In Towsley Canyon, State Sen. Ed Davis, R-Valencia, stumps for signatures to preserve the Santa Clarita Woodlands. Undated and unsourced photo, probably for the 1992 state park bond measure.
Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon is named for Edward M. Davis, the Santa Clarita Valley's state senator from 1980 to 1992. Davis spearheaded legislative efforts to preserve land in Towsley Canyon in order to prevent the county of Los Angeles from siting a landfill just outside the new city of Santa Clarita's (est. 1987) western border.
In 1989, Davis sponsored legislation enabling the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to purchase a 145-acre parcel off of The Old Road, at the mouth of Towsley Canyon, known as Rivendale. Upon the close of escrow, it immediately opened to the public as a park. Included in the sale was a Spanish-style stucco and tile-roofed home built in 1974 by Rivendale equestrian ranch owners Jerry and Dorothy Arnett, which the Conservancy renamed "Towsley Lodge."
At the time, the Conservancy and its allies — at Santa Clarita City Hall and elsewhere — envisioned the acquisition as the first piece of an eventual conservation area spanning several thousand acres of Towsley, Pico, East, Rice and neighboring canyons, to be known collectively as the Santa Clarita Woodlands.
To that end, the Conservancy next spent $5.2 million on a strategic 22-acre strip of land that sat between The Old Road and the coveted Woodlands property, most of which was owned by Chevron.
At the time, Chevron, previously known as Standard Oil Co. of California, was deciding what to do with its nonperforming oil properties. By purchasing 22 "gateway" acres, the Conservancy would physically block any plans Chevron might have to expand access to the property and build homes.
On Oct. 23, 1992, upon the 75-year-old senator's impending retirement from public life, the Conservancy renamed its now-roughly 170-acre park for its legislative champion.
Davis and the Conservancy were somewhat strange bedfellows. The onetime Los Angeles police chief (1969–1978) was known as an outspoken conservative and was not considered friendly to environmentalists.
"I'm not for environmentalists," Davis said at the 1992 ceremony, as he donned a park ranger's hat given him by the Conservancy's equally unreserved executive director, Joseph T. Edmiston.
"I am for conservationists," Davis said, conjuring visions of Teddy Roosevelt. "I believe in conserving nature for the use of man."
The dream of a mutli-thousand-acre Santa Clarita Woodlands Park became reality just three years later when Chevron decided to divest all or most of its nonperforming assets. The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority — a joint powers agency led by Edmiston's Conservancy — seized the opportunity to acquire 3,035 acres of Chevron property for $4.9 million.
Actually, the deal was structured as a 2,184-acre purchase, with the transfer of 851 acres in Pico Canyon — including the historic Mentryville oil town — recorded as a gift for tax purposes. Chevron valued the total acreage at $7.3 million.
The one hiccup was that after spending $5.2 million on 22 acres, the Conservancy was out of cash. So another one of the MRCA member agencies — the city of Santa Clarita — stepped up to the plate with $2 million in general-fund money for the majority of the 50-percent down payment (of the $4.9 million) that Chevron demanded. The balance would be paid with voter-approved 1992 park bond money earmarked for the Conservancy.
In exchange, the city of Santa Clarita acquired 53 prime-location acres of the Conservancy's 170-acre park property — the acreage at the entrance to Towsley Canyon directly off of The Old Road. (The city also picked up about 7 additional acres with 1992 Proposition A park bond money.) Today the 60-acre city property is known as Rivendale Park and Open Space.
Just as the name Rivendale has returned, the story itself came full circle Aug. 12, 2002, when Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich dedicated 507 adjacent acres to the MRCA. Antonovich required the former property owner, landfill operator Browning-Ferris Industries, to hand over the acreage in exchange for a permit to expand its Sunshine Canyon Landfill in Granada Hills.
Today, the 507-acre Michael D. Antonovich Open Space Preserve connects the MRCA's Rice and East canyon properties with the City of L.A.'s O'Melveny Park to the south and brings the Santa Clarita Woodlands Park to roughly 4,000 acres.
Further reading: The Story of Rivendale by Sabina Fetter.