What a great idea, this United States of America. And what a great idea, this freedom. Much to celebrate, dear saddlepals, on our ride through Santa Clarita history. Much of the time will be spent visiting past Fourth of July celebrations.
C’mon. Make sure your Starbucks sippy cups are screwed on tight and there’s an extra canteen of water for the ponies. Let’s mosey into yesteryear and see what kind of trouble we can get into…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
THE LAST OF HIS TRIBE — On June 30, 1921, Juan Jose Fustero passed away. He was the last-known full-blooded Tataviam Indian and with him went scores of stories, culture and language. We may never know Juan’s real name. In a late 19th century court case, the American judge couldn’t pronounce the man’s Indian name. So, the jurist just referred to him as “Juan Jose.” For many Mexicans and Indians, the white settlers used these two names interchangeably, like “boy” was used to describe slaves in the South. As for Fustero, the Tataviam gentleman was a maker of fustos, or, ropes or whips, hence, he was a “fustero.”
TAKING A TIME OUT FROM FEUDING – Back on July 1, 1915, the besieged town of Castaic was formed. I say besieged because around this same time, Castaic was embroiled in one of the biggest range wars in the history of the West.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, IGGY — That’s del Valle, not Pop. Back on July 1, 1808, Ignacio del Valle was born in Jalisco, Mexico. Iggy was the son of Antonio del Valle and would inherit a good chunk of the entire Santa Clarita Valley. He was also a huge mover and shaker in the Southland and was mayor of Los Angeles.
AND HE DID IT ALL WITHOUT EXCEL — John T. Gifford was Newhall’s first citizen and the station master of the original train depot back in 1876. Prior to that, he was a paymaster on the construction of the railroad. Johnny earned $2.60 a day and worked with more than 1,000 Chinese laborers, 350 Irish mechanics, 60 woodchoppers and a whole passel of blacksmiths, cooks, teamsters and addendum helpers.
TRIPLE THREAT BILL — Somewhat way back when, after silent movies, there was a film made entitled: “The Boy With The Green Hair.” A child actor had a speaking part in that flick. His name was Bill White. Yup. Same former Canyon and Arroyo Seco administrator. Knowing Bill all these years, we can safely report he is a triple threat: can’t act; can’t play basketball; and can’t administrate. Smiling at you, amigo!!
JULY 2, 1922
AL WAS REALLY ‘SWALL’ — In the early 1920s, businessman Albert Swall started an innocent migration that switched the main drag of Newhall from what is today’s Railroad Avenue over to San Fernando Road. It was called The Swall Block and the first building was a one-story white edifice with glass and wooden doors painted dark gray with thick brass locks and hinges. The Russell Cafe was the first business there.
OUR OWN GARDEN OF EDEN — The Masons held their annual picnic at a place called Walker’s Grove. Signal editor and publisher Blanche Brown’s description: “The grove is one of Nature’s wonder places, with its babbling mountain stream, great shade trees, vines, ferns and wild flowers, quiet restful and serene, it was no wonder that so many exclaimed, what a beautiful spot to spend the day together.” Today, Walker’s Grove is known as Placerita Canyon Nature Center.
THE RABBIT LAKE FEST — Before we used to have our big Fourth of July celebrations in Newhall, Santa Claritans moseyed up to Elizabeth Lake — aka, Rabbit Lake — for Independence Day festivities. About 2,000 folks would gather from the various valleys to celebrate. Festivities included fireworks, dancing, baseball, picnicking, barbecues and a live orchestra.
JULY 2, 1932
OUR ALMOST FIRST PARADE — For those who worship parades, this was the big granddaddy of them all. We had our inaugural Newhall Fourth of July parade 70 years ago this week. The first theme of that “first” parade was “Old Times.” Featured were an old borax wagon pulled by a 20-mule team, old-time cowboys and old-time stage coaches. Mr. S.D. Dill even brought out his old 1912 school bus that he used to take kids from Newhall to San Fernando High over the bouncy dirt roads. The original route had the parade starting on Arch Street to Newhall Avenue. At 10th Street (Lyons Avenue today) the parade took a hard right, then hung another right on Spruce Street. It ended with the participants taking yet another right on Market Street and the marchers ended up at the Presbyterian Church. Interestingly, several groups and businesses that were in that first parade are still with us (and sometimes marching) today. The local Kiwanis Club, Boy Scout Troop No. 2 and The Newhall Ice Co. had entries back in 1932. About 2,000 people attended the parade and celebrations afterward. I used the word, with asterisks, “first.” I’ve come across references to smallish parades in Newhall from the late 1800s and early 20th century.
THE MIGHTY SIGNAL OPINION PIECE: ALWAYS A CENTURY AHEAD — Signal Editor A.B. “Dad” Thatcher wrote a tongue-in-cheek column on this date in 1932 that is somewhat haunting nearly a century later. Thatcher was a non-smoker but could understand someone enjoying a cigarette, as long as they didn’t inhale. It almost seems like old Dad was a U.S. Surgeon General of the future. Read his words: “Tobacco smoke might not do much damage to the lining of the mouth, but this inhaling business draws it into the lungs, and delicate air passages, where the membrane separating it from the blood vessels is so thin that the least damage is serious. ‘Inhalers’ of the more pronounced type have little chance for life, if attacked by pneumonia or asthma. … But at that, if inhaling is dangerous, we non-smokers had better take to the high timber, for we all do inhale — even if we do it second hand.”
THE BIG GOLD RUSH OF 1932 — A small tidbit in The Mighty Signal noted there was more gold mining and panning going on the Little Santa Clara River Valley than at any time in its history. Part of that had to do with the 1928 bursting of the St. Francis Dam washing away all that soil.
JULY 2, 1942
SPIES IN SCLARITA — Today, we call them terrorists. In 1942, they were called 5th columnists. Because we were worried that Axis Power agents would attack us by setting forest fires, the county Fire Department ordered that no fireworks would be allowed over the Fourth of July here.
OUR MOST SOLEMN IN HISTORY — It was early in World War II and the effort was going badly for the United States. We had no parade, no official parties. The American Legion, which was responsible for the annual parties, was busy building defenses for the SCV and many of the grown men of the valley were in the armed services. Wrote Signal Editor Fred Trueblood of the mood of our hamlet: “Folks, it’s serious. Everything is serious.”
V-V-VICTORY! — In the spirit of patriotism (remember that?) the Triangle Cafe changed its name to the Victory Cafe.
JULY 2, 1952
YEE-&-I-MEAN OUCH!!! — The mercury hit 103 in the shade — and there was no shade — for the Fourth of July parade. Darn thing was, it was in the mid 70s the week before. Foof. The grand marshal was Deuce Spriggins, a country singer famed for the 1952 hit, “Hungover.” Despite the triple digits, the 21st annual parade was the biggest on record.
AND, IT’S RICH IN VITAMIN B — OK. I’m taking a short detour from our trail ride to show you something although you could technically call it local history only because we used to grow asparagus here. But FYI, the average lifespan of a single asparagus plant is 10 to 15 years, although some have lasted almost 30 in ag lab conditions. Sorry. It’s just that I like asparagus, and, well, it’s sold locally, fresh, frozen and in cans.
JULY 2, 1962
END OF AN ERA — On this ongoing theme of parades, about 10,000 souls showed up to see the big parade. My dear pal, Tom Frew, won the Sweepstakes honor for overall best float. Ironically, the old Frew blacksmith shop closed up its doors. While the landmark San Fernando Road business still did welding, they stopped making horseshoes and general smithing with the hammer and anvil.
JULY 2, 1972
SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME THIS WASN’T A HALF-CENTURY AGO — On June 26, the first public boat eased into the waters of Castaic Lake on this, the grand opening. Unlike the ribbon cutting for the lake’s afterbay on Memorial Day earlier, there was no big to-do.
BETTER THAN SPROUL ‘THE SPRAWLER’ — Myron Sproul was named principal at Bowman continuation school. Behind his back, there were those who gave him the unasked-for nickname of “Merciless” Myron.
ANOTHER DARN HEAT WAVE — The mercury hit 112 degrees — the hottest in L.A. County. Just a few miles away in Santa Monica, it was 42 degrees colder.
O RARE BEN JOHNSON — “The Last Picture Show” was playing at the old Plaza Theatre on Lyons. It featured an old Newhall cowboy, Ben Johnson — who won the Oscar for best supporting actor in that film.
JULY 2, 1982
WORLD RECORD FOURTH — We might have to get the tape measure out, but I believe the longest parade route in our local history took place in 1982. It started at the present-day starting blocks at Newhall Avenue and San Fernando Road by Hart Park. It hung a left on Lyons, then went all the way down to Wiley Canyon before it dispersed into the ether.
OUR NEVER-TO-BE FORGOTTEN CHERUBIC PATRIOT — They say you are never truly forgotten until the last person says your name. One of the biggest fans of America, the SCV and Life Itself was The Signal’s award-winning political cartoonist, Randy Wicks. Hard to imagine how you can have an Independence Day celebration without Randy. He died so young at 42 and was literally one of the top political cartoonists on the planet — and he chose to stay here. One of the kindest men I’ve ever met. Forty years ago, his cartoon was on the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
• • •
Looks like this long parade of Signal history trailriders is moseying up to our own, particular Here-&-Now time portal. Sure appreciate the companionship, amigos and amigo-ettes. What say? See you in seven with another exciting Time Ranger adventure? Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!
Check out John Boston’s new SCV history books — “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America,” Volumes One AND Two. Get ’em BOTH at johnbostonbooks.com.