A well-coiffed crowd will gather for a celebration of cityhood next week at the La Cañada Flintridge Country Club, reveling high on the hillside overlooking its city, which on Nov. 30 will turn 40 years old.
The city’s ruby anniversary will commemorate the vote that combined two unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County — La Cañada and Flintridge — into one municipality.
The incorporation warded off annexation plans by Pasadena and Glendale. It also opened the book on a municipality that describes itself, on its website, as “a unique and beautiful place to live, work and play.”
Now a community of about 20,000 people, volunteerism and education are championed, 23 miles of trails wind their way through “Tree City, USA,” and shops and restaurants along Foothill Boulevard have become local destinations.
It is, in many ways, a dream come true.
“It was all very, very exciting,” said Pat Anderson, now the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce who was, back then, among the precinct workers who helped make LCF a reality.
“It all came back to local control,” she said. “Otherwise, we were going to be overrun by state government agencies and with the county being so big and us being so small by comparison, they don’t have time for us. It just made a lot of sense to become our own city.”
Cityhood took three attempts. In 1964, the Chamber of Commerce and Realtor Dick Keiholtz, led the first ill-fated charge. In 1969, there was another stab at incorporation by a small group of La Cañada residents before their budding movement died when defiant Flintridge homeowners fought the consolidation.
Finally, in 1974, community residents organized the La Cañada Cityhood Action Committee, which would carry cityhood across the finish line.
With George Parrish leading the committee, the idea was broached at a town hall hosted by the La Cañada Coordinating Council and Chamber of Commerce. A show of hands at that meeting indicated 658 La Cañadans favored cityhood. Only two in attendance opposed.
The challenge was to persuade those living in the Flintridge area, where residents wished to protect their high living standards and low-density zoning, to also raise their hands in favor.
Persuading them was made easier by a plan by Pasadena and Glendale to carve up the unincorporated areas of La Cañada and Flintridge, according to the state legislature’s “sphere of influence” plan. Pasadena would have gobbled up all of Flintridge; Glendale would have taken Descanso Gardens.
“We were concerned about our identity and how we would preserve our boundaries,” said Bob Craven, who campaigned for cityhood before being appointed to the city’s first Planning Commission. “We wanted to create our own city and be in control of our destiny, not just be piecemealed by bigger cities around us.”
Before the city could become a city, it needed a name.
“There were many, many long meetings about that,” Anderson said. “And there was a list, and there were probably 50 people in the room and there was a list of 30 names on this big, big board.
“One of the names on the list was Flintridge and one of the names on the list was La Cañada, and then all these other names. At the last meeting, we had it nailed down to about eight names, and it was said: ‘OK, we’re not leaving this room until we have a name, because we have a deadline and we have to present this on the paperwork in order to move forward.’
“So one by one, the others sort of fell away and we were left with Flintridge and La Cañada, and we said, ‘OK, we’ve gotta decide between these two.’
“And then somebody said, ‘Why don’t we call it La Cañada Flintridge?’ And somebody else said, ‘Wait a minute, why don’t we call it Flintridge La Cañada?’ So that went around and around and someone finally said, ‘Wait a minute, our zip code is listed as La Cañada, so it would make sense to say La Cañada Flintridge.’ Some people didn’t like that, but they finally decided, ‘OK, it’s late. But under one condition — that La Cañada and Flintridge are not connected. No comma, no slash, no dash, nothing. We are two separate words.
“And everybody agreed.”
In the end, the vote to incorporate LCF was 7,355 in favor and 2,849 against. The new city would cover 8.5 square miles and had a population of 21,000.
Fifteen residents vied for City Council seats, and five were elected: Mike Mount, George Parrish, Warren Hillgren, Edmund Krause and J.D. Smith. They held their first regular meeting on Dec. 9 in the La Cañada Elementary School Auditorium, where they set up the LCF government with required resolutions, city staff and volunteer city commissions.
Clark Smithson was the original city manager, Caroline de Llamas city clerk and John McCormick city treasurer. The City chose to contract with Los Angeles County for police and fire protection, road repair and building inspection.
Dave Spence, who has announced he will be running for his seventh term on the City Council next year, wasn’t involved in the march toward cityhood, but he was a hearty fan of the effort.
“I was a new young father trying to survive in [business], but I remember everything that happened; I remember all the people who were involved,” Spence said. “A lot of the new council members were friends, and I certainly supported them.”
Bob Craven, who moved to LCF in 1961 and still lives here, was among the early commissioners. Starting in 1978, he held a seat on the Planning Commission for 12 years.
“We were certainly involved in all of the early planning of what we wanted La Cañada to be,” Craven said. “We’ve come a long way. In the 1950s, we were a city built along a highway, with no real center, no real identity other than being a very wonderful community with a lot of lovely homes and active people.”
The people remain active and the homes still are lovely; Craven and his fellow commissioners worked to elevate standards on residential development.
One of the city’s first commissioners, Jane Hogul’s goal was to make Foothill Boulevard what it is today: “Jane wanted to see Foothill Boulevard be a place where people could be walking and jogging and shopping and walking their dogs,” Craven said. “By golly, I wish she were around today to see it.”
“When people refer to us as “Mayberry,” I say, ‘You’re right,’” Anderson said. “It’s been a blessing to live here and we’re so fortunate to have continuously good leadership on our City Council and with our city managers over the years.
“If you’re going to build a strong building, you’ve got to have a strong foundation. And our founding fathers were indeed a strong foundation.”