The History of Bolton Hall Museum
For over twenty years the heavy wooden doors of Bolton Hall in Tujunga were tightly secured. The solid stone building, once the heart of a fledgling community, came to life once more in 1980, and a cherished dream was realized by the Little Landers Historical Society.
Early in the 20th century, Glorietta Heights (located on part of the 1840 Mexican land grant of Rancho Tujunga), came to the attention of Marshall Hartranft, a land developer who engaged William E. Smythe, an editor who recognized the miracle of irrigation, to publicize the upper slopes of the chaparral-covered pass. Believing that families settling on an acre or two of land could support themselves and prosper, Smythe founded a movement known as "Little Lands" and had already established colonies in San Ysidro, Hayworth Heath and Cupertino. In 1913 settlers moved onto acre and half acre lots, calling themselves Little Landers. In April of that year Hartranft donated five lots, contracted for and financed construction of a meeting house. Using rocks gathered from local hillsides and Tujunga Wash, George Harris, "Nature Builder," designed and built Bolton Hall to harmonize with its natural setting between the Verdugo Hills and San Gabriel Mountains. Slightly arched windows hint of Spanish influence while inside a great fireplace resembles a natural precipice under which Indians might have built their fires. The fireplace mantel, carved from a single Eucalyptus tree trunk, carries the inscription – “To the Spiritual Life of the Soil.”
The Clubhouse, as it was first known, was dedicated in August of 1913 and immediately became the hub for all community activities - town meetings, church services, socials and dances. The first public library in the San Fernando Valley was in Burbank; the second in newly opened Bolton Hall; the third in Sunland six months later. One might reasonably assume the name "Bolton Hall" was chosen to honor some local hero named Bolton. However, Smythe managed to honor his friend, the author Bolton Hall (whose writings concerning land development had inspired Smythe), and to perpetuate a harmless pun. A variety of factors contributed to the demise of the Little Landers movement - an economic recession, World War I and a growing cynicism about the "ideal life" which failed to bring financial gains. By 1920 the idea of the colony had waned and the Little Landers colony failed to complete its purchase of Bolton Hall from developer Hartranft.
However, following WWI, the American Legion purchased the building and Bolton Hall continued to serve the community. Encouraged by a steady influx of new residents, town leaders sought and gained incorporation for Tujunga in 1925. This centrally located building made an ideal Tujunga City Hall. It was rented for a number of years and eventually purchased for $15,000. All city business was transacted here, and with the acquisition from Glendale of two iron cells for the nominal sum of $1.00, one of several added rooms became the town jail. Following the annexation to Los Angeles in 1932, Bolton Hall housed Los Angeles' Department of Building and Safety as well as its Health Department. During WWII, the building served as a repository of 25,000 emergency survival kits in the event of evacuations due to wartime threats to the West Coast.
The city eventually built a new municipal building on Foothill Boulevard and the old stone structure was boarded up in 1957. The bell was moved from the tower where it had rung out the calls for school, church and disasters. It was to hang in the Travel Town’s Little Red Schoolhouse, then under construction in Griffith Park. While Bolton Hall turned its brooding face on Commerce Avenue for the following twenty years, a struggle began: first, just to save the building from demolition, and later, to see it restored and put to use for the benefit of both Tujunga and Sunland residents. In their growth the two small towns had met and come to consider themselves one community. In 1959 when the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks proposed demolishing the building to use the land for a children’s park, a number of local citizens joined to form the Little Landers Historical Society. The ten-year battle for Bolton Hall had begun.
In April 1960 Assemblyman Tom Bane introduced a resolution in the California Legislature concerning historic site tatus. Los Angeles moved more quickly; Bolton Hall was declared City Historical Monument number two in 1962 (the Leonis Adobe in Calabasas is number one). Nevertheless, until April 1967 when Councilman Louis Nowell presented the official plaque, the old hall's fate remained uncertain. TheDepartment of Recreation and Parks held a permit to demolish Bolton Hall, but the Little Landers, with the assistance from other civic organizations, gained one extension after another for "further study." In 1972, the City of Los Angeles granted permission for architectural studies to determine restoration and renovation needs and subsequently gave a go ahead for the project in 1976. Coincidently, two small parcels adjacent to the property were obtained by the City making it possible for the children’s park to be developed as well.
Starr Von Fluss, charter member and past president of the Little Landers served as campaign chairman to raise funds for the restoration. Roberta Stewart, who served as Little Landers President from 1966-1979, powered the drive and eventually funds raised by Little Landers were matched from a federally funded city program, assuring restoration. In anticipation of saving Bolton Hall, Roberta Stewart and other Little Landers had been collecting historical documents and memorabilia from the Rancho Tujunga area ever since 1959, storing those items in their homes and garages.
While the structure itself was sound, architectural studies of the interior and roof found many changes necessary to bring the hall up to Building and Safety standards. By the time renovation started, ten years passed and inflation had taken its toll of the original 1967 estimates.
Councilman Robert Ronka, apprised of the situation by Little Landers president Mel Carlson, petitioned the city for additional funds. The funds were subsequently granted. Work began in February 1980, and Bolton Hall celebrated its official opening as a Museum in December of that year. The interior of the building was kept as near to the original as possible, while some adjustments were made to meet prevailing needs. Completed facilities consisted of two offices - one for Little Landers and the other for the Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce. There was, and still is, a large combination meeting room and museum, a research library, a kitchen and rest room. The original 1980 live-in caretaker’s quarters have been converted to museum archival and other storage uses, and the Chamber of Commerce office is now the Bolton Hall Museum Gift Shop.
Artifacts, photographs, documents and memorabilia of Sunland-Tujunga and the foothill area have been collected, preserved, housed and are displayed in Bolton Hall. Permanent exhibits range historically from the Gabrieleno Indian village through the Mission and Mexican land grant periods to the development of Sunland-Tujunga and surrounding communities right up to current times. A new temporary exhibit displaying information about a specific subject or issue relevant to our area is installed every six months and other special short term exhibits are created and displayed from time-to-time.
In addition to interesting and educational displays, Bolton Hall houses an educational and research facility recognized world-wide as a source for historical information about Sunland-Tujunga and surrounding communities. In addition, the selection of historical publications available through Bolton Hall Museum’s gift shop are not displayed together anywhere else.
The Bolton Hall building is owned by the City of Los Angeles and is located in Little Landers Park on the corner of Commerce Avenue and Valmont in Tujunga. Little Landers Historical Society is the sole occupant of the building and operates and manages Bolton Hall Museum under contract with the City.
The Museum is open to the public on Tuesday and Sunday afternoons and entrance is free. Free public programs on subjects of historical interest are conducted on the second Saturday of most months and everyone is welcome.
12/2012 Edited & Revised copy of document originally written by Jane Boales of Little Landers Historical Society in March, 1981 for the California Historian.