Signal 100 | Chasing the Stories of Might Have Been

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By John Boston

Signal Staff Writer

Part 4 of 52

For years, I nagged anyone who wouldn’t listen about a mythological creature supposedly living right under our noses. This great and benign being was called “We.” I howled. Begged. Shamed. Pleaded. Curse my eyes, I played dirty and used common sense and appealed to altruism. I asked that “We” build that one, great lasting monument, artistic, prideful sigh-producing “Thing.”

We have no Eiffel Tower. No Sphinx. No Golden Gate Bridge, Colossus of Rhodes, Statue of David, Fontana di Trevi or Sistine Chapel.

For some, the bar is lower. That One, Great Thing could be Taco Bell and I can see their point. An enchirito drowned in 3,000 mini-packets of hot sauce washed down by a life-giving ice-cold Dr. Pepper can be a thing of beauty.

It’s 2019 and we find ourselves in a community of non-threatening light brown right angles. The highest aesthetics are on display at Home Depot.

The Mighty Signal published its first issue on Feb. 7, 1919. For a century, we’ve chased stories about epic projects that Might Have Been. Ski resorts. Race tracks. Freeways lined with tiled murals (how long those would have lasted between earthquakes and butthead teenage vandals). Downtown Newhall was supposed to be redesigned to look like a 1950s TV Disneyland frontier fort. Before there was a Signal to cover it, we even had an alleged perpetual motion giant clock.

GETTING CLOCKED…

Around the turn of the 20th century, Los Angeles mayor, inventor and swashbuckler Henry T. Hazard built this huge, stainless steel 60-foot-diameter timepiece powered by the rotation of the Earth — in Castaic. Hazard was an endlessly fascinating chap. He was in a barber’s chair getting shaved when the Chinese Massacre of 1871 erupted. Hazard bounced from his chair and tried to stop the mob. Hank was shot at for his trouble. As mayor, Hazard initiated a policy where the city treasurer actually deposited funds in a bank instead of handling them personally. He created L.A.’s first fire department. He left $1 to an ex-wife in his will and built that darn clock.

In 1940, The Mighty Signal (do you have your subscription yet? 259-1234) ran a story about rediscovering the epic timepiece. The remains were found on the side of a Castaic hill. The contraption cost $250 to build and was delicately balanced, using wires and tiny weights. It was extremely accurate, but, sitting outside, the slightest breeze or passing tumbleweed could knock the wood and steel wheel off focal point.

I have no idea why late 19th-century travelers on horseback from Newhall to Piru would need to check the time in Castaic.

WE’RE ON THE ROAD TO NOWHERE…

One of my favorite Never Made It projects was Mulholland Drive. It was named after the infamous civil engineer, William Mulholland (before the St. Francis Dam burst). They actually did build the road, with a ribbon cutting in 1924. But, it was supposed to connect the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys, via my favorite road name of all time — Saugus to the Sea. It’s still listed on a few modern maps. A March 12, 1925, Signal story gave the route:

“A movement now under way, may mean the continuation of Mulholland Drive from Calabasas north to Chatsworth and Saugus via the foothills. The prospective road would follow the hill lines past the Goodall ranch, the old Judge Bell place at Bell’s Canyon, then circling onto Brackenridge Street and on past the Clarkson and Zwart properties to Stagg street, thereby joining the new 5-mile stretch of pavement, thence on past the Jepson land and over to Chatsworth by the hills west of the reservoir.” In other words, you can’t get there from here.

SIX years later  a Feb. 19, 1931, Signal story noted the road would be 13 miles long and cost $555,000.

EIGHTEEN years later — in 1955, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors AGAIN approved linking the SCV and San Fernando Valleys, via the same Saugus to the Sea dirt horse trail.

THIRTY-EIGHT years later — in 1993, Gov. Pete Wilson killed it.

TWENTY SIX YEARS LATER — in 2019, when I’m in Chatsworth, I often look longingly at the mountains to the north. If only I could take Saugus to the Sea, I’d be home in five minutes instead of 30.

Speaking of roads and the glacial schedule of building them, Newhall Ranch Road was originally going to be State Highway 53. That was back in 1951.

PLANES, TRAINS, AUTOMOBILES & A NATIONAL PARK…

Two of my favorite uberprojects were underground. Right after World War II, the state planned an epic 26-mile-long tunnel from Castaic to the San Joaquin Valley. On the bottom level would be train tracks. The middle would be for big-rig trucks. The top tier would carry cars. It reportedly would save about 30 minutes on the trip (unless somebody got a flat). After several years of study, someone pointed out the area was filled with crisscrossing earthquake fault lines and it was a pinch expensive.

N.G.B.

Never Got Built.

Then, in 1971, another boondoggle was planned: a multi-BILLION-dollar tunnel linking Acton with Pasadena. You know, of course, how many people commute from Pasadena to Acton. The plan was revitalized in 2017. Not. Making. It. Up.

N.G.B.

Never Got Built.

So far.

Our biggest project yanked from underneath our noses started in 1938. California passed a bond measure to create Los Angeles International Airport, in Newhall, where Granary Square is today.

I.G.B.

It Got Built.

In El Segundo.

SALVATION, & REAL ESTATE, ARE FOR ALL MEN…

Just below The Big Oaks Lodge (which sadly burned to the ground in August 2018) there was a plan to create the La Joya community. A couple model homes were built. Developers used radio spots all over Southern California in August 1924 to hustle folks up there, luring potential investors with free barbecue lunches and soda pop, just for showing up. Problem? EVERYONE showed up. Thousands of cars poured through the narrow Newhall road tunnel. Hundreds were stranded here when they ran out of gas. Cars and people overheated in the summer heat. Food disappeared after the first few hours and developers started passing out unwrapped crackers dipped in ketchup as the free barbecue meal. Unable to get out of town and starved for entertainment, a few hundred free-lunchers poured into the Presbyterian Church on Newhall Avenue for a Saturday night service. The good Presbyterian pastor Wolcott Evans was flabbergasted when he took to the podium and looked at a Standing Room Only congregation. He thought it was because of his sermon.

La Joya?

N.G.B.

THAT CLOSE TO BECOMING DISNEYLAND…

Somewhere, in the several hundred boxes of historical archives I keep, there’s a special photo. Unless it was eaten by rats. It depicted an architect’s rendering in 1960 of a plan to revitalize Downtown Newhall, once and for all.

From the point of view of standing on the railroad tracks on today’s Newhall Avenue and looking northwest into town, the artwork shows a huge, frontier fort facade of giant hewn timbers. Motorists cross the tracks and drive under a giant cattle skull and “Welcome to Newhall” sign. Once inside, all the businesses are elevated a couple feet and rest on wooden sidewalk planks. The outsides of the storefront look exactly like the main street of Melody Ranch. The then-captains of commerce fell in love with the concept — until they saw the price. The architect was promptly thanked and community leaders ran for the hills. Revitalization of Downtown Newhall was, again, kicked down the street for nearly half-a-century.

THE THINGS WE NEVER GOT TO COVER…

The Signal has investigated so many grand ideas that never made it off the drawing board. Plans were discussed to make part of Valencia a series of canals, where residents could travel via canoes and gondolas to shops and neighborhoods. At the turn of the century, we were supposed to become Southern California’s gigantic central railroad switching yard. Nearly a century later, we were supposed to get a high-speed rail from Canyon Country to Las Vegas. Circle J was supposed to be a big equestrian community, complete with riding trails and communal stables. Up the road, Frazier Park was supposed to build an immense ski resort off Interstate 5 in the 1970s. Vasquez Rocks was nearly turned into a condo project with Vasquez Estates painted in 25-foot-high garish white paint on nature’s stoic monument. There was talk about putting in the Oakland Raiders’ new stadium where Walmart at Stevenson Ranch sits today. Same spot — a major thoroughbred race track was planned.

Alas, life being what it is, in decades to come, The Mighty Signal will write about grand visions that will end in N.G.B.

Never Got Built.

As the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, in 1786: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, often go awry…”

John Boston earned the Will Rogers Lifetime Achievement Award to go along with 118 other major journalism honors. He is a historian, novelist, author, humorist and, with a career nearing 40 years, the longest-serving journalist in Signal history.

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