Keep criminals out of our Angeles National Forest

Make our forest a park; criminals, keep out

¬†Give us your murderers, arsonists, your body dumpers, your candle- burning and chicken-sacrificing cultists, your transients, your pot growers, your illegal barbecue lighters, hordes of litterers …

That crazy talk might as well be inscribed on the entrances to the Angeles National Forest.

Better still, just stretch yellow crime scene tape around the whole 677,000 acres and be done with it.

The forest has become a playground for criminals, evildoers who seemingly arise out of an Elmore Leonard novel. It’s the go-to place to dump a body, commit a crime, grow acres of marijuana, sacrifice a few chickens for the gods, light some candles or illegal campfires and burn the place down or just trash the place with beer cans and diapers.

Just Wednesday, the coroner and homicide detectives were probing a shallow grave found in the forest near Sunland. No remains were found, but leading to the hole were drops of blood, burnt cloth and chicken bones. “Signs of a possible religious ritual,” said news reports.

No body, thank God. But remember, it was cultists with candles practicing animal sacrifice who started the massive Curve Fire in 2002 that destroyed 72 structures and burned 18,700 acres. Many forest lovers lost their cabins in that fire above Azusa. The forest forever changed when those responsible citizens who were the eyes and ears for a thinly staffed Forest Service were no longer there.

At that time, our paper reported¬†investigators were looking for “a satanic cult or a group of `witches’ that are regularly seen in the forest lighting candles and cutting off chicken heads.”

Don’t forget that the Station Fire, the largest fire in the history of the Angeles, established in 1892, was intentionally set by an arsonist on Aug. 26, 2009. The crime is murder, because two firefighters lost their lives fighting the massive blaze.

But who cares about most of the crooks in the hills, right? After all, this vast wild land surrounded by 18 million urban dwellers is, as advertised by the Forest Service itself, “The Land of Many Uses.”

Wrong. Many do care. Many fishermen, hikers and responsible off-roader groups care so much they pack out trash after each visit. Unfortunately, the vast Angeles National Forest suffers from an identity problem. Too many uses, too few watchers.

Rest assured that the good people of the Forest Service, who now work in a new modern headquarters off the 210 Freeway in Arcadia, agree that body dumpers, murderers, arsonists and cultists are not the kind of uses Teddy Roosevelt had in mind when he established the first protected forests in the United States.

But unfortunately, these evil folks just keep on going up there to commit crimes.

Former Star-News reporter Howard Breuer covered the case of the Pasadena pediatrician who strangled his lover with a Snoopy necktie in – you guessed it – the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Hillside Strangler dumped a body in the Angeles.

One Yelp commenter writes, “Is it just me or is the Angeles National Forest the epicenter for dumbass hikers or killers looking to dump bodies? I say shut it down and request id before entering.”

Cary C writes on an Internet site: “I had to go out there a couple of months ago for a site visit on one of my cases, and the stories the field personnel that live up there were telling me about the body dumping, etc., were scary and creepy.”

Criminals are soiling the reputation of my forest. A place I hike every chance I get for the solace it brings and for observing God’s living creation. John Muir described the Angeles as having a rugged beauty with unexpected meadows bursting with surprising flowers and breathtaking waterfalls. I understand Cary C’s passion, but that may not be the best solution. There is a movement underway by the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and San Gabriel Mountains Forever to bring in the National Park Service to create a National Recreation Area around most of the forest and the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers. The plan would augment the under-resourced Forest Service by adding additional recreation guides, experts and nature interpreters.

The place needs new signs and a new identity. More like Yellowstone or Yosemite. It needs to be a park.

Now is the time to open a dialog about re-claiming the forest for legitimate, peaceful uses.

Your ideas are welcome.

Historical resources are treasures

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A view into the Nelles facility in Whittier, where several historic buildings beyond the parking lot are in excellent condition.

I didn’t realize what treasures were buried in our first home in Monrovia until my wife and I tore the knotty pine paneling off the lath and plaster walls, ripped up the worn carpet exposing oak hardwood floors, and stripped three layers of mustard yellow paint from the living room fireplace’s Batchelder tiles.
Blue flamingos. That was the design the legendary artisan chose to create on that hearth in that house in that year, 1924.
When we sold the house in 1998, those arts and crafts amenities were what attracted the buyer, what sealed the deal.
During a tour of some Whittier living history last week, that story popped into my head as an object lesson with a moral: Historical resources have value.
Unfortunately, sometimes communities don’t realize this truth until the bulldozers have come and gone.
“The cities just need to open their eyes — a lot of these treasures lay buried in their own communities,” said Joe Garcia, a Monrovia city councilman and expert on historical preservation.
In Whittier, I was taken with the Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility which operated for more than 100 years but was closed in 2004. Now, the state is selling the property and the city hopes to develop it. A quick tour of two buildings that were in impeccable shape show numerous historic features — stone fireplaces, stained glass bay windows and doors with wrought iron accoutrements and leaded glass windows. The facility is listed as a state historic landmark.
An old Whittier Register newspaper from 1897 shows pictures of the facility as “Whittier Industrial School” where the boys learned industrial arts at the “Carpenter Shop,” the “Tailoring Dept.,” and the “Printing Office.” A picture at the “Blacksmith Shop” shows two boys pounding out horseshoes.
While much of the 75 acres will undoubtedly be developed with retail uses, I sure hope these buildings could be adaptively reused, perhaps as a senior housing village.
Also on the property are other buildings that could have historical significance, such as the chapel where the wayward boys went to services and an auditorium, as well as other residences.
Adaptive re-use is not easy to do. It takes out-of-the-box thinking and a developer/architect experienced with historic structures.
But many cities in our area have kept old commercial buildings or at least the facades and incorporated them into a redeveloped downtown. Old Pasadena and Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia are two excellent examples.
Monrovia’s Garcia, whom I remember wearing a top hat and knickers at Monrovia Old House Preservation Group’s home tour in the 1980s, helped write the city’s preservation ordinance, which to his surprise, was adopted. Preservation of Monrovia’s old homes and old commercial buildings have been an integral part of that city’s renaissance during the last 15 years.
“It is part of the Monrovia culture. People see this as part of a quality of life — along with having a nice library or preserving our hills,” Garcia told me.
San Dimas also has done a fantastic job in the preservation and restoration of the nationally registered San Dimas Mansion, known now as The Walker House.
Garcia said cities that have worked on keeping and adaptively reusing old buildings and homes are doing better during tough economic times. It is just another resource they can point to when marketing their city.

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