Leon Worden

Future Destination: Historic Santa Clarita Valley

SCV History Ring

By Leon Worden

Sunday, November 22, 2009

have a dream.
    I have a dream that one day this valley will rise up and unite the historic assets that encircle it.
    I have a dream that our little children will one day live in a community that comprehends the richness of its history and transforms that richness into sustainable economic benefit through historic tourism.
    I know. It's as much a mission statement as a dream.
    Business columnist Ken Keller would tell you that mission statements must be written down and reviewed regularly.
    So I beg your indulgence.
    I confess it is not my dream alone. My friend Richard Rioux shared it, or something akin to it. I won't try to paraphrase his ideas here, except to say he knew the truth of our "one valley" and had a singular vision for it, long before the city or county coined the phrase.
    Besides, he wrote down his ideas. You can find them online.
    Richard has been gone these many years. My dream has recurred and deviated sufficiently for me to claim it as my own.
    I call it my "SCV history ring."
    Everything is connected.
    Nothing exists in isolation.
    Start at 6 o'clock on the map of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Hart Park-Heritage Junction
    At William S. Hart Park, the county of Los Angeles celebrates the earliest days of Western filmmaking. At neighboring Heritage Junction the SCV Historical Society stewards the general history of our valley.
    From there, venture on the future footpath through the Gate-King Industrial Park to the mighty Southern Pacific Railroad tunnel.
    Double back to our most precious city-owned historic asset, the Pioneer Oil Refinery — the first productive refinery in the West.

    Follow the oil pipelines past Stevenson Ranch to Mentryville, now a state-owned ghost town that gave birth to California's oil industry in 1876.
    Over the north rim, at the promised interpretive center on the Newhall Ranch property, learn how the Tataviam Indians collected the oily asphaltum centuries earlier to adorn their clothing and waterproof their baskets.

Castaic Junction
    Follow the Tataviam trail northward to Castaic Junction where they built their largest village.
    The turn of the 19th century brought Spanish conquest and a mission outpost on an overlook to keep them under watch.
    Mexico's successful war for independence did not restore the land to the Tataviam. Instead, in 1839, the Mexican government granted most of the Santa Clarita Valley to a politically important general, Antonio del Valle.
    Del Valle's heirs lost their herds to drought in the 1860s and lost their land when they couldn't repay their bank loans. You can't sell dead cattle.
    A decade later, a San Francisco entrepreneur named Henry Mayo Newhall snatched up the property for a song.
    A historic center in the first phase of the future 20,000-home Newhall Ranch project would be a fitting venue to remember our early Californio days.
    In 1928 it wasn't drought but rather flood that obliterated the Newhall family's farmlands. Circle north and eastward to discover its source.

Harry Carey Ranch
    Seven miles up San Francisquito Canyon Road from today's Copper Hill Drive, the collapse of the St. Francis Dam was America's worst civil-engineering failure of the 20th century. It spewed 12.5 billion gallons of water down the canyon and killed 450 people.
    It destroyed actor Harry Carey's popular tourist trap in the heart of today's Tesoro del Valle, where the historic buildings that weren't lost to fire or flood are carefully managed by the same county park staffers who run Hart Park.
    More than a broken dam left marks on the mountainsides.
    Blasting from both water and dynamite damaged the environment but enabled early settlers to ply mother Earth for all she was worth in gold, silver, copper, manganese, platinum, titanium, borax, gemstones and, yes, gravel — clear from Saugus to Agua Dulce.
    Which brings us to 3 o'clock on the map.

Lang Station
    In virtually the same spot where Mexican cement maker Cemex wants to extend our "mining history" a few more decades, the Southern and Central Pacific railroads united Los Angeles with the rest of the nation 133 years ago.
    You've heard of the golden spike at Promontory Point in Utah. Well, Charles Crocker drove another one at Lang Station, in what we now call Canyon Country.
    Leland Stanford shook Crocker's hand from the other rail line. Stanford's pal was Henry Newhall, and after Atholl McBean took the helm of the Newhall family company in the 1930s, you couldn't land an executive job at Newhall Land unless you went through the Stanford business school.
    But that's another story. Or is it?
    We need a train museum at Lang Station to vitalize our stature as the point where south met north in 1876.
    But Cemex and other mining concerns stand in the way.
    We might have a sooner shot at the next best thing.
    Way back when, the Langs were tight with the Mitchells down-canyon.
    Guess what? Former Newhall Land executive and Stanford alumnus Jim Backer is planning a Canyon Country version of Town Center Drive on the old Mitchell homestead at Sand Canyon and Lost Canyon roads.
    Backer will relocate the Via Princessa Metrolink platform and erect a more substantial Metrolink station on his property.
    What a wonderful opportunity to capitalize on the story of our golden spike, with interpretive displays in the new depot and old train cars outside it.
    For that matter, with a main shopping promenade leading to the Metrolink station and an adjacent hotel, why not give the entire project an old-time, all-American whistle-stop theme?

Placerita Nature Center
    Nearly full circle, we reach Placerita Canyon state and county park where Francisco Lopez made California's first documented discovery of gold in 1842, six years before James Marshall pulled his famous nugget out of John Sutter's millrace.
    Remember the Del Valles and their rancho? Lopez was a relative, and while he was dreaming his golden dreams, he was herding cattle on their ranch.
    Our history intersects and intertwines.
    Whether oil or gold or filming or railroads, the story of our valley is the story of people whose labors resulted in myriad "firsts."

Connecting it all
    A century ago, a visionary named Stephen T. Mather gave the 20-Mule Team a run for its money by investing in a small borax mine on Davenport Road, just east of Sierra Highway. It made Mather a millionaire and thrust him onto the national stage.
    Within a decade, Mather had convinced President Woodrow Wilson and Congress to let him unite Yosemite and the Grand Canyon and the rest of America's far-flung federal parks and monuments into a system Mather called the National Park Service.
    No longer would the nation's natural wonders be left to thrive or perish individually. Suddenly they were components of a larger, cohesive and protected whole.
    Our valley needs crusaders who recognize that collectively, our diverse historical assets can be greater than the sum of their parts.
    We need champions who can build bridges between the various city, county, state and federal agencies and private landowners who hold the keys and have the most to gain.
    We need political and business leaders with the skills to develop, and the will to implement, a comprehensive marketing strategy for this SCV history ring, or whatever you wish to call it.
    Santa Clarita has had terrific success with sports tourism. It's healthy and it's fun.
    But the events are few, and each spans only a day or two per year. And for lack of a gentler word, they are artificial. We entice companies to bring their sporting events to us.
    Our history is real. It is home-grown. We don't have to invent it. It's sitting there, waiting for us to harvest it.
    The Lower Santa Clara River Valley has figured it out.
    From Camulos to Fillmore to Santa Paula and beyond, the Heritage Valley marketing program exploits a common history to attract tourists to Ventura County.
    They don't have nearly as much to work with as we do.
    Picture it: Our valley as an all-year, two-day weekend destination.
    Imagine doing such a fine job of connecting our historic sites, and telling their stories, and marketing our valley as the authentic birthplace of so much California history that families from all across this golden state come here to experience history where happened — and stay overnight in our hotels and spend day two stretching their legs at Magic Mountain and Robinson Ranch.
    College of the Canyons Chancellor Dianne Van Hook likes to say if you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can do it.
    I think it's time to wake up and work on it. Will you help?

    Leon Worden is president of SCVTV and former editor of The Signal. His column reflects his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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