Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Albert Charles Swall

Newhall Builder


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Newhall's Builder Claimed by Death.

Funeral services for Albert C. Swall, who almost single handed built the business district of Newhall, took place Saturday afternoon at the Pierce Brothers Chapel in Hollywood, with the Burbank Masonic Lodge, of which the deceased was a member, in charge. The remains were cremated, and the ashes placed in Hollywood Mausoleum.

Born 68 years ago in Tracy, Calif., Mr. Swall spent a great many active years in Newhall before moving to Hollywood. His death was caused by a malignant ailment.

The Signal is indebted to A.B. Perkins for the following sketch of Mr. Swall's life:

End of and Epoch.

The passing of Albert C. Swall marks the end of an epoch for Newhall, that time period when Newhall changed from an isolated foothill hamlet to today's Southern California town.

When Albert Swall first came to Newhall in the Nineties, working on his father's harvester crew on the fields of the Newhall ranch, the town was a collection of up-and-down board shacks fronting the railroad station. To the north of the station stood one of the two-storied hotels, the Ashbridge (the old building at 828 Spruce street). The second Southern (a reconstruction job of the old Southern Hotel barns) stood at the present site of the Five & Ten store.

The Swall harvester crew was run by Mr. Swall's father and manned by the Swall boys. Later Al Swall spent several years in general farm work. As he sometimes said, "It looked like there ought to be some easier way of making a living."

He was only 22 when he abandoned farming and started his first store, a butcher shop, which he opened in 1901, in a board-and-bat building which stood where the back end of the new Bank of America building now stands.

He was always a stickler for business, and within very few years, in partnership with his cousin, James Gulley, Swall was running a general mercantile establishment where now stands the Masonic Hall. Gulley shortly retired from the business, which carried on as "Albert C. Swall, General Merchant."

His business was successful; so much so that rental raises inspired him to look around for a purchasable site, which he found in the second Southern Hotel, then owned and operated by the then-Constable Ed Pardee. With the cooperation of Pardee (gratefully remembered by Swall till the end of his days), Swall was able to buy the building, to the ground floor of which he moved his store, continuing the hotel business on the second floor.

Gold Dust for Money.

Those were the early days of the movie industry, and all of those early stars of the silent film stopped at the hotel when on Newhall location. It is of interest to note that better than half of Swall's merchandising was in gold dust, instead of currency, and his old gold scales were in his possession till his passing.

The highway then ran down Railroad avenue, and the Highway Department wanted to straighten out a jog by Eighth street but encountered opposition from land owners.

In those days, voters hadn't handed state departments the powers they now hold to condemn and acquire rights of way — fairly or otherwise — and the Highway Department was momentarily stymied. The Southern Hotel was over on Spruce street, as were Ed Pardee's Livery Stables and T.M. Frew Sr.'s blacksmithing shop, so Swall, Pardee and Frew got together and purchased the vacant block (now highway bisected) between Tenth, Eleventh, Spruce and Railroad avenue. They offered this property, or such part of it as desired, to the state for highway purposes. The state curved its present curves thru the block and moved the highway to its present Spruce street site.

The move spelled the death knell of Old Newhall by the railroad station, and one by one the old businesses were moved to front on the new highway.

Five years later, no businesses remained on the Oid Square excepting the Southern Pacific railroad and the old Mayhew store. The present 700 and 600 blocks on Spruce street caught them all.

First Brick Block.

Swall already held the 400 feet of frontage between Sixth and Seventh on the east side. His plans were decidedly upset by the burning of his Southern Hotel. He met that by construction of the first two-story brick business block in the town (the present Williams Pharmacy building) at Market and Spruce. About $500 short of completion, he ran out of money, which he finally raised at a gross cost of about 50 per cent of the loan. On the second floor, Mr. and Mrs. Swall operated the Swall Hotel. The corner 25 feet of the ground floor housed the Houghton Drug Store, adjoined by the Post Office, managed by Mrs. Bert Taylor, the Abbott butcher shop and the hotel lobby. Believe it or not, old-timers in our foothills used to come out of the hills to see the electrically lighted two-story brick building.

His next move was the purchase of Block 12, which he subdivided and sold for $10 a front foot. Around that time he also acquired the old Pardee corner (south of the present Safeway).

For the next few years, Al Swall was building. If he sold a piece of land, negotiated an oil lease, or the hotel had a surplus, all the extra money went into stores. In the 600 block on Spruce street, all improved frontage from the present Sackrider office to Market street (on the east side) and all of the improved frontage from the substation to the Five & Ten was built by Swall. Close to the town's center he built about six residences.

He was a community builder in the finest sense of the word.

Moves to Hollywood.

About 25 years ago, Swall moved to Hollywood. The highway tunnel had been built in 1914, and a modern highway ran down Spruce street; the Ridge Route was finished, and the road through Mint Canyon was complete.

His last local investment was the purchase, with Fred Lamkin, of over 100 acres north of Thirteenth street which they subdivided as the Swall & Lamkin Tract, practically built up today, and the purchase of the Miller ranch just west of Happy Valley in 1925, with Fred Lamkin and Riedel & Perkins, which latter property he owned till the end.

In Los Angeles — or West Hollywood, if you prefer — he duplicated his Newhall ventures — just to prove there was nothing accidental about his Newhall success. At his passing, he owned three of the highly improved corners at a major Santa Monica boulevard intersection.

Where Albert Swall landed, vacant lots were improved, business followed the improvements, and communities were bettered.

He entered the Burbank Lodge 405 F. & A.M. in 1925, was a member of the old Newhall Masonic Club, and served many terms upon the Newhall School Board. He was treasurer of the Newhall Water Company from its formation to 1948, when ill health forced his retirement from the directorate.

Preeminently, Albert Swall was "square."


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