C’mon. Hop up in that saddle and let’s go mosey into simpler times...
(PHOTO CAPTION: This week in 1987, the larger-than-life director, John Huston, was in town, filming a movie in a Rye Canyon warehouse. Huston was in his decline and was in a wheelchair and had to breathe through an oxygen mask. Huston had looked into renting the home of carpet mogul Bill Wicall, but instead decided to commute to his Beverly Hills apartment. Huston had another distant connection with the SCV. When Signal publisher and San Francisco Chronicle editor Scott Newhall staged a camel race in Virginia City years earlier, it was Huston who won the race. It was his first time up on a camel, too.)
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
• Happy birthday to my pal and mentor, Scott Newhall. The firebrand editor/publisher was born on Jan. 20, 1914, in San Francisco.
• We’ve long been home to a rich mining history. But one of the most unusual items “mined” in the valley was Joshua trees. The Atlantic and Pacific Fibre Company of London was run by Los Angeles attorney J.A. Graves. He acquired thousands of acres in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. Under Graves’ order, they mowed down thousands of the California trees to make — sorry — newspulp. A crew of Chinese laborers worked to cut the trees into two-foot lengths and then hauled them to a plant in Ravenna (a 19th century thriving community of about 1,000 souls located between Acton and Agua Dulce). The Joshuas were also called “Monkey Trees” then because monkeys would have trouble climbing them. I know. You’d think they’d call them Anti-Monkey Trees. The big flood of 1886 wiped out the Ravenna factory.
• It’s still open for business today. Back on Jan. 18, 1899, Martin and Richard Wood purchased the old Tolefree’s Eating House. They renamed it, “The Saugus Cafe.”
• He was called a “dried up withered old prune” by a competitor. But Antonio del Valle was a happy camper. On Jan. 22, the governor of Alta California (we were the property of Mexico back then) deeded Tony the entire Santa Clarita Valley in exchange for some back wages. Nice settlement.
JANUARY 19, 1927
• Folks were kidding the SCV’s most famous politician. Henry Clay Needham, who ran for governor, senator and president, several times, and lost, rented out his ranch off present-day southern Sierra Highway. A movie company built not just a set, but a complete school house, for a film shoot.
• At the other end of the valley, “Fat” Jones lost his hay barn to fire. Lucky the winds were silent. The barn was in the middle of a Western town set with the neighboring buildings just a few feet away.
• More movie biz and this time, it included us. The Signal, back when it was on the main drag in Newhall, was used for a movie location. The “editor,” according to the REAL editor A.B. Thatcher, was: “short fat and lacking one tooth. I think I’ll have them put this on, stating that the real editor is long, thin and hasn’t had a tooth in his head for this many a year.”
• The Signal came out in favor of banning the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Wrote Dad Thatcher:
“Evolution is only a theory, and can never be conclusively proved, and this should be its status in the schools. Educators who build upon it, and claim to give accurate knowledge of the origin of man, or of anything else from that standpoint, are unfitted for their work. If teachers cannot refrain from going into the realms of fancy and conjecture for a basis for education it is meet and fitting that some restraint should be placed as to what they teach as to the result of these fanciful excursions.”
JANUARY 19, 1937
• Long before the term “Global Warming” became an everyday phrase, The Signal predicted that the climate would be changing. “The climate of Southern California will undergo a gradual change for the next 10 or 12 years. The witness will be much colder, storms more frequent and violent with occasional snow. The summers will be much hotter and humid with frequent thunderstorms and rain. How come?” The Signal blamed the construction of the Boulder Dam, citing that all that water and the sun evaporating it would affect us greatly. Darn thing was, the prediction turned out to be accurate. In the next dozen years, we had colder, wetter winters with epic storms and the summers were hotter. Strange.
• Pipes were frozen and one local from upper Bouquet noted: “If this weather keeps up you won’t find a stick of wood in all Southern California. You can sit in front of the fireplace until your shoe leather curls up and your back can be frozen off your front.”
JANUARY 19, 1947
• Credit the long-defunct Herald Express. In a series of editorials, the downtown L.A. daily advocated that the State Division of Parks & Beaches buy the land in Placerita Canyon to make a state park to honor the first discovery of gold in California, back in 1842. Ironically, Placerita wasn’t the first spot (there was extensive mining in San Francisquito in the 1820s and the fabled Lost Padre Mine north of Castaic in the 1790s). Not everyone was in favor of making the place a park. Lloyd Earl, who ran the ranch next door to Placerita, spoke before the Board of Supervisors to protest the deeding, claiming if they put a park there, it would create a fire hazard and “Natural necking ground.”
• Icon and silent film star William S. Hart died about six months earlier. It took that long to begin to unravel how much his estate was worth. Hart had left his ranch and mansion to the county so they could build a park. Hart’s son, Bill Jr., and Hart’s ex-wife, Winnifred Westover, would later contest the will in a decade-long court battle. Hart’s estate was worth a little over $1 million, which was a lot of cash in 1947 money.
• The lows this week in downtown Newhall averaged in the mid-20s and down into the teens in the upper canyons.
• The CHP didn’t know whether to congratulate Jim Kloppenburg of Twin Falls or shoot him. Somehow, the teamster managed to run his truck all the way from Idaho to Castaic with a 22-ton overload. Worse, they ticketed Kloppenburg for doing more than 70 mph coming down old Highway 99. His rig was carting 60 tons — the biggest in SCV history to that date. Sixty tons, by the way, is more than freight train cars carry. Kloppenburg got the book thrown at him with a $150 fine and he had to serve five days of a 15-day fine.
• You just don’t get this kind of small town slice of life anymore in the SCV. On this date, farmer John Kohler went up and down the main drag, showing everyone an egg from the morning delivery. The chicken egg was nearly perfectly round and 8-inches in diameter. (The chicken must have had to rest with its feet up in a recliner after that.) It weighed about a half-pound.
• Despite the freezing temperatures, about 2,500 hearty souls braved the cold air to attend the Castaic Rodeo at the Saddle Club (which is now under the lake). Andy and Bob Jauregui, both nationally renowned rodeo artists, took several ribbons from the event.
JANUARY 19, 1957
• It shouldn’t be that hard to believe that we had badgers here. After all. “Tejon” means badger. A half-century back, Hasley Canyon rancher Earl Thompson was out to exterminate the grumpy predator. Seems a foraging badger with a taste for his game birds had been cleaning out Thompson’s stock of pet game birds, including 20 pheasants. Which, on the bright side, is having the badger eat 20 peasants...
• A wood-burning stove was the cause of a ranch house fire up Hume Canyon. The entire 3-room cabin went up in flames. Hume Canyon, by the way, used to be next door to Plum Canyon. Might still be on some maps...
JANUARY 19, 1967
• The road to hell is not only paved with good intentions, it’s also hot. Ernest Smith had many, many dogs in his Canyon Country home. One cold morning, he was heating up some fat to pour over the dog food of his Great Dane when another dog captured his attention. The sizzling fat caused a spark, which caught his kitchen on fire, which burned down the house, which left Ernie and 50 dogs homeless. Oh. And also a pet raccoon.
• Here’s some trivia for you. Who was the only man to be principal of two high schools in the SCV? That’d be Gene Hartley. He was unanimously appointed by the board to head both Hart and the under-construction Canyon.
• Long before roadside bombing became part of our lexicon, a Placerita Canyon youth was arrested for setting off a series of homemade bombs in the Newhall Bowl’s men’s room. The youth used more than a pound of black powder in the ordnance. Had anyone been in the men’s room when the bomb went off, they would have been killed, said authorities.
JANUARY 19, 1977
• Rimon Asmar’s interpretation of the law was a bit off. The recently divorced Newhall man came home to find his ex-wife, her mother and her two aunts in his home. She had dropped by to pick up her things. Asmar said that because they were in his home without his permission, he could legally kill them. Chasing them out of the house with a butcher’s knife, he picked up an empty flower pot and chucked it as his retreating mother-in-law, hitting her in the back of the head. One of the broken pieces hit his ex, leaving a large gash in her leg.
• This goes into the archives as one of the better lower-case Dumb Criminal exploits. A biker went into the Valencia Courthouse to pay a traffic ticket. He left his chopper in a handicapped parking zone and was immediately spotted by a sheriff’s deputy. While writing up a parking ticket, the dep noticed the biker had filed off the serial number. When the motorcyclist came out of the courthouse, his bike was impounded and he was carted off to jail.
• Oddly enough, one of the cans of gasoline added to the fuel to start local government was over spelling. Well. Misspelling. Folks were complaining that L.A. County ignored pleas by residents to spell street name signs correctly. Added to the list were the new avenues of “Sicamore” and “Wistaria.” (Before you send in letters, the accepted nomenclature is “Wisteria.”)
• A local man was charged with practicing dentistry without a license. Gary Thompson offered to sell dentures directly to the public, at low, low prices. Heck. I could, too, but they’d be those wax Halloween vampire mouthpieces and I couldn’t guarantee structural integrity after six hours...
• Remember the movie, “The Car?” Of course you don’t. It was horrible. But, the custom vehicle, which runs amok in a small town (the SCV) was rolling around the valley during the filming. James Brolin, Mr. Barbra Streisand, was the star.
JANUARY 19, 1987
• Guess the inmates maybe didn’t want to do yardwork. On this date, a discarded cigarette lit up an old wooden toolshed at Wayside Honor Rancho.
• As the old saying goes: “for the want of a nail... a kingdom was lost.” For the lack of a joint, a neighborhood was flooded. A fitting on a 16-inch water main busted, flooding a Canyon Country neighborhood. Two huge water tanks, holding 5 million gallons, sent a torrent of mud, water and debris into the Kimbrough and Arcay area. One house was under 5 feet of goop.
• The CHP’s four new stealth high-speed freeway cruisers, painted in light pastel colors to avoid detection, might as well have been painted lemon yellow. All of the new cruisers were out of service for months after the first day on the job.
• On this date, Creekside Road opened up onto McBean Parkway. Up to this point, the highway housing car dealerships and The Signal had been a cul-de-sac.
Come back and visit next week here under the warming glow of your SCV Beacon. I’ll be waiting with another thrilling trailride into the yesteryears and history of this wonderful Santa Clarita. Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!
(SCV Historian John Boston also writes The John Boston Report blog for your SCV Beacon. Don’t forget to check out his national humor, entertainment & swashbuckling commentary website — http://www.johnbostonchronicles.com/ —you’ll be smiling for a week…) — © 2017 by John Boston. All rights reserved.
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