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Old Town Newhall
Summer 2007 • Year 13, Number 2.
Old Town Newhall:
From Dream To Reality.

Editor and Publisher.

    If you’ve tried to navigate the Lyons-Railroad-San Fernando Road intersection lately, you know that redevelopment is finally here.
    Oh, it’s been here for a while; it has taken years of planning to get to this point. But it has finally started to move off of the drawing board and onto the streets. The roadways are being restriped and new traffic signals are being installed so that Railroad Avenue will replace San Fernando Road as the main vehicular artery for the thousands of commuters and trucks and buses that travel to and from the 14 Freeway every day.
    What that commuter traffic will be bypassing is a vastly different Old Town Newhall.
    For decades after the town founding in 1876, Old Newhall, as we used to call it, was the center of community activity. The major grocery store was there, the car dealerships were there, the bank was there (Bank of Italy, renamed Bank of America), the police office and jail were there, the first movie house was there, all public meetings happened there. After World War II, as the returning sailors from the Iowa farms remembered the sunny California they’d seen when they shipped out from San Diego and wanted to live there, Newhall grew. Only it didn’t grow in Old Newhall. It spread out into the alfalfa and carrot and onion fields and took the name, "Valencia," and took most of those community services and activities and major businesses with it.
    Old Newhall fell into a prolonged state of decline and disrepair. When the car dealerships pulled out in the 1970s, the handwriting was on the wall. Santa Clarita wasn’t yet a city, so the people of the area didn’t have a way to exert enough political pressure to spur the kind of public (governmental) effort it would take to bring the area back from the brink. In 1993, an economic study for the city of Santa Clarita (formed in 1987) showed that while property values continued to rise in the rest of the valley — even at the end of a cyclical housing slump — property values in Newhall were actually falling.
    Something needed to be done. A city is only as strong as its weakest link.
    Then came the earthquake of January 17, 1994.
    At the risk of calling it a blessing in disguise (it took a heavy toll on your editor’s family), the earthquake put the idea of redevelopment into people’s heads. Some of our city leaders wanted to use the redevelopment financing mechanism to repair damage throughout Santa Clarita; others, already keenly interested in revitalizing Newhall, latched onto the redevelopment idea and, through the Gazette and other means, began to popularize the notion of focusing the redevelopment effort on the San Fernando Road corridor.
    The city held a series of well attended public meetings in late 1994 and throughout 1995 to gauge the community’s interest and desires for Newhall. Almost to a person, the community said it wanted to create something wonderful — an "Old Town" where people can shop, dine, go to the theater and do all of the things that an "Old Town" conjures in the mind. No longer would it be the "Old" Newhall it used to be. It couldn’t. Once they’re gone, you can’t bring back the car dealerships or the banking centers or the main police station. So we started calling it "Old Town" Newhall, to telegraph the image of what it can be.
    In early 1996 the city formed the Newhall Redevelopment Committee to focus on that goal. First order of business was arresting the decline. Subsidies were available to erect quaint storefronts, and for fencing to hide years and years of "junk" that had piled up in back lots. Architectural guidelines were written to correct the old policy of "anything goes." Just "anything" can’t go, if you’re trying to create a particular thing.
    And still, that "thing" wasn’t going to happen on its own. It would take a serious public (government) effort to turn Newhall into an attractive place for the investors and developers who would be needed to turn the public’s dream into reality. The city went back to the drawing board and asked the community "stakeholders" what they wanted ("stakeholder" is a bureaucratic term for people who have a vested interest in the outcome). The goals and strategies were compiled into the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan, a planning document that went through a lengthy public approval process and authorizes specific changes.
    Now you’re seeing some of those changes being made as you drive through Newhall — or as you try to drive through Newhall. It might be painful for several weeks, but the payoff should be great. The city is negotiating with the county library system to erect a big library on the north side of Lyons Avenue, opposite the intersection where San Fernando Road now dead-ends into Lyons (that roadwork is being done as this is written, in the second week of June). Parking availability will increase as San Fernando Road is restriped to accommodate back-in angle parking. (We’ll be watching to see how well back-in angle parking works.) And already the city is in talks with a private developer who may be interested in buying and redeveloping an entire block along "Main Street," as the Old Town section of San Fernando Road will be known. (The process of changing the name will begin after the Fourth of July Parade comes through town.) Beautification projects are under way, as well; murals depicting some of Santa Clarita’s Spanish and Western history will be going up on the Market Street side of El Trocadero Restaurant and the Work Boots Warehouse, and on the San Fernando Road frontage of The Source (the onetime Vince Wiese Chevrolet dealership).
    And to follow up on an item in the last issue of the Gazette, the city got the message loud and clear about the need to preserve one of Newhall’s important and unique historical buildings, the American Legion Hall, built with money donated by William S. Hart in the early 1940s as a movie theater. Redevelopment isn’t all about "out with the old, in with the new." It’s about improving what’s there for the good of all. Newhall has a rich history, and it wouldn’t have much meaning to the people of Santa Clarita if it didn’t retain its unique character — and the historic buildings that serve as reminders of that character.
    We’ll continue to keep you posted as redevelopment becomes reality and the city proceeds with the No. 1 goal in its newly published five-year redevelopment plan: "Build a place to appreciate. Create an attractive Main Street environment on San Fernando Road to attract new shoppers and businesses. Eliminate blighting conditions and prevent the acceleration of blight in and about the project area. Upgrade the physical appearance of the project area. Encourage the phasing out of incompatible and/or nonconforming land uses from the project area."
    Those must occur in order to achieve some of the most challenging goals in the plan: "Create a regional destination. Enhance the role of Newhall as a community center. ... Nurture development of a unique shopping area. Expand the convenience and comparison/speciality economic niches. ... Stimulate economic growth."
    Just as the Westfield Valencia Town Center mall is the first place that comes to mind when you want a new outfit from a department store, the goal is for Old Town Newhall to be the first place that comes to mind when you want a unique shopping, dining and entertainment experience.
    It will happen.

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