Pert near September, saddlepals. We made it through politics, fires, viruses, quarantines and virtual civil war. Ain’t summer just grand?
What say we leave our cares and woes on the sidewalk and hop aboard our own, personal, fine horse? Do a little moseying in the Santa Clarita that used to be?
We’ve got a most interesting trail ride through time ahead. There’s earthquakes and world-famous bird-watchers, grisly human finds and car-hopping mountain lions. It was 38 years ago this weekend when Melody Ranch burned to the ground, and this is the anniversary of when Bill Hart donated the American Theater.
C’mon. Left foot in the stirrup, little bounce and swing the other leg up and over. Gentle but firm on the reins and into the enticing void we ride.
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
MOUNTAIN SPLENDOR — It was called Alpine and is known as the SCV’s Missing Depot. Located between Acton and Palmdale at Alpine Springs, the railroad never got around to finishing their Alpine Station. Me? If you want to get into conspiracy theories, I blame Bigfoot.
HAPPY DARN BIRTHDAY, YOU TWO — Same day, the town of Saugus was founded on Sept. 1, 1887, along with its famous train depot PLUS, same day, the long-lost train depot in Castaic had its grand opening. Saugus, by the way, was named after the boyhood home of Henry Mayo Newhall. That’d be Saugus, Massachusetts. They’re our sister city and just a tad bit older, sneaking up on 400 years young.
NO NEED TO CHECK, IT’S NOT THERE — Using a silver hammer to drive a golden nail, zillionaire Charles Crocker drove the final spike into the railroad tracks linking Los Angeles with San Francisco. That was Sept. 5, 1876, for you date-takers.
HERE’S SOME TRIVIA GUARANTEED TO MAKE PEOPLE WALK AWAY FROM YOU AT THE NEXT VIRTUAL VALENCIA YUPPIE ZOOM COCKTAIL PARTY — In the 19th century, it took 4:34 in man-hours to produce one bushel of corn. In the early 20th century, with the aid of machinery, that task was cut to 41 minutes.
AUG. 30, 1920
NEWHALL ELM GOES HI TECH! — Newhall started their new school year with a newfangled contraption. It was called a slide projector.
FOR THE BOIDS — Teacher Mrs. Beckley started the first Audubon Society chapter here. Charles Himself camped out at Castaic in the early 19th century to study birds. Or, if you’re from New York, “boids.”
NO HART, NO MOVIES — Silent film superstar William S. Hart didn’t even live in Newhall then. And we didn’t have a local movie house. But, locals went motoring over the hill into San Fernando to the Cody Theatre to catch Two-Gun Bill in his oater, “The Toll Gate.”
FROM HOUSE & PLOW MAGAZINE — It’s often amazing how affordable housing was way back when. On this date, a local farmer was moving out of town and had up for sale a brand-new Bradley plow. He paid $125, never used it and was asking $100. That works out to about 1/6th the cost of a brand new home in Saugus in 1920 money. Can you imagine paying $60,000 today for a simple farm implement? Well. Of course you can’t. Most of you live in townhouses, so never mind.
AUG. 30, 1930
SHAKE, RATTLE & ROLL — A sharp earthquake set the furniture dancing 90 years back. It cracked fireplaces and broke windows in Santa Monica, where it was centered. There was no significant damage locally, except for shattered nerves.
THE ANTI-FISH STORY — Father John O’Connell of our local Catholic church came back with the season’s first true fish story. He said he had only one bite and caught just one fish — 6 inches long. The padre threw it back because it was too small.
AUG. 30, 1940
IT’S STILL THERE, BEHIND THE LIBRARY — Silent film star William S. Hart donated a corner lot on Spruce Street and 11th for the construction of The American Theater. He also donated $10,800 for construction costs and would later kick in more money for the completion. He donated the building to the American Legion. There’s no theater anymore, but the building is still there and the American Legion rents it out for parties. After we’re virus-free and you want to kick up your heels, if so moved, call 259-7507 to rent it.
WOLF CALL — And while folks were waiting for the American to be built, the old Masonic Hall was the place where folks went to watch movies. Every once in a while, the Masons would get their mitts on a picture. This week, 80 years back, locals were watching Jack London’s “Wolf Call.” It cost 20 cents to get in, a dime for kids. Darn movie was less than an hour long, too.
HECK, USED TO SEE THAT ALL THE TIME AT THE MALL — Mrs. Blanche Sutton attracted quite a bit of attention, driving around town. She bagged a 110-pound mountain lion and had it strapped to the front fender of her car.
RE: THE ABOVE — Besides pumas atop car hoods, you just don’t see women named Blanche any more. Men, neither.
WAIT, ISN’T THAT RACIAL PROFILING? — How’s this for Signal sports coverage? “Mexican umpires were blamed by manager Babe Matheny for the Newhall-Saugus Merchants beating at the hands of the San Fernando Missions in San Fernando. According to the Babe, the home umps had no idea the plate had corners on it.”
HECK, I STILL DO — Hard to believe but people used to drive up to Newhall just for the scenery back in 1940.
AND YOU THINK YOU GOT IT BAD — Pitiful scraps of humanity were discovered up Mint Canyon. A meal for the coyotes, the partially devoured remains of a man were found by hikers, along with a weathered albeit succinct note in his pocket: “Suicide, sick, broke, no friends, no relatives.”
AUG. 30, 1950
AND, WE DIDN’T HAVE A WEBSITE — The Signal used to have to send out their photographs to Los Angeles to be processed for the paper. This week, they were lost in the mail, and subscribers had to just read about a fire in Railroad Canyon without any pictures. Fighting flames in wretched, humid 111-degree heat, firefighters stopped the brush fire just 50 feet away from the home of John Yurosek, father of Gary Yurosek, who would later become the famous actor, Gary Lockwood.
THIS LITTLE PIGGY DIDN’T WENT TO MARKET — We used to have several hog farms here in the SCV, from huge to small. Hogs were used to consume garbage from L.A. and the San Fernando Valley. Locals tried fighting the growing number of stinky ranches and had a little help from something called vesicular exanthema. V.E. was the pig equivalent of hoof and mouth disease, and a local outbreak caused a massive quarantine plus the destruction of many hogs.
AUG. 30, 1960
A COMPLICATED FAMILY TREE — Pioneer Frank Schaffer died. He had come to Newhall in 1915 and served on the Newhall School District board, helping the downtown area transition from a mining camp to a village. His wife, Margaret, was the first president of the Newhall PTA in 1917. Interestingly, Frank shared a common thread with town founder, Henry Mayo Newhall. Both men lost their wives to death. Both men married their wife’s sister.
EARLY CALIFORNIAN — Bill Santa Maria retired as local fire chief of 31 years. He came from one of California’s original families.
AUG. 28, 1962
UP IN SMOKE — Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch in Placerita Canyon burned to the ground in the great Placerita Fire of 1962. Show Business is Show Business, and a couple days later, the movie lot was used as background for a World War II movie. Melody was later purchased by the Veluzat family, who sent SOSs around the world for entertainment people to send in photographs of what the ranch looked like so they could replicate it exactly. The most influential photos came from John Wayne, standing on a porch next to a door. They used his height as the magic ration to rebuild. The boys did pretty near a perfect job.
AUG. 30, 1970
OUR FAMOUS KILLER HIGHWAY — We actually had many, but Soledad Canyon Road used to be a narrow two-lane highway from the Bouquet to Sierra Highway junctions. It was a dangerous stretch of road and, in the first nine months of 1970, there were 46 accidents on it. A citizens’ committee was formed to widen Soledad. The group called themselves “Four for Five or Fight.” The name came from four men on the committee who were trying to widen 5 miles of Soledad.
KABLOOEY — The local Ford dealership unveiled a sporty new prototype for sale for the first time. The vehicle was called “The Pinto.” And no. They didn’t charge extra for the exploding gas tank.
AUG. 30, 1980
GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM — The Sam Dixon Health Clinic was dedicated in Val Verde. It was named after a dear man, Sam Dixon, who built the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, where the clinic now rests.
CROOKS IN OFFICE. WHO WOULDA THUNK? — The pie-throwing debacle at our oddball little government entity — The Northwestern Los Angeles County Resource Conservation District — continued. Chairman and convicted felon Marcus Frishman was voted out after years of acrimonious shoving matches and hijinx (one member used to bring beer and drink it from a sack during meetings; another was a certified mental patient who let himself out to attend meetings). But after being voted out, Frishman continued to sneak into the office after hours. The board voted to consider criminal charges against him. Frishman had just had 2,000 new business cards made with NWLACRCD money, still listing him as a director and chairman.
That shimmering vista in the distance is our very own personal time warp, and our trail has come full circle. Not to fret. What say we get together next weekend back at the hitching post of Your Mighty Signal and take a horseback ride into the SCV of yesteryear? Until then dear friends and neighbors — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos!
John Boston has been writing about SCV history for more than 40 years. Got some down time? You can buy Boston’s “Melancholy Samurai,” “Naked Came the Sasquatch” and other books on Amazon.com or https://bit.ly/John_Boston. Leave a review, if you’re amind.