The Time Ranger | Did the Spanish Bring the First HOA’s?

The Time Ranger

​​​Top of a summer Saturday in the riparian Santa Clarita to you, dear saddlepals and saddlepal-ettes. 

We’ve a grand trail ride through local history ahead. There’s movie stars both local and imported, toward whom to wave a howdy. We’ve epic accidents, babynapping and a trek down Gasoline Alley. 

Let’s sip our campfire coffee, my favorite — hot tea with too much sugar and lemon — designer store-bought lattes, vegetable juice concoctions, and whatever whets your whistle. Shall we hold onto our hats and duck as we enter the time portal into yesteryear’s fables and history? 


THE FIRST WHITE GUYS — Smack dab on Aug. 8, 1769, Spanish explorer and adventurer Gaspar de Portola led a long parade of soldiers, cooks, servants and missionaries over Newhall Pass and set up camp near present-day Castaic Junction. He was the first white man to enter the valley. For thousands of years, life had not changed at all for the Native Americans who lived here. With all the blessings of Western Civilization, the Europeans surely brought an entire passel of rules and regulations to the Santa Clarita, and beyond. Was this the beginning of the dreaded Homeowners Association and its minutia? Post Gaspar, it hasn’t been the same since. 

IF THEY NAMED A DOUGHNUT AFTER HIM, WOULD IT BE CALLED, ‘CRISPI CRESPIS?’ — How did we ever come to be called the Santa Clarita Valley? Blame, or thank, Father Juan Crespi. On Aug. 10, 1769, while camping out in Castaic with the Portola gang, Crespi noted that it was the feast day of St. Claire. The padre named the river after her. Over the years, we picked up the name of The Little Santa Clara River Valley. The first I’m familiar with it being called Santa Clarita was in the 1930s. 

NO RELATION TO JENNIFER BEALS — Again on this date, but in 1855, the controversial historical figure, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, bought the Rancho La Liebre. Beale had been nominated to be surveyor general of the U.S., but Abe Lincoln nixed the deal, quipping: “He (Beale) tends to become master of all he surveys.” 

WE’RE NOT BADGERING YOU. SWEAR. — On Aug. 10, 1854, Fort Tejon was established up the Grapevine. It was actually and officially founded a couple months earlier, but the first troops were garrisoned there on that date. The little outpost was created to battle anti-state rebels and local Native Americans who pestered everything from mountain men to supply trains, and cattle herds to settlers. Tejon (which means “badger.” in Spanish) was abandoned about 10 years later. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOU BIG FLIRT AND DESPERADO YOU — One of the valley’s most famous and notorious figures, the womanizing bandito Tibircio Vasquez, was born on Aug. 11, 1835, in Monterey. His house still sits up in Northern California, a state monument. He and his brothers owned homes in the SCV later and Tibby’s local civilian alter ego was as a successful horse trader. 

THERE’S A ‘BRUCE FORTINE’S STILL TRYING TO GRADUATE 152 YEARS LATER’ JOKE SOMEWHERE, BUT WE’RE GOING TO IGNORE IT — Aug. 12, 1871, saw the birth of the Lake Elizabeth School District. The plucky little district, which still teaches grades K-8, is still operating today, teaching kids from both lakes — Elizabeth and Hughes. Last I looked, there were, on any given day, 162 students, nine teachers, and a staff of 17. 

PRE METROLINK — Same date, Aug. 12, but, in 1876, the first train rumbled through the Newhall train tunnel. Coming from the San Fernando Valley, the inaugural run saw the locomotive going through one of the world’s longest train tunnels of the 19th century. 

AUGUST 12, 1923  

THE EARLY BEGINNINGS OF OUR CEMENT HABIT — Long before they started serving cheap white wine with cheese and crackers, our brand-new Chamber of Commerce was starting on their first ambitious project. The chamber was looking around town for places to lay sidewalks. Smart money said they should put the sidewalks in front of buildings. 

AUGUST 12, 1933  

BIFF WOULD NOT HAVE LIKED 2023 CALIFORNIA TAXES. GUARAN-DARN-TEE YA — Local druggist Biff Domm was so fed up with all the taxes and charges, including a $90 stock and fixture tax for July, he posted a sign on his pharmacy. It read: “Soda fountain tax — $3. Opium & Narcotic Tax — $3.50. Beer License — $12. Medicinal Liquor License — $25. Tax on checks for June, $0.74. Renewal of Pharmacy Certificate — $3.” Signal Editor A.B. Thatcher came back with the suggestion that Biff should be charged a 2-and-a-half-cent nuisance tax on everything he sold. 

HERE’S A FIRST.  SCHOOL DISTRICT REQUIRES LESS MONEY. — In the 1931-32 fiscal year, the Newhall School District spent $21,865.32. The following year, they spent $18,038.26 and that was after absorbing the Felton School District in Mentryville into their fiefdom. 

AUGUST 12, 1943  

IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? OR, ON THE RANCH? — On this date, cowpoke and actor Gary Cooper was over at Andy Jauregui’s spread in Placerita Canyon, filming “The Life of Dr. Wassell” with Lorraine Day. Hall of Fame cowboy Andy had his ranch transformed into an Arkansas farm for the flick. Coop played the lead in the real-life World War II story of an MD stationed in the Pacific. Escaping the Japanese, Dr. Wassell leads a dozen wounded soldiers to safety in Australia. The flick was directed by Cecil B. DeMille, who, coincidentally, once had a racehorse ranch here in the SCV. 

BABYNAPPING — An unknown soldier went AWOL in spectacular fashion. He stole Fred Milligan’s car, then parked outside a Lancaster grocery store. Normally, a theft wouldn’t have gotten everyone from the Army to the Highway Patrol and local sheriff’s deputies involved in such great numbers. Seems Milligan had some valuable cargo aboard — his 6-month-old sleeping grandson. The Army private who stole the car and baby in Lancaster was captured at Faye’s Cafe in Mint Canyon. I’m betting the soldier still might be in the brig. I’m also laying some serious cash that ol’ Fred Milligan got a serious tongue-lashing for leaving a baby alone in a car in Palmdale — in AUGUST — for crying out loud.  

AUGUST 12, 1953  

FLYING BIG RIGS — The description of this accident involving a huge truck flying out of control and over a cliff was written so well by Signal Editor Fred Trueblood, all I can do is offer it to you verbatim: “Webb rode a 60-foot three-axle truck cargoed with 17 tons of wrapping paper all the way down the long grade at 90 miles per hour. He was in the cab when the speeding juggernaut took off into the air like a gigantic rocket. He was in the cab when the truck telescoped and condensed itself into a small tangle of twisted metal in the bed of a small wash 40 feet below the highway, while ponderous rolls of paper rolled out into a field thickly sprinkled with grazing cattle.” Teamster Webb suffered only scratches. 

GUESS THEY’D HAVE TO LEASE 80 ACRES TO GROW REGULAR ROSES — The Germain Seed & Plant Co. of Van Nuys leased 40 acres of the old Kellogg Ranch in Saugus. They grew a half-million tea roses on the property. 

DEAR DEER — Here’s something you just don’t see anymore. Why? Too many condos in the way. Deer hunting season opened in the SCV. Literally, thousands of hunters were roaming the hills and mountains on this weekend. 

AUGUST 12, 1963  

DEAR, DEAR, LEONA — On this date, one of my favorite people of SCV history put foot to shovel to break ground on the elementary school that would be named after her — Leona Cox. Mrs. C was a hard-working ranch woman who raised three boys — Donald, Murray, and Clement (all those years and I never had the courage to call Clem, “Clement.”) Leona was the janitor at the original one-room Sulphur Springs School in the 1920s where she labored like four men, doing everything from carpentry to hauling water from the creek. The Widow Cox also had to tend to her own Sand Canyon ranch and be a good mom to her own three sons. Later, as ALSO the librarian and clerk at Sulphur Springs, Leona touched the lives of thousands of kids during her career. She always had a carved sign on her desk: “There is no such thing as a bad child.” She was 87 at the groundbreaking. 

AUGUST 12, 1973  

LIKE THE OLD ROLLING STONES’ SONG, IT’S A GAS, GAS, GAS … — Lyons Avenue earned the nickname of Gasoline Alley for all the service stations that dotted the boulevard. With the oil crisis, the brightly lit stations went dark at sundown to ration supplies. One owner had to limit purchases to just $2 worth of gas per customer. Can you imagine that now at today’s prices? Two bucks wouldn’t buy two quarts… 

TODAY, THERE’S A BILLION-SIX OF YOU PEOPLE LIVING HERE — Three years after the fact, we were still arguing over the 1970 census. The U.S. Census Bureau visited our valley, but had vague descriptions of an area they called “Ranch Santa Clarita.” Their population figure was 47,752. The local Community Health Council disputed the numbers and came up with a total of 48,981 for the 1970 census — about 1,200 folks higher than the USCB’s tally. Canyon Country, not Valencia, was the largest community 50 years back with 18,480 residents. Newhall was next with 13,740. Saugus had 7,762 people and Valencia just 4,418. Agua Dulce boasted of 1,452 souls, Castaic and Val Verde had 1,964, which included the inmates at Wayside Honor Rancho. In 1973, the population of the valley was estimated at 61,267. In 1923? About 5,000, but that included up to the Welcome to Palmdale sign, Frazier Park, both Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake, and up and over to Chatsworth. 

AUGUST 12, 1983  

SO STOP BUILDING ROADS — After years of discussion, The Newhall Land and Farming Co. and L.A. County reached an agreement to extend McBean Parkway and connect to Bouquet Canyon to relieve traffic congestion. Four decades later, the roads are built and there’s still congestion. No. Actually, more congestion… 

NO CINEMA ON CINEMA DRIVE — Today, it’s a church. Not that long ago, it was a movie house. On this date, the Mann 6 Valencia announced they would add four more screens to their cineplex. The $1.5 million expansion made the Mann 10 Valencia the largest in the firm’s nationwide chain of 300 screens in 13 states. The Mann 10 Valencia closed its doors permanently in 2003. 

A LITTLE MANN TRIVIA — Our first multiplex started humbly in Minnesota in 1973 and was named after Ted Mann, the founder. Ted would marry actress Rhonda Fleming in 1977. Like the Mann 10 Valencia, Ted started selling off chunks of his chain of theaters to various companies. 

SAY IT IS SO, JOE — Newhall’s Joe Lomax went to his family reunion. Few people realize that Mr. Lomax had a lifetime career in the motion picture business. Starting when he was 7 in 1923, Lomax was featured in a Tom Mix movie and thus began a 60-year career. He performed with actors from John Wayne to William S. Hart and doubled for Clark Gable. He wrangled and did stunts for a host of other stars. He settled in Placerita Canyon in 1945 with his wife, Pat. They raised Patsy, Polly Joe, and Sally, who all went to school here, as did some of their children. You know, saddlepals over at City Hall, there might be a Walk of Western Stars nomination for this local and fine fellow. Something to consider… 

•     •     • 

Thanks again for the companionship, dear saddlepals. I reiterate. All y’all’s good medicine. Look forward to spending some trail time with you friends of The Mighty Signal next Saturday. Until then, ¡vayan con Dios, amigos! 

If you enjoy the Time Ranger, you’re going to love his local history volumes. Visit Order John Boston’s terribly exciting Volumes I & II on “SCV Monsters, Ghouls, Ghosts, Bigfoot” & all our local paranormal stories. Great summer reads. Leave a kindly review… 

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