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Stories of Eagle Rock

Updated: Apr 10

Image Credit: The Homestead Blog

Under the San Rafael hills in the bustling streets of Los Angeles is a town named after its famous structure, a rock that casts a shadow of an eagle over the Ventura Freeway.

The city of Eagle Rock was established in 1911, later being annexed by Los Angeles in 1923. Way before this, though, the land belonged to Spanish settlers, becoming a home for missions and rancho landowners. Later, in the early 1900s, the area started its rapid growth in structural development and population, becoming an epicenter for the quickly expanding Los Angeles. In the time following, the privately owned land turned into space for food and livestock farms. In the Eagle Rock area specifically, the land consisted largely of a farm called the Gates Strawberry Ranch. This ranch played an important role in the early development of Eagle Rock- and the Chinese Revolution. 

Image Credit: LA Public Library

The Ranch  

After the land was developed, this time period brought a demand for lots of fresh fruits and vegetables that came from the LA farmland area. The Gates Strawberry Ranch was one of the farms that shipped the fruit to various faraway locations, and in turn, its domain was large, hiring exclusively Chinese laborers to work the land. The owners of the ranch quickly realized that these workers were frequently missing and had no idea where they were going. Turns out that during this time, the Chinese Revolutionary Army was training officers and soldiers to fight in their ranks. This happened as an organization called Protect the Emperor Society was on a mission to restore the former leader of China (Kuang-hsu) who had fallen from power. Long story short, a man named Homer Lea was sent to head the organization's effort and sent him money to train troops out of Los Angeles. Later, Lea’s plan failed, instead putting a bounty on his head for $10,000.

Image Credit: LA Public Library Chinese workers at the Gates Strawberry Ranch

After fleeing to Japan, he left Eagle Rock and the rest of the places in Los Angeles that had been used for his efforts in some amount of disarray, and as the Gates Strawberry Farm disappeared from Eagle Rock, so did the Chinese Population. 

With the arrival of settlers, the growth of Los Angeles called for new expansion. Though this was a stable community, there was much interest in the area being connected to the land around it, as well as the incorporation of more homes, businesses, and transportation. Soon, the effort to develop the land came to fruition as Henry Huntington built the Los Angeles Railway trolley line through Colorado Boulevard in 1906. 

The Trolley 

Image Credit: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society Glendale Railway Opening

At the time, Huntington was working on a task called the Big Creek Project, a large-scale effort to get LA to run on hydroelectric power. It was designed to use the water from the San Joaquin River to power the project, and Huntington was building the southern terminal to harness it. Much of the materials and tools needed to build it were heavy and could not be transported by regular means. Huntington and his team then had the idea to use a trolley car to move them, and thus, the railway was born.

Image Credit: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society

Originally, the “Dinky” trolley car ran through Central Ave (Now Eagle Rock Blvd) and to Townsend, which was also the main social area at the time.  In 1911, the line was extended into the Eagle Rock Canyon to allow further construction for the Big Creek Project, but as time passed, many of the extensions that were built for the use of the project were abandoned. 

Image Credit: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society Ad in the Eagle Rock Sentinel

Later, a toonerville trolley ran from Eagle Rock to Glendale in its early stages, with the fare as just a nickel and the car running every half an hour. It was a pretty effective system of transportation for its time and the connection between the two towns also proved beneficial. The car was called the “galloping goose” for its frequent jumps and rickety movement and was the main mode of transportation for the students of the schools in Eagle Rock and for people going to and from work.

This system worked for a significantly long time, and when the “Merry Go Round,” a shelter used to protect trolley car users from the weather, was built, it also became a popular hangout spot for the community. Since the 5 line trolley intersection was located right on Eagle Rock Blvd, even now the Colorado/Eagle Rock intersection is significantly larger than normal- that's because of that old railway, and also why the trolley-themed 5 Line pizza restaurant is located there as well. 

Elementary and High Schools

Image Credit: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society

The first school in the town was run out of a barn on Addison Way in 1884 and started with just 17 students. In 1886, a new schoolhouse was built by volunteers in the community and opened just near Casper Boulevard. Later, in 1905, the schoolhouse was relocated to Chickasaw and Maywood to accommodate the rapidly growing demand and quantity of students. This was largely because of the introduction of the trolley and the new residents moving to Eagle Rock. A piece of the land on the Gates Strawberry Ranch was purchased to do this and expand the school, as the influx of people called for new developments. 

Image Credit: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society Plans for Central School

Around 1915, the plans for a school, at that time called “Central School,” were established. This school was significantly large in size for the time period, and the project was a very big deal. Designed by architect John C. Austin, the school built up a lot of publicity when it came time for it to open in 1917. This school accommodated the student population in Eagle Rock easily, and its facilities were much appreciated by the community. 

Image Credit: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society Central School East Facade

In 1933, an earthquake struck the area. Its destruction was significant, tearing down many of the relatively new buildings of Central School. While a plan was constructed to remedy this situation, classes were moved to the playground and the school was still operational. In 1934, there was an effort to rebuild the fallen structures and reinforce the rest of the school if anything similar were to happen again. Some of the main buildings had to be reconstructed, but many of the originals still stand to this day. The auditorium and the front entrance of Eagle Rock Elementary are still the same as they have been since Central’s grand opening in 1917. 

Image Credit: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society Old Rockdale Elementary

Besides Central, there were five other Elementary schools that operated from the Eagle Rock area. These were Toland Way, Delevan Drive, Dahlia Heights, San Raphael (West School), and Rockdale. Rockdale, Dahlia, and San Raphael, were all built around the same time as Central, while Delevan and Toland Way were both built around 1926-27. Many of them were built and rebuilt at various points in time due to earthquake concerns, but some of the original buildings are still at the sites. These schools are even now the main elementaries in Eagle Rock and have sustained this community for a long time. Though there were multiple secondary schools the residents of the town could attend, they all fed into one school- Eagle Rock High. 

Eagle Rock High School opened in September of 1927. Before this, the only high schools available in the adjacent area were Franklin and Glendale High, and, after its big opening, the school took off. 

Image Credit: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society ERHS in 1927

Originally, the school was expected to cater to about 750 students, under a principal named Helen Babson. The structure of the high school was different from many of the educational systems that had existed during that time. It was what was referred to as a “progressive education” system, which essentially meant that students were largely responsible for their own course of study and had much autonomy over what they wanted to do. Within just a year, the students at the new Eagle Rock High had accomplished a lot of things, most notably, the creation of the student newspaper, Eagle’s Scream (that's us!!). The newspaper was something that hadn’t been done by a lot of other schools, and it was a direct product of what students here could do with just a little bit of freedom. They also were able to create a variety of clubs, along with a whole set of athletic teams. When the leadership of the school switched to a man named Robert E. Kelly, the progressive education model was essentially shut down. Lots of the social clubs the student body had built disappeared with this power shift, but the newspaper still stood. 

Image Credit: Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society Rendering for the new Eagle Rock High School

After the earthquake in 1933, all of the schools in the area had to undergo the check for disaster safety that had been mandated. Most of the buildings in ERHS didn’t pass, and all but the auditorium were demolished. In addition, the student body was growing rapidly, much past the 750 accounted for in the original plans. What were supposed to be temporary bungalows were built all around campus, but ended up staying, and were the solution the school needed to control the close to 2,500 kids. 

Eagle Rock High School was very community-oriented- and still is, charming the rapidly developing Eagle Rock and all its students. It’s one of the only schools in LAUSD that still has the 7-12th grade model, altering the system even now. 

...And Everything Else

There are so many more interesting things in Eagle Rock’s past that have happened to create the town we all know today, and what I covered is only part of a very complex and fascinating history that spans the last century. To talk about all of it would make this article insanely long, but there’s so much more to learn about Eagle Rock and all its intricacies. If you are interested in all this, I strongly encourage looking into sources like the Eagle Rock Historical Society, as well as LAPL and the Eagle Rock Archives. Writing this has made me more and more interested in all the little stories this town tells, and there is even more to find.

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