Mentryville Memories from Carol Lagasse.
Carol Lagasse lived with her late husband Frenchy Lagasse in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville from 1967-1995 and raised three daughters there. Carol (Krumm) was born April 5, 1928 in Hochheim, Texas. She shared the following memories with her friend Cynthia Harris on March 22, 2021.
Frenchy went to work for Standard Oil in 1947, and one of his first assignments was to work with a crew to remove the front parlor fireplace [of the historic 13-room mansion in Mentryville]. The bricks in the double chimney were losing their mortar and falling out, creating a safety hazard. The chimney served the fireplaces both in the parlor and the upstairs bedroom.
Jump ahead to 1966 when Frenchy came home to tell Carol that there was a vacancy for superintendent, and the Big House [mansion] was going to be torn down. They were asked to move into another building that Standard Oil would build for them as superintendent.
Carol learned from her father how to restore old Victorian buildings in Gonzales, Texas, and had always had a dream to live in a two-story Victorian house. She believed the building could be restored and saved even though she really had no idea how bad it and the [Felton] schoolhouse and barn were. She said if she had known, she would not have taken on the project.
The Standard Oilers and the bosses from San Francisco were meeting at a local Newhall restaurant, and Carol went there to "talk" to Perry Menton and Mr. Bob French, to convince them not to tear down the house. They told her "no." Carol, not giving up, met with Jean Palmer, who worked on a contract with Standard Oil and the Lagasses. The contract gave Carol and Frenchy a lease on the house for $50 a year and an additional $10 for the 852 acres in the canyon.
They told Standard Oil Company they would restore the house with their own funds. Those were the magical words. Carol and Frenchy went to great lengths to find redwood to restore the house, barn and schoolhouse. There were structures being demolished near the Van Norman Dam, and they took three truckloads of lumber back to Pico Canyon. They also were given by Standard Oil whatever they needed from company-owned houses that were being demolished in San Martinez Canyon [Val Verde area]. From those houses they were able to get a shower stall, toilets, sinks, bricks and redwood lumber.
The bricks were used to create walks around the house and other repairs. They made new window seals from the redwood to repair and restore the windows in the house. The window screens and the glass in the Felton School had to be replaced in all 15 windows. All of the windows had been broken out.
Perry Menton and Bob French came back in 1967 and saw how much Carol and Frenchy had accomplished. They were very impressed and offered the Lagasses a lifetime lease until they died. Carol asked them to take Mr. Mentry's desk to Richmond for the Standard Oil Company Museum; instead, they offered her a "transfer of deed" for the desk for $5.05. "The desk is yours," Mr. French said.
Carol and Frenchy then started restoring the Felton School and the barn. The schoolhouse had been used as a stable for horses, and some of the floorboards were broken in by the horses' hooves. The horse poop, manure, was two feet deep in the entry in the coat hall. It was empty of any school items. The bookcases on the wall in the library had been taken in the years past; the Boy Scouts with Dr. [Larry] Amelang's LDS Eagle project replaced the cabinets. This was greatly appreciated by the Lagasses.
Some of the past teachers at the school told Carol what it was like when children attended class there. Mrs. Burson, one of the first teachers, and her family paid for 14 school desks as a contribution to the Lagasse's family. She did this to honor her first school where she taught. Carol and Frenchy started gathering school desks, a stove, books, maps, flag and pictures that might fit into the restoration. Standard Oil Company also gave the Lagasses the rights to rent the structures for movie making, letting them put the money back into the restorations. "Thanksgiving Promise" and other Michael Landon films, "Walking Tall," "Highway to Heaven," "Murder, She Wrote," "Return to Green to Acres," a John Denver movie, "The A-Team," Beau Bridges and Cloris Leachman movies, "Wonder Woman" and many others were made in Mentryville.
Carol remembers Mentryville as a very peaceful place.
Carol Lagasse lives in Lebec. She can be reached by mail at P.O. Box 503, Lebec, Calif. 93243. If you have memories of Mentryville, ice cream socials, barn Halloween parties, tours, picnics and walks, she would enjoy hearing them.
Further reading: Lagasses Kept Ghost Town Alive For Nearly 30 Years (1997).
Watch: Philip Scorza's Points of Interest: A Visit to Mentryville with Carol and Frenchy Lagasse (1995).