'Historic' agreement reached on Needham Ranch development
Development is a double-edged sword when it comes to historic preservation. It's readily apparent that development, done wrong, can lead to the desecration of historic sites. One need look no farther away than the dark-of-night demolition of the Biscailuz house in downtown Newhall, and no farther back than G.H. Palmer's "accidental" razing of L.A.'s last original Bunker Hill cottage in April, for examples.
What's not so readily apparent is that development, done right, can enhance historic preservation and knowledge.
That's because there usually must be a development proposal on the table before there's a convergence of the two primary ingredients that are needed for historic preservation to occur: the desire, and the money.
Desire is the easy part for historians. We want to know where things were, and we want to preserve and recover important artifacts. Our Society mission states no less.
Fulfilling that mission can be a complicated and expensive process, particularly when those facts and artifacts are hidden on private property.
Barring the benevolence of the rare landowner with a peculiar interest in history, funding for the necessary archaeological surveys and artifact recovery doesn't come until the landowner seeks to enhance the value of his property by developing it. That's when the public process kicks in, and if you're really fortunate, the governmental agency overseeing that process becomes the glue in the equation that binds the desire with the money.
All of this is a longwinded way of saying the Society and developer Mark Gates, with help from the Santa Clarita City Council and staff, have reached an important agreement that is destined to enhance the community's knowledge of the historic Needham Ranch.
On June 24 the City Council gave final approval to the Needham Ranch project, a.k.a. the Gate-King Industrial Park. The project encompasses more than 500 acres in southern Newhall, running all the way from Sierra Highway on the south to Pine Street on the north. Half of the property, the woodland portion, is to be donated to the city as permanent open space, with the remainder to be developed as a business park (no homes).
The Needham Ranch project area is some of the most culturally-rich undeveloped land remaining inside city limits.
It is likely that native Americans used and possibly inhabited the riparian area of the property. On site is the north end of the San Fernando Railroad Tunnel, where an estimated 1,000 Chinese laborers died during construction in 1875-76 and are believed to have been buried nearby. It was somewhere in the vicinity, about 1850, that H.C. Wiley built the area's first stagecoach stop, followed by the second stagecoach stop near Pine Street in the 1870s. The Lyons and the Needhams established family graveyards near their respective homes; the bodies were moved to the Pioneer section of Eternal Valley Cemetery when it was built in the 1950s.
I've used the words "possibly" and "believed" and "somewhere in the vicinity" advisedly. They illustrate a problem. These are some of the most important aspects of our area's early history, predating the establishment of Newhall, yet nobody knows precisely where these things were. We can't point to a hillside and say, "That's where Andrew's Station was." We can't draw a map and say, "This is where the Chinese workers were buried." We don't know where in Newhall the prehistoric village of Tochonanga was located. We can't even pinpoint the site of the burned-down Needham ranch house.
Now, hopefully, we will be able to plug some of these gaps in the historical record.
Mr. Gates graciously agreed for the Society to be involved in the selection of an archaeologist for a new surface survey of the project area to be conducted before any grading begins.
That, you might say, is Phase 1.
Phase 2 comes courtesy of the City Council. At the urging of council members Marsha McLean and Laurene Weste, city staff and the developer will work with the Society to develop a plan, prior to construction, to monitor grading. In other words, there is to be agreement on how the bulldozers should go about their business, to reduce the likelihood that any historic or prehistoric artifacts are disturbed.
Phase 3 involves the actual discovery of historic or prehistoric evidence during build-out. Work is to stop, the Society is to be notified, and Mr. Gates has agreed to donate historic artifacts and documentation to the Society. (Native American artifacts and remains are handled differently by law.)
Together, these steps should yield significant results. Of course, we don't expect to find answers to all of our questions, and one day the city's open-space portion of the property will need to be examined. But just as important as being able to say, "That's where this was," will be the ability to say comfortably that nothing was missed.
Other highlights of our agreement with Mr. Gates involve the placement of historic markers along a walking trail that will one day stretch from Hart Park to Beale's Cut, pointing out significant historic sites along the way; salvage from an existing circa-1910 cabin that is to be razed; and cooperation in moving the prominent rock archway on Sierra Highway so it can be incorporated into a gateway to the new business park.
Obviously, the Society will be involved with this project for years to come, and we truly appreciate the steps Mr. Gates and the City Council and staff have taken, and will be taking, to enhance the community's collective knowledge and preservation of important sites and artifacts.
Now, I'll bet you're wondering about the Pioneer Oil Refinery, which I haven't yet mentioned.
That's a whole separate subject.
The refinery, the oldest existing refinery in the Western Hemisphere and, with Mentryville, the birthplace of California's oil industry, is deteriorating. It sustained major damage in the 1994 earthquake and further harm from nearby site work more recently. In early stages of the Needham Ranch project it will be further threatened if it isn't protected because it will sit at a new intersection.
The refinery is actually owned by the city of Santa Clarita. It sits on a city-owned "island" surrounded by the Needham Ranch property. The city's goal is eventually to restore it and turn it into a functioning historic park complete with docents to provide interpretive tours.
Our original endorsement of the Needham Ranch project hinged to a great extent on Mr. Gates' willingness to pave an access road to the refinery, build a parking lot, erect an attractive perimeter fence, and contribute money toward the refinery's restoration.
Mr. Gates agreed to all of this. However, as his project went through the approval process, the city Planning Commission decided to lump together all of Mr. Gates' contributions for "public improvements" into one giant pot of $2.4 million, with the idea that the City Council would decide later how to divvy it up.
Included in that $2.4 million is money that had been earmarked for refinery restoration; for the city's new community center on the Anawalt property; for street improvements and a pedestrian overpass on San Fernando Road; and for an off-site park and ride facility.
The City Council hasn't yet decided how it will apportion Mr. Gates' money. We've asked the council to designate the refinery money for the refinery, and to prioritize its restoration because, quite frankly, if it isn't restored fairly soon, there won't be anything left to restore.
Leon Worden, President
Board appoints new directors
Nominating Committee Report
In our search for two new board members to replace Stephanie Weiss and Dr. Clyde Smyth, who resigned due to time constraints, we found three high-energy, dynamite people. Because we felt all of them would be terrific assets, we created a new position, "non-voting alternate board member."
Jeff Boultinghouse will fill that position, sitting in the wings like an alternate juror, ready to jump in should we lose another board member. The two new board members are Nancy Cordova and Cathie Kincheloe.
We are so lucky to have all three. Where, oh where, have you been? Short bios follow...
NANCY CORDOVA: "My family has been in Castaic 169 years, since 1834. My grandfather was born on the Tejon Ranch, and I have nine uncles who were all cowboys for the Tejon Ranch. My grandparents, Rosa and Marcos Cordova, were married in the Pardee House, which used to be the City Hall. I have lived in Castaic for 43 years and have participated in 4-H, Explorers, Red Cross and the Boy Scouts of America. I graduated from Castaic Union School, Arroyo Seco and Saugus High, and I have an A.S. degree from Pierce College and a B.S. from Fresno State. I am a life member of the SCV Historical Society and a member and past president of Questers Oak of the Golden Dream #381."
CATHIE KINCHELOE: "June 1985 brought me to Valencia from a small fishing village in a rural area of Alaska. One year later I found a job, joined the Zonta Club of SCV and became a docent at Hart Park. In October 1986 I was invited to join the board of the Friends of Hart Park. In 1990 I moved to Albuquerque, where I continued in Zonta and served as president for two years. In 1995 I returned to the SCV and resumed my involvement in Zonta but also took a seat on the board of the Domestic Violence Center. I served for a time on the city of Santa Clarita's Newhall Redevelopment Committee and joined the board of the Friends of the Libraries, of which I am currently president. I work for KPMG LLP, and accounting firm in Los Angeles. My love of history continues along with my desire to share history with the community and preserve our history for the future."
JEFF BOULTINGHOUSE: "Jeff Boultinghouse is a 15-year resident of the Santa Clarita Valley and joined the Historical Society in 1999. He serves frequently as a docent and has participated in a number of restoration projects at Heritage Junction. An avid reader of history, he also has interests in music, photography, technology and home improvement. Jeff was raised in the San Fernando Valley and attended College of the Canyons and California State University, Northridge. He has worked for the Boeing Co. for nearly 22 years, currently as a quality engineer."
Joan Rhett, Chair