Boy howdy, don’t mean to scare you, but we’ve got a rather spooky trail ride up ahead in the yesteryears of Santa Clarita.
Yes. We’ve got the obligatory movie stars, gee whiz facts and amazing sightings. But we’ve also got a grisly caravan of human remains passing through our valley.
And dope fiends.
And the bubonic plague.
And UFO’s in Saugus.
And a Jack the Ripper scare.
Scared? Don’t be. The horses pick it up and it spooks them...
(PHOTO CAPTION: Today, we hardly notice bank mergers. Seems like one giant cash company is always swallowing another. But here’s a little trivia. The very first bank merger in the SCV took place on March 1, 1927. The Bank of Italy on the corner of 8th and San Fernando Road ate up the Liberty Bank of America. A short while later, the Bank of Italy would change its name — to Bank of America (worth a modest $156 billion today). Few people realize this, but the local Bank of America is one of the valley’s oldest businesses. The Bank of Italy was founded in 1904 by Amadeo Pietro Giannini right before the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Giannini started loaning money to immigrants and the middle class, often on a handshake. Giannini help build the fledgling motion picture business, evening loaning money to Walt Disney to make Snow White. Back to Newhall — that B of A building from the 1920s is now a church.)
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
• With a few books and magazines, the Los Angeles County Library opened a branch in Woodard’s Ice Cream Parlour in Newhall on March 1, 1916. Christine Woodward was master chief, cook, bottle washer, ice cream scooper and the valley’s first librarian. In the next 10 years, the library would swell to about 500 titles, with about 200 of those being magazines. Signal editor, Blanche Brown, would take over as librarian.
• The population of Saugus rapidly increased. Where the north side of Magic Mountain Parkway is today (near where Farmer Nancy’s Christmas Tree Farm is today) there was an almost overnight construction boom in 1907. Reason? The flamboyant William Mulholland, the water wizard, was building the epic California Aqueduct.
Saugus had two of the 57 supply centers that stretched from Los Angeles to the Owens Valley. Down the road, near the present-day Bouquet-Valencia-Soledad junction, was a huge mule yard.
The aqueduct was an amazing project. It ran for over 225 miles.
Of course, the dollar bought a lot more back in those days. The bond issue that was passed to pay for the project was for just $23 million. That basically mean the project cost a rather stingy $100,000 per mile. It’s tough to get a long driveway paved today for that kind of money.
On Nov. 13, 1913, Mulholland, champing a cigar and carrying his patented gold-headed cane, opened a spigot on the hillside leading to Newhall Pass. A crowd of about 40,000 watched as the first water passed from the Owens Valley to the San Fernando Valley.
Earlier, in 1910, Mulholland purchased 235 acres in Hauser Canyon, in Agua Dulce. He started what was then called a “model” ranch where he raised various grains and cattle breeds. Also built was a 60-by-110-foot home, barn and various guest cottages and buildings, all out of “local rock and city cement.” Some of the who’s who of the early 20th century visited Mulholland. Alas, when the great St. Francis Dam he built in San Francisquito Canyon burst, killing some 500 people, Mulholland never got to retire to the bucolic life in the Santa Clarita Valley.
MARCH 2nd, 1927
• Today, we hardly notice bank mergers. Seems like one giant cash company is always swallowing another. But here’s a little trivia. The very first bank merger in the SCV took place on this date. The Bank of Italy on the corner of 8th and San Fernando Road ate up the Liberty Bank of America. A short while later, the Bank of Italy would change its name. Few people realize this, but the local Bank of America is one of the valley’s oldest businesses.
• I always get a slight shock going through some of the back issues of this paper. Prior to the mid-1930s, a popular icon of the day was an old Navajo sign — which, backwards, would later become the Nazi swastika. Old Bill Hart had to remove the Navajo logo from his sun porch atop the mansion.
• On Feb. 27th, 1927, “Cowboy” Bob Anderson and Roy Baker held the grand opening of The Baker Ranch. They hosted both thoroughbred and dog racing in that first season. Some of the best greyhounds and ponies in America raced here and folks came from all around to see the jockeys in their brightly colored silks race around what would later become the Saugus Speedway.
• My dad, Walt Cieplik, was an expert horseman. I’m going to dedicate the following SCV trivia to Pops. The very first thoroughbred horse race held in the SCV was 3 furlongs. Golden Sunday finished first, Wolf Lady second and Jack Ward was third. Just because I know the guy’s going to ask — sorry, Pops. I don’t have any of the ponies’ finishing times.
• The Delevanti Brothers had one of those perpetual motion business machines. The Newhall ranchers raised chinchillas and various rabbits for their fur. Their side business? The Silver King Rabbit Barbecue. And nope. It doesn’t taste like chicken.
MARCH 2nd, 1937
• The last big outbreak of the bubonic plague in these parts was in 1906 with another about a decade earlier. Folks were worried about a third. Joe Gibson and his men was in charge of eradicating the local ground squirrel from the face of the Santa Clarita Valley. Obviously, he failed.
• Speaking of squirrel hunters, one of Joe’s men, Steve Brodie, was employed by the government as a hunter of Spermophilus beecheyi. There is, somewhere in the musty archives, this wonderful picture of some boys crossing the raging Wildwood Creek. They did it Jackie Chan style, holding on with hands and legs to a thick wire above a pipe. On this date, young Mr. Brodie did not make it across. Relax. He just got wet. Justified Steve: “I wanted to shrink my shoes, anyway.”
• The now-defunct Saugus Elementary School District put out a bid for a new building on the campus (which is the shopping center just south of IHOP on Bouquet, near K-Mart). During the Depression, the highest paid folks in the crew asbestos workers and tile setters at $1.25 an hour. Common laborers here were paid a half-buck an hour. There’s a reporter joke in there somewhere, but I’m going to be a gentleman and rein my horse around it. In a regular 40-hour week, that’d be $50 a week at the top end of the food chain and $20 at the bottom. Imagine. A monthly wage of $80. I know. The penny bought more then...
• RE: the above — for example, in 1937 money, you could rent a 10-acre ranch with house for just $15 a month up Bouquet Canyon...
MARCH 2nd, 1947
• Folks were wondering if the corpse of a young woman, found in a local reservoir, could have anything to do with the Black Dahlia case. The infamous and gruesome murder of 22-year-old actress Elizabeth Short (who had the stage name of Black Dahlia) terrified Southern California. Her mutilated and body, completely cut in half, was found in Los Angeles. The corpse found out here, in an advanced state of decomposition, caused a small panic in the SCV and people were asking if we had our own Jack the Ripper out here. A coroner’s report later found that the nude body in the reservoir died from drowning and closed the case as an accident. As for the Black Dahlia? Her death was never solved.
• More odd whisperings around town. On this date, a new drug store opened in Newhall. It was called, “Short’s.”
• One of our eldest pioneers passed away. Mrs. Guadalupe R. Dominguez, of Dominguez Canyon fame, died at the age of 81. Her father owned the Ruiz saloon in Newhall and she recalled tales of California’s bad men, including Tiburcio Vasquez, making the place a regular hangout. At 17, young Guadalupe Ruiz married Francisco N. Dominguez, the ancient Californio family. They moved out to Piru and lived there for more than six decades.
• Hmmm. I suppose this might make me distantly related to Newhall Hardware. On this date, the empty lot next to the Safeway (Tres Sierras today) in Downtown Newhall was sold by Betty Moss to Don F. Guglielmo. “Don G” as some of the old-timers called him, was nephew to J.F. Baudino, who owned that whole block in the 1940s. Recently discharged from the military, Don G would soon open up Newhall Hardware. That lot, by the way, was where William Mayhue’s home used to sit. When the property was bought 70 years ago, there still was the ancient olive tree in the front yard.
MARCH 2nd, 1957
• Hard to believe, but they’ve been planning Valencia since the 1880s. A packed house at the Hart Auditorium listened to the plans of Newhall Land & Farming Co. to build a major city in the carrot fields, rolling hills and pastures of the valley. In the early days, Newhall Land had planned to call the development New Saugus or Saugus New Town. Catchy.
• A whole mess of jerks were at work a half-century back. Vandals on horseback took a lot of effort to saw down and pull apart a historic Vasquez Canyon house and idiots with rifles nearly destroyed the airplane beacon near the top of Newhall Pass, peppering it with dozens of rounds of ammo.
MARCH 2nd, 1967
• On this date, an Air Force officer from Edwards reported seeing a UFO hovering over the hills of Saugus. Around the same time, someone “photographed” a flying saucer in Chatsworth that rose over the mountains, heading straight for us. It turned out that four honor student high school boys from Granada Hills built the UFOs, inflating plastic dry cleaner laundry bags and putting lit candles in them.
• Rustlers butchered a prize Angus cow on a ranch just north of Castaic. In the Odd Coincidence Dept., the Aberdeen Angus was owned by a rancher named Albert Angus.
• Michael Uhlig, 21, had been in Vietnam only three days. The warrant officer died in a helicopter crash.
• Dutch Townsend had his driver’s license confiscated by a Highway Patrolman who charged him with motoring under the influence. As a protest, the Newhall rancher rode his jackass from his spread in Placerita Canyon to the Newhall Courthouse on Market St. to protest the charges. Townsend didn’t make too many points with Judge C.M. MacDougall. Townsend had renamed his mule, “MacDougall” just for the occassion. The crusty old rancher had been told by the wincing CHP officer that he “smelled like a brewery.” Dutch came right back with: “Well you smell like a hog.”
MARCH 2nd, 1977
• What a concept. On this date, the Wm. S. Hart High School District followed a state law mandating that its students may not receive a diploma for just showing up. Graduates now had to demonstrate that they could read, write and do some cursory arithmetic. Recently, that ruling was challenged by lawyers representing a group of students. The plaintiffs — that’s spelt P.L.A.I.N.T.I.F.F.S. — felt being able to read or write was discriminatory.
• On this date, my good amigo, or, as he likes to put it, “My good, good, good, good, good buddy...” Curtis Stone was named best bass player in the world at the Country Music awards.
• On this date, “Force of Evil” closed down the old Newhall Post Office on 8th Street. That would be the horror TV production, not the prince of darkness. Lloyd Bridges was the star.
• I was always sad to see this one go. It was one of our landmarks. But 30 years ago, the Saugus Board of Trustees put their flagship campus up on the auction block. The school, built just up the street from the Saugus Cafe, opened in 1908. It was almost bought by The Signal for its new headquarters. Today, the campus is a shopping center.
• Garth Guise got out of Wayside. Nope. He didn’t finish his sentence. The 63-year-old manager had run the farming operations of the Castaic honor farm for 30 years. Guise started running the prison ag operation — which supplied everything from eggs to beef to cupcakes for most of L.A. county’s prisoners. He started with a budget of $10,000 a year in 1947 and when he left, it was at $500,000. He was on duty when the county sold off chunks of the original 3,300-acre ranch and was heartbroken when the big floods of 1969 washed away several hundred acres of prime cropland. While Guise had saved taxpayers millions over the years, he noted that some of the brighter memories were meeting inmate/actors John Agar and Robert Mitchum, and a movie producer who had shot his wife’s lover. (Now just when did THAT become illegal?)
MARCH 2nd, 1987
• From the much-opened Well-Duh File, a report issued by the Southern California Association of Governments predicted that the SCV would be in complete gridlock by the year 2010. Cool. Three years to go.
• Another report was even more somber. CHP Capt. Bill Kelley noted that in the first two months of 1987, there were already 14 traffic deaths, making it the valley’s greatest threat to life. The latest victim was Margarat March, a 49-year-old Agua Dulce grandmother. Joe Finger was arrested for felony manslaughter, driving under the influence and driving without a license. Mrs. 18-month-old granddaughter was also critically injured in the crash. Finger was reported driving nearly 80 mph at 5:30 p.m. on the wrong side of Sierra Highway.
• It’s sort of the dark version of what a busman does on his holiday. On this date, Roger C. Morey died and was given a full-honors burial, including his casket being pulled by horses to his final resting place. Morey had been the director of Eternal Valley for 30 years.
• Snow down at the 1,500-foot elevation closed the Grapevine and Highway 14 briefly.
• As Ruth Gordon once noted: “No body expects a bat attack.” Ditto with Canyon High. District officials removed the letter “O” from their big wooden school sign. Seems bats had made the letter home. You’d think they’d want to keep the bug-eating creatures around...
• You’d think someone transporting this kind of cargo would be smart enough to not overload their truck. Inspectors at the Castaic Truck Stop uncovered an epic grisly find. Two open top trailers, one overweight by 2.5 tons, carried charred human remains as part of their load. It seems a Hesperia ceramics factory had been illegally cremating people.
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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