Shaping where we live, work and play

A landscape overlooks Central Park and the Santa Clarita Valley on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

The Santa Clarita Valley has come a long way.

Most of what residents see today is modern, but the idea of creating a place for Santa Clarita residents to live, work and play is not a new one.

In fact, this goes back to the 1960s, with the birth of Valencia.

In the 1950s, Newhall Land and Farming Co., now known as FivePoint, decided to transform its farming fields into something with more value as L.A. County grew and more families moved north toward the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys.

“Our first project that went through the county was the approval process for about 5,000 acres, and that’s how it all got started,” said Gary Cusumano, who joined Newhall Land in 1969.

A master plan was formed to develop a new, self-sustainable city with homes, shopping centers, schools, government offices, a hospital — and even an amusement park that’s still closely associated with the SCV. Newhall Land first developed the park that lays claim to being the “Thrill Capital of the World” took on the amusement park project that heightened tourism to the area before selling it to Six Flags Inc. in 1979.

Among the urban planners hired for the creation of Valencia was world-renowned designer Victor Gruen, who also created city designs across the world.

“This plan was not just to build homes,” said Tom Lee, one of the first CEOs of Newhall Land. “You build everything that’s needed like shopping centers, school sites, parks, church sites and employment sites. That’s what a planned community is all about.”

The early years were difficult, he said. With neighborhoods such as Valencia Hills, Valencia Glenn and Valencia Meadows, the growing town would soon feel the effects of a recession and the 1971 San Fernando earthquake. Still, the vision of building a “real community” persevered — something heads of the farming company stayed true to, said Cusumano.

“Maintaining that vision is challenging because it’s costly to implement that long-term vision,” he said. “For example, trails throughout the community would have been easier to terminate and build houses with just lawns, but the original, foundational vision was maintained.”

Tom Cole, community development director with the city of Santa Clarita, worked as a senior project manager with Newhall Land in the 1990s. Much of what has shaped the SCV today was drawn out in the original plan for Valencia, he said.

“I remember going into Tom Lee’s office and seeing that his vision was to create this sense of place and community with more green space and more paseos,” he said, “and yes, we had a master plan to start with. He was the mastermind behind creating a sense of community.”

Growth continued as Newhall Land began leasing parts of its land to Hollywood producers for filming, which more than 250 productions were made at the time.

The company then took on its concept of building a Valencia-like concept in the early 1990s, but at a much larger scale, by proposing to develop 25,000 homes, schools, a business park, shopping centers and other amenities over 19 square miles.

Throughout this time, Newhall Land ceased to exist as a family and locally managed company when it was sold for $1 billion to Florida-based and homebuilder Lennar Corp. in 2004. Even under new owners, Lennar’s mission was to “carry out the vision of what became to be Valencia and now with Newhall Ranch,” said Cusumano.

Today, work is underway for the development of a community of single-family homes, condominiums and apartments, and more than 2,000 affordable-housing units.

Lee said this foundational vision has greatly impacted the SCV, far beyond Valencia and Newhall Ranch, that the city of Santa Clarita, since its establishment in 1987, has also helped carry the creation of communities where residents can live, work and play.

Another example, Lee said, includes the development of Vista Canyon, a 185-acre, mixed-use community underway with commercial, housing and recreational space, and its own Metrolink station. That’s being developed by JSB Development, who’s principle is Jim Backer — a former executive at Newhall Land and Farming.

Several years must still go by before these developments serve the public, but Cusumano said Newhall Ranch is, metaphorically, Newhall Land’s “grand finale. This will be the end of an era.”

But the vision will continue, he and others who had the chance to see and execute the original master plan say.

“I want the same for our future generations,” said Lee. “I want people to see the value of our community that was based upon a vision and a private-public partnership in improving a better community.”

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