they put us to work.

"Grandpa" Lancaster and his wife, Margaret, in one of his homemade rowboats, c. late 1920's. (Photo, courtesy Little Landers Historical Society)

“Grandpa” Lancaster and his wife, Margaret, in one of his homemade rowboats, c. late 1920’s. (Photo, courtesy Little Landers Historical Society)

Our job was to help keep the small fleet of Lancaster Lake’s wooden rowboats as dry as possible. This was no easy task, since all the boats leaked! Even though Grandpa Lancaster frequently had his boats out of the water and up on sawhorses for re-caulking, he never quite succeeded in plugging all the leaks. As a result, when a boat came in after an hour or so of rental on the lake, it usually had enough water sloshing around on the floorboards to discourage new customers. That’s when Dick and I would swing into action. Armed with empty coffee cans, we’d jump right in and bail away until we had things reasonably dry. On busy days, as the boats kept coming in, we repeated this same process over and over and over again.

We were never paid money for the work. Instead, we got something we considered much better– free use of one of the boats for about an hour or so when it wasn’t likely to be wanted by a paying customer. Although during the summer this might mean we could only use a boat early on a weekday morning, we didn’t mind at all. In fact, we thought we had a pretty darn good deal going for us.

Another attraction that kept us around the lake a lot was Grandpa Lancaster’s Bible classes. As the founder of the Sunland First Baptist Church on Oro Vista Street (now the New Hope Community Church), he used these lakeside classes to recruit new members into the fold. As kids we all liked to go because he’d let us fish for free as a reward for attending the class. By one means or another, he always managed to weave fishing into his Bible stories to make our fishing experience relevant to what he was telling us. I’m not so sure we always got the connection, but we sure liked the fishing part. And my-oh-my, how well I still remember those big wads of stale bread we’d squish onto those oversized hooks to catch those big, ugly catfish!

One time after Bible lessons were over, I fell out of one of the boats into Lancaster Lake. It wasn’t all that deep, but still well over the head of a seven-or-eight-year-old boy. It was before I had learned to swim, and I nearly drowned before being rescued. Rather than fishing like we were supposed to be doing, we had been racing another boat. I was rowing as fast as I could when, in rushing a backstroke, I completely missed the water with the oar and tumbled over backwards into the lake, taking the oar with me. Left with only one oar in the boat, the other boys had a hard time reaching me. I think I was going down for the third time when they finally pulled me out. About the only physical consequence was how sick I got from swallowing all the muddy lake water. Psychologically though, the impact was much worse. Almost drowning is something you never forget, and I think the experience got me a lot closer to becoming a church member than Grandpa’s Bible classes ever did. In fact, as I think back on it now, I think Grandpa would have had more recruiting success if he had just thrown a few kids in the lake and forgotten about the Bible lessons.

[Coming soon – Part 2: There was more to Sunland’s Lancaster Lake Than Muddy Waters]

Seen in Glendale: One Hundred Mules Walking

closeup walkingNovember 5th, 2013, was the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a transformational achievement that allowed for the growth of Southern California as we know it today. To mark the occasion, local artist Lauren Bon and the Metabolic Studio walked the length of the aqueduct with the animals that made its construction possible. Calling this commemorative event “One Hundred Mules Walking,” the group began their journey mid-state, in Lone Pine (near the Owens Valley), and ended this morning in Burbank, near the Los Angeles River’s edge.

After overnighting in a Verdugo Mountains encampment high above the cities of Glendale and Burbank, the 100-strong mule train headed out of the canyons behind Glendale’s Brand Park at 9:00am.100 mules start

march begins

Mule carrying a satellite dish!

It was a beautiful warm morning– and mules and riders were met with crowds of folks so happy to cheer them along to their final destination, down Western Avenue, and over to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center on Riverside Drive.

heading out of Brand park

on their way

The mules’ twenty-one day trip is now over. . . . but I was lucky enough to join in at the beginning of this final leg out of Brand Park and have tried to capture this once-in-a-lifetime sighting with a few photos . . . what fun!

Seen in L.A.: Spooky and Colorful Festiveness

Overly done and “composed” Halloween decorations are just not my thing . . . I can appreciate other folks’ expense and hard work, but my eyes are always drawn to the more “perfectly imperfect.” So while out and about in the days leading up to tonight’s All Hallow’s Eve festivities and the upcoming Day of the Dead celebrations (11/2), I snapped a few photos that, to me, capture the unscripted quirkiness of Angelenos at this time of year. Here’s to the festivities!

Halloween shop

On Foothill Boulevard in Sunland.

la planada

Garvanza (Highland Park).

Set of Mt. Washington "secret steps" with a lone jack o' lantern lying in wait.

Set of Mt. Washington “secret steps” with a lone jack o’ lantern lying in wait.

Pasadena (The Folk Tree shop).

Pasadena (The Folk Tree shop).