Needles, CA

Snoopy’s brother Spike lives near Needles with his Cactus companion. As he said in Peanuts on October 12, 1993: “Life in the desert is exciting. Last night the sun went down and this morning the sun came up. There’s always something happening.”*

The Needles rock formation that lent its name to the city.

Needles was, and is, a railroad town

The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad founded the town in 1883.

After the first station burned in 1906, ATSF built a new station, El Garces Hotel, and a Harvey House restaurant that was considered the jewel of the system.
Vehicle approach to El Graces today.
The hotel & restaurant were closed in 1949 and the building was totally abandoned in 1988. In 1999, the City purchased the building; in 2007, renovation was begun with the goal of reopening a hotel, shops, restaurant and train station. However, due to problems with loans on a municipal building and restrictions on use of federal funds, the private part of the project was abandoned.
The World War I memorial sits before a largely unused, beautiful building. In 2016, a waiting room for Amtrak passengers was created, open 11pm to 2am when the Southwest Chief passes through. There is also The El Garces Intermodal Transportation Facility which occupies a small part of the building. The park in front is often occupied by transients.

Needles is also on Historic Route 66

Traveling East to West on Route 66. the first city in California is Needles.
The Old Trails Inn used to greet travelers heading West on Route 66.
Today the remaining cabins are The Palms Apartments
The trains still roll through; tourists still travel Route 66; and the sun still goes down and comes up on Needles

*As a boy, Charles Schultz lived in Needles 1928-1930.

Bygone New Years Eve Tradition: Coachella Valley

Artist John Hilton burned paintings in bonfire in Box Canyon

According to Katherine Ainsworth’s 1978 biography of John Hilton, Maynard Dixon and Nicolai Fechin, both, advised Hilton to discard “unworthy” paintings. As noted in the biography as well as numerous newspaper and magazine articles, Hilton invited friends to a dramatic annual party in Box Canyon (east of Mecca, CA) when he would throw his rejects onto a bonfire at the stoke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. As the years passed, the party grew and others added to the bonfire, but Hilton reserved his painting burning for last.

One particularly memorable New Year’s was 1940/41 when the Los Angeles Times printed a photo of him tossing a painting into the fire.

L.A. Times, Jan. 3, 1941

Immediately to the right on the page was an article by Ed Ainsworth:

After several years the parties were discontinued; this may have even been the last, as a year later the US would be at war. Of course today, one would need a permit for such a fire, which the County Fire Department would never issue!

Box Canyon Road winds up from the Coachella Valley floor through the Canyon to Shaver’s Valley and on to Interstate 10. The Canyon is protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act and has not changed except for some modern road improvements and erosion by Mother Nature.
Fragrant Morning by John Hilton (one that wasn’t burned!)

Happy New Year!

La Quinta, California

Someone decided to add some holiday cheer to the agaves in the median on Calle Sinaloa!
Originally the La Quinta Hotel, which opened Dec. 29, 1926.
The Resort is very proud that Frank Capra stayed there & every year turns it into “BedfordFalls” for the holidays. However, the citrus tree in the background makes it clear this is the California desert.
The Resort tree 2019.

Have Happy & Healthy Holidays!

More Coachella

City Hall

Coachella City Hall, circa 1949. You can see the edge of the Fire Station on the right
City Hall at the Holidays 2019

The City was incorporated in December 1946 and the City Hall was dedicated in October 1949. Over the years, it not only housed the City government, but also the post office, police department, justice court, and the public library. Today, City Council Chambers and administration occupy the entire building.

Fire Station

City of Coachella

Photo from an early 1940s Chamber of Commerce pamphlet (no copyright notice)
Renovated fire station, now used by the City, December 2019

The Fire Station was built on land donated by the Coachella Land & Water Co. to Riverside County, circa 1905, when the town was being platted. When the City was incorporated in 1946, one of its first actions was to ask the County to donate the land to the new City. Next door to the site of the Fire Station, the new City Hall was built; to the north of City Hall and the Fire Station, approximately half of the parcel continued to be used as a park and is today Veterans’ Memorial Park.

Thanksgiving

A Time to Stop and Think About What Is Really IMPORTANT – I revisit a grade school lesson

US Marine Corporal Lloyd Oliver in the Pacific (7/7/1943); photo courtesy of the National Archives

In grade school we learned the Pilgrims and the local Native Americans came together to give thanks for the harvest. It makes a lovely picture book moment, but sadly our country has had much to learn; the color of one’s skin is, as the old saying goes, “only skin deep.”

Politics don’t enter into it, we should all Give Thanks this year, and every year for all those who risked/lost their lives for our freedom. And, for all those who have stood up for our freedom in other ways.

Norwegian Grade

Thousand Oaks, CA

2011 Historical Monument at the top of the Grade

Today the trip from northern Conejo Valley (Thousand Oaks) to Oxnard and Port Hueneme on the Pacific, or Moorpark to the north, can be made via modern roads, but prior to the building of the Norwegian Grade, the journey was long and treacherous, especially when hauling dry farming crops.

The Norwegian Colony in the Conejo was founded by 5 families seeking a better future in the US. In 1890, they purchased 651 acres in the northern part of the valley from George Edwards, which they divided into 5 lots, which were then allocated by lottery:

Lot #1 – 199 acres to Ole Andersen;
Lot #2 – 111 acres to Lars Pedersen;
Lot #3 – 139 acres to Nils Olsen;
Lot #4 – 97 acres to Ole Nilsen;
Lot #5 – 105 acres to George Hansen.

With no source of irrigation water available, they were dry land farmers, working other jobs in the off season. Transporting their crops to market required traveling west to leave the valley over the Potrero and Conejo grades, or north on a precarious stagecoach road over a saddle in the mountains and down into the Santa Rosa Valley.*

After an accident with the wagons, leaving George Hansen bedridden for a year, the families combined the upper right of way, donated by Nils Olsen, with a 40-foot right of way bought for $50 from Adolf and Roumaine Wyseur.

As stated on the historical monument:

“Historic Norwegian Grade was built by hand between 1900 and 1911, using picks, shovels, crow bars, farm equipment and $60 worth of dynamite given by the County of Ventura.

“The grade was constructed by members of the Norwegian Colony and their hired help to provide a safe way to move bales of hay and sacks of wheat and barley to the farmers on the Oxnard Plain and to the Hueneme Wharf.

“The route for the grade was selected because it provided a gradual descent with no hairpin turns and would be safer than existing routes to the Oxnard Plain and Moorpark.**

“In the early 1900’s, there were no bulldozers, earth moving equipment, etc. Work was done by hand using a star drill and a sledge hammer to pound holes into the very hard volcanic rock; dynamite was inserted into the holes, fuses lit, everyone ran for cover, and it blew. The resulting rocks and debris were moved by hand and a horse-drawn fresno (scraper), to build the narrow one lane roadway.

“Construction was done in the winter and early spring months because baling and harvesting took precedence during the summer and fall. The road was later widened to two lanes.”

Originally someone had to run up, or down the grade to make sure no one way using it in the opposite direction.

The new route cut a full day off the trip. Today the farms are long gone from the Conejo; the Santa Rosa Valley has farms and scattered housing developments. In 2010, the City of Thousand Oaks renovated the deteriorating road, and unveiled the memorial plaque at its reopening.

The Bottom of the Grade

*I am still trying to pin down the location of the wagon trail north to the Santa Rosa Valley. Accounts I have read say it was partially obliterated by grading in the 1950’s.

** sponsors of the plaque

SANTA SUSANA DEPOT

Simi Valley, CA

The stairs going up from the parking lot in Santa Susana Park.

Open Saturday & Sunday (except holidays) 1-4 pm.

The depot still sits next to the tracks where Amtrak and Union Pacific freight trains still travel.

Built in 1903, Southern Pacific Santa Susana Depot sat on Los Angeles Ave. East of Tapo Street; it served the Rancho Simi area until the early 1970s when the SP closed it. Falling prey to age and vandalism, the deteriorating building was sold by the railroad for $1.06, and moved 2 miles east to its present site in May 1975 (6503 Katherine Road). After extensive restoration, the depot was reopened in 2000, as a museum and home of the local model railroaders club.

A passenger station, freight station, and telegraph office, it was based on Southern Pacific’s standard No. 22, combination depot plans; the depot has a recently restored stationmaster’s apartment on the second story.

Ticket sales and waiting room.
The other side of the ticket window. The hub of the depot, ticket sales, dispatch, telegraph office.
Note the mail bag hanging on the door; the train slowed but didn’t need to stop to pick up mail.

Exhibits between today’s Union Pacific tracks and the depot:

HO Model Railroad in depot:

The Santa Susana Depot in HO scale: the model railroad in the depot recreates the Southern Pacific through the region in the 1950s.
Businesses near the Depot in the 1950s.

Freight Deck:

As recently as June 2018, the freight deck (street side today) was rebuilt to original specifications.

Also on the grounds:

A telephone booth, made of cast concrete by Southern Pacific in Oakland: they were used by the SP, Pacific Electric, and San Diego Arizona and Eastern Railways. This one dates from the early 1920s
Safe Journeys!