We Californians live in a territory where the cities, mountains, valleys, and
even the state and the region itself carry no venerable names.
And we here in the Santa Clarita Valley are on the cutting edge of the sport of naming, or
renaming, our surroundings.
The very name "California" was created by a Spanish novelist who described some
imaginary lands lying "at the right hand of the Indies ... very close to that part of the
The name "California" had for many years no definite geographic meaning; it was
simply applied to the unknown lands or islands that lay in the unknown and mysterious
The first expedition to travel by land through California was a Spanish
party, commanded by Gaspar de Portolá, that marched away from the encampment by the
harbor of San Diego on July 14, 1769.
It was a time when English colonists at the other side of the continent lived in substantial
cities and were tossing tea into Boston harbor. In manners and spirit they were centuries
removed from this unsettled country where Gaspar de Portolá and his party started out
overland, with horses, cattle and mules, from the bay named San Diego.
Their goal: to find suitable sites for missions and army posts in this unmapped land.
The party, consisting of 27 Spanish soldiers, two priests, seven muleteers, and Indians from
Baja, totalled 67 persons. Their purpose was to find out what lay ashore in California, most
of which had only been viewed from the sea.
On August 8 they slipped and slid down the rugged mountains between what is now called
the San Fernando Valley (they named it Encino) and the valley beyond, where on August
10 they came to a fine flowing stream. They followed that stream as it became what they
then named the Santa Clara River.
That is the background of this new city of Santa Clarita, born more than two centuries after
the river was named.
The reason why it is called "Santa Clarita" and not "Santa
Clara" is a further story. Eight years after Portolá and his party named this river, the
good padres established a mission just south of the San Francisco Bay, and they named it
That mission, its river, and the territory that surrounded it, thereupon appropriated the
name. The Santa Clara River in the south, which kept its duplicate name but had no mission
and very little population on its banks, was ignored.
As time went by and the northern mission was surrounded by Santa Clara County and the
city of Santa Clara, the southern stream began to be referred to as the "little
Santa Clara River."
That is the major reason this valley a well-defined channel between two ranges of hills
remained nameless for so long. It was referred to as the "Newhall-Saugus area"
nothing to establish its uniqueness as a well-formed valley. It was the misfortune of
having two Santa Clara rivers.
When the question of naming the valley's first high school came up in the
1940s, A.B. Perkins, a New Englander who had come to town as manager of the local water
company and remained as the valley's historian, suggested translating "Little Santa
Clara" into Spanish and using that name for the high school: "Santa
However, about that time the starring Western actor William S. Hart died, and the local
people learned that he had bequeathed his home, his bison herd, and the spreading acreage
around his hilltop mansion in Newhall to the public. A grateful citizenry honored him by
abandoning "Santa Clarita" and naming the high school for the cowboy actor.
The '40s wore on into the '50s, and the population began to swell. The "Newhall-Saugus
area" was still just that, as everyone inside and outside the valley referred to
The first tract housing arose in Saugus, along what was called Dry Canyon Road. The
Bonelli family, who had built the subdivision on their own ranch land, agreed that
"Dry" Canyon wasn't an attractive label in this still mostly-treeless community, and
translated it into Spanish. The subdivision still stands along "Seco" Canyon
Furthermore, they grasped at the long-neglected "Santa Clarita" title and named
their subdivision "Santa Clarita." However, "Santa Clarita" failed once
more to attract adherents. Locals, and eventually everybody, knew it as the "Bonelli
The Bonellis organized a private water company to serve their new tract and named it the
Santa Clarita Water Company. The name was living but barely.
In the mid-1950s, the weekly Newhall Signal was sold by the
Trueblood family to Scott Newhall, after whose great-grandfather the town was named.
Scott Newhall was at the time editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, but after
a couple of years moved all his attention to the Newhall Signal.
One of the things this valley needed, he wrote, was a name. "Newhall-Saugus
area" just didn't cut it.
About that time, The Newhall Land and Farming Company, which hitherto had concentrated
on cattle and oil production, was launching an enormous new real estate venture in the land
adjoining Newhall. They would call their planned community "Valencia."
Scott Newhall, searching for a name which would include the whole valley and thus
The Signal's readers thought he saw his opportunity.
"Valencia Valley!" he exulted.
A nice, alliterative name, in tune with the new era of a burgeoning population with schools
and parks and shopping and other elements that would mark it as a thriving suburb.
The Signal expanded from a weekly to a thrice-weekly as
advertisers increased. Scott Newhall soon learned that other residents of the valley did not
share his enthusiasm for the new name.
The complaint came loudest from Canyon Country. They saw in it a plot on the part of The
Newhall Land and Farming Company to preempt the community.
Hostility toward the company, born of mistrust of the owners of vast acreage, took the form
of rejection of the name "Valencia" as a title for the valley. The Canyon Country
Chamber of Commerce took a vote and came down solidly for "Santa Clarita
Dan Hon, the Chamber's president, accepted the assignment of calling on the editor of The
It was no mean assignment. Scott Newhall, given to rambunctious overstatement, had
expressed himself unequivocally in favor of "Valencia Valley," implying that any
person who held other views was not quite right in the head.
It was with this background that attorney Hon went to see Newhall in the Signal
office. Both were relatively new to the area, and they found, to mutual surprise, that they
liked each other.
The following day The Mighty Signal as Newhall referred to it came out
with its articles of surrender. Hon won the day with "Santa Clarita Valley."
The name appeared in stories and headlines, crept onto maps and signs, and eventually
onto the ballot for cityhood.
And that's how it happened that this long-nameless valley is nameless no more.