Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Going 'Back Home' After
a Stop at Copycat Disneyland.

Published in The Signal, 2-6-2005.

Darryl Manzer, 2004     Being newly retired, there are a few things I've put off doing for lack of time and a very busy work schedule. I've completed 36 years of service in and for the U.S. Navy, and guess what? We're going to Disney World in Florida! Can't wait to get there.
    It will be a little like going home. Folks of my age remember when the original Disneyland opened in 1955. My parents scrimped and saved for that special day — our first of hundreds of visits to the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim. We left the house in Castaic at what seemed like dawn. It took most the morning to get there.
    I returned home that evening with an authentic Davy Crockett coonskin cap and a coupon book of nothing but unused "A" and "B" coupons.
    You remember the Disneyland coupon books you got as tickets for the rides. The best rides took an "E" coupon. Those were used first. Then you used the lower-value coupons until all you had left were those useless "A" and "B" coupons. You'd use one "A" coupon every trip. It was for the carriage ride back up Main Street, USA, to the main gate and the parking lot as you left the park. You were always too tired to walk the whole distance. Did anyone ever go home with unused "E" coupons?

Darryl Manzer, 1971
Three generations of Manzers (Darryl is front and center) visit the Magic Kingdom — the real one — on May 30, 1957.
    Later, when my aunt and uncle lived in La Puente, we would drive to Disneyland and, after the parked closed, go to their home to spend the night. The next day it was off to Knott's Berry Farm, where you could relive the "Old West." You also could pan for gold and ride a full-sized antique steam train.
    Whether we went only to Disneyland or to both parks, the ride home was always the same conversation. Disneyland was better for rides; Knott's Berry Farm was better for "history" and food.
    My sisters always told me I should go on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride because it was so scary. (I was nine or 10 when I finally went on that ride). On the way home, we'd roll down the windows because of the heat — few cars had air conditioning — and would fall asleep by the time we got near downtown Los Angeles.
    We really thought we had it all in Southern California. Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Marineland of the Pacific, Pacific Ocean Park, Griffith Park Zoo, and our mountains and beaches.
    Maybe we did have it all. You could drive up to Big Bear and play in the snow in the morning, drive down to Disneyland and ride a ride or two, then go to the beach and watch the sun set into the Pacific Ocean, all in one day.
    You can't do that in Florida. Florida may have Disney World and beaches, but it lacks mountains. Any sort of a mountain.
    Today you don't even have to leave the Santa Clarita Valley to go to a theme park. Magic Mountain is only a few minutes from most homes in the valley.
    I always chuckle when I see Magic Mountain. It was built on one of the largest cattle feed lots in California. We used to buy feed for our cattle there. It had quite a smell. I hope they didn't build directly on top of what the cows left behind. And that observation tower was built at about the same spot the local Civil Air Patrol squadron held search-and-rescue training one summer.
    I said going to Disney World would be "a little like going home." Only a little. Sure, there will be the familiar Magic Kingdom sights such as Sleeping Beauty Castle, Matterhorn mountain and the Monorail. It will look a lot like the original. All of the buildings are full-sized, not scaled down to fit the limited land area of the original.
    But it isn't the original. There will only ever be one true Disneyland. All others are poor copies. Only a native Southern Californian can know and feel the difference. For 50 years, it has been the original and best.
    There is one more trip I'm making to start my retirement. Following our trip to Florida to see the facsimile of Disneyland, I'll be traveling out west for a visit to the SCV. I've got to adjust my memory, do some research for this column, and visit family and friends. I hope to see old and meet new friends on The Signal staff. I'll have to get directions to the new (to me) Signal office.
    My folks left Nebraska in the late 1930s, never to live there again. Yet, whenever they talked about Nebraska, they always said, "back home." They loved living in California and would never have moved "back home."
    I've grown to love living in Virginia. It is home today and will, in all likelihood, remain my home for years to come. But I can still return "back home" to visit. No matter how it has changed, the Santa Clarita Valley will always be my "back home."
    All y'all been rightly warned of my impending visit. I do have one special request. I need to get some real Mexican food. Not this stuff they serve in the "Mexican" restaurants of Virginia. I need a whole mess of burritos, and tacos with shredded (not ground) beef. And a little salsa with more spice than the watered-down ketchup and onions we get here.
    Getting that, I can return home to Virginia a happy man.

    Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.

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