With all the frantic holiday rushing we’re all going through, I’d like to offer the simple gift of hooky this weekend morning.
What say. Shall we take a few minutes, climb aboard our noble steeds and disappear into yesteryear for a while? We’ll mosey at a leisurely pace and take in all the crisp clean air we possibly can inhale. We’ll smile and be pleasantly nosey.
Today, we’ve an interesting trail ride through SCV history ahead. While we’ve got a Santa mugging, we’ll also be witnessing plenty of good will, feral dogs and one of my favorite historical topics — the Honby Elementary giant stone fireplace.
Merry Day Before Christmas, amigos, amoebas and saddlepals…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
TIMMMMMMM-BERRRRRRR!!! — On Dec. 20, 1892, the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve was founded with a federal splash of ink. Shortly thereafter, it would be called the San Gabriel Forest Reserve and soon after that, it was renamed the Angeles National Forest. The boundaries included 691,000 acres, stretching from Ventura County to Mount Baldy and from San Fernando to Claremont. The Angeles National Forest is one of my favorite and best-used Christmas gifts ever.
A LITTLE MORE SAN GABRIEL/ANGELES TRIVIA — The first U.S. Forest Service station built with government funds was constructed on the west fork of San Gabriel Canyon, on the north slope of Mt. Wilson. This little log cabin was built in 1900 for a cost to taxpayers of $700. Rangers were paid just $50 a month at the outset, but had to pay for their own expenses, including food and tack (for you yuppies, that’s like clothes and accessories for the horsey…).
A WEE LITTLE BABY JURIST — John Powell was born on Dec. 17, 1839, in Galway, Ireland. He would become a Civil War hero, leading troops in seven major battles for the north. Afterward, he would become the Santa Clarita Valley’s first major justice of the peace and serve for nearly four decades. (There are reports of records stating that a couple of men served briefly before Powell; one was elected, getting two out of three votes cast.) He would die in December, too, on the 29th in 1925.
DECEMBER 24, 1922
THE LONG FORGOTTEN KINGDOM OF HONBY — A big rain sent the Santa Clara River surging. Folks tried wiping off the mud best as they could to trudge into the old Honby School for the Christmas Pageant. Geez AND cripes. I’m guessing MOST of the citizens of Santa Clarita today have no idea whatsoever where Honby is. Know where Home Depot is on Soledad Canyon? THAT area is still officially Honby. Used to be its own little town with a railroad stop. Anywho. One of the neat features of the auditorium was that it had a huge old-fashioned rock fireplace big enough to hold all the stockings (small) of the students of Honby School. Imagine that today. A fireplace in an elementary school…
DECEMBER 24, 1932
HOLIDAYSKI — Al Morse was no big supporter of big huge oak trees close to the road. Al’s car hit one up Bouquet Canyon on this date. The tree was slightly dented and poor Mr. Morse died.
THREE DIRTY DOGS — We’ve been plagued by feral dogs over the years. A couple times (including after the 1974 quake), super packs formed of more than 150 dogs and attacked everything from Boy Scouts to cowboys. Hunters were dispersed on this date 90 years ago. Sheriff’s Lt. Stein, local sharpshooter, sent three rogue mutts to Puppy Heaven. They were caught in the act of attacking a calf on the old Le Moyne Ranch.
THE FATHER OF ALL KEYSTONE COPS — Mack Sennett, famed silent movie mogul, moved to Newhall on this date. He lived in one of those stone houses on 8th Street’s movie colony. While Sennett is famous for the film series from 1912-1917, the original Keystone Cops were created by Hank Mann, one of Hollywood’s first comedians. He portrayed the comic chief of police in the 1912 flick, “Hoffmeyer’s Legacy.” The Keystone PD became a hit in 1913, in the film, “The Bangville Police.” Their slapstick style became a benchmark of slapstick comedy that’s still copied today.
SHOW ME THE CONTRACT AND SIGN ME UP! — A beautiful Spanish-style seven-bedroom home on 10 acres in Placerita Canyon was up for rent. How much a month? Just $35. Still. That was a lot in The Great Depression.
DECEMBER 24, 1942
MUST HAVE BEEN ONE, HOT MOVIE — On this date, the projection room at the old American Theater (the American Legion Hall behind the Newhall Library today) caught on fire. A Western — “Man From Cheyenne” — broke in the projector and the film caught on fire, triggering a series of alarms and automatically locking the projectionist in with the small blaze. The cameraman quickly extinguished the fire and the only damage was a burned projector. The theater was evacuated for a few moments. Then, everyone was herded back in to resume the quadruple bill. Yup. They had an extra projector.
BETTING A MILLION BUCKS SHE WALKED TO WORK — Talk about a short commute to work — on this date, the Saugus Cafe placed a want ad for an experienced waitress. Besides good pay, the job also came with free room and board right behind the coffee shop. Funny thing? You’d think a business that’s been open since the 19th century would have job security. The Saugus Café would end up closing briefly during World War II because of supply shortages. When the owner went to lock the place up, he discovered there were no keys to any doors (the place was open 24 hours). He had to drive over to the hardware store and buy a few padlocks.
DECEMBER 24, 1952
THE PC HART TRUSTEES WOULD FAINT TODAY — Before the days of Political Correctness, The Signal had some interesting headlines. Check out this one for the Hart basketball program: “Injun Hardwood Varsity Make It Six In A Row.” I don’t think we can say “Hardwood” anymore.
BRING BACK THE SNAK SHAK! — You old-timers will remember Margaret Hampton at the long-defunct Snak Shak on San Fernando Road, today, Main Street. The place was about as wide as a file folder and sat about a dozen customers, fully packed. Margaret was the irascible owner who made no secret about not liking like women or children. Well. She didn’t like them sitting in her eatery because A) they didn’t eat enough; 2) they dawdled; and ii) they didn’t tip. Margaret kept a very thick sock hanging over the griddle where she put tips and donations. For what, she wouldn’t say. But, right before Christmas, it leaked out that the $75 she had raised went for buying shoes for local needy kids. That darn grumpy woman threw me out twice when I was a kid, even after I showed her I had moolah for lunch and a tip (small one, darn her). Again, Margaret had her soft side. Hobos would come around the back and she’d bring them out a hot meal, no charge, no questions asked. THAT’S Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and all the kind things that make the world go ‘round…
NO ANGRY LETTERS TO SIGNAL EDITOR TIM WHYTE, BUT IS THERE ACTUALLY SUCH A THING AS A ‘TAMED’ WOMAN? — Actor Mike Conrad, star of “Untamed Women,” was at The American Theatre for a special in-person appearance. Jiminy Christmas. It must have been a really bad movie to have the leading man make a special appearance a few days before Christmas — in 1952 Newhall at that.
DESPITE THE WORD, ‘PARTY,’ THERE WAS NEVER SUCH A THING AS A HAPPY PARTY LINE — It’s hard to believe, but locals had a difficult time dialing each other up to wish one another a Merry Christmas. The culprit? Party lines. That’s back in the day when as many as eight homes and businesses shared the same phone line. It’s also back in the day when humans didn’t come with cell phones glued to their ears…
DECEMBER 24, 1962
RANCHO SUBMARINO (UNDERWATER RANCH) — Mrs. Marie Daries passed away on this date. She was the matriarch of a Santa Clarita cattle empire family that grazed stock on approximately 1,000 acres in Castaic. Marie, whose maiden name was Larramendy, came from Basque roots and settled in the northern part of the valley in 1886. By 1962, there were only two large family cattle spreads left — the Roy Smith ranch (Roy was Marie’s son-in-law) and the Cordova family, also in Castaic. Marie was 95 when she went to her reward. Interestingly, the week she died, discussions were being held in Sacramento about turning her ranch into the future Castaic Lake project.
DECEMBER 24, 1972
FROM THE ‘IS THERE NOTHING SACRED DEPT.’ — On this date, Santa Claus was mugged in downtown Newhall. Dan Curasi, 16, had been spreading cheer on behalf of the Downtown Newhall Merchants’ Association when he was attacked by four high school boys. Curasi — IN HIS DARN SANTA COSTUME!!!!!!!!!! — had been in a fistfight earlier with two of the youths. He beat the tar out of two of the boys after they had showered him with profanity in front of a group of wide-eyed children. The pair then showed up after dark with help, ended up stealing St. Nick’s wig and beat a hasty retreat on motorcycles.
DESPITE OUR SUBTLE AND POLITE CLEARING OF OUR THROATS, PEOPLE KEEP MOVING HERE — Protesters gathered at Placerita Junior High to complain about overdevelopment and cementing of the Santa Clara River. They chanted: “No More Development! No More People.” That’s back when we at least had a little elbow room with 60,000 people living in the valley. Don’t hold me to this, but I think the valley population just last week surpassed the subcontinent of India…
DECEMBER 24, 1982
LIGHTS ON — This week in 1982, The M-m-m-m-mmmmighty Signal finished THEIR 4th annual Signal Holiday Light Contest. The James Neilis family of Rio Gusto Court was the 1982 grand champion. This paper’s event grew to boffo Hollywood spectacular proportions. Members of The Signal staff ended up touring the entered homes in everything from stretch limos to fire trucks. On the entry form, there was a special section for the homeowners to write what sort of bribes The Signal staff could expect. We were courted with everything from hot chili to barbecue to chocolate cakes. (You can text me, the Time Ranger, a photo of your home’s Christmas decorations, along with some hand-delivered delish baby back ribs or a gallon of great chili. Do NOT bring it over to The Signal offices as the unholy staff are in the media and will eat anything not theirs or nailed down.) (:- )
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Can’t tell you dear saddlepals how much my heart overflows with appreciation for your good company. To some, Merry Darn Christmas with hot cocoa to you. Happy Hanukkah and may it be filled to the brim with unexpected blessings. To all who don’t particular celebrate, such a treat to see you and you bring a smile to my heart. See you back here at The Mighty Signal in seven days — our last Time Ranger ride of 2022! Until then, vayan con Dios, amigos!
Need a Christmas present? Go buy 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!