Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Asher House, Triple A Ranch

Vasquez Rocks | Agua Dulce, California

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July 9, 1979 — The (ex-)Asher family's rock house at Vasquez Rocks, seen from the back. The view is to the southwest. At left is the outdoor patio and barbecue area. In the middle is a small garage. At right is the main part of the family home.

Photo by Jerry Reynolds. His inscription on back of 3½x5-inch print:

Asher House

Built in 1929 by Jefferson Asher, L.A. businessman, who owned "Triple A" Ranch.

Sold to L.A. County in 1970.

Damaged by '71 Earthquake.

Monday, July 9, 1979

Photo by Jerry Reynolds

The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation razed the structures in 1982 without first checking its own archaeological record, resulting in the loss of important early Native American features (see below). This area of Vasquez Rocks County Park is not publicly accessible (as of 2019).


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Ruined

County Bulldozes Historical Site.

Only a bulldozed section of land remains of the swimming pool that was part of the old Asher Ranch in Vasquez Rocks County Park in Agua Dulce.

The bits of rock and debris mixed in the recently churned earth will not attract the weekend hiker en route to the towering rock monuments in the park.

But to an archaeologist, the bits and pieces represent a jumbled puzzle of artifacts that once would have presented a picture of the ancient peoples who inhabited the region.

"Cultural resources are not like plant resources that can be reproduced. They're produced by people and once they're destroyed," archaeologist Richard Wessel said.

Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation officials ordered the bulldozing of the pool even though it rested on an archaeological site included in the National Register of Historic Places.

"I made the mistake and I assume the responsibility for it. I can't argue about it," John Weber, deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said.

The site is one of 26 to 30 located throughout the 745-acre park. According to Wessel, archaeologists have discovered evidence of human presence in the area that dates back to 4000 B.C.

The huge rock formations produced by millions of years of seismic activity had a special attraction for indigenous tribes.

Aside from providing an elaborate backdrop for religious rituals, there is evidence the rocks formed a natural hideout where tribes could avoid the incursion of the Spanish mission system in California, Wessel said.

Water, minerals, and bountiful hunting areas located nearby also attracted early peoples to the area.

The artifacts from the area's earliest inhabitants are scarce and overshadowed by the myriad of house sites, tools, and rock art that have their origins in the 11th to 18th centuries.

The area also attracted Jefferson Asher, a wealthy Los Angeles industrialist who built the Asher Ranch in 1923.

The ranch was built on top of the remains of one of the largest village areas on the upper Santa Clara River. The county acquired the land and dilapidated ranch house in the early 1970s.

The ranch house, along with smaller structures such as caretaker's quarters, were damaged by the earthquake that shook the area in 1971. The structures were further damaged by scavengers who stripped the old buildings. Weber said.

The county decided to raze the structures to eliminate a potential hazard to park visitors. Weber said.

The buildings were dismantled by L A. County Fire Department road crews, and now only the foundations and splintered piles of wood remain.

The swimming pool and a cistern used to store water for the ranch complex were bulldozed last month.

Wessel said the site should have been cleaned up to eliminate the safety hazard, but it should have been accomplished in a way that would have protected the artifacts there.

The county commissioned archaeologist Chester King to do an archaeological report on the area. King was paid $30,000 for his work on the report that was completed in 1974.

In the report. King noted the archaeological importance of some of the sites and made suggestions for their preservation.

King wrote: "During modifications, such as the demolition of standing buildings such as the Asher House ... care should be taken not to modify the surfaces of the archaeological sites. ... Modifications of the present surface, such as filling the basement of the Asher House, should be done after consultation with professional archaeologists."

"The swimming pool and basement were dangerous," King said "We suggested a means by which they could remove the danger and maintain the integrity of the site."

Weber said he never called an archaeologist before the bulldozing started. He also said he had never seen King's report.

"I was aware there were sites in the park. But I was not aware there were sites where the work was done," Weber said.

But according to Wessel, who was a member of the crew that helped King with his survey, the county has shown indifference toward the preservation of archaeological sites within park boundaries.

In a letter to Ralph Cryder, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, Wessel outlines the "raping" of the sites.

Aside from the swimming pool site, the cistern that was bulldozed was located on another prime archaeological site. The cistern was located below a rock shelter that contained rock paintings.

Wessel said the paintings were thought to be associated with ancient puberty ceremonies. The entire area below the shelter, which could have contained important artifacts, was bulldozed.

Wessel also mentioned the blading of roads in the area, which included an equestrian trail that passes over an archaeological site.

"Pot hunters," persons who illegally search and dig for artifacts, have also had their impact on sites in the park.

One prehistoric cemetery had a large pothole cut into it by vandals seeking to loot the burials.

Wessel said the county should be more diligent in policing important archaeological sites.

"There's been a slow and consistent rape of the land because there hasn't been a consistent effort to preserve it," Wessel said.

"They paid us all that money to do the report and they didn't accept our recommendations," he said.

Weber denied accusations that the county purposely neglected to provide adequate protection of the sites. The county does not have adequate resources to ensure the integrity of the sites, he said.

"I don't have staff people 1 can put there 24 hours a day to protect the sites. We don't have the funding for fences to further protect them," Weber said.

Weber said he is considering posting signs to caution visitors of the presence of the sites. He also said his staff members will familiarize themselves with King's report.

But from an archaeologist's viewpoint, the damage has been done.

"Once the ground is moved and churned from top to bottom," Wessel said, "you can't reconstruct the picture."


About the Asher Family of Vasquez Rocks.

The story of the Asher family in Agua Dulce begins in the early 1930s with Jefferson Asher Sr., general manager of the highly popular Ocean Park Amusement Pier in Santa Monica (known after 1945 as Pacific Ocean Park). He was married to a lovely actress, Emily Pinter, who gave him two sons, Jeff Jr. and Tom.

After buying about 40 acres in 1934 in what is now the western portion of Vasquez Rocks County Park, Jeff Sr. became friends with George Shaefer, a Los Angeles County surveyor. Shaefer's family owned property to the south of Vasquez Rocks, near today's intersection of Agua Dulce Canyon Road and Soledad Canyon, at the modern 14 Freeway ramps.

Shaefer knew the land better than anyone and helped Jeff Sr. acquire more land, mainly through paying the back taxes owed on the properties. Eventually Jeff Sr.'s holdings expanded to roughly 300 acres.

The ranch was called the AAA Ranch (pronounced "Triple-A"), named for the three Asher males: Jefferson Sr., Thomas and Jefferson Jr. When the home was purchased, it was a small stone house built from rocks found on the property, and there is some dispute as to whether it had a connection to the Sterling Borax mine.

Jeff Sr. built additions to the house, also from rocks on the property. He developed the property into a fully functioning ranch and vacation home. The property had a multi-room main house, a garage with gas pump, an in-ground croquet court, a water tower, a caretaker's cabin, a swimming pool, a 12-acre alfalfa field, multiple chicken coops, a barn, corrals and holding pens. Jeff Jr. recalls having 40 head of cattle at one point, as well as several milk cows, 30 pigs, four horses, 25 turkeys and about 1,000 white leghorn chickens.

Jeff Jr., 88 years old in 2013 and living in Long Beach, is the only survivor among the family of four. He fondly remembers his time at the family ranch. He recalls wonderful weekends and summers spent there; looking back, he says it was a great place for a couple of little boys to explore and grow up.

There was a basement beneath the house with a wine cellar that held barrels full of zinfandel from Bisceglia Bros. Winery in Fresno, which the family and their friends enjoyed on the wrap-around porch, where they would sit and watch the sun set over Agua Dulce Canyon, with Saddleback Mountain as a backdrop.

Jeff Jr. also recalls how fun it was to have an in-ground swimming pool that the local kids could all come and swim in — despite the cold water, since the pool had no heater, and despite the fact that the pool was often green with algae, since there was no filter system.

Graduating high school in 1942 just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Jeff recalls that "100 percent" of his classmates joined the military. Jeff served four years in the U.S. Navy, a proud example of the brave servicemen and -women who have called Agua Dulce home.

Jeff's brother Tom followed suit; luckily both boys came home safely to continue the next phase in their lives.

Jeff studied business at UCLA and then received a master's degree from Harvard, while Tom earned bachelor's and master's degrees in bacteriology from UCLA and a Ph.D. from Oxford University.

After Jeff Sr.'s death in 1964 and the death of both Emily and her mother in 1965, the Asher boys were busy with families and careers of their own, and they found it more difficult to journey out to the family ranch.

The Ashers sold their property to the county of Los Angeles in 1970, hugely increasing the size of Vasquez Rocks County Park.

Their house sustained extensive damage in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. It was subsequently bulldozed, since it was thought to pose a danger to people wanting to climb around on its rubble.

Talking to Jeff, one can easily see the sparkle in his eye as he remembers the fond times spent at the AAA Ranch, full of love, family and adventure.

Jeff Sr. had a plaque made for his boys in 1936 that posed this sweet wish: "May you flourish and grow strong in this beautiful place." Poignant words for us all to embrace today, just as those curious, intelligent, adventurous Asher boys did so many years ago.

— Sarah Brewer Thompson, 2013


HS2787: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph, Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society collection.
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