I can’t recall ever saying in these introductions: “Don’t bother to climb out of your bedrolls. This weekend’s trail ride into SCV history is just plain, spit, boring.”
Never going to happen. We’ve got a heck of an interesting trek into the back canyons of local lore and history.
Come along, bunk huggers, slackers, skateboarders and the rare Crabby Appletons. Vault into those saddles (making sure there’s a horse underneath and the saddle’s properly cinched). We’ve got coffee, sweet rolls and vistas purely astounding ahead. Forward to yonder box canyon where the last SCV time vortex awaits.
Oh. Hitting the brakes. Almost forgot. Respectfully doffing the O’Farrell hat and wishing those of you in today’s posse who celebrate a Happy Easter and chag sameach to those worshipping Passover
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
WONDER WHY I NEVER GOT THAT BIRTHDAY CARD … — After being closed for 17 years because no one was sending any mail to Castaic and no one was getting any, the Castaic Post Office reopened on April 3, 1917, in Sam Parson’s general store.
LIKE HE WASN’T DOING IT ALREADY — Many of you know that the landed gentry Francisco Lopez discovered gold in the SCV on his birthday, March 12, 1842. Less than a month later, after a sizeable gift of gold to his pal, Gov. Juan Batista Alvarado, on April 4 that year, Juan gave Francisco and his pals the official rights to mine for gold in Placerita.
WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN’ GOIN’ ON — The Pico Canyon Earthquake later measured as a 5.5 shook the SCV. A mob of angry residents stormed up to the Mentryville oil fields and blamed their drilling for the quake. Peasants. A Los Angeles newspaper, The Herald, noted the quake “…played havoc on the crockery.” One old adobe on Newhall Ranch was completely demolished. Not a single derrick, some 70 feet tall, fell. Alex Mentry was headed toward home in Placerita, and recalled when the quake struck: “It was heavier than any blast I ever heard. I was on horseback, and the horse was frightened very badly. At first I thought of a boiler, but looking along the San Fernando range as far as I could see, east and west, was a blinding cloud of dust. It rose directly up from the top of the range and was thick.” In the tradition of good journalism, the Herald misspelled his name as “Mintry …”
MARY RAMONA — Out on the Camulos Ranch on April 1, 2 and 3 of 1910, famed film director D.W. Griffith was making the movie, “Ramona,” starring Mary Pickford. It was based on one of the most influential novels in American history of the same title and it was based on the life’s story of an Indian girl who lived on the local ranch on today’s Highway 126. A little trivia? This was the first movie ever to identify film locations in its credits. It was also the first time a copyright fee was negotiated for the right to film a book and its publisher, Little, Brown & Co., was paid a whopping $100.
APRIL 3, 1921
BACK IN THE DAYS OF THE LONG COMMUTE — An old relative of mine by marriage and pioneer citizen of Newhall passed away on this date. Alexander Hume, grandfather of Walt Wayman, died. He had homesteaded in the valley in the 1880s and was one of the charter members of the local Presbyterian Church. Much of Newhall Avenue, from the railroad tracks to Highway 14, was his ranch. Walt used to tell me Alex would take him into Los Angeles for shopping trips. It took three days. One day to hitch up the wagon and get to L.A. An overnight stay. Then a day to get back.
HEY!! WE’RE OVER HERE!! — The local movers and shakers of town were debating on an improvement to Downtown Newhall. Sometimes, visitors to the village noted they didn’t know where the heck they were. The businessmen and women got together to debate whether they should kick in for a big electric sign that said, “NEWHALL.” Eventually, they’d get it. History is certainly circular. A few years after being encouraged by Southern California Edison to use electricity, SCE urged locals to turn off the juice at night — there wasn’t enough to go around.
APRIL 3, 1931
THANKS, BEVERLY HILLS HIGH!! — Locals came up with a plan for a new high school a full 14 years before it became realized. The group pointed out there was part of Newhall Elementary that wasn’t being used. The only problem was cutting through the yard-thick red tape of the L.A. Unified School District. They were the ruling body back then. Eventually, in 1945, when Hart High opened its doors, the first students would hold their classes at Newhall Elementary in some temporary army barracks. In 1931, there were 112 local students attending San Fernando High. Estimates figured that another 25% would attend if there were a local campus. We have Beverly Hills High School to thank for the conception of Hart High. In the 1930s, the chic-chic campus successfully sued L.A. Unified to break away and form their own district. We used their legal briefs to break away from L.A. Unified after World War II.
DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH THAT HISTORY REPEATS — While utilities are going through the roof today, the Southern California Gas Co. issued an 11% reduction for the Little Santa Clara River Valley. The cuts were introduced after consistent pestering by a contingent from the local Kiwanis and Masonic Lodge.
GAS WARS — Then there’s the other kind of gas — or, gasoline. During a local gas war, prices fluctuated between 9 and 14 cents a gallon. Can you imagine lassoing a citizen from 1931 and bringing him back to 2021 and show up a $4.19 gallon of petrol? Among a few other things.
DRIVING DRUNK? IT’LL COST YA — Lou Garcia was arrested, tried and convicted. He had to spend 90 days in jail and pay a $200 fine. In 1931 money, you could buy a new house in Saugus for $600. So, extrapolating that to modern times, an SCV home median price is almost $600,000 today. So, a drunken-driving arrest would cost you almost $200,000 today.
APRIL 3, 1941
HEARD ANY JUICY GOSSIP? — Showbiz columnist Hedda Hopper visited silent cowboy star William S. Hart 80 years ago today. She recalled an interesting story about Two-Gun Bill. He had been working for one picture company, primarily, he said, because of a horse who belonged to the company. Fritz the wonder horse could do just about everything but talk and Hart fell in love with the creature. But, the studio wouldn’t sell it to him. Finally, Hart agreed to forego his salary of $46,000 — a rather staggering figure in the early 20th century — in exchange for the horse. But after the picture was finished, the company wouldn’t give Hart the pony and stole him. Hart found out where they were keeping Fritz and just like in one of his Westerns, he stole the horse back. He called the head of the studio and threatened that he’d settle the matter “with six-guns next time,” should they try the stunt again. Fritz lived to a ripe old age of 31 and is buried on the Hart Ranch in Newhall.
PHYSICIAN. HEAL THYSELF. — It’s tough being in an accident when you’re the only doctor in town. Our beloved physician, Sarah Murray, was returning from Glendale where she had been visiting one of her patients. On the way home, her car went out of control, hit a tree and flipped twice. Dr. Murray suffered two broken ribs and severe bruises. She was rushed back to the Glendale hospital, where her patient was recuperating.
HAND OUT THE SCUBA GEAR — Yet more rain pelted the valley, making it the wettest season since we started keeping records in 1876. The rain gauge bubbled over 42.53 inches with a storm on this date, with more following.
BESIDES FEED, IT COST OL’ ELDY TWICE AS MUCH IN CHICKEN HATS — Elderberry Brunt (great farmer name!) of Sand Canyon saw his 15 minutes of fame vanish before it was realized. One of Brunt’s hens had given birth to a two-headed chicken, which he had raised to adulthood. Brunt was going to sell it to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. One night, coyotes broke into his coop and devoured a couple of his several hundred chickens. Of course, they made off with the two-headed one. Which gives me opportunity to use one of my favorite phrases: “Mangy ki-yotes.”
APRIL 7, 1950
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME … — I was born in a tree.
APRIL 3, 1951
YOU MAY NOW BUY FOOD — Teachers in the Hart District were happy. They all received raises of between $700-$900. That’d be a year. Not a month.
APRIL 3, 1961
AMEN. BOY HOWDY. — The Mighty Signal wrote an editorial on Easter. We were pro.
APRIL 3, 1971
DRUG ADDICTS, COME HOME TO AGUA DULCE — Folks were asking: “Will Agua Dulce become the Woodstock of the West?” A music promoter planned to stage a Rock for Pot concert on a 200-acre ranch near Vasquez Rocks. The local Agua Dulce Civic Association said, “I don’t think so” and successfully blocked the event. Promoter Bill Smart said he wanted to bring in 300,000 people for the epic concert and charge $6.50 a head, no pun intended. Smart wanted to get all the folks to sign his legalize marijuana measure.
BOYS. NO GIRLS. — Don’t anyone tell Jim Ventress this, but 50 years ago, the SCV Boys Club (no “Girls” in the title yet) had to let go of their director, Ted Snoddy. It wasn’t because of his name. The club was having financial difficulty and couldn’t meet Ted’s $10,000 a year salary.
PLACERITA PRO CAGERS — We’ve had more than our fair share of pro athletes. Little Master’s College, which used to be called Los Angeles Baptist College, offered two pro basketball players that I know of. (If you have any others, let me know!) Most of us know Mike Penberthy, who used to play with Shaq for the Lakers. Fifty years back, senior LABC forward Harry Taylor signed with the Dallas Chaparral of the old ABA, joining, I believe, three other Placerita Canyon stars who turned pro.
NOT QUAKING IN THEIR BOOTS — William S. Hart Park, which had been closed for two months after the February ’71 quake, reopened.
APRIL 3, 1981
NO HABLA — The Hart District entered its 10th year of bilingual education. Back in the 1970s, there were only a few students enrolled in the then-four schools who spoke little or no English. By 1981, there were 100. By 2001, there were 1,275.
CZECH MATE — Speaking of English as a second language, Newhall supe Mike McGrath had a couple of kids at Newhall Elementary who spoke not a lick of the Queen’s English. Attempts to communicate in Español didn’t help, either. The two young boys were from Czechoslovakia.
A BY THE WAY — In last week’s trail ride, I mentioned local reactions when President Ronald Reagan was nearly assassinated. In the 1950s and 1960s, Reagan spoke three separate times at the Hart High Auditorium about electricity. Poor Ronnie. Poor Signal. One of the times the future governor and U.S. president spoke at Hart, The Signal thought it was such a minuscule event, they just gave it a brief mention in the inside pages.
Part of me always has the urge to just turn the entire posse around and just wander around in yesteryear, where life was simpler and came with more elbow room. Alas. We’re home. You folks take care of yourselves and don’t forget to get a Signal subscription if’n you don’t have one already. See you next week with another epic trail ride into our pasts. Until then, big tip of the O’Farrell and a hearty —vayan con Dios amigos!
Boston has launched his own publishing house, John Boston Books. The first is a three-volume set is “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America.” That’d be us. In the meantime, you can buy Boston’s “Melancholy Samurai,” “Naked Came the Sasquatch” and other of his books at bit.ly/John_Boston. If you liked the book, would you mind leaving a kind 5-star review?