Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Fire Claims Old Barn at Saugus Speedway.

Webmaster's note.

The news reports say the barn dates to 1922, but we haven't established that. Roy Baker, who started the Saugus Rodeo in about 1926 on the grounds that would become the Saugus Speedway and Swap Meet, bought the property in 1923. Auto racing at the speedway ended in 1995.

Fire Destroys Entryway to Swap Meet.

Flames on Thursday gutted the 74-year-old converted barn that serves as the main entrance to the Saugus Swapmeet.

In heavy rain, flames shot from the old barn and heavy clouds of smoke mixed with gray clouds as the small piece of local history died.

Nobody was injured in the afternoon fire, but the contents of the building were destroyed as well as the structure itself, said Paul Bonelli, whose family owns the Saugus Speedway where weekly swap meets draw thousands.

Traffic along Soledad Canyon Road in front of the speedway backed up for about a mile with lanes closed for emergency equipment and motorists watching the drama. Phone service was disrupted briefly in the area also.

"That barn's been there a long time," Bonelli said. "This used to be a rodeo ranch. It was built in 1922, and the barn's been there ever since."

The barn housed the ticket counter as well as stalls of a half-dozen swap meet merchants who sold clothing, hats, gold jewelry and dried flowers. Much of the merchants' merchandise was in the building and destroyed by the fire, Bonelli said. No estimate of the monetary loss was immediately available.

Bonelli said this Sunday's swap meet would go as planned with signs directing people to a new entryway.

Bonelli said he and his three siblings tended horses and cattle in the barn, part of a working ranch neighboring the family's now-closed raceway.

A twin barn, once connected by an arch to the one which burned Tuesday, was destroyed in the Northridge Earthquake.

Los Angeles County Fire Department investigators were called to help determine the cause of the blaze, which was spotted by a Fire Department official at 1:24 p.m.

A city building inspector also was dispatched to examine the structure.

"I had driven by there about 1 p.m. and everything was fine. Then less than a half-hour later, it's gone," Bonelli said.

"You don't expect something like that to happen on a rainy day," he added.

News story courtesy of Tricia Lemon Putnam.

Fire Fails to Dampen Swap Meet.

Although several vendors lost their wares, the Saugus Swap Meet will go on this weekend despite the electrical fire that damaged a historic barn that housed some shops, Los Angeles County fire officials said.

The swap meet has been a Sunday tradition at the Saugus Speedway for decades. A Thursday afternoon fire gutted a 74-year-old barn at the entrance to the speedway, where some of the vendors sold and stored their merchandise.

County Fire Department Battalion Chief Daniel Scott said the fire caused an estimated $250,000 damage to the structure, and another $205,000 damage to its contents.

"It was an electrical short that happened in the ceiling area of the barn," said county fire Investigator David Westfield. "It started up in the rafter area where the electrical wiring is."

The blaze was investigated by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies as well, and authorities found no signs of arson. "We both concur that we have an accidental fire," Westfield said. "We saw no evidence of foul play at all."

Kevin Wachs, general manager of the Saugus Speedway, noted that most of the merchants sell their wares on the racetrack grounds. "The barn is just a portion of the whole swap meet. The barn itself only housed eight vendors, and on Sundays we have over 600 vendors," he said.

This weekend will be "business as usual," Wachs said. "Some of the vendors who lost their business in the barn will be out here selling on Sunday," he said.

Among the items sold in the barn were Army-Navy surplus, dried flowers, pet supplies, hats, clothing, jewelry and Tiffany lamps. The barn also housed a hair salon, Wachs said.

"Each vendor booth was a (former) horse stall," he said. "Most of the merchandise in the barn was not salvageable."

The lamp merchant had only been a barn tenant there a week, but the other businesses were longtime occupants. "That was the sad irony of all of it," Wachs said.

Paul Kreutzer, a member of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, said the barn figured into local history because it was once owned by a western film star of the 1920s and '30s.

"This was part of the old Hoot Gibson rodeo," he said. "Hoot Gibson bought the ranch and stadium in 1930, putting on shows that attracted such stars as Tom Mix, John Wayne and Clark Gable," Kreutzer said.

In 1934, Gibson sold the property, which became livestock yards that were leased to film companies for location work. Eventually, William Bonelli, an economics professor at Occidental College, took over the land, Kreutzer said.

About three dozen firefighters battled the flames under rainy skies Thursday afternoon.

"One of the difficulties with a fire on a rainy day is the smoke is held down by the rain," said county Firefighter John Harm, who helped extinguish the blaze. "The weather will keep the smoke down, and there goes our visibility," he said.

Flames engulfed the wooden structure, which Harm said was stocked with extra inventory because merchants were gearing up for the holiday shopping season.

News story courtesy of Tricia Lemon Putnam.


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