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Valley Briefing

Sunland-Tujunga Portrait : Communities Take Pride in Their Past, Plan for the Future

October 15, 1995

Under Spanish rule for much of the 1800s, the picturesque area between the San Gabriel Mountains and Verdugo Hills that would become the twin communities of Sunland-Tujunga was first settled around 1880. A health colony opened a few years later and in 1911, developer M.V. Hartranft began construction on a residential tract called Little Lands.

Tujunga chose its name in 1915, selecting a Native American word that reportedly means "big thunder." Sunland was named in 1926 to emphasize the region's pleasant climate after the community was annexed to the city of Los Angeles. That same year, Tujunga incorporated as a city but its independence was short-lived: it too was annexed to Los Angeles in 1932.

Today, the area is a bedroom community of mostly residential homes and more than 600 small businesses.

"We really don't want to tell everybody 'cause we don't want them to move up here," jokes Sunland-Tujunga's Honorary Mayor Dick Starr, who defeated two other candidates--including a dog--for the post in July. "Maybe we're the best-kept secret in the Valley."

Historic Halls

* It was known as Rancho Chupa Rosa when it was built in 1923 as the home of John Steven McGroarty, a poet, historian, journalist and congressman. The city of Los Angeles purchased the Tujunga property in 1953 and it was declared a historic monument in 1970. Today it's the McGroarty Arts Center, the community's cultural showpiece, operated by a local nonprofit arts organization and the city's Cultural Affairs Department.

* Built in 1913 of rocks gathered in the surrounding area, Tujunga's Bolton Hall was originally used as a meeting place for an early group of settlers. The building was at the center of community life for many years and is now the home of the Little Landers Historical Society. It's also a museum of Sunland-Tujunga history with artifacts, photographs and documents tracing the region from the 1800s to the early 1900s.

Civic Pride

For years, thousands of residents have lined Foothill Boulevard for the annual Independence Day parade. At this year's event, the world watched to see if Farley the photogenic pooch would be elected honorary mayor.

He wasn't. Starr won the ceremonial honor by a wide margin and Farley was named Sunland-Tujunga's official mascot. "He'll still remain active in the community," owner Michael Lucas told supporters.

In August, several tons of watermelon were given away at the 35th annual Sunland-Tujunga Lions Watermelon Festival, and last month residents marched in the community's second pride parade, a celebration of such local sites as a brand-new Los Angeles Public Library branch.

As Starr explains, it's a community awash in a feeling of small-town camaraderie. "People are friendly," he says. "You find more of a Midwest atmosphere here."

A Guide for Growth

After more than six years of development, the Los Angeles City Council approved in September a blueprint for growth along Sunland-Tujunga's busiest thoroughfare.

The Foothill Boulevard Specific Plan, which took effect this month, identifies four commercial areas for revitalization and four others suitable for apartment buildings, condominiums and mixed-use structures.

The plan limits new construction to two stories along most of the boulevard with three-story buildings permitted in areas targeted for revitalization. The city will also have the authority to require apartment developers to construct public improvements such as sidewalks, parking areas and wider streets.

The idea is to attract higher-quality businesses to a 4.2-mile stretch of Foothill Boulevard between Sunland Boulevard and Lowell Avenue, planners say.

*

Sources: Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce, "The San Fernando Valley: Then and Now"

Researched by DAVID BRADY / Los Angeles Times

Community Profile

Altitude: Between 1,150 and 1,950 feet

Area: About 20 square miles

Average annual rainfall: 22 inches

Average high/low temperatures: June, 82/55

December, 64/42

Population: 64,357

Median age: 32

Number of households: 21,693

Persons per household: 2.9

Owner-occupied housing units: 67%

Population below poverty level: 9.3%

Income

Average household income is slightly higher than the Los Angeles city average.

Sunland-Tujunga: $50,162

Citywide average: $45,701

Northeast Valley: $44,444

Southeast Valley: $48,182

Northwest Valley: $56,427

Southwest Valley: $61,722

Ethnicity

White: 63%

Latino: 25%

African American: 7%

Asian: 5%

Sources: 1990 Census, Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce

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