Tom Lee & the Mysterious Death of Victor Gruen

The Time Ranger
Time Ranger

Absolute Christmas treat to see you amigos, amigas, saddlepals, saddlepal-ettes and, my personal favorite SCV demographic: You People. Hope early February 2020 has been kind to you and you’re feeling chipper enough for a dazzling and splendiferous trail ride into the back trails of Santa Clarita yesteryear.

Foof that last sentence was a mouthful.

C’mon. I’ve lined up several thousand horses, each with a special disposition to match your psyche. And no worries. You’ll get the horse that loves you, not the one you deserve…


Moving day t’s rare when an entire town up and moves but that’s what happened on Feb. 15, 1878. The entire town of Newhall moved from around Bouquet/Soledad junction over to around where 6th and Main Street is today. They probably had a couple of boxes still left.

FEB. 16, 1920

Paper sells paper he Mighty Signal was always eager to make a buck. We advertised: “WANTED — 10,000 people to buy the 2-for-5-cents scratch pads at The Newhall Signal office.” I think we still have some left …

The great train robbery wenty armed men hijacked a Southern Pacific train and commandeered it to, of all places, Saugus. After a confrontation with a local posse of lawmen in which guns were measured, the cops arrested seven of the train kidnappers. The other 13 fled to parts unknown. Not kidding — the robbers were socialists.

Back in the days of the giant oaks ard to believe that the SCV went from a forested area in the 18th century to treeless farmland within a few decades. Several truckloads of boards, milled from local forests, were delivered to various oil well sites in the SCV. Interestingly, we’ve come full circle. The SCV today is rich with trees again.

FEB. 16, 1930

As my nephew-like substance used to say: ‘Why it’s almost like they’re addictive …’  carton of cigarettes at Macmarr’s Store in Newhall cost $1.19. Today, they go for about $70-$90 a carton. Twenty years ago, the price was about $28-$32 a carton, or almost $6 a pack. I’m told you can get them mail order from an Indian reservation, where my Coastal used to sell them. For about $16. Sorry. Won’t give you the address…

FEB. 21, 1936

Adios, dear Henry n this date, Henry Clay Needham, this valley’s only serious presidential candidate, died. Hank was a Prohibitionist and ran three times in the 1920s. Needham had a lifetime of illnesses and accidents. In the 1920 election, Hank got sick the morning of the Prohibitionist Party’s nominating convention. He was too ill to take the floor and the Prohibs picked Aaron Watkins over our Newhall boy. Watkins came in 5th with just 189,000 votes (0.07%) in the Prohibitionists’ poorest showing since 1884. The 18th Amendment had just passed the year before, making Needham and his teetotalers less relevant. Needham earlier had started the St. Johns Development, a 10,000-acre planned Prohibitionist community in the SCV. Never really took off …

FEB. 16, 1940

‘Addison?’ Really? eavy rain doused the shooting of a Jack Randall western filmed in Placerita Canyon. “Jack’s” real name was Addison Byron Owen Randall and he was a “B” RKO western star, filming many flicks here in Santa Clarita in the 1930s and 1940s. As his star began to fade, he changed his name to Allen Byron, then to Byron Vance. Didn’t help. The actor died terribly young (39). He had a freak horse riding accident in Canoga Park. Some say he hit a tree. Some say he had a heart attack. He was born a few miles from here in San Fernando.

Not dumping the dump ere we are in the year 2000, fighting to keep trash dumps out of the valley. But 60 years ago, we were desperately trying to build one. Littering was a major problem, with folks dumping garbage in empty lots in the middle of town and filling up the scenic canyons.

FEB. 16, 1950

But not the COC kind  big cougar was spotted prowling around the Golden Rod Cafe up Mint Canyon. Of course, word got out and you had a few dozen Elmer Fudds out there with rifles, making the absolute boonies safe for democracy.

FEB. 16, 1960

We’re going to Disneyland!! he Hart High band was the guest of honor at Disneyland. The marching musicians got to parade down Main Street in full band regalia.

No pouring gas into your canteens to bring back, either he gas war was over one minute past midnight 40 years back. Prices shot back up to the staggeringly high price of 29 cents for regular and 35 cents for high test, aka, ethyl.

FEB. 16, 1970

But not that G.V. evelopers went before the Regional Planning Commission to sell them on a 2,500-unit housing project called Golden Valley. Oddly enough, RPC pooh-poohed the idea because Golden Valley would straddle the San Andreas Fault. That Golden Valley, by the by, was up in Gorman. You know. Where the big Fort Tejon 8.3 earthquake was nearly 200 years back?

Shhhhhh!!!  mmm. Wondered how this would have affected the city of Santa Clarita’s Concerts in the Park series? On this date, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to cut down on outdoor music festivals in unincorporated areas — like here.

And, if you’re rural conservative, it had a really happy ending  new, experimental film with racy themes was playing at the old Mustang Drive-in Theater on Soledad. Name of the motorcycle/hippie pix? “Easy Rider.”

FEB. 16, 1980

And, he still can’t go to his right asketball legend Lee “The Silver Cougar” Smelser over at College of the Canyons mercifully closed his first year of coaching, finishing 3-11 (BEHIND BARSTOW!!! — cue the Wah-Wah-Wah trombone sound effects) in the old Desert Conference. COC placed two lovable ball hogs, Gary Ray and Kurt Stenerup, on the all-league squad. Twenty years ago, in 2000, Smelser finished up 31 years of teaching on the hardwood. (Unfounded rumor was the Silver Coug could never figure out the simple triangle offense and quit in frustration.) In those early years, the COC squad had to use the Hart High gym for 5 a.m. practices. Lee-Lee is simply one of the best men ever to walk through this valley. Among so many others, I count myself lucky having him for a friend.

Moist, ain’t it?  punishing deluge hit the SCV, dumping nearly 11 inches of rain in two days. After a brief clearing, another 3 inches fell within six days. Roads were under water, bridges were wiped out, homes and business flooded. Helicopters airlifted food and supplies to stranded residents in Sand Canyon and the Santa Clara River looked more like the Mighty Mississippi. (Going over the old, yellowed copies of The Signal, I’ve noticed that for the last 70 years, the local press photographers always go over to my old address on Meadview Street in Placerita Canyon to take the worst-case-scenario flood pictures. Crazy thing: I’m standing next to my old car in a front-page picture.)

Still would like to hear Tom Lee’s alibi as it just a coincidence? Victor Gruen, famous international architect and designer of Valencia, died in his native city of Vienna at the age of 76. The same day, Tom Lee was appointed executive vice president and general manager of Valencia Co. Tom “The Dudeman” Lee would later become High Holy Mucky Muck, Grand Exalted Poobah, Prez of the Rez and CEO of The Newhall Land & Farming Co. Currently? He is out and about …

Thanks mucho for the company, dear friends and neighbors. See you all next week with another exciting Time Ranger history adventure. Until then —¡Vayan con Dios, amigos! 

John Boston has been writing about SCV history for more than 40 years. You can buy his books and novels on Best you turn this into action and do so right jolly now…

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS