Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

65. Transitions

William S. Hart built the Santa Clarita Valley's first motion picture theater in 1940, then presented it to American Legion Post 507 as a gift. It was called the American and still stands at the corner of Eleventh and Spruce streets in Newhall, serving as the Legion post's headquarters.

Hart also contributed heavily to the first high school, for which A.B. Perkins had suggested the name "Santa Clarita," or Little St. Clare — a diminutive form of the name given to the local river by the Spanish explorers of 1769. But the new campus opened just three months after the great Western star died in 1946, so it was named William S. Hart High School in the actor's honor instead. {Incorrect: It opened in 1945 and was renamed prior to his death. — Ed.)

During the next year, 1947, the Bonelli family subdivided their Seco Canyon holdings and built the area's first tract housing — initially a group of fifteen homes called Rancho Santa Clarita. It was the first time the name "Santa Clarita" was formally affixed to anything. The valley was generally known as the "Newhall-Saugus area."

It was not until Bonelli set up a water company, however, that the "Santa Clarita" name began to stick. Everyone called his housing project "the Bonelli tract."

William Bonelli prospered, eventually winning a seat on the county board of supervisors. But the final years of this kindly and gentle man, once a college professor, read like a Greek tragedy.

Bonelli became engaged in a political confrontation with the Los Angeles Times, which always called him "Big Bill" Bonelli. He was accused of official malfeasance and income tax evasion and was finally forced to flee to Mexico, running his affairs and the family-owned water company from Hermosillo. Finally in 1970, just before his death, he was cleared of all charges.

Among the Bonelli holdings was the Baker-Hoot Gibson Rodeo Arena. Automobile racing had begun in 1939, with the dirt track tested by such notables as Troy Ruttman and Bill Vukovich. The stadium was closed during the war years but reopened to Circus Vargas, roundups, stock shows and midget auto racing.

In 1956 it was paved by manager Tony Coldeway for stock car racing and christened the Saugus Speedway. Coldeway started the Sunday swap meet on the grounds in 1963, and it grew over the years into one of the biggest in the state.

The junction of Soledad and Mint canyons was known as Solemint. A retired Los Angeles police officer built a small, eight-by-ten-foot general store on the corner, variously called Thompson's or Simmons'. In 1945 Simmons sold out to Alf Clark, who stocked his Solemint Store with everything from side saddles to fur-lined thunder mugs. In the back room was an "art gallery" of slightly erotic pictures which were roundly condemned by some but heartily patronized by others. Today the whole assemblage would probably warrant no more than a PG rating.

The Soledad Canyon ranch of Remi Nadeau — grandson of the famous L.A. freighter and hotelier[1] — featured an extensive deer park and was eventually sold to Helm Schmidt, who died in 1960.

Schmidt's heirs sold the 1,800 acres to the Jerry Snider interests, who started development of the valley's second tract of homes, known as North Oaks, in 1961. By 1963 the region was already being called Canyon Country, a name which became official five years later when Art Evans convinced the postal service to adopt the name.

1. Webmaster's note: This paragraph has been corrected. In his manuscript, Reynolds turned the two Remi Nadeaus into the same person.

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