There is probably no one in the Santa Clarita Valley who knows the proposed Golden Valley Ranch site better than George Starbuck, except maybe his family the Walkers, as in Walker Ranch.
The Walkers and their extended family have experienced many "firsts" and "lasts" on land that is now part of the 1,310-acre planned community of Golden Valley Ranch, in an unincorporated section of the valley. The developer is seeking to annex the project area into the city of Santa Clarita.
The area's first homestead the foundation and columns are still visible just yards from Placerita Canyon Road was built by Frank Evans Walker.
Another "first" was the sale of the property by the Walkers to the Mitchell family, long before current owners, PacSun LLC, acquired it.
Starbuck, William Raymond Walker's great-grandson, was the first to rediscover a well on the property after environmental studies missed it.
Among the "lasts," the Walkers were the last family to live there. And George Starbuck's brother, Walter Fisher, was the last to run cattle on the land. A company called Santa Fe acquired the property in the late 1980s and stopped the practice.
These days, when families are squeezed into lots ranging from 4,000 to 7,000 square feet, as PacSun plans to do at the Golden Valley Ranch development, it can be difficult to imagine living on hundreds of acres.
But George Starbuck and his sister, Gayle Starbuck, remember open spaces stretching as far as the eye could see. So do their mother and uncles.
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When the Starbuck siblings were children, the mountains and valleys surrounding Placerita Canyon Road were their playground.
"There was no one else around," George Starbuck said.
Starbuck's mother, Melba Fisher, born in 1916, remembers missionaries from the San Fernando Mission crossing the mountains at what is today the Placerita Canyon Nature Center to try to convert the local Indians.
One of those Indians, Nick Cuneo, lived on the Golden Valley Ranch site in what was referred to as a dugout.
A trail on the site, still visible, was called the "Indian trail" by Fisher and her 10 siblings, known as the "Walker clan." Melba remembers walking barefoot on the trail.
In 1918, the original Walker house burned down and the family moved down the canyon to a cabin now at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center. They had two homes, a winter cabin and a summer cabin.
The winter home was needed because the road near the summer home was impassible in the winter.
In the late 1930s the family moved permanently into the summer cabin, which had two main rooms and separate sleeping cabins for the 11 Walker kids.
The summer home was located on what is now known as the Walker Ranch Section of the state park. The main house and the adjoining bunk houses were demolished to make room for campgrounds at the state park.
Fisher's brother, Tom Walker, vividly remembers Western film production on his father's property. William S. Hart, the famous cowboy star, used the Walker property for film shoots.
"We were friends of Bill Hart," said Tom Walker.
According to Tom Walker, now in his 70s and still living off of Placerita Canyon Road next door to his brother, Ray Walker, movie people were around all the time.
Tom and his sister, Melba Fisher, recall times when movie crews would dine with the family, with Ray Walker whipping up pancakes and eggs. Other times, his father would make a couple of extra bucks for the use of certain items on the property.
The going rate for filming on the Walker Ranch was $5 a day. Tom Walker said the first film was shot there in 1928, when he was 3.
Could it be that Tom's older brother Clarence, then 18, was influenced by that first filming? In an old movie still, Clarence is pictured riding a horse, with the production crew and a movie camera visible in the photograph.
Clarence's surviving siblings eagerly declare that their brother was a cowboy film actor.
In the late 1950s, the Walt Disney Co. took over a portion of property off of Placerita Canyon Road. It is now the Disney Oaks Golden Ranch.
"Walt Disney and his wife visited our father at the ranch," Tom Walker recalled proudly.
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Two local family trees came together with the marriage of George Starbuck's grandparents, Frank Evans Walker and Hortence Victoria Reynier.
Frank Walker's parents, William Raymond Walker and Rosa Belle Evans, had mining concerns on the present Golden Valley Ranch site. All current records indicate the couple lived somewhere in Los Angeles. It was not until their son, Frank Walker, built the original house on the homestead that the family legacy began in Placerita Canyon.
Hortence Victoria Reynier's parents were Jean Joseph Reynier and Hortence Sambien. Jean Joseph Reynier came over from France around the 1860s, according to his granddaughter, Melba Fisher.
Reynier, Gayle and George's great-grandfather, brought grape vines with him. They flourished in the area.
As a child, Melba Fisher crushed grapes for wine at her grandparents' place.
"I would crush those grapes for $2 a week," she said.
To this day, George Starbuck can point out grapevines in Sand and Placerita canyons that originally had been imported by immigrants.
Even though the Walker name is prominent locally, the land that was passed on through the generations actually was owned by Jean Joseph Reynier. Rosa Belle Evans and William Raymond Walker's land part of which is now the Golden Valley Ranch site was sold to the Mitchells.
That property was never the home of the Mitchells, which is why, growing up in the 1940s and '50s, George and Gayle still used it as their personal playground.
The Mitchells either ran cattle on the land themselves or leased it to people who ran cattle, because cattle grazed there during much of the land's recent history.
Remnants such as old troughs still dot the pristine landscape, which many have called the most beautiful piece of untouched land in Los Angeles County.
Paul Edelman, a biologist for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said it is one of the most biologically diverse and significant parcels in Southern California, as well.
Because of its massive size, pristine nature and proximity to the Santa Clara River, animals of every sort use it as a breeding ground and home.
George Starbuck pointed out on a recent hike through the property that even if a little rock is picked up, it must be put back in the same place "because tiny animals live under there."
While they are heartbroken about the possibility of development on the land, the family is more concerned about the quality of development.
The developer is seeking to change the zoning to put clustered homes on the property.
George Starbuck does not want to deny the developer the opportunity to profit off the land, but he would like to see the type of development he considers reasonable the type where lots are measured in acres, not feet.
Many neighbors agree.
Concerns have been voiced at recent Santa Clarita Planning Commission meetings about maintaining the rural atmosphere of the area.
"We are very protective of this land," George, who still hikes there twice a day, said. "This is where we lived."
Experts can toss around words such as "pristine" and "important" when talking about the land. Even the developer can use words like "rights."
But only the descendants of William Raymond Walker and Rosa Belle Evans can truly call it "home."