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A Close- Up Look At People Who Matter : A Resident of Memory Lane, Tujunga 91042

October 26, 1995|ED BOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mary Lou Pozzo had a problem.

As president of the Sunland-Tujunga Little Landers Historical Society, she was putting together an exhibit on movie stars who had lived in this isolated hillside community.

She had heard of a Native American actor who starred in several early Hollywood films but could find no picture of him or a record that he had ever lived in the town.

So she called Tom Theobald.

"I'm in awe of his good memory," Pozzo said. Theobald, who retired as Tujunga's postmaster in 1968, not only confirmed that Big Chief White Horse Eagle had lived in Tujunga, but could name the spot where the chief lived in a tepee.

It was on the corner of Marcus Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, where a rug-cleaning company stands today.

"If you give me someone's name, I can give you their street address," said Theobald, who relaxed with a cigar on his front porch as hummingbirds fought over his bird feeder. "I can't remember telephone numbers, but street addresses I can remember."

Theobald, 79, said he can even remember forwarding addresses for residents who moved out of Sunland and Tujunga years ago.

"We rely on Tom Theobald as a resource over and over and over again," said Martha Houk, the retired Sunland-Tujunga librarian who also works with the historical society.

Pozzo has set up two display cases at Bolton Hall, the onetime central meeting place in Tujunga and now home to the historical society, showing where about 40 celebrities, like the Smothers Brothers, once lived in town. Theobald was "really my main source," Pozzo said.

Theobald moved in 1920 to Tujunga with his family when he was 4, five years before the city was incorporated. He watched as Tujunga residents fought through four ballots before deciding to join Los Angeles in 1932. Pro-annexation forces had recruited temporary residents to stay in town just long enough to vote, Theobald said.

"It got pretty bitter," Theobald said. For years, people would not talk to each other. The vote forced the rival communities of Sunland and Tujunga together. When the boundaries between Sunland and Tujunga were redrawn, residents refused to accept new addresses.

Independent-minded Tujunga residents were drawn to the community once called Little Lands because of a promise that, using readily available stones, a shovel and some cement was all that was needed to build a home. But the more-developed Sunland for a long time looked down on Tujunga, Theobald said.

Theobald was a paper carrier for the Los Angeles Times--where he began honing his knowledge of street addresses--before joining the postal department in 1938, where the skill came in handy.

"At Christmastime we would get boxes full of nixes," Theobald said. Nixes were letters sent to wrong addresses or people who had died years before. "I guess I would salvage maybe 25% of them."

While many of those stone-built houses still stand in Tujunga, the community has changed a lot over the years. "It's got so that you don't get to know your neighbors," said Theobald, who has lived in the same house with his wife, Jean, for 54 years.

"There used to be three or four of us old-timers around," Theobald said. "Now it seems I'm getting to be the only one left."

Personal Best is a weekly profile of an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. Please address prospective candidates to Personal Best, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax them to (818) 772-3338 .

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