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History

A Short History Of Your
Mt. Washington Association
On Its 50th Anniversary.
 
Rob Schraff
 
In 1907, developer Robert Marsh creates a smallish subdivision on the top of a verdant hillside in Northeast Los Angeles. He calls it Mount Washington. In early 1908, Walter G. Eisenmeyar hires the company who building the Mount Washington Hotel to build the first home here. A community is born.
 
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the hill, “Arroyo Culture” is blooming. Charles Fletcher Lummis begins to build his El Alisal (the Sycamore) home in 1898, and it soon beomes a salon for writers, artists and scientists. He co-founds the Southwest museum in 1906, it opens in.1914. (More about the Southwest Museum later!)
 
So, property development and speculation - check. Lummis, art, science, culture - check. Mt. Washington Hotel, soon to be world headquarters for the Self Realization Fellowship - check. What’s left to cover?
 
Dumps, Fires And Landslides.
 
Nearly 50 years pass. Mt. Washington is much bigger, much more developed. The Self Realization Fellowship, SRF, takes over the foundering Mount Washington Hotel in 1925, and has preserved it ever since. An elementary school is built in 1926 (one which many still miss since its replacement in 1968.) Carlin G. Smith develops an even larger subdivision. By all accounts it’s a lovely place to live.
 
Then the city decides to put a dump in Elyria Canyon in 1955. The Mount Washington Association is born.
 
After energizing and organizing the community in its first attempt to protect open spaces and defeat the dump proposal, the MWA begins its 50-year history of opposing large-scale development on Mt. Washington. The Association demands, and wins, concessions limiting the size of Mt. Washington West.  And in 1982, Elyria Canyon is again on the agenda, when a developer proposes a huge condo development. After a community-wide effort led by the Association this plan is also defeated, and with the help of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Elyria Canyon becomes the treasured permanent open space that it is today. The Association also becomes a founding member of the Hillside Federation, a leading voice for preserving views and open spaces throughout the city. More recently, the MWA has opposed the development of Moon Canyon and sought its preservation as a park, and also helped defeat the inappropriate development of Red Hawk Canyon earlier this year.
 
In 1957 12 houses are lost in a fire, blamed in large part on lack of water pressure. This leads to decades of increasing awareness of fire safety issues, with the MWA then, as it does today, playing a key role in educating members and supporting public services. However, in 1982, the city suggests that Mt. Washington be placed in a special fire tax district. A compromise is struck with the support of the Association. No tax, but the fire Department would be given full authority to enforce brush clearance laws on the books since 1972.
 
Even before this last rainy season’s distressing impact on many local families, landslides have been a part of life on Mt. Washington. The worst damage occurred in n 1969, when a mudslide in Rainbow Canyon destroyed or seriously damaged 11 homes.
 
We Have A Plan.
 
After years of work, the Mt. Washington/Glassell Park Specific Plan is finally passed in 1993. Designed to prevent “mansionization,” protect significant vegetation and our unique ecosystem, and provide setbacks to avoid looming canyons of condo-like “town homes”, the plan is still in effect. Unfortunately, the plan is at best spottily enforced by the city, but the MWA regularly works to support and enforce the plan. Including hosting a public meeting that drew hundreds in support of the plan in 2003.
 
It Takes An Association.
 
In the early 1990’s the MWA started a committee that was to become the Mount Washington Preschool and Childcare Center, the MWPPC, and sponsored several fundraisers. In 1993, the MWPCC  opened its first childcare center. The MWPCC now operates three child care centers, and is working to open a fourth soon. The MWA also makes generous annual donations to the MWPCC for scholarships and also to the Mt. Washington Elementary School  PTA. Additional educational grants have also been regularly made by the Association, including enabling several classes at Aldama Elementary to go on a field trip to the California Museum of Science and Industry late last year.
 
Controversy Hits Home.
 
The SRF presents a large-scale development plan for their Mt. Washington Hotel property in 1997. All hell breaks loose. The first contested election in MWA history is held, and the winning candidate for president runs on a platform of openness and full discussion of SRF plans. At the center of the storm, the MWA holds several open meetings to provide full and complete discussion of SRF plans. This includes hiring a professional moderator and working with local city councilmember offices to sponsor full and complete discussion. Several years later, the SRF plan is withdrawn.
 

A Line Of Gold.
 
Finally, mass transit in Northeast LA!  And the MWA was there. Early on, in the 1980’s to demand a sub-grade crossing at Figueroa and Marmion/Pasadena, and to preserve the Southwest Museum Station. And later, to sponsor fundraisers, raise community awareness, find pro bono legal counsel - then win significant speed and sound mitigation.
 
Building Bridges.
 
In the late 1990’s and into the new millennia, several MWA board members played key roles in the implementation of the city’s new charter, which called for neighborhood councils. Beginning with efforts throughout Northeast LA to determine what council boundaries were most appropriate though open discussion among many communities, these efforts led, some years later, to the ASNC. Numerous MWA board members have played important roles in this process. And in the ASNC.
 
Cowboy Carpetbaggers.
 
100 years after its founding, the Southwest Museum is again the issue of our day. The Autry National Museum one of the newest museums in LA, seems to have bought the oldest museum in Los Angeles in something like a leveraged buy out. Given their efforts to date on behalf to celebrate cowboy and cowboy movie culture, some wonder whether the new institution will be named the “Autry National Museum Of Cowboys And Indians.”
 
So one of the world’s greatest anthropological treasures, celebrating cultures that lasted thousands of years, will be used as a sideshow to celebrate cowboy culture, which lasted a few decades at best. Meanwhile, the Arroyo Seco’s priceless cultural heritage is being plundered. If this makes you angry, please visit friendsofthesouthwestmuseum.
 
It’s All About You.
 
Unlike any other neighborhood group in our neighborhood, anyone can join the Mt. Washington Association. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a member. If you’re not, please join. And, if you ARE a member, please come to the summer fun meeting, and get more involved. Your volunteer work with the MWA has been making a big difference around here for 50 years.
 
Thanks to Pat Sampson, Grayson Cook, Luis Quirarte, Pat Griffith, Jerry Schneider and Ann Walnum for their insights and recollections.

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