One bona fide heck of a trail ride into Santa Clarita Valley history for us, dear saddlepals, amigos and amoebas. It’s our 105th anniversary and I thank The Mighty Signal. We look pretty darn fetching for a century-plus of pointing fingers and sharing where you can get a tasty cheeseburger. You caught me smiling. Wonder what the locals would have said decades back if someone waltzed into an eatery and asked if they had tofu burgers.
Probably something unkind.
We’ve all manner of heroism, heartache and comedy ahead. There’s jazz, giant roaming dog packs, the big 1971 earthquake, and a look at when you could still homestead land here in the SCV.
Bunch of other stuff, too, but what’s the point about jawing about it? Shall we locomote in an orderly fashion into the mystic?
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
HOSMER’S GRAVEYARD? — This one’s some major varsity SCV trivia. A lot of you history vets surely recall the old stage depot at present-day Eternal Valley. That’s at Newhall Avenue at Sierra Highway, just south of the Mobil station. It’s had many names: Lopez Station. Wiley Station. Lyon Station. Andrews. That depot was also called Fountain’s, Hosmer’s, and Hart’s, after the owners. Hart, by the way, was not related to William S., best we know.
FEBRUARY 7, 1919
105? WHY, WE DON’T LOOK A DAY OVER 99! — Last Wednesday, we celebrated our 105th anniversary. On Feb. 7, 1919, World War I veteran Ed Brown came up with one of the 20th century’s best ideas. He founded The Newhall Signal. Actually, Ed founded the paper on Jan. 1, 1919. The first issue came out on Feb. 7.
“With this issue we unfurl the sails of the Newhall Signal upon the sea of journalism, and we hope that our efforts will be of service and benefit to the Newhall and Saugus valley,” wrote Brown over a century ago when the very first Signal was published on Feb. 7, 1919, out of a room in the Hotel Swall. The wooden structure a few years later would burn to the ground with the world corporate headquarters of The Signal in it. This paper would later burn again in 1964.
Design-wise, the first Signal was a tiny creature, the size of a shoebox lid, just six pages long. (It would later grow to regular “broadsheet” size with the next issue, then shrink for several years back to sub-tabloid size.) There were no photos, although even back then, we were interested in movie stars.
The front-page lead story was about Douglas Fairbanks Sr., who was in town, shooting a movie. Fairbanks had transformed the main drag of Newhall into a beautiful country village. But it was a tiny story about local cases of influenza that caught the interest of Signal readers. Around that time, 50,000 Americans had just died from it.
Ed Brown was a man interested in the world. Well. Most of it. From one of his editorials:
“Where the hell is China, anyway?”
He combined politics and local news while offering a healthy plate of agricultural news. We were, back then, a valley of just 500 souls and everything depended on crops and livestock.
Was Ed the victim of nerve gas? There are no records as to the cause of his death, but, after returning from battle in Europe in World War I and less than a year after creating The Newhall Signal (as it was called then), Brown died.
His widow, Blanche, took on the task of running the paper and to the chagrin of some (mostly males) and delight of others (mostly females), Blanche turned the newspaper into a woman’s weekly journal, filling it with recipes, bake sales and arduously long descriptions of the Newhall Woman’s (sic) Club.
I think over the years, despite our flaws, Ed’s wish to be of service to the valley has more than come true.
FEBRUARY 10, 1924
AS GEORGE CARLIN ONCE SAID: “ONE TEQUILA, TWO TEQUILA, THREE TEQUILA, FLOOR…” — Several (three, count them) early Signal editors were not big fans of the 18th Amendment. Wrote Thornton Doelle in an editorial 100 years back: “Prohibition is a tragic farce and unless we modify it (sic) it may yet prove the greatest curse that has ever befallen this nation.” Blanche Brown said it before Thornton and A.B. Thatcher felt the same way after.
THE ABSOLUTE PLACE TO BE ON A SATURDAY NIGHT — Many motorists today drive up and down Newhall Avenue to and fro Highway 14. There’s this beat-up, abandoned building across from Starbucks that used to be one of SoCal’s entertainment hotspots. It was called The French Village and rested just north of the long-destroyed Newhall Highway Tunnel (on Sierra Highway). Twice it was destroyed by fire. Before it was the French Village, that long-gone structure was a speakeasy called the Brookside Inn. It boasted of a “Good Floor, Jazzy, Peppy Music. A Good Time Assured. Ladies Free.” They meant that ladies gained admission at no cost, not that they were handing out free women. By the way. The history gets even more ancient. Before it was called the Brookside (next to Newhall Creek) the place was called Barbecue Jim. Interestingly, for such a small community of 500 souls, we had several dance halls, including the Hap-a-Lan about two miles west of Brookside.
BETTER THAN THE HARD BUTT MERCANTILE — Daley’s Rock Bottom Store was one of two groceries on the old Main Street of Newhall. Not only did they sell meat, they bought it. No kidding. The owners would buy beef, pork and poultry from local farmers, ranchers and even hunters. Yup. Sometimes, Daley’s sold venison and bear.
OR, TODAY, THE PER-MINUTE PAY OF ONE JUNIOR FIREFIGHTER — We had a winter fire up Towsley Canyon, near the McCormick ranch. Just 15 acres burned. It cost about $30 to fight the blaze.
TODAY, IT’S CALLED ‘MANSIONSTEAD’ INSTEAD OF ‘HOMESTEAD’ — In today’s modern times, just an average house goes for $750,000 in the SCV. But, 100 years ago, you could still homestead up to 320 acres in most of the Santa Clarita. That’s what Ulysses S. Johnson and Art Erwin of Saugus did. Except for a couple of bucks to file, all that land didn’t cost them a nickel.
FEBRUARY 10, 1934
BECAUSE THE TNT’S FREE? — They had just barely opened the new Highway 99, aka Violin Canyon, above Castaic. Just quickly, the state had to close it because of an epic landslide by Oak Flats. Now I wasn’t there, but I have my suspicions: too much dynamite during construction. Traffic for more than a week was diverted through Lancaster.
FEBRUARY 10, 1944
ARSON? OR, STUPIDITY? — The trial of ranch foreman J.A. Broderick began at the Newhall Courthouse. Broderick was charged with setting the largest fire of 1943 — the Red Rock Canyon blaze near Little Rock — which burned more than 5,000 acres. Broderick was in charge of a brush-clearing gang and set a fire on someone else’s property. The fire burned for nearly a week in the rugged hills. Back then, Red Rock fell under the jurisdiction of Newhall.
AND SO IT CAME TO BE — Beginning in the 1940s, we started to see more and more stories about the growing drug problem. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood lamented on a new barbiturate called the yellow jacket. It was made of sodium nembutal, the prime ingredient of sleeping pills, heart medicine and deadly poisons. Fred pointed out the pills were making their way and becoming popular with servicemen. Trueblood called for a public education program to head off what he saw could be a national epidemic of drug abuse.
THOSE OTHER KINDS OF WAR VICTIMS — Mr. and Mrs. Wallace “Jonesy” Willett mourned the loss of their son, Wallace Jr. Darndest thing. The 17-year-old Seabee died painfully in his tent after medics misdiagnosed an appendicitis for pneumonia. The Willetts ran the huge Oat Mountain cattle ranch to the west that went up and over to the San Fernando Valley.
FEBRUARY 10, 1954
THE HUGE AND TRAGIC EXPLOSION — One of the worst industrial accidents in local history occurred 70 years back at Bermite. After an explosion in the detonator cap room, three workers were killed and 15 injured. All were women. The cause of the accident was not known because the two women killed were closest to the blow-up.
FEBRUARY 10, 1964
HMMMM. WONDER WHAT THE INDIANS DID WITH THEM . . . — Local attorney Paul Palmer gifted Hart High with some rather special historical documents. While they were photocopies of the originals, Palmer gave Hart a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s original handwritten rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. He also gave the high school a handwritten copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and George Washington’s copy of the original and signed Constitution.
SMALL CHANGE — Placerita Junior High was burgled on this date of $150 from the safe and $28 in coins from a soda pop machine. Retired principal Jim Tanner (Nebraskan) swears he has an alibi …
FEBRUARY 9, 1971
EEESH. SEEMS LIKE ONLY YESTERDAY — Some 53 years ago, some of us were much younger and some weren’t even born. But, at 5:59 a.m., a 6.5-magnitude earthquake rattled the valley.
This one, centered in Sylmar, rattled the Santa Clarita, causing $5.3 million in local damage to 1,540 of the valley’s 15,000 permanent buildings. Mobile homes suffered the worst — about 70% of the SCV’s 2,200 mobile homes. One car, parked near Hart Park, was partially swallowed up by the earth. Signal Editor Scott Newhall came up with chilling prose in his editorial: “The Earth for a moment played us false. We are suddenly a baby who has been dropped by its mother, and we resent it.” On the bright side, while the quake caused $1 billion in Southern California damage, it was just 1/100th the strength of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Care to guess who was hurt the most by the 1971 earthquake? Thatcher Glass. About $3 million in damage.
An aftermath of the Feb. 9 earthquake was flight. Several hundred residents put their homes up for sale, pulled their kids out of school and moved out of the SCV, citing fear of the moving Southern California earth.
Another by-product of the quake was parking lot sales. Nearly every business in town was setting up tables, trying to get rid of quake-damaged merchandise, some of it marked down 90%.
GOING TO THE DOGS — Another oddball aftermath of the 1971 quake were giant packs of feral dogs. Many of the yuppies who skedaddled just abandoned their pets. Two huge packs of canines formed at opposite ends of the valley. They raided farms, ranches, houses and joggers. State hunters came to dispatch them.
FEBRUARY 10, 1974
PATRIOT ACES 14th HOLE AT BIG “V” — It’s been a while, but the New England Patriots were a football dynasty. The Pats’ (and former UCLA Bruin) Bruce Barnes was golfing with some NFL pals at Valencia Country Club. I don’t know if anyone’s done it since (write in and let me know) but Barnes became the first player to hit a hole-in-one at Big V’s 14th hole. Barnes had an interesting foursome that day: Dave Dalby, center for the Oakland Raiders, Ed Galigher, defensive end for the New York Jets, and Greg Steel, another UCLA football Bruin. Interesting thing about ol’ No. 14? It’s 330 yards long. Yes. You heard me. Three hundred thirty yards. Bruce used a driver.
SEEMS LIKE THE NUMBERS WERE OFF — The William S. Hart Union High School District board of trustees wanted to know why incoming freshmen had such poor math skills. For example, fewer than 25% of ninth graders at Canyon could multiply or divide fractions.
SOMEONE HOLD ME BACK BEFORE I BUY ANOTHER — One of the most telling benchmarks in both national and SCV History was the 1974 gas crunch caused by the Arab oil embargo. One of the local offshoots? Motorcycle sales rose drastically. Sigh. I so miss my motorcycle days of the 1970s …
AN ABSOLUTE FASHION TRAVESTY — This seems contradictory, but Kmart was selling “Western Bellbottoms.” OK. Sorry. Cowboys don’t wear bell bottoms. For the record, the slacks went for $4.44 a pair and no. None of you saddlepals can bring any home back into the future …
FEBRUARY 10, 1984
DON’T YELL, “HORSE MANURE.” IT STARTLES THE PONIES. — Politicians (and voters) still don’t listen to The Mighty Signal. Forty years back, Editor Scott Newhall complained of elephantine budget deficits, calling Ronald Reagan’s package “horse manure.” Scott also demanded balanced budgets, ceiling prices on wages and interest rates.
SHOW BIZ KNOWS NO BOUNDS — While “The A-Team” was one of America’s most popular TV shows of its day, it wasn’t very popular with two SCV families. They were at Hilburn’s Mortuary on 8th Street, mourning the loss of their children. Outside a few feet away, the crews were racing cars, blaring sirens and creating general pandemonium.
• • •
Drat if I don’t always hate to see you dear friends and neighbors go. But, that soothing and spinning vortex a few yards hence is beckoning. We’re back in the here and now of chores and responsibilities. See you back here at The Mighty Signal (259-1000 for subscriptions!!) hitching post next weekend with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos!
If you enjoy the Time Ranger, you’re going to love his local history volumes. Visit johnbostonbooks.com. Order John Boston’s terribly exciting Volumes I & II on “SCV Monsters, Ghouls, Ghosts, Bigfoot” & all our local paranormal stories. Also? His political satire, “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Joe Biden” is available in print and Kindle. If you’ve already got your copy, then leave a kind review on Amazon!