Laurene Weste: Preserving Santa Clarita’s past

Council member Laurene Weste

“It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.”
— William Murtagh, first keeper of the National Register of Historic Places

Though our city of Santa Clarita has only been incorporated for some 32 years, the history of our valley goes back millennia. Indigenous families were the sole occupants of our valley until 1769, when Spanish explorers arrived. The Santa Clarita Valley was the site of the first documented discovery of gold in California, the home to the longest-operating oil well in the world, and one of the earliest filming locations in the American West.

Today, that crucial history lives on at Heritage Junction Historic Park in Old Town Newhall. The SCV Historical Society, of which I am proud to be a longtime member, has led the charge to rescue, restore and conserve the priceless collection of historic structures and even an early 1900s train engine that used to travel across the tracks through the SCV before being purchased by famed western actor Gene Autry.

After years of planning and research, work got underway last year on a major restoration project on some of the historic buildings at Heritage Junction, including:

The Edison House — Built in 1929 to house Southern California Edison Co. employees.

The Kingsburry House — Built in 1878, it is a significant example of colonial-revival architecture and the oldest existing structure from the town of Newhall.

The Callahan Schoolhouse — Believed to have come from a nearby 1800s mining camp, represents the small schools used in frontier settlements during the late 19th century.

The Ramona Chapel — Built in 1926, the chapel is based on the one at Rancho Camulos and features eight pews.

The Newhall Ranch House — Started in 1865 and expanded into its current 4,000-square-foot form about 1895, owned by Henry M. Newhall and became headquarters of The Newhall Land and Farming Co.’s SCV operations.

The Pardee House — Built in 1890 as a Good Templars Hall, this structure was home to a politician, oilman and a constable, and used as a movie set, and became home to the telephone company and even as home to the SCV Boys & Girls Club and the Chamber of Commerce.

Back in September, the first step took place, which was to tent these structures to eradicate termites. Phase two includes various electrical and mechanical work and the reroofing of some of the structures, with new metal shingles, which retain the same aesthetic of the original roof — yet are fireproof to better protect the buildings.

City of Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth speaks in front of the Newhall Ranch House during a event celebrating the public and private support of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society’s restoration efforts at Heritage Junction at which a $25,000 check was presented from Don Kimball, Community President of Five Point on Friday, February 28, 2020. Dan Watson/the Signal

One of these special buildings, the former home of The Newhall Land and Farming Co. (now FivePoint), is getting a new roof thanks to a public/private partnership. The city of Santa Clarita has granted $25,000 — which was matched with $25,000 from FivePoint. We recently held a check presentation right in front of the steps of the Newhall Ranch House to commemorate the support.

During this renovation process, every effort is being made to restore the buildings to the look and style that was popular in the time they were built. Preserving these elements helps connect us to a specific era, locations and events that were significant milestones in our collective past.

This project has truly been a labor of love and, once completed, will provide generations to come with a charming and authentic look into the historical foundation of our community. It is my hope that these buildings will be a place for schoolchildren to come learn about the past — gaining an insight into where we came from, who we are and what that means for where we’re going.

If you’re a skilled carpenter or other tradesman and wish to help save our history, please contact Laurene Weste at 661-255-4370. Our community would appreciate your time and talents. Thank you all so much.

Laurene Weste is a member of the Santa Clarita City Council and can be reached at [email protected].

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