Leon Worden

Dare to be outrageous, Santa Clarita

By Leon Worden
Friday, September 17, 1999

o the Hyatt and the car dealers on Creekside Road may be getting a sign along the freeway to say, “We’re here!” Not a big, flashy, Las-Vegas-neon sign— more like an architectural, sculptured, painted concrete sign.
    Now comes word that the city may put more stuff along the freeways.
    It seems the city has hired some consultants to “beautify” the place and bolster the identity of Santa Clarita’s sub-communities— Newhall, Saugus, Canyon Country and Valencia— and bolster the identity of Santa Clarita along the way.
    These new town monuments, for lack of a better description, would show off something unique about each sub-community. They’d go at the entryways, maybe along the freeways, maybe elsewhere, to tell you that you were leaving Saugus and entering Canyon Country.
    This isn’t my idea. It’s the city’s. And it’s a good one.
    It got me to thinking about a conversation I had almost five years ago with Ray Bradbury, the science fiction author.
    “Science fiction author” isn’t how I like to define Ray Bradbury, because he’s much more than that. He’s what I call a “concept guy.” He thinks up big stuff and then, instead of asking why it can’t be done, thinks up ways to make it happen.
    Bradbury has consulted for all sorts of companies that have wanted big ideas to bring in customers. For instance, Bradbury was the concept guy for the Horton Plaza in San Diego.
    If you’ve been there, you know what I mean when I say Bradbury succeeded in creating a memorable image. I say “Horton Plaza,” and a particular image pops into your brain. No hesitation. No confusion with any other shopping mall on the planet.
    Bradbury consulted for Walt Disney in the mid-1960s, when the Imagineers were thinking up stuff like the Pirates of the Caribbean.
    We don’t have enough concept guys anymore.
    Anyway. Bradbury was talking that day mostly about images and metaphors. Downtown Newhall, he said, once I told him a bit about its history, was lucky, because it already had an identity to build on.
    That’s just what the people of Newhall decided to do through revitalization, I told him— rebuild the old downtown to recapture its original Western-Victorian-Spanish flavor (but with trendier merchandise).
    Some towns aren’t as lucky, he said. Some towns have little or no identity. Some towns are just like every other cow town on the parched Martian landscape.
    I mean California landscape.
    They have to invent an identity, or elaborate on their identity in such a way that people reflect and say, “Oh yeah! Palmdale! Cool place! I want to go back there and shop!”
    I use Palmdale for a reason. Bradbury pointed out that Palmdale has an impressive aerospace history, and those desert city planners would be wise to make a big deal out of it. Wouldn’t it be wild, he suggested, if they took a bunch of old airplanes and mounted them on poles along the highway?
    Take an old cropduster from the 1930s or ’40s and stick it high on a pole on the outskirts of town. Closer in, put a newer plane, maybe a B-52, a little lower. Still closer and lower, you could hoist a passenger jet. Finally, where the freeway comes closest to the middle of the city, put a mock-up of the Space Shuttle so it’s barely off the ground— creating the impression that all these aircraft, older to newer, are coming in for a landing in Palmdale.
    A memorable image.
    How many people know Lockheed designed the SR-71 right here in the Valencia Industrial Center? Perfect! Put a big model of one on a pole at the Rye Canyon Road entrance to the industrial center so it can be seen from the freeway. (Thanks, Seth Fearey, for that one).
    How many people know part of “Titanic” was filmed in the water tank at the Polsa Rosa movie ranch in Acton? Great! Stick the butt end of a big Titanic into the ground next to a freeway offramp in Canyon Country, so it looks like it’s sinking.
    You laugh? Remember, the mission is to do something visitors will remember. (Was the Titanic your idea, Jeff Morton, or yours, Jim Nelson? I forget.)
    Jim, you appreciate Santa Clarita history, so here’s one for you. Build a big replica of Placerita Junior High School’s mascot, the prospector, and put it next to State Route 14 at Placerita Canyon Road.
    OK, I know. We mostly had placer miners here 150 years ago, not prospectors... but the school didn’t care so why should we? After all, the idea is to create something monumental to remind people that Placerita was the site of the first documented gold discovery in California— a good six years before James Marshall pulled his first nugget from the millrace of John Sutter’s sawmill.
    If you think I jest in all this, you’re wrong. I’m serious. We have a rich history here, an identity that’s itching to cut loose. Let’s show our pride in it. Let’s be outrageous. Let’s show the world that we’re different. Unique. Special. Let’s do something fantasmic.
    Because you know the alternative.
    The alternative is that we’re just another suburb, blending unnoticed into the Martian landscape we call greater Los Angeles.
    Leon Worden is The Signal's business editor.

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