Scholl Canyon from Mountain Meadow to Landfill: the Political History of Figueroa Street’s Northern Terminus

More than 53 years after opening day and 36 years after the site was supposed to become a park, the Scholl Canyon Landfill apparently needs more room. The landfill has had a complicated history and I wonder what the original advocates and opponents would think about the current plans to expand.

The landfill’s creation pitted the cities of LA County against each other, resulted in the demolition of a number of homes and aggravated a long-standing dispute between county administrators and the city’s Department of Water and Power. Then, as now, the tension centered on the dump’s access road from Figueroa Street.

In a recent newsletter to his constituents, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the LA neighborhood closest to the dump, wrote,

“Though City of Los Angeles businesses and residents are not allowed access to the landfill, the only active entrance to the site is through Eagle Rock. This access point is adjacent to homes, schools, a major City park, and a historic cultural monument – all in the City of Los Angeles. As such, these City stakeholders bear a significant burden from the operation of the landfill, including trash and debris, pollution, traffic, and deteriorating road conditions in the area around the entrance to the landfill.” [i]

Councilman Huizar’s concerns about the negative effects of the landfill are well founded. They also strongly echo the misgivings of his political predecessors. In the late 1950s, Councilman John Holland and others fought bitterly against locating a road to the dump in LA (figure 1).

Figure 1: Los Angeles City Councilman John Holland (seated) in 1967 with aide Art Snyder who would later succeed him as the representative of the city’s 14th district.  Source: Los Angeles Public Library, Shades of L.A Photo Collection, 00002471

Figure 1: Los Angeles City Councilman John Holland (seated) in 1967 with aide Art Snyder who would later succeed him as the representative of the city’s 14th district. Source: Los Angeles Public Library, Shades of L.A Photo Collection, 00002471

Situated at the northern terminus of Figueroa Street, the Scholl Canyon Landfill was originally conceived as a “link” in Los Angeles County’s “chain of dumps.”[ii] According to its planners, the canyon was selected because it was “invisible from any roof-top of any home.” It was apparently “hemmed in by high, thick ridges” and existed as an “isolated mountain meadow.”[iii]

While the idea of a mountain meadow is romantically appealing, the site wasn’t exactly pristine. As early as 1915, the Southern California Edison power company had installed power lines and a massive substation in the canyon (figure 2). As a result of these and other large infrastructure projects, the area was largely inaccessible to the public.

Los Angeles County Supervisors announced their plans for the landfill in January 1958. The proposed 397-acre dump was projected to provide “45 million cubic yards of disposal capacity.”[iv] Much of the canyon was located within the City of Glendale and a deal was reached so that Los Angeles County would receive 20% of the tonnage charge while Glendale would collect the reminder.

As an inducement to adjacent communities, the initial plan for the landfill included the development of a full recreation area within 17 years.[v] According to county planners, ten acres of park space would be made available within six months. Two years later, “swimming and fly-casting pools, four baseball diamonds, track and football fields, archery ranges and picnic facilities” would be built on an additional 25 acres. In a third phase, 70 acres would be made available for a golf course. Finally, when the terrain had been completely “flattened,” planners envisioned more golf and an auto racetrack.[vi]

Figure 2: Eagle Rock Substation located in Scholl Canyon, 1917.  Source: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo Archives, Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives

Figure 2: Eagle Rock Substation located in Scholl Canyon. Source: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo Archives, Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives

Two access roads were initially proposed, one on the landfill’s northern border from Glenoaks Boulevard in Glendale and another from Figueroa Street in Los Angeles. However, the Glendale City Council quickly ruled that trash trucks would be prohibited from using Glenoaks Boulevard, leaving Figueroa Street as the only option (figure 4).[vii]

Trucks using Figueroa would be forced to pass through an established residential neighborhood and five homes would be demolished to accommodate the road. The LA City Planning Commission approved the road, but the City Council, who had the final say, was less enthusiastic. Fearing contamination of the near-by Eagle Rock reservoir, a major source of the city’s northeast water supply, the Los Angeles City Department of Water and Power also rejected the plan. [viii]

Los Angeles City Councilman John Holland was the most vocal opponent of the route, rightly pointing out that residents of LA should be given the same consideration as the residents of Glendale. On March 1959, he introduced a resolution to the council that was (almost) unanimously passed two months later insisting that if the “citizens of Glendale… are not willing to provide their own access that the project be abandoned.”[ix]

LA Mayor Norris Poulson urged support for the dump. In a letter to the council, Poulson suggested that the council had inadvertently created a “time-bomb” for the “vital public dumps program.”[x] He also suggested that the council’s actions might be misinterpreted and that they would be seen as the puppets of the “private rubbish monopoly” who resisted public control of waste disposal.

Dangling the promise of a park, Poulson reminded the citizens of LA that, “you don’t have to be a real estate expert to know that such a huge and centrally located piece of prime land would cost a fortune 20 years from now if it were not acquired and developed through the relatively cheap process of reclaiming a dump site.”[xi] Holland was not convinced, calling the park a “sop” meant to induce Eagle Rock residents to give up their anti-road challenge.[xii]

Figure 3: Map of the Figueroa Street access road which would bring hundreds of dump trucks through the Eagle Rock neighborhood. Source: Williams, Carlton, “Row Looms Over New Dump Site: Eagle Rock Lodges Protest Over Road to Glendale Area” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jan 11, 1960, pg. B6

Figure 3: Map of the Figueroa Street access road which would bring hundreds of dump trucks through the Eagle Rock neighborhood. Source: Williams, Carlton, “Row Looms Over New Dump Site: Eagle Rock Lodges Protest Over Road to Glendale Area” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jan 11, 1960, pg. B6

After many months of amendments, counter amendments and visits to the council by the mayors of Glendale, Pasadena and San Marino, the Los Angeles City Council approved the project in May 1960. The two dissenting votes came from Councilmen John Holland and Edward Roybal.[xiii]

The landfill opened in March 22, 1961. Twenty years later, a golf course was created. Unfortunately, the course was “plagued” with problems. The earth shifted unexpectedly and grass would not grow on top of the toxic soil. It closed eight years later after dangerous levels of methane were reported from the rotting garbage.[xiv]

Today, the landfill occupies approximately 535 acres, rather than the 397 originally proposed. The golf course was also eventually reopened. With the recently proposed expansion, the landfill is expected to reach capacity in 2040. [xv] Maybe then, all of the land will be converted to a park.

[i] “Will Glendale Landfill Expansion Dump Problems on Eagle Rock?” May 28, 2014 http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2014/05/will-glendale-landfill-expansion-dump-problems-on-eagle-rock/

[ii] Williams, Carlton, “Row Looms Over New Dump Site: Eagle Rock Lodges Protest Over Road to Glendale Area” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jan 11, 1960, pg. B6

[iii] “Park Slated for Scholl Canyon Site: County, Glendale Agree on Pact to Develop Dump Area”, Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Apr 30, 1959, pg. B3

[iv] Williams, Carlton, “Row Looms Over New Dump Site: Eagle Rock Lodges Protest Over Road to Glendale Area” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jan 11, 1960, pg. B6

[v] “Park Slated for Scholl Canyon Site: County, Glendale Agree on Pact to Develop Dump Area”, Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Apr 30, 1959, pg. B3; “The Irony of Scholl Canyon”, Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Mar 20, 1960, pg. B4

[vi] “Park Slated for Scholl Canyon Site: County, Glendale Agree on Pact to Develop Dump Area”, Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Apr 30, 1959, pg. B3

[vii] “Homes May Give Way to Dump Route: Scholl Canyon Job Said to Need Land in Residential Area” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jun 7, 1959, pg. GV1; “Street Use Ban on Trucks Sought: Holland Seeks to Keep Scholl Dump Loads Out of Eagle Rock” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jun 14, 1959, pg. GV1; Williams, Carlton, “Row Looms Over New Dump Site: Eagle Rock Lodges Protest Over Road to Glendale Area” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jan 11, 1960, pg. B6

[viii] Williams, Carlton “Row Looms Over New Dump Site: Eagle Rock Lodges Protest Over Road to Glendale Area” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jan 11, 1960, pg. B6

[ix] Minutes of the Los Angeles City Council, Wednesday, March 4, 1959. Available from the Los Angeles City Archives and Records Center, http://clerk.lacity.org/CityArchivesandRecordsCenter/OnlineResources/index.htm

[x] Minutes of the Los Angeles City Council, Wednesday, May 6, 1959. Available from the Los Angeles City Archives and Records Center, http://clerk.lacity.org/CityArchivesandRecordsCenter/OnlineResources/index.htm

[xi] Williams, Carlton, “Scholl Canyon Dump Decision Likely May 12”, Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Apr 27, 1960, pg. 4

[xii] “Scholl Dump Road May Take 5 Homes”, Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Apr 10, 1960, pg. GB1

[xiii] Minutes of the Los Angeles City Council, Tuesday, March 8, 1960 and Tuesday, May 12, 1960. Available from the Los Angeles City Archives and Records Center, http://clerk.lacity.org/CityArchivesandRecordsCenter/OnlineResources/index.htm; Williams, Carlton “Scholl Canyon Dump Site Assured by Council Vote: County Access Road Permit Approved 12-2”, Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), May 13, 1960, pg. B1

[xiv] Willman, Martha L. “18-Hole Golf Course to Be Rebuilt on Top of Scholl Canyon Landfill”, Los Angeles Times, Apr 11, 1993

[xv] City of Glendale, “Environmental Review, Scholl Canyon Landfill Expansion, Draft Environmental Impact Report, Section 1.0 Executive Summary” Available: http://www.glendaleca.gov/government/departments/community-development/planning-division/current-projects/environmental-review

3 comments

  1. Rachel Ruddock · · Reply

    I am the grand daughter of Agnes Scholl and John Ruddock. They grew up the in the canyon. They were upstanding citizens, people, and their life’s work saving the lives of other. And I want to save what was there dream. The hidden paradise of the city. It’s appalling that their paradise is now a trash dump. They would want good fhe community but they wanted it to be more as a wonderland of fun for kids and families to enjoy it’s amazing beauty. I will fight for something to change this. I will fight for their honor. If you are going to name this after my grandmother for trash. I will protest it’s name be changed because she would not want her legacy of her life to be on a landfill sign.

    1. Rachel, thank you so much for sharing your family’s history. The site is certainly worthy of more consideration.

    2. Russ Neff · · Reply

      Since the online information available about the history of the land seems scarce can you provide some of that history? Who were they? Where they came from and why and when they settled in Glendale. How the city acquired their land. Is there other information available from other sources?
      I have not seen anything on the City of Glendale website other than it was selected as a landfill site.
      Additionally, while you may not agree, eventually the property should cease to be a landfill. The land may keep and attract features such as parks and golf courses, schools etc. that possess the Scholl name.

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