Do you know what I absolutely love about this time of year? Except for the rare short heat wave, we have about 250 really pleasant days ahead before the punishing parenthesis of summer. Sigh. Yay.
We’ve a most interesting trek ahead into the back canyons of Santa Clarita’s history. One of my favorites is when 91% of all registered voters showed up to vote. Anywho. Grab your coffee, tea, whiskey, or ungodly yuppie oat-latte-frappa-wracka-chino, and find a dignified way to climb into the saddle. Us? We’re off with a smile to ride into the mystic…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
MENTRYBURG? MENTRYTON? MENTRYITA? — This month in 1873, legendary future oil man Charles Alex Mentry arrived in the Newhall area from San Francisco. He’d dig several successful wells, including the historic Pico No. 4, which would be the longest-producing well in the world, continuously pumping black gold for more than a century. He also used what may have been California’s first steam-powered oil derrick. Living in a 13-room Victorian mansion that’s still there today, Alex would build a petroleum empire that today is a state park on the east end of the valley — Mentryville. Me? I would have preferred if they named the community — Mentryopolis…
OUR POVERTY ROW MOVIE MOGUL — Trem Carr would become the king of “B” movies and film dozens of low-budget horror films, but, mostly Westerns in Placerita Canyon’s and Gene Autry’s future Melody Ranch. Trem would co-found both Republic and Monogram Pictures (which later would become Allied Artists). The Poverty Row (a term given to Hollywood’s low-budget film industry in the 1920s and 1930s) film producer was born on Nov. 6, 1891, in Trenton, Illinois. Trem would die just a couple months after William S. Hart made his passing, in 1946.
NOVEMBER 5, 1922
THE SCV: HOME OF ALL TRAINS — Over the years, one of the historical themes that ring true of the SCV is all the epic projects that were planned for the area and ended up never seeing the light of reality. We were supposed to be the major switching station for all the trains in Southern California. We were supposed to be the home of L.A. International Airport and we were supposed to be the start of a huge, three-tiered 40-mile train/truck/auto tunnel from Castaic to the San Joaquin Valley. Add to that list was the Newhall Radio Station. On this date, backers started the wheels in motion to create a 500-watt broadcasting station complete with a music studio. The whole project was supposed to cost just $30,000 to build. Last I looked, old KSCV’s epic radio tower or studio was never built.
OUR WOULD-BE PRESIDENTIAL PAL — Poor old Henry Clay Needham. He was a major player in the national Prohibitionist Party and ran for the presidency three times. He also kept running for California senator. In the 1922 election, Needham didn’t even carry his own hometown. Needham garnered 60 votes, losing to the eventual winner, Sen. Johnson.
NO MULE TEAM BORAX — The Pacific Coast Borax Co. was a mainstay of the Canyon Country economy for years. A special work crew was hired to dismantle the plant. A Signal editorial noted, “Dear old borax mill, how we hate to see you leave us.” A century later, we’re not so pro-mining.
GALS. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME. OR ANYWHERE, FOR THAT MATTER — The Newhall Women’s Club hosted a play at the old Hap-A-Land Hall on Market. It was the comedy, “Clubbing a Husband.” Ladies: no smiling, please…
LET THE SUN SHINE — A little newspaper history from over the hill. On this date, R.H. Glenn bought The San Fernando Valley Press, that valley’s oldest newspaper. It was founded around the turn of the 20th century. Mr. Glenn immediately changed the name of his paper to the San Fernando Sun.
AND, THORNY WAS THE SCV’s FIRST COWBOY POET — Speaking of newspapers, a young Thornton Doelle took off into the wilderness above Acton to supervise the construction of a trail to Mount Gleason. Years later, forest ranger and poet Thornton would be the editor of The Mighty Signal.
NOVEMBER 5, 1932
WHEN VOTERS USED TO VOTE — Here’s a headline rarer than “MARTIANS LAND IN SAUGUS.” On this date, 91% — you read that right — of the registered voters in the Santa Clarita Valley showed up at the precincts to vote. That’d be BOTH precincts — conveniently named Precinct No. 1 and Precinct No. 2. Out of more than 600 registered voters, 568 cast their votes. The Democrats swept the presidential election here by an over 2-1 margin, giving up 389 votes for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Socialists mustered eight votes and the Liberty Party took in seven. Today, we have more than 1,500 precincts and sneaking up on 1,000 times more registered voters in the valley.
OUR FIRST LADY — Herbert Hoover sent a telegram of congratulations to FDR the night of his election in 1932. Why is this in a local history report? Hoover’s wife, Lou Henry Hoover, spent part of her childhood in nearby Acton.
STEAM SHOVELS CAN BE DETRIMENTAL TO YOUR HEALTH — Mark Winkler didn’t get to vote. He was killed when a mountain collapsed in Bouquet Canyon, crushing his steam shovel along with Mark in it.
ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL — The day this newspaper announced that Roosevelt took the presidency, we ran a full-page ad, asking the townsfolk to support FDR and his New Deal plan to jumpstart the economy by advertising in The Mighty Signal. It made sense then. It makes sense now.
NOVEMBER 5, 1942
ALL TIRED OUT — Be careful what you ask for. After a huge local PR campaign (sponsored by this paper), the local Railway Express shop was flooded with tires. Folks were asked to donate their old used tires for the war effort. Walt McIntyre (no pun intended) was inundated with the spares, taking in about 80 a day.
AIN’T MARRIAGE GRAND? — Mrs. Bill Bonita placed a frantic call to local police that her husband was trying to kill her. When they sped all the way up to the Bonitas’ distant hog ranch, they found Mrs. B. beaten and Bill fast asleep — with a shotgun resting in his lap. Bill was arrested, found guilty, and ordered to serve 30 days in jail. Mrs. B? She appealed to the judge to commute her wife-beating husband’s sentence.
NOVEMBER 5, 1952
H2O TRIVIA — The Board of Supervisors voted to include Placerita Canyon in the Newhall Water District. That added 300 acres to the existing 500 acres for a total of $3 million in tax valuation. That’ll be on your final, saddlepals.
THE AUTOMOBILE DEADLY — It’s hard to believe that, with a lot fewer people living in and traveling through the SCV, we had more traffic fatalities 70 years back. But, we did. Already by Nov. 10, we had 63 road deaths within our boundaries, doubling the 1950 record. Prior to the days of mandatory seat belts, killer glass windshields and better highways, we had around 1,000 crashes per year in the valley. That would work out to an amazingly high percentage by year’s end — around seven deaths for every 100 crashes.
NOVEMBER 5, 1962
PACIFIC COAST MIDDLE SCHOOL, aka, SIERRA VISTA? — On this date, the William S. Hart Union High School District flexed its muscles and voted unanimously to authorize condemnation proceedings against Pacific Coast Properties. The board brought the legal action to buy a chunk of land, at fair market value ($107,000 for 10 acres) from PCP to build a campus in North Oaks. It would be called Sierra Vista.
DEER ME — We don’t get many of these cases any more in the yuppiefied Santa Clarita. On this date, Deputy Sheriff Bill Llewllyn hit a deer on his way to work. The mishap caused $200 in damage to his truck. I remember coming out of Hart Park about 20 years ago after one of our SCV history/campfire classes. I was locking the gate behind me and a full-grown buck ran smack dab into the passenger-side door of my pickup. Nearly knocked himself out. Didn’t even stop to say he was sorry for the dent…
NOVEMBER 5, 1972
IDIOT TEENAGE BOY — It started with a rock thrown by a teenage boy and ended with a rippling of tragedies. A young woman was riding her horse in what were fields behind St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Newhall. She was leading a pony. The boy threw a rock, hitting her horse, causing it to rear and bolt. It threw the young woman and she landed on her face and was knocked unconscious. The two horses high-tailed it away and ran into traffic on Orchard Village Road. A motorist couldn’t stop in time, hit the horse and killed it. The horse landed on the roof, crushing it, injuring the woman’s husband and critically injuring her 10-year-old son. All from a teenage prank.
THE ORIGINS OF SANTA CLARITA — Local mucky-mucks met to discuss what to call this valley. We have gone through many name changes over the centuries, from whatever the ancient Indian tribes called this indentation to Mission San Francisco to the Soledad Township to plain old Newhall-Saugus. Town historian A.B. Perkins started referring to the Upper Little Santa Clara River Valley in the early 1950s as Santa Clarita. Around the same time, the Bonelli family named their new housing project — in Saugus — the Santa Clarita Village. Even the Methodists got involved, calling their first church here Santa Clarita Methodist. The Jaycees sponsored the first meeting to come up with a permanent title for us all.
TRICKY DICK RULES IN SANTA CLARITA — The SCV voted at a 3-1 margin for Richard Milhouse Nixon for president. They also turned their back on a homegrown Newhall incumbent, Warren Dorn, and helped to vote in a maverick KABC newscaster, Baxter Ward, as 5th District supervisor.
NOVEMBER 5, 1982
CLIMATE CHANGE? OR MAYBE, JUST RAIN? — An inch and a half of rain and we went nuts. A cloudburst caused numerous crashes and flooding here 40 years back. I do believe we survived that particular mini-monsoon.
CHEAPER TO USE SOLID GOLD? — Ah, the excesses of government. Forty years back, Downtown Newhall was in the midst of a federal beautification project. We know. We know. It didn’t take. Anyway. Workers were laying the $130,000 brick crosswalk where today’s Main Street crosses Market. Some locals were counting the bricks and rightly figuring out why a few hundred of them cost so dang much money…
KEEP IT AWAY FROM THE CAR WASH; IT’S ART. — Performance artist Bill Harding showed up at — where else, CalArts — to, well. Perform. Harding’s art consisted of driving around the country in a 1966 Buick Riviera covered in thick sod. Harding and his girlfriend, Barbara Wallis, also would dress in turf and stand outside the car. And that was the performance art. “The grass car is the antithesis of both nature and technology,” said Harding. “It is a metaphor for a new kind of survival where neither force can dominate.” Or, it’s a lame-asterisk dirty car…
• • •
Drat and doggone it, as much as I love the SCV, I always dread coming back from simpler times into the here-&-now. Oh well. Let’s make good use of the present and the bright thing is we get to do this all over again in seven days, amigos and amigo-ettes. See you back at The Mighty Signal hitching post. Until then, vayan con Dios, amigos!
Don’t forget to go buy, right jolly now, Boston’s newest book, “The 25 Most Inappropriate Dog Breeds,” at johnbostonbooks.com. Sombrero in hand, we note a 5-star rating on Amazon would be grandly appreciated!