September 03, 2018

Preservation Means Saving the Stories Beyond the Siding

I know we can't save every building. But I think we can try to save more buildings.

A place like Heritage Junction—on the Hart Park property, leased from LA County by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society—shows that homes, train stations and trains, churches, and schoolhouses with good stories behind them can be saved and relocated.

As long as you have somewhere to put them.

And regardless of the density of Los Angeles and San Diego, there's actually quite a bit of room out there—once you get a little outside those cities.

Take, for example, Newhall, where Heritage Junction is located: It's within Hollywood's designated 30-mile zone for shooting (hence its rich history in movie ranches and famous cowboys), but it feels like a world away. And there's still room in the area—and specifically at Heritage Junction.

There, the Saugus Train Station, built in 1887 across the street from where The Saugus Cafe is now, greets visitors to the heritage park and serves as the headquarters of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

The two-story redwood depot had a good, long run for passengers and freight (livestock, produce, ore), until the last passenger train rolled through in 1971. Southern Pacific officially closed the depot in 1978 and deeded it to the SCVHS two years later. Relatively newly-formed at the time, the historical society just had to figure out where to put it and how to finance the two-mile move.

In 1982, once the station had been saved and relocated, it got a proper train display: the Mogul Engine 1629 (circa 1900, built in Schenectady), a Class M4 engine that had passed through this area on Southern Pacific runs from Yuma to Portland.

Gene Autry bought the 75-ton train in 1957 and used it at his nearby movie ranch until donating it to SCVHS in 1982.

Inside the depot, there's plenty of Southern Pacific history for the docents to show off, as they guide visitors through the various areas—including the former baggage room at the north end that housed the predecessor of The Saugus Cafe, known then as the Saugus Eating House.

Because it's not just a train museum.

It's also the home of the local historical society, so it also includes relics from the various industries of Newhall's heyday.

...which included railroading as well as oil drilling, mining, and, of course, moviemaking.

Why build something new when there's a perfectly good but decommissioned train station sitting empty and threatened with demolition somewhere?

Sure, we can't save every building—but can we save the buildings with really interesting architecture and stories? Even if they're more or less a movie set version of what they're supposed to be?

The Ramona Chapel, designed by songwriter Carrie Jacobs-Bond in the "dollhouse style" to match the chapel depicted in the Helen Hunt Jackson novel Ramona, wasn't ever meant to be a real house of worship.

It was simply added by Old West collector and Ramona superfan Robert E. Callahan as the centerpiece of the Mission Village amusement park in the northeast tip of Culver City. That's where the Early California-themed attraction stayed until construction of the 10 Freeway evicted it in 1962 and forced it to relocate en masse—chapel and all—to the Mint Canyon area of Santa Clarita.

Two of the Mission Village structures—the chapel and the Little Red Schoolhouse (a.k.a. Callahan Schoolhouse)—found their forever homes at Heritage Junction in 1987, but the school brought an extra layer of history with it. Callahan had reportedly acquired it from a 19th-century copper mining camp, the Emma Consolidated Mining Company's Emma Mine in nearby Acton at Parker Mountain and outfitted it with period-appropriate antique school desks that he'd acquired from up north.

The circa 1858 desks are still inside the wood-shingled schoolhouse, which has also been used in its fair share of movie shoots.

And then, of course, there are the houses at Heritage Junction—like the Edison House, which is in the same cluster as the chapel and the school.

This single-family residence—with its shingled, gabled roof and clapboard siding owing to a kit design that had been ordered out of a catalogue—doesn't seem like much from the outside.

But there's a good reason why this cottage, out of a whole group of six them, was moved to Heritage Junction in 1989 while the rest of them were burned by LA County Fire department training exercises.

Besides the fact that it's been largely unmodified since it was first built in 1925 to house employees of the Southern California Edison / Newhall Substation...

...this particular cottage was probably saved because of the particular SCE employee it housed.

It was occupied by Assistant Edison Patrolman Raymond Starbard, who's credited as being the first to sound the alarm about the 1928 St. Francis Dam break...

...the flood of which was headed downstream from San Francisquito Canyon.

Starbard is considered one of the heroes of the St. Francis Dam Disaster, who helped prevent it from becoming even worse than it already was (the second-worst disaster in the state of California, right behind the San Francisco Earthquake and resulting fires).

And for that, it's an honor to visit his home.

The St. Francis Dam Disaster story has somehow escaped the curriculum and the memories of most people outside of the Santa Clarita Valley—and especially outside of LA County—but it's not the only story to tell about Newhall. There also was its namesake: railroad investor and landowner Henry Mayo Newhall, who established both his home and the operations for his Newhall Land and Farming Company in the Newhall Ranch House (circa 1865). By 1990, the two-story stick Victorian—with its gabled roof and wraparound porch made of redwood—had lost its usefulness, so all 4000 square feet of it was moved to Heritage Junction.

And let's not forget the strange tale of Henry Clay Needham, who founded the Newhall Water Company and, in 1890, built a "Lodge Hall" for the pro-temperance fraternal organization, the Independent Order of Good Templars.

This came right after a failed attempt to establish Newhall as a Prohibitionist Colony by the National Prohibition Party, which later was more successful in getting alcohol banned by the 18th amendment in 1919, though it was repealed in 1933.

Needham's political aspirations brought him far afield from Newhall—he later ran for a Senate seat and even for U.S. President—and in the meantime, his fellow prohibitionists in the area suffered infighting and a fraternal split, leaving the hall dry and lonely.

In 1893, a pioneer oil man named Ed Pardee (hence its moniker, the Pardee House) was scavenging local abandoned properties to improve his own setup—and upon discovering the neglected hall, he not only relocated it but also moved into it.

In 1946, Pardee's daughter sold it to the Pacific Telephone Company (later known as Pacific Bell), which used it as the second location to house its main switchboard. But by the early 1960s, the phone company's operations outgrew the Pardee House, which it demoted to the role of business office and then ultimately let go of entirely. (For a wonderfully written account of the building's comings and goings, click here.)

One hundred and two years after it was originally built, the Needham/Pardee/Pacific Bell building was moved once again—hopefully for the last time—to Heritage Junction.

As Santa Clarita Valley historian Arthur B. Perkins wrote in 1965, "Every Newhall landmark seems to have some bull-dozer waiting around the corner to junk the job for the trash dump. Sometimes, a story gets carted away with the remnants."

But that's true nearly everywhere—not just in Newhall. And it doesn't have to be that way.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Silent Movie Cowboy's Retirement Ranch (And His Horse's Final Resting Place)
Photo Essay: The Museum of Misfit Houses
Photo Essay: A Victorian Stroll at Twilight
Photo Essay: Oxnard Heritage Square
This House Has a New Home
Back to Bakersfield


  1. Hello! My husband is a Santa Clarita historian and we are writing a book about William S. Hart Park. Would you be ok with us including some of your beautiful photos in the book? You would be fully credited for them. We are of the same mind, no regrets so travel as much as possible! :) I bought you 3 coffees because I love your photos so much, then it occurred to me that perhaps you might allow us to use them in the book. Many thanks! Kim Stephens

    1. Hi Kim! I've actually taken your Newhallywood tour of Blue Cloud Movie Ranch during the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival! (My tour of Melody Ranch during the fest several years ago might've been with you, too.) I'll send you an email!