30 August 2008

Oral History Recollections of La Vida Mineral Springs

One of the more common discussion points in the oral histories of Olinda oil fields residents gathered for the 1978 Cal State Fullerton, Oral History Program publication Pipelines to the Past concerns La Vida Mineral Springs, which opened in the 1920s.

Notably, there were some important contradictions contained in the reminiscences, although this can be a common issue with oral history, which is significantly about selective memory or the pitfalls of reaching back very far into the past. At any rate, it is very interesting to read the various recollections.

For example, Merle Van Ness Hale, who was born in 1896, remembered:“We’d walk from the Columbia Lease up to the sulphur springs up there in Carbon Canyon. He’d drink the water. I couldn’t touch it! But he’d say, ‘It’s healthy.’ The reason they had sulphur water up there is because they drilled an oil well up there and it came in sulphur. So it took people later on to make a health resort out of it – La Vida Hot Springs.”

The Columbia Oil Company lease was near today's Valencia Avenue on the west side as you drive up from Carbon Canyon Road/Lambert Road toward the landfill. The person she is referring to was her father.

Lois Muzzall Smith, born in 1911, recalled going to the springs with an uncle who came back from World War I with acute rheumatism:“So we used to take him up Carbon Canyon to La Vida Hot Springs to take the baths. You know, in the early days, in that period, they didn’t have them all fixed up fancy and nice like they have now; they had wooden barrels sunk in holes in the ground, and there were the steps to walk down and get into the water. Then you’d soak in this hot mineral water. They had it in a little wooden building to protect it, with a little lattice work when you walked into it. I used to go up there with my aunt and uncle and play around while he was in having his bat. Later on I used to drive up many times in my own car, just because I loved it up that way.”

“I don’t think it cost over a dollar a bath. I know that was the first place I ever went to a dance, up to La Vida Hot Springs. I went with this same aunt and uncle. . . I was nineteen years old [1924.]“Oh, they had about a four or five-piece band—it was really a lot of noise—and they had a nice floor. I think they have the restaurant in a place where they used to dance.”

Mrs. Smith's description of the bathing structures corresponds exactly with the photograph that I shared as "Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #4" a couple of weeks ago, relative to the small wooden structures covered in lattice (or screen) with wooden barrels evidently placed in the ground within the buildings. It is also interesting to hear about the price and the dances that went on (in the 1980s, punk bands played at the restaurant, long after the soaking tubs were gone, but I can't imagine Mrs. Smith would have appreciated the historical continuity!)

Jack Gauldin, born in 1897, adds something new to his description as far as how the springs were discovered:

“The La Vida Hot Springs was originated from a well drilled for oil up on the hillside. It didn’t produce oil, however, only hot soda water. All of the oil people, or lots of the oil people, would go up there and go back up in this canyon. The men would have to stand watch for the women, because there wasn’t any bathhouses or anything. Later on they went up and built two wooden buildings and piped water into them. Water flowed down the hillside all the time. Even in the 1920s, it still stood that way, and then they built a bathhouse. . . It has a sulphur springs and also it has what they call a soda springs. The soda springs water is what they claim is so healthy.”

Also important in his description is how the springs were used by locals before the resort was opened by William Newton Miller and his son-in-law in 1924.

Born in 1890, Jessie Isbell was the oldest of the seven interviewees and had this to say:

“Well, there was La Vida Hot Springs in Carbon Canyon with its hot baths. At first, it was just a little building and beside it a row of little cubbyholes. We used to go up there and have a hot bath. At the time, you could get somebody to give you a good rubdown or an osteopathic treatment. It grew and it grew, and they built a nice big building and a hotel. Later, they put in a hot pool, where people could go and soak in the heat. Then came a swimming pool—a lovely, big swimming pool with a nice bathhouse to go with it. I usually went out there about two or three times during the winter when I was teaching. Another thing that they had there was a faucet with soda water that was from the hot spring that came up there. They used that for their hot pool and for warming their cold pool a bit. You could bring your big, five-gallon jar to this faucet and get some water and take it home. Most of us did that. The creek just ran constantly, summer and winter. We enjoyed that water. It wasn’t very soda, but it did have a soda flavor.”

As Mrs. Isbell noted, Carbon Creek (or Carbon Canyon Creek) ran year-round then and appears to do so now, although runoff contributes more now and recent drought has affected water levels. It is also worth pointing out here that the creek was not choked with arundo as it is today (I've noticed, by the way, that the fast-growing plant is now within 3/10 of a mile or so from Sleepy Hollow as it races up the creek eastward.)

In contrast to Mrs. Isbell, Harold Van Patten was the youngest of those in the book, born in 1923. His recollections are quite different, although it could well be the difference in generations when it comes to who used La Vida.

First, when asked about the springs and who the clientele were, Mr. Van Patten stated that:“By the time I was there the La Vida Hotel was there. It had a similar background to Murietta Hot Springs, and the Los Angeles Jewish community would come out to it on weekends. There was a bottling company which put out a soft drink called La Vida Lime and Lemon, and it was made from the natural carbonated water.”

It is interesting that he specifically discussed the popularity of La Vida with Jews from Los Angeles, given that the Workmen's Circle in that city had established a children's camp, Camp Kinder Ring, in the Sleepy Hollow area in 1928. Viewers will also recall that my post on "Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #2" was about a bottle from the La Vida mineral water business that ran from about 1928.

When, however, Mr. Van Patten was asked if locals went to La Vida, he responded: “Not a lot. It was where the Jewish people went, and there was very little contact. A few people went up there and worked on a small basis either at the hotel or around there, but there was just a minimum of contact. It was a little community all to itself. They didn’t participate in any way with Olinda. None of the oil company business was involved there in any way.”

Obviously, older residents from the oil field communities did visit the springs, but apparently more in the era before Mr. Van Patten, who presumably would recall the 1930s and later. The idea of the isolation of the springs from Olinda is also notable.

Well, these memories are essential documents to the history of Carbon Canyon, even if we do acknowledge that they are recollections subject to distortions of time or the selectivity of the interviewee. La Vida's importance within the canyon led most of the interviewers to make a point of specifically asking about it.

Next time, we'll get to some recollections about Carbon Canyon Road.


Johnwheatonmtg@gmail.com said...

I used to travel that road every week in the 1990's. Went by there today (10/10/2008)and was surprised that the place was torn out. When I win the lottery I'll buy the land and replace the La Vida bar and grill with something more upscale. It's a great area. Wish someone had pictures to post.

Paul said...

Hello John, I don't go back to earlier posts to review for comments as often as I should and sorry to be responding nearly three weeks later. I do have some posts (under the title "Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #--") that are mainly images of historical places within the canyon. Most, not surprisingly, come from La Vida, so, if you come back, look for those. They're spaced about every two or three weeks or so. I'm going to post something one day on a late 1990s plan to "redo" La Vida into an upscale spa. Who knows, could happen! Thanks for checking out the "Carbon Canyon Chronicle" and come back again.

mel said...

I have nothing but fond memories as a child of La Vida Hot Springs in the late 1960's. What a beautiful place it was. My mom and dad, along with their BFF's would load all the kids in the car Saturday morning and off we'd go for a day at La Vida. Dad and Uncle Karl always packed an igloo filled with Vodka and grapefruit juice and would often make a trip to the parking lot to partake in a toddy. I remember being confined to the 12 x 12 kiddy pool until I was 7, at which point I managed to learn how to swim and then lived in the large pool. Mom and dad spent hours in the hot pool, sitting under a spigot of hot water caressing their backs. The lawn was beautiful, the food at the snack bar was edible and the two diving boards were awesome. I want La Vida back, what can I do to get it back???

prs said...

Hi Mel, thanks for the comment and your recollections of long-ago visits to La Vida. I just added a post concerning a postcard that was sent in 1969 and it might spark further memories.

Anonymous said...

I too have fond memories of La Vida from the early 60's. Most of the people we went with were Yugoslavians, Romanians and Serbians. At one point in time they installed the jungle gym which was a cage that required brute strength to make it go around and around. I have pictures from there and I treasure them. I also remember getting a pin after putting your stuff in a net bag. I loved going in the hot pool. You had to be good when you went in there. I believe it was called respect back then. Such a peaceful, relaxing and fun place. I remember the bees too.