Mary Forster in front of her home on Mountair Avenue in Tujunga. Her sons, accomplished stone masons, built several houses on Mountair.

Mary Forster in front of her home on Mountair Avenue in Tujunga. Her sons, accomplished stone masons, built several houses on Mountair. (Courtesy of Jeraldine Saunders)

In 1909, a Pennsylvania couple purchased a tract of land in Tujunga and made plans to bring their family west, but the man died before they could make the trip. After several years, his widow made her way here.

The couple, Christian and Mary Forster, of Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania, purchased a lot in the Little Lands colony area.

Once known as Glorietta Heights, it became part of a “back to the Earth” movement led by a man named William E. Smythe, who embraced the idea of families supporting themselves on one- or two-acre lots. The colony opened to residents in 1913.

Around the time Mary Forster arrived, the colony idea had waned due to a recession, World War I and doubts about a country way of life, according to a Bolton Hall Historical Museum website.

“My grandparents had planned to move here because he had bad lungs and they had heard it was a good place for people with bad lungs,” said Jeraldine Saunders, who grew up in Tujunga near her grandmother, Mary Forster. Saunders, a long-time Glendale resident, is well known as the creator of the television series, “The Love Boat.”

The Forster family included four sons, Jake, Edward, Joseph and Leo; and four daughters, Catherine, Marcella, Lillian and Mayme. Mary Forster kept a firm hand on her large family.

“My grandmother was a neat freak,” Saunders said. “Back in Pennsylvania they had to wash the windows — all 65 of them — every Saturday as the air was polluted by the nearby coal mines.”

The Forster’s lot on Cedar Street, on the slopes of the San Gabriels, was filled with rocks, as was the surrounding land. Following the example of their neighbors, her sons built her a house that incorporated some of those rocks. Many of her children lived in similar houses on the same street, which was later renamed Mountair Avenue.

“They had a special way of mixing the mortar,” Saunders said. “None of those houses ever had any troubles in any of the earthquakes.”

She recently had a conversation with a man while on an airport shuttle and discovered he lived in one of her family’s old houses. “He wanted to know how they mixed that concrete,” she said.

When Mary Forster realized there was no Catholic church in the area, she had an altar installed in the front room of her house and invited a Catholic priest to come and hold mass.

The first service, on October 17, 1920, was led by Father Giuseppe Tonello and marked the beginning of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, according to Mary Lou Pozzo’s book, “Founding Sisters — Life Stories of Tujunga’s Early Women Pioneers 1886-1926.”

Tonello, a native of Italy, was sent to the United States to work with immigrants. Health issues brought him to California in 1912. He settled in Silver Lake and his home became a gathering place for musicians and artists, according to Pozzo.

Services were held at the Forster home until the congregation grew too large, then they built a church on Manzanita Drive.

Mary Forster died in late 1924. She had been a significant presence in Tujunga and many came to pay their respects. “The parlor in her house was filled with flowers,” Saunders said.

Readers Write:

Harold E. and Febronia R. Ross wrote regarding the February 1, 2012 Verdugo Views column on sidewalk stamps. “We were interested to note that we have a stencil on a sidewalk block in our driveway on the Winchester Avenue side that reads E.L. Fleming, Contractor.

“Our home was built in 1939. According to residents of that time, Winchester was originally the runway for the Brand family residence, now known as the Brand Library. Your interesting article has prompted us to observe the old sidewalks of our area from now on as we take our walks.”

To the Readers:

Local author Sheila Farrell Murray has written a soon-to-be-published biography, “Love Boat Lady,” about Jeraldine Saunders, whose grandmother, Mary Forster, is profiled in today’s column.