Verdugo Views: Early charity for elderly helped grow Twelve Oaks
A sketch of Stern Hall, which was built in memory of True Aiken Stern and dedicated at Twelve Oaks in La Crescenta in 1964.
By 1963, some 20 years after they were founded, they had raised enough money to build that facility.
Surprisingly, instead, they presented their funds, more than $50,000, to the Verdugo Hills Sunshine Society, which was already operating Twelve Oaks Lodge at 2820 Sycamore Avenue in La Crescenta.
The money was given with the stipulation that it be used to build a new residence hall for needy elderly women, wrote Petty Preston, Women’s Editor, in the Glendale News-Press, Oct. 12, 1963.
During their fundraising phase, Preston explained, National Charity League leaders had realized that the Sunshine Society served a purpose almost identical to theirs; they decided to join efforts with that group rather than duplicate services.
Twelve Oaks had been established in 1935 after Effie Fifield turned her La Crescenta property over to the Sunshine Society to be used as a home for elderly men and women who could not afford to pay high fees.
The board of trustees of the Verdugo Hills Sunshine Society operated the Twelve Oaks retirement facility. At the time Charity League presented their gift, the board of trustees was headed by Harry M. Keller. Also on the board of trustees were Bernard Anawalt, Thomas Bonetto, Guy Carlton, John Craig, Lee Lawhead, Homer Martin and Lee Merritt. (Anawalt, Bonetto, Craig, Lawhead, Martin and Merritt had all served on the board of trustees since the society’s inception in 1935.)
Construction on the new building began immediately. It was to be called Stern Hall in memory of True Aiken Stern, a charter member of Charity League, and the person who initially inspired the project.
National Charity league assumed full cost of the building, Preston noted. The nine units were all reserved for women. Graham Latta was the architect and the general contractor was Sid Hansen.
In 1963 when the News-Press ran Preston’s story, social etiquette dictated that married women used their husband’s first name and that if a group of women were listed, the word Mesdames preceded the list. In that vein, here are the names of those who served on the NCL building committee: Mesdames Hal Anawalt, Merritt S. Dunlap, Karsten M. Ericksmoen, J. Lee Gregg, George Irving, Ray Kidd, Paul Martin, Dean Miller, Alden C. Waite and Harold Wescher.
Mrs. Max Eddy Utt chaired the committee and Mrs. G. G. Heswick was league president at the time.
Stern Hall was dedicated in May, 1964 and the Ledger, May 17, 1964, noted that NCL had donated $54,000 to fund the building, which was “equipped with ramps and all the modern facilities recommended for the aging.”
On hand to give guided tours at the dedication were NCL hostesses, Mesdames George Blech, Spencer Fleming, Frank Henry, Roy Hutchinon, Mrs. Ida Holtgreven and Mrs. Edna Miles. Mrs. Dean Miller was in charge of the dedication ceremonies. With the addition of the Stern building, Twelve Oak Lodge increased their capacity to serve 44 residents.
Twelve Oaks is now operated by be.group, founded in 1955 as Southern California Presbyterian Homes.
The 2009 Station Fire, which ravaged the San Gabriel mountains above La Crescenta, show just how extensively George Le Mesnager’s vineyards once covered their slopes. “Old irrigation pipes all around the property, revealed by the Station Fire, attest to their large operation,” according to Stuart Byles, director and winemaker of the Stonebarn Vineyard Conservancy at the old George Le Mesnager property. It is now Deukmejian Park.
Photos from the 1930s show large, planted areas extending well up into Dunsmore Canyon, he added. “Mesnager’s son, Louis Le Mesnager, told the Daily News in the 1980s, ‘Wherever there was a flat area, there were grapevines.’”