Well. Happy first weekend of August. Heavens. Where DID the year 2022 go?
Welcome to our weekly trail ride onto the back trails of Santa Clarita history. We’ve a most compelling trek ahead, dear saddlepals. Beyond the regular onions, carrots and potatoes we were famous for, there’s an entire vista of some of the strangest-sounding fruit crops of which you’ve never heard. We’ll visit back when LAX was almost built here and we’ll be on the lookout for rustlers, pastor shootings, giant oaks, and clear your vocal chords. We’re all going to sing “Happy Birthday” to Granary Square and its colorful history.
C’mon. If you climbed aboard your saddle properly, there should be a saddlehorn and some horse ears in front of you. Not so much if you’re facing the other direction…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
SURREY? WHY, IT’S RIGHT NEXT TO SAUGUS. CAN’T MISS IT! — On Aug. 5, 1891, the community of Saugus split — literally — down the sidewalk. This was the day the Surrey Post Office was founded — smack dab in the middle of Saugus. It was downright quirky. Half the people in town got mail addressed to Saugus and right next door, the other half got mail addressed to Surrey. The epicenter of the Saugus of 1891 was today’s Saugus Café.
MOVING DAY — On Aug. 1, 1876, the Pioneer Oil Refinery moved from Lyon Station near present-day Eternal Valley down to Pine Street. This was the first successful oil refinery in California history and there is still an obscure marker on Pine Street today.
NATIONAL GUARD GUARDS THE SCV — I’m not sure of the exact date, but it was around 1917, a couple years before The Signal was founded. The Little Santa Clara River Valley was hit with a bad bout of hoof-and-mouth disease and the entire area was quarantined by police and — GET THIS — the National Guard for several months. People couldn’t leave or enter the SCV for several weeks. Folks got to know one another pretty well back then, visiting each other for parties and barbecues. Errr, ummmm — chicken barbecues…
AUGUST 6, 1922
TAX TIME — This isn’t epicenter dead local, but it’s close. The county tax bill for Los Angeles in 1921-22 was a whopping $43,836,669. There were 979,700 people in L.A. County and that averaged out to $44.74 per resident.
WE EVEN HAD NUMBSKULLS A CENTURY AGO — I’ll bet a lot of firefighters will be shaking their heads at this one. On this date, the Automobile Club of Southern California issued a proclamation. Remember. Back then, AAA oversaw speed limits, some road laws, and posting signs. They noted that firefighters were having problems getting out to brush fires in this area because as soon as someone saw smoke, they’d jump in their car to catch a peek. The narrow and mostly dirt roads would become jammed and the Fire Department couldn’t make it through to the fire.
T.W. WOODBRIDGE HAD ONE HECK OF A COMMUTE — I’ve oft mentioned the connection between the valleys Death and Santa Clarita. Ol’ T.W. Woodbridge worked both in Sterling (in the north part of present-day Canyon Country) and in Furnace Creek (in Death Valley). That was before the days of sunblock and car air conditioners, too. BUT, driving to and fro to Death Valley in a Model T sure beat walking…
STARVED FOR NEWS — Long-distance travel was not exactly a commonplace occurrence for most folks. When the Logan family decided to take a car and drive from Newhall to Yosemite and on into Nevada and back, it was a major news story in The Signal. Hate to think what would happen if we published EVERYBODY’S vacation itinerary in the SCV today…
AUGUST 6, 1932
QUIT BUGGING US — On this date, Claude Atherton went to his well for water and got something completely else — a tarantula. Claude captured the beast alive and kept it as a pet. He boasted it was 4 inches across, but when it crawled on his arm, it looked more like 4 feet.
WHEN WORDS HAD DIFFERENT MEANINGS — Not making this up, but The Signal headline on an agriculture story was: “Queer Names for California Fruits.” I have to confess. There were some edible florae on the list I’ve never even heard of, like — a feljoa, a cherimoya, or a medlar. The cherimoya is an ancient Incan fruit. The feljoa is also known as pineapple guava. The medlar is from the rose family and reportedly tastes like a mixture of apple butter, cinnamon and vanilla.
AUGUST 6, 1942
DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER NOR THE MINISTER — They must not have liked his sermon. On this date, the Rev. Myron Breckenridge was camping out at the Happy Hollow Camp in Placerita Canyon — which I believe is where The Master’s College is today — with his family. He was standing outside his cabin, shaking out a rug when he felt what he thought was a very large insect bite by his right ear. ’Tweren’t. The good reverend started bleeding profusely. His family rushed him to the hospital where his wound was pronounced superficial, and he was released. Seems someone shot him. I’m wondering if my good pal George Starbuck has an alibi for this date.
SAUGUS INTERNATIONAL AND THE RUSSIAN ROAD — The county started a massive improvement project on The Russian Road. That was the nickname for Newhall Avenue during World War II. Newhall Avenue then crossed Wiley Creek and was the direct road to Saugus International Airport (near where Granary Square is today on McBean). SIA was kiddingly named because it made one (1) mail run into Mexico each week and was one of Southern California’s most strategic airports. In fact, a huge state bond was passed in 1938 to make SIA THE Los Angeles International Airport.
L.A. County’s other fields were frequently mired in fog and many commercial and civilian flights would land and take off from our airstrip in the middle of Newhall Land’s potato fields. The problem was that Newhall Avenue was usually such a vile backwater and spine breaker, flyers could land but couldn’t drive anywhere once they got here.
The county improvement project of 1942 raised the road, regraded and then oiled the dirt highway. The work provided what they thought would be a decent byway for cars and trucks. Alas, they couldn’t predict the epic rainfalls that hit the valley from 1942 to 1945. The project was also a local boon. The county Road Department was hiring just about anyone (even those more than 55 years old) to be laborers on the project. It paid pretty well, too — $110 a month.
AUGUST 6, 1952
COW CROOKS — We had yet more bouts of rustling here, quite some distance apart. Someone liberated a few milkers from Marty Decata’s place in Castaic and from Ray Brooks, foreman of the McMillan Ranch in Sand Canyon (no relation to the Ray Brooks who bought this paper in 1963). Brooks noted the McMillan Ranch’s prize red-polled Hereford bull was missing. No tire tracks, no horse prints, no busted fences. The half-ton bovine mating machine was valued at around $500 — a lot of darn money in 1952…
AUGUST 6, 1962
A LONG-LOST GIANT TREASURE — In the early 20th century, around 1910, the valley was dotted with huge live and white oaks. Many of these epic giants were hacked down for quick cash for firewood and charcoal. Some were just plucked, burned, or dynamited to flatten fields for tilling. On this date, one of the valley’s quiet giants, a massive live oak on the corner of Cross and Market streets, collapsed with an epic crash. Statistics on the Newhall Giant were staggering. At 2 feet above ground, it had a circumference of 24 feet, 3 inches and a diameter of 9 feet, 2 inches. That’s the size of a small Valencia bedroom. Its shade diameter stretched over 120 feet. The tree sat in the yard of the D.Q. Bowman family and was what attracted them to the site in the 1920s. The Leland Bowman family lived there after that.
NOT CURTIS ‘STONEY’ — You’d really have to be a TV buff to remember this show. On this date, the producers of “Stoney Burke,” a kind of rodeo cowboy/detective show starring Jack Lord (more famous for his role of Inspector McGarrett in “Hawaii 5-0”). The company stayed here to film 26 hour-long episodes. If you ever get a chance, all of them are on CD and you can really catch a great glimpse of what the valley looked like in 1962.
AUGUST 6, 1972
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER — Magic Mountain held a promotional jewel hunt. They planted $25,000 in precious gems around the park and visitors braved 100-plus-degree heat to search for them. The Happy Hump didn’t exactly plant the Hope Diamond, but they did hide jewels valued from $100 to $1,000 in their “African Veldt Diamond Field.” An interesting sidebar: One of the amusement park gem hunters came across a small gold nugget. Magic Mountain officials embarrassingly noted that they hadn’t planted any gold nuggets. The Lynwood man had accidentally stumbled upon the tiny nugget and a park spokesman noted that we did use to be one of Southern California’s premier gold boom towns. The precious metal, weighing about 1/7th of an ounce, was valued at about 10 bucks — not quite enough to even pay for admission.
AUGUST 6, 1982
WHAT A SURPRISE. MORE HOUSES. — The first major housing development west of Interstate 5 was approved by the Regional Planning Commission on this date. Camden Development earned the right to build a proposed 241 homes on 213 acres, near where the old CHP building sat.
WONDER IF BECK GOT FREE COMPLIMENTARY PEANUTS AND A SODA POP? — Next time you try fleeing from SCV lawmen by flying, you might want to try booking a flight with a short destination. Beck Root was wanted for multiple counts of armed robbery, kidnapping, breaking out of jail, and attempted rape. He also stole two airline tickets to Hawaii. It wasn’t too hard for sheriff’s deputies to call Hawaii 5-0 and have some island cops waiting for Root. And no. When he got off the plane, they didn’t wrap any lei around his neck. (P.S. I had to look up the plural of the floral necklace. The plural of “lei” is still “lei.” That’ll be on the final if you live in the Polynesian mobile home park…)
CRIPES, IT CAN’T BE 40 YEARS!! — Happy birthday to Granary Square. The shopping center on McBean Parkway had its grand opening 40 years back on Aug. 7, 1982. The mall got its name from the original granary, which was built 2 miles west of the present-day shopping center by padres and Indians from the original Mission San Francisco in 1804. That original grain storehouse was an adobe brick building, used to distribute not just grain, but other supplies to the early settlers in the SCV. In 1849, when John Manley and William Rogers stumbled into the SCV, they sought rescue for their stranded Bennett-Arcane wagon train 200 miles away in Death Valley. It was the provisions from the original Granary Square that were taken to the wayward pioneers. It was also at that granary where the original ranch headquarters first were for the 48,000-acre Rancho San Francisco, which became Newhall Ranch in 1875.
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Would that be an absolute hoot, if we could bring John Manley and William Rogers into present-day Santa Clarita? What would their reaction be to seeing a shopping center, with cars whishing by and people pushing shopping carts. Cold food. Frozen food. Hot food. Food representing many places on the globe. We sure are lucky to have our Santa Clarita, aren’t we? You saddlepals be well. I’ll see you in seven, amigos. Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!
John Boston’s brand new book — “The 25 World’s Most Terribly Inappropriate Dog Breeds” will be released next week. Funniest dog book ever written. Check for status updates at johnbostonbooks.com.