The 1960’s were a time of change and growth in the Santa Clarita Valley (SCV), a rural area comprised of Canyon Country, Newhall, Saugus, and Valencia – now the City of Santa Clarita. The SCV was a remote area at the time, located roughly 35 miles north of the City of Los Angeles Civic Center, through the Newhall Pass from the City suburbs.
This growth brought a need for increased business services, education and volunteer service organizations, and the year of 1967 was a pivotal year for growth and change.
Community leaders felt the need for a local Elks Lodge and residents wanted a college of their own; November 15, 1967, Elks Lodge 2379 was chartered and Nov. 21, 1967 residents voted overwhelmingly to create College of the Canyons (COC).
During the summer of 1967, the master-planned community of Valencia was born, luring young families from over the hill with homes priced at about $25,000.
The Valencia Industrial Center was just beginning to be developed. The single-screen Plaza Theater in Newhall and the Mustang Drive-In off Soledad Canyon Road were the only local cinematic venues.
Interstate 5 freeway, cut a vital swath through the Santa Clarita Valley on its way to becoming California’s most important roadway, connecting north with south, border to border. Plans were moving forward for the State Water Project reservoir in Castaic.
In 1966, Gayle Dillenbeck contacted Bob Gill, a member of Santa Monica Lodge, along with members from other lodges and said, “The SCV community is growing and needs a lodge of its own!”
A local Lodge concept was born at a meeting in Charles Dillenbeck’s home. Two hundred fifty-eight members with Gayle Dillenbeck as Exalted Ruler, were initiated to become Elks Lodge 2379 on Nov. 15, 2017; twelve remaining Lodge Charter members are Ned Belding, Nathan Beverly, Norman Charbonneau, Bruce Fortine, Bob Gill, Gale Hildreth, Eddie Long, Harry Nelson, Robert Tallent, Gordon (Buzz) Tripp, Jim Williams, and Don Young.
Six of these individuals, Nathan Beverly, Bruce Fortine Bob Gill (office held), Robert Tallent, Buzz Tripp and Jim Williams reside in the SCV area – the remaining six members have moved out of the area. Five of the Charter members Nathan, Bruce, Bob, Robert and Jim convened as a panel to share historical memories of these early days. SCVTV featured this panel on May 11, 2017.
Beverly, a member of San Fernando Elks Lodge in the 60’s danced to big name dance bands such as Harry James. “Dancing and a $5 steaks were great times!”
Fortine shared his memories of community growth. His mentor, Bill Bonelli was owner Saugus Speedway (where stock cars raced), currently the Saugus Swap Meet. The community was growing – COC was formed; 72 candidates ran for five Board trustee positions. Bruce was elected Trustee and remained in that position until 2017; his story revolves around Universal Studios to visit Trustee Edward Mull, and discovered upon arriving that Mr. Mull was the number-two man and head of the legal department at Universal.
Gill was a friend of Ed Dillenbeck, owner of Dillenbeck Market at the corner of Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road, who approached Gill to become a local Elk and the rest is history.
As Lodge bartender, he recalls Tex Williams, an American Western swing musician (a fusion of jazz, ragtime, Dixieland jazz and American country music) sitting at the Lodge bar; Bob always had Wild Turkey whiskey available for Tex.
Tallent says, “Upon release from the Navy in 1966, I owned a service station in Palmdale and worked from 6 am until 10 pm, seven days per week with only two days off work during the entire year.”
Robert was asked to join. Williams was a member of the Van Nuys Lodge; when Jim mentioned moving to SCV, his wife asks “Just where is that place?”
Roy Rogers, American singer and actor and one of the most popular Western stars of his era and wife Dale visited the Lodge; Cliffie Stone, American country singer, musician, record producer, music publisher, and radio and TV personality was a visitor from time to time.
The Elks organization is a national fraternal order, with more than 2000 lodges and approximately a million members across the country. Elk Lodges are places where neighbors come together, families share meals, and children grow up. Elks invest in their communities through programs that help children grow up healthy and drug-free, meet the needs of today’s veterans, and improve the quality of life. Elks Care-Elks Share!
Today, Elks Lodge 2379 has 689 members lead by Exalted Ruler, Maurice Hamilton. Maurice says, “It is an honor to be serving the lodge and community during our 50th year celebration and to have the opportunity to enthusiastically set the tone and direction for the next 50 years serving the Santa Clarita community.”
For more information about the Elks 50th Anniversary, their programs and projects, contact Phyllis Walker at 661-251-1172 or visit, www.Elks.org.
SOURCE: The SCV Elks Lodge