Bad Glendale

Jane Pojawa

How could there be anything bad about Glendale? Perhaps “bad” isn’t specific enough to describe our city’s at times salacious, racist, scandalous, murderous and criminal history. Since the days of the Rancho San Rafael land grant, Glendale has been a thriving community and now nearly 210,000 people call it city home. There were bound to be some bad apples in the barrel.

History is too often dismissed as being boring stuff that happened to people who are now dead. But using scandalous examples from the past sometimes brings the present into perspective. And it’s a real attention-getter. Hence the Bad Glendale Tour, which combines history, sightseeing and current events into a fun and educational day trip, even for long-time residents.

“Gary Keyes [an adjunct history/sociology professor] started this tour a few years ago, with his classes,” says Kerry Riley, formerly an ethnic studies professor at Glendale College and Director of Diversity in 2007 and 2008.

“I have to give him credit for coming up with a great idea. When I started giving the Bad Glendale Tour, I didn’t want to use all the same locations, which were mainly in La Crescenta, and I wanted to highlight the ethnic studies aspect of Glendale’s history, so the tour has really changed considerably over the years. It’s very popular with my students and has even brought in faculty and administrators.” Students sometimes bring friends and family members along as well.

On this tour, approximately 30 people, mainly Riley’s students but also faculty members, carpooled to four locations – parking lot B, below the child development center, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, the Verdugo Hills Golf Course and Crescenta Valley Park in La Crescenta.

In 1798 Corporal Jose Maria Verdugo was granted Rancho San Rafael for his military service to the Spanish crown. But he wasn’t the first Glendale resident. There were two major Tongva villages, Hahamongna to the north and Mangna to the south, that may have preceded the first European contact for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and possibly another, called Haleameupet, at “La Zanja” or “The Ditch.” “La Zanja” became the home of Verdugo’s daughter Catalina. It is located just a few blocks away from campus that is still maintained by Glendale Parks and Recreation. The town of Glendale was founded in 1887 and it was incorporated as a city in 1906.

Riley starts the tour with a historical overview of Glendale’s early years, Spanish colonialism followed by American colonialism and then, outstretched arms sweeping the upper parking lot, describes a two-day Ku Klux Klan initiation ceremony that began on July 12, 1924 in which 300 “worthy aliens” were brought into the local klavern. The event began in the Verdugo Woodlands with a baseball game and barbecue and culminated with a cross burning in what is now Lot B, above the main campus.

There was no Glendale Community College in 1924; an earthquake destroyed the site of the old library that had housed the campus since 1927. The new college, which is now the administration building, was under construction in 1936, when the campus moved to an interim “tent city” at the Verdugo Road location. State law made student membership in “secret societies” cause for expulsion.

Klan membership was still enough of a campus problem that the Sept. 30, 1936 Galleon, soon to be renamed El Vaquero, warned students that their participation in such an organization would not be tolerated. “It is rumored that a certain group of freshman have organized into a semi-secret group that is known as the ‘Clansmen,’ ” stated the editorial. “Societies of this kind work against the best interests of the school and no loyal student should become affiliated with any such group.”

Pervasive racism occurred at the high school level as well. In a 1936 football game in which Glendale High was competing against Pasadena High for league championship, Jackie Robinson, later to become one of the outstanding figures in baseball, was targeted and viciously attacked by the Glendale team. His injuries were sufficient to require hospitalization, and the demoralized Pasadena team lost.

James W. Loewen, author of “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism,” recognized Glendale as being a “sundown town,” meaning that blacks were not allowed within city limits after dark. Loewen’s research indicates that this unofficial policy was brought about by zoning restrictions and bad behavior on the part of some individuals.

The census records bear this out. In 1920, when the population of Glendale totaled 13,536, there were only 22 black residents. By 1960, when Glendale’s population was 119,442, the number of black residents rose to 62. Fortunately, Glendale is no longer a sundown town. In 2000, Glendale’s population increased to 194,973 residents, and 2,468 of them were black.

As late as 1962, the Ku Klux Klan marched on Brand Boulevard with a horse brigade, marching band and burning cross.

Forest Lawn


Riley is a member of Hollywood Underground, an informal group that “collects” celebrity burial sites in the greater Los Angeles area, so the next stop was Forest Lawn, Glendale. He is so knowledgeable about cemeteries and celebrity interments, that several passing mourners joined the group for this leg of the tour. Riley uses the graves as talking points for the gradual integration of Hollywood, and reminded the tour that racial segregation of cemeteries continued into the 1960s.

“Forest Lawn was an innovator in the way mortuaries were run,” said Riley. “They were the first to offer one-stop shopping for cremations and burials, with all of the facilities in one place. They also accepted African-Americans.” To illustrate his point, he pointed out the final resting places of Sam Cooke, Nat “King” Cole, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dorothy Dandridge. Cole’s family buried him at Forest Lawn in 1965 when his body was refused by another cemetery.

The tile mural in the Court of Freedom served as a backdrop for discussion about the role of slavery in the founding of America, particularly the ambivalent stance of Thomas Jefferson. Quick sketches of various celebrities followed – Clayton Moore, best known as the Lone Ranger, represented the transition of Native Americans on the silver screen from bloodthirsty savages to loyal retainers, through his faithful sidekick Tonto, portrayed by Jay Silverheels. Errol Flynn, was suspected of being, at turns, bisexual, a pedophile and a Nazi spy. The bad and the good, celebrities and anonymous citizens all end up at Forest Lawn.

Also worthy of note: Walt Disney was unrepentantly anti-Semitic and had a propensity for treating his workers badly. A nearby grave, belonging to respected actor Spencer Tracy, an alcoholic adulterer in his private life, was a talking point to address the issue of interracial marriage. Tracy, whose personal life may have been “bad,” or at least morally questionable, finds redemption in Riley’s tour. His last role as the father in Stanley Kramer’s landmark “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” puts him at the cutting edge of ’60s liberalism.

In the movie, costar Sidney Poitier marries Tracy’s daughter, striking a blow against marriage discrimination. California’s anti-miscegenation laws were struck down in 1947’s Perez vs. Sharp, but nationally, the Supreme Court decision Loving vs. Virginia demolished the last anti-miscegenation laws. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” appeared in movie theaters across America shortly in advance of that landmark decision.

“Bad” people may be buried here in Glendale, but their examples may serve as cautionary tales as well. To put a simplistic point on it, “good” people may do “bad” things and vice versa. Using the graves of famous people as examples, Riley demonstrated that these social values change over time. The privacy of grieving families and respect for the deceased characterize Forest Lawn’s commitment to its clients. “Grave hunting” is not encouraged and “lookie-loos” will be asked to leave. Departing from the tour, Glendale students may not be aware of some other incidents in our city’s somewhat checkered past.

Efren Saldivar


Leaving the tour for a bit, Glendale has some other bad apples to account for. One person responsible for sending several people to early graves in 1996 and 1997 was Efren Saldivar, a respiratory therapist at Glendale Adventist Hospital.

Prosecutors hold that Saldivar injected seven elderly patients with Pavulon, a drug used to paralyze a patient before the insertion of an endotracheal tube to facilitate artificial respiration. If mechanical respiration does not begin immediately, the patient, unable to breathe, dies. The tour did not include a stop at Glendale Adventist Hospital, but that location must be a place of horror for many in Glendale.

Saldivar’s six known victims include Jose Alfaro, 82; Salbi Asatryan, 75; Myrtle Brower, 84; Balbino Castro, 87; Luina Schidlowski, 87; and Eleanora Schlegel, 77. The real death toll may be much higher. Saldivar told police in 1998 that he contributed to the deaths of 100 to 200 critically ill patients and actively killed as many as 50 others directly or by withholding medical treatment, but he kept changing his story and despite the exhumation of 20 bodies, the evidence was inconclusive. Saldivar is serving a life sentence for his crimes.

Serial Killers


Other serial murders of note are the Hillside Stranglers, Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi. Instead of preying on critically ill senior citizens with “do not resuscitate” orders, these Glendale-based cousins kidnapped, raped, tortured, and killed 10 women and girls over a four-month period from 1977 to 1978. The final victim in Los Angeles, Cindy Lee Hudspeth, was a Glendale Community College student.

Hudspeth, 20, was kidnapped in the late afternoon on Feb. 16, 1978 somewhere between her apartment building at 800 East Garfield Ave. and Glendale High School, where she answered phones at night. Bianchi lived in the area, and she may have recognized him as a neighbor, letting her guard down. A friend, Raymond Watt, was quoted in an obituary in the El Vaquero. “Cindy was very concerned about the strangler and took a lot of precautions.. I want people to be aware that the same thing could happen to them. This one should never have died.”

Buono, the other murderer, owned an auto upholstery shop at 703 E. Colorado St. Hudspeth was raped and strangled and found naked, locked in the trunk of her orange Datsun, which had been pushed into a ravine off Angeles Crest Highway. In 2002, Buono died of a heart attack in jail and Bianchi is serving his life sentence at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Wash.

Glendale also had a brush with the “Night Stalker,” Richard Ramirez, who terrorized Los Angeles in 1984 and 1985. Glendale residents Lela and Max Kneiding, both 66, were shot with a .22 pistol and mutilated with a machete on July 20, 1985 during a home invasion robbery. On Sept. 20, 1989, Ramírez was found guilty of 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries. He remains on death row at California’s San Quentin State Prison.

Gang Violence


Another Glendale student, Teresa Soto del Rio, 20, was shot by a pedestrian as she drove with some friends in Hollywood. On the evening of June 6, 1999 the bullet tore through the passenger-side car door and hit her abdomen. A few hours later, despite valiant efforts to save her, she died.

A suspect, “Loonie” Roberto Franklin Ramirez of the La Mirada Locos Gang, was arrested in Las Vegas when his car was discovered in the parking lot of the Thunderbird Hotel. His girlfriend, an exotic dancer named Nikki Shamdasani, aka D.J. Lady Tribe, also surrendered. Ramirez was extradited to Los Angeles on suspicion of several murders, but never convicted. Teresa Soto del Rio’s murder remains unsolved.

Brittani Idom, the18-year-old captain of Glendale’s Cheer Squad, was shot in the head on July 6, 2007 as she drove away from a nightclub near Crenshaw and Washington in South Central Los Angeles. Her murder remains unsolved.

Juan M. Alvarez


Juan M. Alvarez took a different approach to murder. He soaked a sports utility vehicle with gasoline and parked it on the Metrolink tracks on the morning of Jan. 26, 2005. A commuter train struck the SUV, caught fire and rammed another train, killing 11 people and injuring 180. Alvarez was sentenced to life in prison.

Mardiros Iskenderian


Murderers don’t always come from “outside.” Mardiros, 56, son of Vartkes Iskenderian, founder of the Zankou Chicken restaurant chain, shot and killed his sister, Dzovig Marjik, 45, and his mother Marjarit Iskenderian, 75, on Jan. 14, 2003 during a heated argument at the family home in the 3400 block of Ayars Canyon Way, near the Oakmont Country Club, before turning the gun on himself.

Iskenderian, apparently suffering from a metastasized colon cancer which spread to his brain, got into a screaming fight with his sister, pulled a gun and shot her in the face, then shot his mother in the back as she ran for the door.

The Iskenderian/Marjik family is very well-known in the community, partially because of the success of the Zankou Chicken franchise, which includes six locations, and Vartan Marjik’s (Dzovig’s husband) auto body shop. They were affluent and popular, known for charitable contributions.

Mardiros Iskenderian and his wife Rita owned a house in the 100 block of Aspen Oak Lane.
Glendale police Sergeant Kirk Palmer stated at the time that “this was a culmination of family tensions. We have been unable to find any other motive.” In the aftermath, Mardiros’ widow, Rita Iskenderian, took over the business, and raised their four sons. Then-State Sen. Jack Scott, D-Glendale, honored Rita by choosing Zankou Chicken for the 21st Senate District’s 2006 Small Business Award.

Tuna Canyon Detention Center


Back on the tour, Kerry is standing in front of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, once the site of a Japanese Internment Camp. This facility was a processing center during World War II. In 1942, 110,000 people of Japanese descent living along the West Coast were stripped of their possessions and property, sent to holding areas at the Santa Anita racetrack and the Pomona Fairgrounds and were eventually shipped to Manzanar and Tule Lake War Relocation Camps.

The Tuna Canyon Detention Center was originally built as a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp in the 1930s. The Immigration and Natural Service opened the Detention Station as a clearing-house for “male enemy aliens” on the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 8, 1941 and processed the first Japanese detainees just one week later, on Dec. 16, 1941. By Christmas, there were 100 men incarcerated at the facility.

Not only Japanese men were affected by these arrests and incarcerations, although they were the vast majority. Documents pertaining to the Tuna Canyon Detention Center housed by the National Archives in Laguna Niguel indicate the national breakdown of the detainees as: Japanese, 2,316; German, 131; Italian, 99; Austrian, 2; French, 2; Polish, 1; Ukrainian, 1; Russian, 1; Dutch, 1; Unknown, 8. Commander M.H. Scott reported that by May 1942 his facility had detained and processed 1,490 Japanese males and transferred them in groups of up to 300 as far away as Fort Missoula, Mo., Fort Lincoln, N.D., and Santa Fe, N.M.

At its peak, the fenced site, now the golf course’s driving range, featured seven barracks, which included four dormitories with bunk beds, a library, recreation room, workshop, barber shop, tool house, two auto repair shops, blacksmith shop, and a shower room, and also an infirmary, mess hall, administration building and office building. It is estimated that The Tuna Camp could house 300 people at a time, and from 1941 to 1943 nearly 3,000 Japanese were held prisoner there. Two-thirds of them were U.S. citizens.

Kerry is quick to point out that the prejudice against Asian-Americans did not begin in 1942, and the roots of America’s concentration camps went way back to the turn of the 20th century.

Perhaps most surprising is the role played by two of America’s liberal icons. In 1942, Earl Warren, then the Attorney General of California, began his efforts to persuade the federal government to remove all people of Japanese heritage from the West Coast. Elected governor of California on Nov. 3, 1942, his victory may have been sealed by popular support for the Japanese Internments. Warren would later become the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and champion such civil rights decisions as “Miranda v. Arizona” (1966), which compels police officers to inform suspects of their constitutional rights and “Brown v. Board of Education,” (1954) which ended segregation in schools.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is best remembered for his “New Deal” to end the Depression, and yet he authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066, which legalized the entire operation. Riley also pointed out that the internments did not end at America’s borders and another 7,000 Peruvians of Japanese descent were also deported to serve in internment camps in the United States.

Nazis in the Park


“I spent a lot of time at the library,” laughs Riley, describing how he compiled the information for his class handout and the tour. “Gary [Keyes] taught at La Crescenta for years and has some great stuff on moonshiners in the Whiting Woods, speakeasies, and prostitutes. I wanted to bring in more recent ‘Bad Glendale’ events, the cemetery and the ethnic studies aspect. I usually end the tour at Crescenta Valley Park.”

According to Keyes, Whiting Woods housed a facility called variously the Pasadena Gun Club or the Pasadena Mountain Club which was really more of a “gentleman’s club” in the sense that the only women allowed in were prostitutes. When it was busted for the last time in 1915, Perry Whiting bought the property and reopened it as a roadhouse, when alcohol was legal, and speakeasy after 1920, when it was not. The “contribution” of Whiting during Prohibition was considerable, with stills dotting the Verdugo Woodlands, but Glendale must not discount the role of the local Nazis in the decade that followed.

At one time, Crescenta Valley Park was called Hindenburg Park, a private park owned by the German-American League, a group that promoted German culture. That might not have been such a bad thing, were it not for Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. This came to an abrupt end with the advent of WWII, when the city struggled to distance itself from the bund picnics that had characterized the 1930s. No more oompah bands and swastika flags. No more “biermadchen” [beer maidens]. No more entertainment for visiting Nazi dignitaries. No more recruitment rallies, which in 1936 brought more than 2,000 people to the park, drawn from all over Southern California.

There is an unconfirmed story that firearms were stored in the base of a bust of Paul von Hindenburg, president of the Weimar Republic. After being vandalized repeatedly during WWII, the statue was removed in 1956. Eventually, Los Angeles County purchased the 15-acre site from the German-American League for $91,000 and added the acreage to Crescenta Valley Park.

Hate Groups

The Neo-Nazis of 1959 had more in common with the Ku Klux Klan than with the German nationalists of the late 1930s. In 1964, Glendale was selected by George Lincoln Rockwell to be the West Coast headquarters of the American Nazi Party.

“It a white man’s town,” he said when asked about this choice. Its offices, in the 900 block of E. Colorado Blvd., remained open until the early 1980s. Rockwell, a former US Navy Commander, changed the name of his organization to the National Socialist White People’s Party shortly before he was murdered by an expelled member in 1967.

The Ku Klux Klan still retained a local presence through the 1960s, desipite being officially forbidden. Reverend William V. Fowler [b.1938], who at the time lived at 3430 Mayfield Ave. in La Crescenta, was the self-styled state chairman of the California Committee of the K.K.K. (his position in the Klan heirarchy was officially “Cyclops”) and author of the informative brochure “Ideals of the Ku Klux Klan.” He advocated for the homeowner’s “right” to not sell or rent to minorities.

The Ku Klux Klan was outlawed in California in 1946, largely due to the vigillence of State Attorney General Robert Walker Kenny, but in September 1966, following the “gigantic cross burning” Fowler planned in Soledad Canyon and a demonstration in Panorama City, Superior Court Judge Paul H. Nutter rejected the petition of Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch to enjoin reactivation of the klan.

Nutter opposed Lynch saying “People have a constitutional right to be stupid, and if they want to put sheets over their head and act like little children, they have that right. I am not condoning or approving that organization’s policies, but I feel that I can’t interfere.”

Fowler continued to be a law enforcement headache throughout 1966 and ’67, and appeared to have major plans to expand his sphere of influence. On June 13, 1967 three young men from Santa Ana were pulled over for speeding near Pecos, Texas. A search of the car turned up an arsenel of rifles, pistols, machine guns and 4,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as a letter from La Crescenta which read, in part, “It is the plan of the California Knights to hold a meeting soon with members of the Minutemen and the American Nazi Party so that we may prepare for the struggles ahead. In Christ’s name, William V. Fowler.”

How Bad is Bad?


Is Glendale really bad? Of course not. Using local examples to illuminate national trends is the function of historical research, and the sooner we, as a culture, come to terms with our mistakes and move past them the better.

At the time the Ku Klux Klan was holding a cross burning in the San Rafael Hills, the national membership was at an all-time high, possibly as many as 4 million men, and one participant stated that “several hundred boiling motors and several thousand puffing humans arrived a top a knoll where white-hooded klavaliers herded them into place” on that fateful evening.

During the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930s through 1960s, the whole nation was coming to terms with the fact that what was presented as entertainment didn’t bear much resemblance to the messy and confusing reality of daily life. Then as now, the real lives of celebrities can be very disappointing to the fans who idolize them.

We’ve come so far culturally that Spencer Tracy’s role in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” can now be played by an African American, Bernie Mac, who disapproves of his daughter marrying a Caucasian played by Ashton Kutcher. Perhaps in time, Lindsay Lohan’s grave will be a sad reminder of the prevalent attitudes toward drug addiction and insanity, of the pressures faced by child actors, eating disorders and sexual obsessions in the early 21st century.

The tragic murders of Cindy Hudspeth, Teresa Soto del Rio, and Brittani Idom remind us of the dangers still faced by young women striving for independence and also of the rise in gang-related violence. Efren Saldivar and Juan Alvarez were troubled individuals who victimized defenseless strangers. Mardiros Iskenderian was sick, mentally and physically, and his example demonstrates that domestic violence strikes all ethnic groups and income levels.

The Japanese Internment Camps and Nazi rallies of Glendale’s past remind us that we must never mistake racism for patriotism – as important in 2010 with Arizona Senate Bill 1070’s racial profiling of Latinos as it was in the 1940s with Executive Order 9066’s racial profiling of Asian Americans.

Unfortunately, Bad Glendale tours may now be a thing of the past. In the fall, Kerry Riley, nominee for 2010’s Teacher of the Year, will no longer be a member of the Glendale Community College faculty. He will be working on his doctoral thesis “Hollywood and Diversity” at UC Berkeley.

1936 Nazi Rallies in Hindenburg Park from the film “Rancho La Canada”