I’m going to share something funny, both strange and “ha-ha.” Because of all the time traveling I do in my line of work, I ALREADY know what awaits us on this weekend’s ride back into SCV history. And it’s so cool, I’m smiling and can hardly wait to meander into the time vortex and see it all again.
This is an excellent week with plenty of gee-whiz material you can use to corner people with at the next get-together. That’s right. I said “get-together.” Live dangerously. Get within 5-3/4 feet of someone.
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
SALUTING ANOTHER HISTORIC HART MASCOT NAMESAKE — Olympic star Wa-Tho-Huk was born this week in 1887 in the Oklahoma Territory. There’s some debate whether it was May 22 or 28. Wa-Tho-Huk, translated as “Bright Path,” pulled off a staggering feat, winning both the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics. He was one of America’s greatest athletes of all time and would later come to Newhall, shooting several movies in Placerita Canyon. Most know him by his American name — Jim Thorpe.
SPEAKING OF BIRTHDAYS WESTERN — Marion Robert Morrison was born on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa. He, too, would spend much time out in the Santa Clarita Valley, filming Westerns. Most know him by his stage name of John Wayne.
SURE WAS A QUICK TURNAROUND — Fabled film director D.W. Griffith spent much of March and April at the Camulos Rancho, filming “Ramona.” It was adapted from one of the most historically significant novels in American history and, interestingly, author Helen Hunt Jackson got her inspiration for her book while staying at Camulos. On May 23, 1910, Griffith released the classic film to starstruck crowds around the country. People were lined up around the block to see the flick.
MAY 22, 1921
FREE LIGHT SHOW — A century ago, we said goodbye to one of the strangest and most unique celestial displays since the first Anasazi stepped foot in the SCV more than 5,000 years ago. Special atmospheric conditions caused locals here and in Southern California to witness the nearly full and vibrant Aurora Borealis, or, the Northern Lights. And no. You may not mumble, “Global warming.”
WELCOME TO THE HOTEL, uh … FRAZIER PARK? — May 21 was the grand opening to one of the poshest resorts in Southern California — the Lebec Hotel. Just a half-hour drive north of here, it was originally known as Hotel Durant. This can get confusing, so pay attention. The ORIGINAL Hotel Lebec was built in 1916 to accommodate travelers on the brand new state highway, the Ridge Route. The owner, Thomas O’Brian, later went into partnership with car dealer Clifford Durant to build a posh 100-room and supposedly “fireproof” hotel. It would become a famous get-away for L.A.’s Who’s Who and your ordinary, garden-variety weary traveler. The Durant Hotel boasted of electricity and “a telephone in every room!” About a year later, Foster Curry, of Curry Lodge in Yosemite fame, bought the digs and made more improvements. The “fireproof” promise? Several outlying buildings and cabins burned down in a 1923 fire started by an exploding stove. Historian Alan Pollack noted a rather black and ironic tidbit: “An association of insurance adjustors had just left the hotel the day before the fire, after completing a three-day convention.”
SPEAKING OF FIRES — Our town hall burned to the ground on this date. Mrs. William Mayhue, wife of the ag magnate, awoke before dawn with the flames flickering in her bedroom window. The alarm was soon sounded and the volunteer firefighters from Newhall and Saugus rushed to the scene. But the old Conrad’s Hall, built in 1908 by Charles Conrad, quickly burned to the ground and firefighters turned their attentions to keeping the other neighboring buildings doused with water. Conrad had just sold the building to a Mr. A. Culver two months earlier. What made the fire suspicious was that it was the third hall to burn to the ground within the previous 18 months. Another Conrad hall burned to the ground in 1919 and the dance hall in Honby was torched. Add to that, there were two pool hall fires around that time, bringing the total to five suspicious fires involving entertainment complexes. I’ve told the story before of a jealous young man who laid claim to a beautiful young gal. Story was, he hated her having a good time and kept burning Newhall’s hot spots.
SAUGUS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. AND POTATO FIELD. — On this date, Sgt. T.J. Fowler crash-landed his Curtiss biplane on a Saugus potato field. His craft became unbalanced and Fowler nearly made a perfect landing. At the end, the nose lurched forward and the propeller busted off.
MAY 22, 1931
PENNY ANTE — Southern Pacific was celebrating summer vacations and offered the strapped-for-cash railroad riders a special offer — a penny a mile to any destination. Seriously. You could take the train from the Newhall Depot to the Saugus Depot for 2¢. Beats walking.
MAY 22, 1941
WOULD HAVE BEEN EASIER JUST TO STAMP HIM SECTION 8 — Clarence Compton, conscientious objector to military service, had been brooding about any service with the military. While he could not take another’s life, he took his own, committing suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning in a distant canyon.
FAREWELL, OUR GERMAN NEIGHBORS — Just a few months before we would be at war with Germany, Saxonia Park in Placerita Canyon held a German fest. Multicourse dinner, games, refreshments and dancing were just 40 cents. Saxonia was THE big place for Germanic parties and folks of that ancestry or interest would flood the SCV by the thousands — that is, right up until 1941. In December, after Pearl Harbor, the park was converted into a military camp.
MAY 22, 1951
GOING DRAG. — A Los Angeles drag racer, in his souped-up coupe, set a track record at the old 6-S Ranch strip in Canyon Country, burning up the quarter-mile and hitting 115 mph. Nope. It wasn’t Pat Arman. He was but a baby.
MAY 22, 1961
ODDBALL BURGLARIES — Bad guys made off with everything from booze to — get this — 150 used generators from the old Barker/Nochester Garage in Mint Canyon. What on earth do you do with 150 used car generators?
MAY 22, 1971
AH, KIDS… — Four 16-year-olds were arrested for a string of 47 burglaries here. A lot of spare change and cash added up to more than $1,000.
ADIOS, DEAR IDA — On this date, Ida Edwards died. The Val Verde matron made headlines two years earlier. When she returned home from Oklahoma, she discovered the county had “accidentally” condemned and bulldozed her home. For a while, she had to live in a pup tent donated by Boy Scouts. A group of citizens and Newhall Land passed the hat and built her a brand-new house.
GOING POSTAL — Cost of mailing a letter went up — to a dime. Ouch.
THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON — Judge Adrian Adams ruled on a case in which a couple had been charged with disturbing the peace and quarreling with neighbors, Adams ordered the pair to write a 500-word essay on the topic: “How Mahatma Gandhi Would Have Solved The Problems of My Neighborhood.” The defendant, Mrs. Flo Harsla, was to write the tome on how she’d make her block a better place. The Harslas, who had children 8 to 19, were found guilty of starting quarrels ranging from cursing to fisticuffs.
IT’S A CINCH — A plague of Old Testament proportions struck the SCV 50 years back. Cinch bugs by the hundreds of thousands invaded the valley, getting into everything from people’s hair to their pancakes. One Valencia housewife complained that she had to literally sweep her bed before going to sleep. The Ag Department sadly noted that about the only thing short of building a moat around your home (the little crawlers don’t like water) was to wait them out. Cinch bugs are migratory and only stay in one spot for a maximum of two weeks.
BACK IN OUR GOOD OL’ CARNY DAYS — Some of you old-timers will remember this — the Jaycee Fair. It opened this week, a half-century ago. It was an old-fashioned country fair, with rides and games no ordinary human could win. They had a battle of local bad garage bands, greased pole climbing contests, hog calling and a yo-yo and beer-drinking contest. It drew more than 50,000 people. We don’t have the fair anymore.
MAY 22, 1981
THE FOSTER FREEZE — Saugus schools Superintendent James Foster tried to close Valley View Elementary. Reason? Not enough kids, too much overhead. VVE had only 175 students enrolled although the campus was built to accommodate 500. The move was called, by some, “Foster’s Folly.”
SEX WAX — Last week, I was just having dinner with former Canyon Football coaching legend Harry Welch and we chatted about the following. There was a big protest rally at Canyon High. About 100 students gathered to voice their displeasure over an administration ban on those high-riding, curve-exposing “Dolfin” short-shorts on girls and the “Sex Wax” T-shirts on boys. Adding to the theater, Assistant Principal John Schirmer confiscated two rolls of film from a Signal photographer. John later gave the film back.
THOSE WACKY CALARTIANS — CalArts held their 11th annual graduation and, as usual, it was a hoot. One graduate, upon receiving his diploma, jumped into a magic box and had friends push swords through. Another accepted a diploma in handcuffs, giving CalArts President Bob Fitzpatrick the key to release him. Another had an ax in her head and fake blood — a joke on budget cuts. Yet another gave a two-word speech: “Beat Julliard!”
MONTANA IN ENGLAND — Local cowboy Montie Montana and his wife, Elly, were preparing to meet a very special host — the Queen of England. Montie was asked what he planned to say to Elizabeth. His answer: “Howdy, ma’am. Sure nice to see ya. Got any vittles in the house? Some grits and gravy?” Montie never did quite make that speech, but he is famous for — to the horror of the Secret Service — roping President Dwight David Eisenhower.
Welp. Unless you weren’t paying attention or fell asleep in the saddle, which I guess falls under the category of not paying attention, I’m betting you’re all a little bit smarter after today’s time ride through history. That was fun, wasn’t it? See you in seven. We’ll do it again. Until then —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, wouldn’t mind at all if you left a kind 5-star review.