Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

71. Requiem

Like many of this valley's historic structures, the stately Acton Hotel perished by fire in 1945 after catering to kings, presidents and princes for fifty-five years.

No fewer than three Newhall elementary schools burned to the ground. The first two, at Ninth and Walnut streets, burned in 1890 and 1914. A third school was erected near the northwest corner of Newhall Avenue and Lyons, but by 1928 the budding postwar student population had outgrown it. In that year the school moved to its permanent home at Eleventh and Walnut, where fire again gutted it on Valentine's Day, 1939.

The flames that consumed Gene Autry's Melody Ranch in 1962 encircled the entire valley and very nearly erased other historic structures. Only a terrific effort on the part of local residents saved the Mentryville "Big House" in Pico Canyon — an effort that would be repeated in 1970 when flames again ringed the valley.

Other buildings were destroyed by earthquake, such as Newhall's First Presbyterian Church and the old Pharmacy building, as we have seen.

Still others were taken out in the name of progress. The communities of Lang and Ravenna in Soledad Canyon, for instance, were bulldozed in the early 1970s. The 1936-vintage Saugus Elementary School became a shopping center.

Nonetheless, several historic and interesting places remain.

Mentryville, now a ghost town tucked behind the new community of Stevenson Ranch, is a State Historic Landmark, as is the site of nearby Pico (CSO) Number 4, the first commercially successful oil well in the western United States.

In November of 1995, while Chevron, USA was divesting itself of its non-productive holdings (Chevron acquired Standard in 1977 and pumped the last oil out of Pico in 1990), the company donated Mentryville to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a state agency headed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, as part of an 851-acre gift. Home for almost three decades to oil field foreman Frenchy Lagasse and his wife Carol and family, the old Pico field is now a state park and open to visitors.

Two stills remain at another Chevron holding, the Pioneer Oil Refinery on Pine Street in Newhall. They are the oldest existing stills in the world. The refinery was restored by Pico superintendent Charles Sitzman shortly after the 1930 death of Demetrius G. Scofield, first president of Standard Oil of California, and dedicated in Scofield's honor. Efforts are underway to preserve the site, which is also a State Landmark.

Historic Landmark Number 919 is a monument to disaster, for this was the location of the ill-fated St. Francis Dam. All that marks the spot of the 1928 collapse are hunks of concrete which, today, are difficult to distinguish from their native surroundings. They rest in the stream bed nine miles north of Seco Canyon Road in San Francisquito Canyon.

Vasquez Rocks County Park is on the National Registry of Historic Places not because it was the hideout of the notorious outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez, but because it sports one of the finest collections of Native American rock art in the state. Now fenced off to discourage vandalism, some artifacts may be more than twenty thousand years old.

At 24151 Newhall Avenue looms the magnificent home of cowboy actor William S. Hart. Docents conduct tours through the rooms filled with western Americana, including original paintings by Russell, Remington and Flagg. The Los Angeles County parks department also maintains picnic areas and a barnyard zoo on the property.

Directly south, facing San Fernando Road, is the Saugus Train Station. The station was moved to this spot during the night of June 24, 1980 by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, thanks to a massive community outpouring of funds and volunteer effort. Today it houses a museum, library and a recreated station master's office.

Other structures from Santa Clarita's past, such as the Pardee House, Newhall Ranch House, Colonel Thomas F. and Martha Mitchell's adobe home in Soledad Canyon — the valley's first school house — and many more have joined the Saugus Station in the Heritage Junction section of Hart Park. Future plans include the reconstruction of the Spruce Street blacksmith shop that was purchased by Tom Frew II in 1900 and served the valley's horse shoeing needs for seventy years. Heritage Junction is open for visitors on weekends.

While much has been done to preserve local historic structures, many more remain unprotected from the ravages of time.

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