Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

56. Eureka

The Sterling Borax Works brought in more and more residents, prompting a school named "Agua Dulce" to be set up on the Johnson Ranch in late 1914. The first class consisted of nine pupils and a large water spaniel.

Some interesting people lived in the area, such as John O'Connel, known as "Stone Hatchet," who lived with his father in caves from about 1916 to the mid-1920s. Claude Ellis lived in a packing-crate house at the base of the great sandstone outcropping at Vasquez Rocks, painting faces and little landscapes on bedrock until his death in 1941.

Then came Los Angeles businessman Jefferson Asher, who organized the Triple A Ranch and in 1939 built a large house of redwood and cobblestones overlooking Agua Dulce Springs.

As one age was beginning, another was drawing to a close. After three generations in the Santa Clarita Valley, the Del Valle family bade farewell to Rancho Camulos.

The last great barbecue was held on August 10, 1924. Among the attendees were Adolfo Camarillo, representing the old dons; author Charles F. Lummis, artist Charles M. Russell and Western star William S. Hart, to name a few. The last of the "Lords of the Santa Clara," Reginaldo del Valle, was finally forced to sell his shrunken domain. As Lummis wrote, "This is the last stand of the patriarchal life of Spanish California, which has been so beautiful to the world for more than an century."

At the same time another somewhat diminished old holding, the Villa Rancho at the junction of San Martin and Hasley canyons, went on the market. It was near the place where, in 1843, Francisco Lopez had plucked some nuggets from Santa Feliciana Creek and touched off California's second rush to riches.

Known as "Val Verde" when the Sonoran miners established a boom town there in the wake of Lopez's discovery, in the 1920s the area was called "Eureka" — apparently named for the last heir, Eureka Villa Alline, who sold the property in 1925 to Sydney P. Dones. Dones in turn sold a thirty-acre tract to a group of black Los Angeles professionals headed by insurance man Norman O. Houston and newspaper publisher Charlotta Bass.

It was a difficult time for blacks in Los Angeles. Black-owned businesses in downtown Los Angeles were burned. Blacks were barred from beaches and public swimming pools and were shunned from high-paying jobs. Not until the mid-1950s did the courts finally strike down the restrictive covenants that prevented blacks from owning real estate in certain areas. (Some early property deeds in the Santa Clarita Valley precluded black ownership.) For many, the only opportunity for recreation or self-expression came in a weekend jaunt to the isolated resort community of Eureka.

Nicknamed the "Black Palm Springs," Eureka became just that. Black professionals bought half-acre lots and built weekend and summer homes, followed by restaurants and inns. In 1939 a fifty-acre county park was built, complete with clubhouse and pool, and the town took back its old name of Val Verde.

Actress Hattie McDaniel and other black celebrities attended the dedication of the park, which became a community gathering place. Children played ball by day and teenagers danced in the clubhouse at night. The town celebrated the Fourth of July in grand style with a parade and fireworks.

Val Verde sent its boys off to war in the 1940s. The 1950s saw a "Miss Val Verde" contest, and actor James Earl Jones raised thoroughbred horses on a nearby ranch.

The civil rights revolution of the 1960s would create new opportunities for blacks, diminishing the necessity and allure of Val Verde — but not the peacefulness of the area or the closeness of the community that remains.

Much of this chapter has been excerpted from "Renaissance for Black Palm Springs" by Leon Worden, 1996.

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