Talking About Eagle Rock

Drive a certain stretch of the 134 freeway, heading east between Glendale and Pasadena (just opposite the Figueroa exit), and you can’t miss it. And if you grew up in the northeastern section of the San Fernando Valley, you’ve seen it your whole life. It’s the actual “Eagle Rock”—a name you most likely associate with the city of Eagle Rock, located in the valley just below. (The city is best known as the home of Occidental College, one of the country’s most prestigious universities. President Barack Obama was a student here in 1979.)

Eagle Rock itself is a huge 50-foot “puddingstone” or conglomerate. It was created more than 12 million years ago, when lime from nearby hot springs cemented together thousands of boulders and field stones to create the formation. Wind and water erosion created an overhang near the top of the rock that, at the certain times of the day, casts a shadow resembling an eagle in flight.

Eagle Rock in shadow, 1888. (Credit: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society)

Years before the 1770 discovery of “La Piedra Gorda” (Eagle Rock’s earlier name) by Spanish explorers, local Indians occupied its caves and a village nestled in the small well-watered valley. In 1784, Eagle Rock became a marker for the first California land grant from the King of Spain—given to Don Jose Verdugo. And local legend has it that in 1874 the infamous bandit Tiburcio Vásquez and his band of desperadoes hid (and possibly buried their loot) in the caves located at the base of the rock.

Eagle Rock (note the sign beneath the boulder) and its valley in 1900. (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library)

Eagle Rock would preside over Mexican ranch lands, then strawberry fields, and finally housing tracts and a growing city as the valley below matured into a Los Angeles suburb. At the turn of the 20th century, land developers touted the Eagle Rock area as “the Switzerland of Southern California”—because of the striking views from elevations that ranged from 500 to 1000 feet above sea level. The rock itself was often the focal point of festivities—such as the first Boy Scout Convention in 1910 and annual Easter Sunrise services that drew thousands of spectators over the years.

In 1962, “the Rock” as it is called by the locals, was declared Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument #10. In 1995, the city of Los Angeles went ahead and purchased Eagle Rock for $700,000 in an effort to protect it from future land development. Today, a view of its rugged and natural beauty is part of many Angelenos’ daily commutes.

Passing Eagle Rock on the 134 FWY. (Credit: qejecit/Flickr)

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