Right out the front door, make sure you dear saddlepals bring your ponchos on this morn’s trail ride. We’ve some epic weather ahead on today’s trek into Santa Clarita history. That also means making sure the lids on your Starbucks’ concoctions are firmly attached. Nothing worse than hail in your latte.
We’ve a marvelous ride ahead, amigos and amigo-ettes. So tug your toppers on a little extra tighter, firm but not tight reins and let’s enjoy some rare electrical storms…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
YAY. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! WE GOT DISCOVERED!! — The first known European to enter the SCV was a fella named Gaspar de Portola and that was back on Aug. 8, 1769. For thousands of years, life had gone on without much change with the Anasazi and, later, Tataviams here. But when Portola and his exploring party waltzed over Newhall Pass and camped out at Castaic, it was the beginning of this amazing, rocket ship acceleration of change for us. So. This week’s our 253rd anniversary of that first European visit. Hmmm. Wonder what’s the traditional gift for the 253rd? Bed pans…?
WHAT’S IN A NAME — You ever wonder why the Santa Clarita Valley is called such? On Aug. 10, 1769, Father Juan Crespi, part of Portola’s expedition, camped out by a major California River at present-day Castaic Junction. He named the river, Santa Clara, after the feast day of that date of Saint Clare.
THE FIGHTING RABBITS? — One of the county’s oldest school districts was founded on Aug. 12, 1871 — Elizabeth Lake. That area was also known as Rabbit Lake for many years. Wonder what the mascot was for that ancient campus?
AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. TRAIN TUNNEL! — Soon, many of you will be climbing aboard a Metrolink passenger train and commuting into L.A. for work. As you go through the Newhall Tunnel, you might want to hum “Happy Birthday.” On Aug. 12, 1876, the first train ever to transverse Newhall Tunnel did so on this date.
AUGUST 13, 1922
TAKE A BATH BEFORE YOU TAKE A BATH? — Signal sometimes-editor and oft-contributor Thornton Doelle issued a stern warning to locals and vacationers alike. “Don’t bathe in local ponds, pools or streams.” It was against federal laws. Thorny noted that the person who invented the axiom about water purifying itself every 100 feet “…was not only lazy, but malicious.”
BETTER THAN ‘BOB INSENSITIVE HORSE MANURE FOR BRAINS’ — Some people on his work crew felt that the foreman in charge of linking Saugus to the Ridge Route was aptly named. The overseer was in charge of a local camp of 35 men. His name? A. Schmuck.
OUR OFT-FORGOTTEN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE — You had to hand it to Newhall’s Henry Clay Needham. He kept running and running and running for president of the United States as the Prohibitionist Party’s top man. In the off years, he ran for Senate. Needham ran for California’s seat in 1922. Hank lost. There are stories that even as a boy, Needham was a passionate anti-liquor man. He was also a pro-Lincoln-ite and against slavery, believing that truly, ALL men were created equal. That was a rather advanced idea in the 1850s. Needham joined the Independent Order of the Good Templars in 1871, advanced through the ranks in Kansas and moved out here to Newhall in 1889. Needham’s great-grandfather, by the way, fought at Valley Forge with George Washington. One of Henry’s prized possessions was a wooden canteen his great-grandpappy carried during the Revolutionary War. (I’ll bet the SCV Historical Society would love to get their mitts on that item.)
OUR FIRST FILM CRITIC — The old Hap-a-Lan Hall showed silent movies in downtown Newhall. Here’s what The Mighty Signal’s first film critic — Thornton Doelle — had to say about the flick: “Men — You must not miss seeing ‘Peacock Alley’ next Wednesday evening at the Hap-a-Lan. It is the peppiest picture of the year. Oh Boy! you ought to see Mae shake her wicked knee. Can she dance? Well — we think so.” Doelle wore many hats in the SCV. Besides being a local lawman and forest ranger, he was also the valley’s first cowboy poet. Maybe someone at City Hall could finally get this deserving soul a saddle on our Western Walk of Stars?
AUGUST 13, 1932
OIL ON THE WINDSHIELD. OIL ON THE ROAD. — This used to be a regular event in many parts of civilized Newhall. The local highway crews would oil the dirt roads. It took about a thousand 50-gallon barrels to get the job done. Imagine — 50,000 gallons of crude sprayed all over the valley. Don’t think SCOPE would have liked the process, but, it kept the dust down.
HMMM. THINK THERE’S SOMEONE IN TOWN TODAY NAMED ‘BILL BOARD?’ — The uglification a la the San Fernando Valley continued. San Fernando Road used to be lined with huge pepper trees, forming a nice shady tunnel. (There was a nice “tree tunnel” on Devonshire that went about 4 miles and ended in Chatsworth back in the 1950s, too.) On this date, they started widening San Fernando Road and ripped out all those magnificent peppers. You know what they replaced many of them with? Billboards. Hock, ptooey.
DON’T LOOK INTO THEIR EYES — Charles Mack And George Moran were two famous vaudeville actors who successfully transitioned to radio and then movies. They were in town, filming “Hypnotized” on this date. Mack would later build a small artists’ colony up on 8th Street and those old French-styled rock houses are still there today.
AUGUST 13, 1942
AUGUST STORM — Here is some EXTREME weather trivia for you meteorological groupies out there. It rained on Aug. 3, 1942, and dumped 0.56 of an inch in downtown Newhall. That was the first time it had rained in August since 1931 (Aug. 3, to be precise). And the last time it rained in August before that? There had been no August rains reported since 1888 when records were kept. I’m going on the plank here — but I’m predicting rain for this August and the beginning to the end of our drought.
FIREFIGHTING FROM HEAVEN — That above August rain was one of the timeliest in local history. There was a 2,500-acre brush fire in Agua Dulce that was doused thanks to the rare storm of the eighth month.
SPEAKING OF BLAZES… — While serving out soft time at Wayside Honor Rancho (Pitchess prison today) four inmates set out to have a little fun while clearing brush in Indian Canyon. They set a fire. It didn’t turn into anything too major, but Forest Service crews and the county Fire Department had to be called out to douse the blaze. The four inmates were brought up on federal charges and had five to 10 years of hard time in San Quentin added to their sentence. Yee-ouch. Those four weren’t exactly gifted in the “brights” department…
YET MORE FIRE NEWS — We spoke recently of a big brush fire that started by the LaSalle Ranch and ate up the hills all the way to Bill Hart’s place. It was started by Army troops target practicing and using live tracer rounds. There was a joke going around town that the young lieutenant in charge of the exercises was probably promoted to major.
AUGUST 13, 1952
BASKET-SKATING? — On this date, they started work pouring a concrete roller skating rink at Newhall Park, behind the pool. There never was much roller skating here in Santa Clarita (dirt roads?) so eventually, they turned it into a basketball court. Growing up here, I used to shoot hoops there until long after midnight in the summer.
NOTHING MUCH LEFT TO HUNT — What with the recent infestatio… er, — influx — of yuppies, we don’t have much need for the next item. But, 70 years ago, The Signal did a nice side business, selling “No Hunting” signs.
AND YET, SOMEHOW WE ALL MADE IT — There was a nifty little report, issued by the National Association of Manufacturers. NAM did some homework, figuring that a typical annual income of $3,000 for a family of four in 1952 didn’t go as far as for the same family in 1939 who made $1,545. Folks were shocked that this 1952 average family would pay $900 in food and $1,400 in various direct and indirect taxes. That 1952 family brought home about $75 a week — less than $2 an hour for a 40-hour week for the breadwinner.
I’LL TAKE TWO — Speaking of money, one more-than-comfortable local was selling his “…11-acre estate” complete with extra-large main house, swimming pool, “keeper’s cottage,” barns, service buildings, oak trees, etc. The Signal real estate ad noted the asking price was $60,000.
AUGUST 13, 1962
IT WASN’T A LONG MARRIAGE — Treva Owens had been married only four days and was headed to Eureka with her new husband. They never made it. Their 1951 Chevy plunged off a cliff on the old Ridge Route. The husband lived. The wife didn’t.
A TRUE LINK WITH HISTORY — Frank Briggs died, 60 years ago this week. As an accountant, he lived a fairly ordinary life since moving to Newhall in 1921. His widow, though, was Annie Rose Briggs. Annie inherited the fabled Lost Padre Mine in Castaic, which pulled out millions in the early 19th century.
THAT LOOKS GREAT ON A MAILBOX — Over the years, we forget some of the colorful names that adorned our geography. One such handle was Necktie Canyon, out in the wilds of Castaic. Supposedly, someone was lynched out there during the Great Castaic Range War of the late 19th and early 20th century. There’s also Hangman’s Canyon where supposedly another unlucky soul was strung up during that range war. Some of you saddlepals may even live out in Hangman’s Canyon today. It’s more commonly known as Bouquet Canyon…
AUGUST 13, 1972
MONSOONAL BOUQUET — Green Valley and upper Bouquet Canyon were punished by a fast-moving tropical storm. Lightning started 30 fires from there to Antelope Valley. One man in Palmdale was struck by lightning. He walked to the hospital and collapsed. Palmdale doctors believed he also suffered a heart attack. Duh.
ZIP RECRUITER — On this date, attorney and Signal columnist Dan Hon sent a letter to the U.S. Postmaster, officially asking that Canyon Country be given its own ZIP code. Back in 1972, all of non-Newhall, from Saugus to Green Valley to Val Verde, had the same zip of 91350. All of Newhall, of course, was 91321.
CHECKMATE. NOW IT’S TIME FOR YOUR NAP. — With the Boris Spassky/Bobby Fischer chess craze sweeping the nation, The Mighty Signal sponsored an all-ages community chess tournament, held at Hart High. One of the most watched matches involved Tiffany Fisher (no relation to grand master Bobby). Tiffany dragged her opponent to a draw, which was pretty darn amazing. Why? Tiffany was THREE YEARS OLD!!
AUGUST 13, 1982
GIVE ME LAND, LOTSA LAND, WITH THE STARRY SKY ABOVE — The average price for a house in the SCV in August 1982 was $107,800. If you were smart enough to buy a house in the early 1920s, the average cost back then was about $600. Today, in 2022, the median home price is about $714,000, but get this. Average 2022 monthly rental prices are a staggering $3,200 — up $626 from a year earlier (according to Zillow). Oh well. Not so much fun with numbers…
SUDDENLY SAM — One of the greatest athletes in the history of the SCV was Sam Ford. That’s — Sam as in Samantha. The Hart High sophomore hurling sensation led her California all-star squad to a national junior title. In the final game, Ford nipped the lead-off batter, drawing an automatic walk. That was followed by a no-hitter (Ford’s second of the series) and striking out a staggering 19 batters. In seven innings!
• • •
You’d think modern science could come up something a little more creative than a spinning vortex to enter to get us back into the Santa Clarita of Here-&-Now, 2022. Like lemon pudding. Don’t know how much spur it would take to get the ponies to ride through a lemon pudding vortex. Alfalfa? Maybe. We’ll discuss this and other deep philosophical questions next weekend when we head out on another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then, be kind to one another and — 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.