What we know as the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce started life as the Newhall Chamber of Commerce on February 21, 1923, serving a dusty Western town of maybe 1,000 souls and an assortment of mercantile stores, churches, one K-8 school, and no fewer than four saloons. Its first president was the local hotelier, Albert Swall, and its first secretary was the grand dame of the community, Armantha Thibeaudau.
Among the first year's priorities:
• Organize a fire district and distribute fire extinguishers throughout the wood-frame business district. The local General Store stored ammo and had a history of exploding.
• Remove the annoying street trees that blocked the view of businesses as motorists whizzed by at 20 mph.
• Petition the California Highway Commission to pave the main street, which was a state highway. It finally happened three years later when the county paved it.
By 1930, the Newhall Chamber had absorbed many of the businesses in the even smaller district of Saugus, 2½ miles up the road. The annual Saugus Rodeo routinely attracted more than 18,000 spectators — roughly 6 times the population of the entire Newhall-Saugus Area, as the region was known.
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Next door to the rodeo, the Bermite Powder Company produced armaments for the war effort and new residents for Newhall. A spate of new manufacturing businesses in the late 1940s and '50s, including a glass company and a vinyl record plant, fueled growth. Lockheed found a home for a major test facility at the end of the decade. Other aerospace manufacturers followed suit and developed the area into a major industrial center.
In 1953, leaders of the Newhall-Saugus Chamber of Commerce were instrumental in bringing one of the "wish list" items of 1923 to fruition: the creation of a public water utility. Six decades later, Sen. Scott Wilk carried the legislation that merged it with other local water utilities to form the current Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency.
Chamber leaders often headed community activities including the local Fourth of July Parade. In 1964, they started honoring local business and nonprofit leaders in an annual event that would evolve into the now-independent SCV Man and Woman of the Year celebration.
The birth of The Newhall Land and Farming Company's "new town" of Valencia, carved out of the hinterlands of Newhall and Saugus, would bring unprecedented growth to the area and, in 1967, a name change.
The Newhall-Saugus-Valencia Chamber of Commerce was more than a voice for business. It was the voice of the community, serving as a de-facto local government for this far-away unincorporated territory, 35 miles distant from the seat of county government.
Road congestion was an ever-worsening problem as the population boomed. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the Chamber of Commerce and its Transportation Committee became the go-to place for local business and education leaders to convey their needs in person to public officials from all levels of government — county, state and federal. They got results.
"De facto" became "facto" in 1987 when area voters approved an initiative that chamber leaders had been preparing behind the scenes for years: the incorporation of the City of Santa Clarita. For the first time, local residents could elect their own leaders and voice their concerns without a day-long trip to Los Angeles.
And still, the community managed to cling to its roots. In the early 1910s, when motion picture production moved from New York to California, a pair of young film directors named Cecil B. De Mille and D.W. Griffith frequently rented out the entire town of Newhall. Ever since then, the Santa Clarita Valley has served as Hollywood's back lot as well as home base for countless television series. Starting in 1981, the chamber of commerce, led by then-executive director Jo Anne Darcy, immortalized the stars of stage, screen, television and radio who worked locally by placing bronze plaques into Newhall's sidewalks every year. Darcy would go on to serve as one of Santa Clarita's first mayors, and after more than four decades, the city of Santa Clarita continues to expand her Walk of Western Stars.
Meanwhile, the chamber connected its members with the broader community through an annual Business Expo. It was held under a Big Top-style tent, usually on the vacant lot where John Carpenter blew up a fake gas station for his 1983 horror flick, "Christine." In 2003, the lot transformed into the Valencia Crossroads shopping center.
The chamber officially changed its name to "Santa Clarita Valley" back in 1980, but it would take another 15 years for the independent-minded members of the Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce on the east side of town to vote to merge into it. The Castaic Chamber, representing the unincorporated area on the northwest, would fold into the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber in 2011, followed by the local Latino Chamber of Commerce in 2015.
Now there was one chamber representing businesses in both the incorporated and unincorporated areas of a vibrant community of more than 300,000 residents. Working collaboratively with the city government, the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce has filled new needs with the launch of a separate Economic Development Corporation, and the chamber carries forward its century-old traditions of advocacy on matters of transportation, public safety, land use, education, water, energy, industry and tourism for the benefit of all.