Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

How Did the Hart District Obtain Its First School Site?


image Hart High School under construction in 1945-46.

 

Local residents complained about the inadequacy of high school bus service practically from day one — day one being August 18, 1921, when the Los Angeles City High School District absorbed Newhall, Saugus and Castaic[1] for upper-level secondary education. Public school in the SCV ended at Grade 8. Beyond that, kids on the west side of the valley had to trek to San Fernando High School, while those in Mint Canyon, Agua Dulce and Acton were bused to the Antelope Valley.

According to historian-activist A.B. Perkins, the Newhall School PTA petitioned L.A. for better bus service in 1926, but nothing was done about it.[2] Perkins writes in 1952:

To connect with the high school buses, [students] had to rise before 5 a.m. in the canyon areas, and it would be 5 p.m. before they got home. Buses left the school immediately after classes, which meant that any of our students interested in extracurricular activity must chance hitchhiking home, when, as and if. ... Consequently, more than half our local children eligible for high school simply gave up further education.[3]

Inadequate busing was still a problem in 1933 when future Hart High School Principal Lester Dalbey wrote his master's thesis as a student at USC. The condition "has caused many patrons in the past to express a desire of having a high school located within the area," he writes. According to Dalbey, L.A. would consider placing a high school in the SCV once the student population reached 650.[4]

By 1938, local residents were fed up. The Newhall-Saugus Kiwanis Club, which was the major local civic organization, demanded action. On a motion by Perkins, the Kiwanis voted unanimously to petition the L.A. district for a high school here.[5]

L.A. School Superintendent Vierling Kersey was receptive. He met several times over the next year with local school board members and spoke to parent organizations. He thought a local high school was warranted but was unsure of the area's population projections. He believed a junior high school of 7th-9th graders should probably come first and that it would be sustainable if the local districts transfered their 7th and 8th graders to it.[6]

School Site Purchased.

Finally, on May 20, 1940, the L.A. High School Board approved Kersey's proposal to purchase 20 acres of land at $550 per acre from The Newhall Land and Farming Company for a future school site, be it junior high or high school. The land was located on the west side of Newhall Avenue, across from and between 14th and 15th streets.

The local mood soured when no further action was taken to build a school. As early as July 1940, just two months after the land purchase, Signal publisher Fred Trueblood Sr. put the community on notice:

Apparently those of us who figured that the battle for a high school in this valley was pretty well won when the Los Angeles School board purchased a site have another think coming.

Word comes now that due to one of those periodical spasms of economy, which generally consist of shutting the spigot off to a mere trickle in order that waste at the bung hole may continue at its usual rate, the building program of the Los Angeles School board is in great jeapordy.

[...] Soledad township is growing, and would grow faster if there were a high school. There is no shrinkage in school population hereabouts. There is no excuse for curtailing the school program.[7]

Local leaders transformed their thoughts into action in 1944 when they petitioned the State Board of Education to let them go their own way and carve themselves out of the L.A. High School District. In the process, they learned that under a 1943 amendment to the Education Code, the requirement for a separate school district was $5 million in assessed property valuation. Their proposed district encompassed $12 million in assessed valuation.[8]

On January 13, 1945, the State Board approved the application of five local school districts — Newhall, Saugus, Castaic, Mint Canyon and Sulphur Springs — to form the "Santa Clarita Union High School District." Two weeks later, on January 29, the proposal was put to a vote of the people. They said "yes" by a 1,184-7 margin.

The "Santa Clarita" name was concocted by Perkins, who diminutized "Little Santa Clara Valley," as the SCV was known. There was already a Santa Clara school district up north, and there couldn't be two of them in the same state.

Next came the question of L.A.'s 20-acre school property in Newhall. Would L.A. be able to sell it and recover its $11,000, or would it transfer to the newly formed district? According to a report from Trueblood on January 25, L.A. had until July 1 to sell it, or it would transfer automatically at no cost.[9]

While the ink was still wet on Trueblood's report, newly hired Principal Lester Dalbey was informed by letter dated January 24 that the area's assemblyman, Julian Beck, was stepping in and using his influence with the State Board to convince L.A. not to sell the property.[10]

School Property Transfered.

Indeed, L.A. didn't sell it. On April 5, The Signal reported that L.A. school officials "declared that the Santa Clarita high school site of 20 acres on Newhall avenue had automatically become the property of the new district."[11]

The new Santa Clarita High School trustees (elected March 9) decided 20 acres weren't quite enough. On May 9, they voted to purchase 7.5 adjacent acres to the south from Mr. And Mrs. E.H. Van Horn of San Diego, who were asking $8,000. The price was deemed "a pretty stiff figure," but the school board accepted it.[12]

On June 2, 1945, local voters approved a $300,000 school construction bond by a vote of 432-2 [cq], and the building program began on the 27.5-acre site. The first group of students (freshmen only) were housed on the Newhall School campus for the 1945-46 school year and moved into the new facility as sophomores in September 1946.

By that time, the school district and the school had been renamed. So universally hated was the name "Santa Clarita" that the school board petitioned the County of Los Angeles to change the district name to "William S. Hart."[13] (The county controls district names; the school board controls school names.)

"Hart" was a name everyone could agree on. Hart, the man, was seen as a major community benefactor. In 1940-41 he donated three town lots and $25,000 cash for construction of American Legion Post 507's American Theater.[14] In 1944, he donated his West Hollywood house to the City of Los Angeles.

In 1944 he also decided to leave his Horseshoe Ranch in Newhall to the County of Los Angeles as a park[15] — although nobody knew it until his will was read two years later. That said, it was widely assumed he would leave his estate to the public somehow, because he had said many times: "The people gave this to me, and I am going to give it back to the people."[16]

Hart died June 23, 1946, missing the opportunity to see "his" completed school by just three months.


1. Locally, on that date, the L.A. High School District annexed the territory of the following school districts for high school service: Castaic, Felton (Pico Canyon), Honby (Ruether area), Live Oak (Castaic), New Era (Bouquet Canyon), Newhall, San Francisquito, San Martinez (Val Verde) and Saugus. On December 29, 1942, the Bee School District (Saugus) was transfered to L.A. from the Antelope Valley Joint Union High School District. See: History of School District Organization in L.A. County, R-379-794L, Office of the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools, Downey, California, July 1, 1976.

2. https://scvhistory.com/scvhistory/harthigh_may1952.htm

3. Ibid.

4. https://scvhistory.com/scvhistory/dalbey1933.htm

5. The Signal, October 7, 1938.

6. Reported several times. See, for example, The Signal, May 24, 1940.

7. The Signal, July 19, 1940. "Soledad Township" was essentially the Santa Clarita Valley. The latter name did not yet exist.

8. The Signal, October 13, 1944.

9. The Signal, January 25, 1945. "At no cost" being a relative term. In theory and fact, property taxpayers in the Santa Clarita Valley already paid for it.

10. The Signal, February 1, 1945.

11. Op. cit.

12. The Signal, May 10, 1945.

13. https://scvhistory.com/scvhistory/ga4501.htm

14. https://scvhistory.com/scvhistory/ap1516.htm

15. https://scvhistory.com/scvhistory/cp19440909.htm

16. The Signal, June 13, 1946.


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