29 December 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #10564-66

Of recent vintage are three incidents that have taken place along the S-curve on Carbon Canyon Road on the Chino Hills section of Carbon Canyon.

The first involves the sign that just won't die—one that has been mauled, mangled, manhandled and mowed down many times over the years—on the tightest curve about half-way down on the eastbound side.  Its left "leg" below the shin has been sheared off, but it stands shakily on its remaining appendage, politely, if often futilely, asking drivers to take it slow around the bend.

A little further down along a set of guardrails just east of one of the entrances to the Summit Ranch subdivision is an area in which a debris trail, a crumpled portion of rail (to the left of the reflecting reflector) and a fender are left from a miscalculation.

This seems to be the case even further down at the bottom of the curve, where a bent reflector sign and pieces of yellow reflecting material testify to another errancy by an eastbounder.

22 December 2012

Olinda Oil Field Photos from 1916

Here are some great views of the Olinda Oil Field as it appeared in 1916 with the photographs appearing in an article about energy supply in the United States during the First World War, which America entered the following year. 

The creation of the American Expeditionary Force to fight in Europe, where the opposing sides had been bogged down in catastrophic trench warfare, led to the development of a quickly-mobilized industry of weapons and ammunition, tanks, aircraft, trucks and other vehicles, and ships with the demand for petroleum skyrocketing.  The Olinda field, along with the others in the several oil-producing states in the Union, were tapped heavily for the war effort.

The views here include panoramas of the general field and of a large reservoir of oil and the reflections cast from it, which is a timeworn photographic cliche, to be sure, but a very effective one.

These images could not be scanned together because they are on facing pages with the center fold between then and were obtained by the publication from the General Petroleum Company, one of the bigger firms operating leases at Olinda in that period. 

The company had its property to the north of the Chanslor-Canfield Midway Organization (CCMO), to which the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad spur line came into the field from Atwood in Placentia. 

This would be roughly in the vicinity of the Olinda Alpha Landfill above the Olinda Ranch subdivision.  Click here for a link to a post on this blog from just about a year ago showing a detail of a 1924 map in which the General Petroleum site was located.

Aside from the forest of derricks and collection of pump houses, sheds and other associated structures, residences are found scattered throughout the panoramas and some of the surrounding hills and open spaces are captured, as well.

These images were scanned from the article, which is in the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum in the City of Industry, California.

20 December 2012

Towers of Terror: TRTP Tottering/Teetering Towards Twenty-Thirteen

With the Chino Hills maternity "hotel" issue heating up in recent weeks, the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project controversy has gone from boiling to simmering and has gotten less attention.

Still, in the 7 December edition of the Champion, Marianne Napoles reported that Southern California Edison had issued a 100-plus page report, as required by the California Public Utilities Commission, concerning its projected costs for realigning the TRTP lines underground instead of strung along those massive 198-foot tall towers that are partially installed through portions of Chino Hills on a narrow easement owned by the utility.

SCE estimated the cost of its preferred underground route at a mind-blowing $620 million, juxtaposed with the $172 million expense of the above-ground route with the towers. Stating that there was no similar example of a "buried" system comparable to that of the TRTP, the company further offered that there was no realistic way to estimate the timeframe for the design, manufacturing, installation and test of the underground alternative.  In addition, the acquisition of property for such a line would entail additional time for either negotiations or condemnation of land necessary for the project alternative.  According to its "best case scenario," the first of two circuits could be completed by January 2016 and the second a year later. 

Though Edison, obviously, prefers to continue with the above-ground component with the towers, it came up with five potential underground routes with costs projected from just under a half-billion dollars to a little over $800 million.  In each case, the firm used a 50% contingency formula for unforseen costs, change orders and other possibilities.

To Chino Hills mayor Peter Rogers, the costs put forth in the report are "exorbitant" and do not reflect an average of costs in construction, but, rather, were simply the highest possible numbers.  Hope for the Hills president Bob Goodwin, meantime, accused SCE of overinflating costs to scare people from accepting the underground alternative.

Whatever the case, whether SCE is being reasonable or ridiculous in its cost estimates for the underground alternative, there will be a long wait until the CPUC makes its decision.  That is not expected until July, by which time it will be interesting to see how much momentum Hope for the Hills can reintroduce after the long lull and "competition" from the maternity "hotel" controversy. 

Its latest provocative banner in Carbon Canyon at the summit of the S-curve along Carbon Canyon Road warns motorists that they are entering SCE's EMF (electric and magnetic field) testing grounds, inferring that the project would contain unhealthful levels of EMF to those living near the towers.

The Environmental Protection Agency has this to say about the issue of EMF levels and power lines (click here), though, for those disposed to believe the EPA and governments generally cannot be trusted to provide truthful information about this issue (or, perhaps much else), this may not be satisfactory.  The Health Physics Society, a nearly 60-year old organization of professionals specializing in radiation safety issues, offers its views here.

On the other hand, those concerned about EMF could cite opposing views, such as this one from a company that makes products claimed to help reduce harmful exposure to EMF (click here to read more) or this one from EM Watch (see here.)  As with untold number of controversial issues, there is more than enough out there to advance one or more views that contradict one another.

Along Eucalpytus Avenue across from the Chino Hills Community Park, Hope for the Hills (click here for its Web site) has another banner that blames SCE for wildfires and other disasters and, as with the EMF issue, there could be plenty of material that absolves or admonishes the company for these problems, delives into the difference between accident and neglect, and so on.

Whether the CPUC, meanwhile, is reacting in a political way to the intense pressure put upon it by the effective propaganda and grass roots efforts of Hope for the Hills and the legal work initiated by the City of Chino Hills will be interesting to see come summer.

Will the Commission really force SCE to scrap tens of millions of dollars of completed work and go to the underground option which will, regardless of accusations of overinflation, will certainly drive the cost up by hundreds of millions of dollars? 

Or is it allowing the current "reexamination" process to lumber on for what will be a couple of years by the time it has made its decision in the hope that the scope of the underground project will be considered unacceptable or that either the activism spearheaded by Hope for the Hills will wane or that its effects will be watered down as time drags on?

As stated here before (and likely elsewhere), it is strange that the CPUC approved this project several years ago and then only realized that a review was necessary once Hope for the Hills launched its impressive drive, which, in turn, led the City of Chino Hills to authorize millions of dollars to mount legal challenges.

The events of 11 July when the Commission is slated to issue its ruling will, no matter the result, be a watershed day in the history of Chino Hills--that much is certain, but little else is.

17 December 2012

Madrona (Canyon Crest) Amended EIR Comment Deadline Extended

Upon request from citizens concerned that the Madrona (formerly Canyon Crest) Amended Environmental Impact Report public comment period ending on 7 January 2013 was not timed, with the Christmas and New Year's holidays, to allow enough opportunity for responses, the City of Brea has agreed to extend the deadline another 15 days to 22 January.

A post from 26 November on this blog had more information about the newest iteration of this controversial 162-unit project on the north side of Carbon Canyon between the Orange/San Bernardino counties line and the Olinda Village community.

To review that post, please click here.

If you are as concerned about the myriad impacts of this proposed development on Carbon Canyon as many of us who have registered opposition to it over the years (this blogger only coming into this in 2008, whereas others have been fighting this project for much longer), then review the documents as best you can and send your comments to City Planner David Crabtree so they can be entered into the public record.

From there, the project's appeal, filed in 2008, will return to the City Council and there will be another opportunity to register concerns then.

Whether or not the property owner intends to build, or (more likely) secure that valuable tentative tract map and then sell the land, the idea of a large residential subdivision in a wildland area, taking away increasingly rare open space, disturbing wildlife, being prone to dangerous wildfires, and subject to a host of other issues, is bad public policy.

If the City of Chino Hills can spend millions of dollars fighting the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project and its "towers of terror," then certainly the City of Brea can, for several legal reasons embraced under the California Environmental Quality Act, show its commitment to community by rejecting this project (and any others that involve the land in question.)

Carbon Canyon is slowly being swallowed up by a creeping suburbia and for the promoters of Madrona to refer to their project as a "refined country" one really only means that the term "refined country" is code for a permanaent destruction of a central part of the Canyon.

Developers have had more than their share of regional land to develop; we have more than enough people; more than enough cars and traffic; not enough space on Carbon Canyon Road; not enough schools and funding for them; too much trash and not enough landfill space; too little open space; not enough water (long term); and the list can go on and on.

Don't forget that Chino Hills has already approved two unbuilt projects in the Canyon, totaling some 120 houses and an application is expected soon for well over 200 more.  Think about what this, and the 162 proposed for Madrona, would do to the Canyon

So, if these issues matter to you, register your concern to the City of Brea and request the City Council to reject the Madrona project.

15 December 2012

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #29: A Rare St. Joseph's Hill of Hope Postcard

One wonders how many of these were made and it can be assumed they're pretty rare, but this is a circa mid-1970s postcard, a chrome card made by Kolor View of Los Angeles, advertising the St. Joseph's Hill of Hope religious community that has occupied a large compound  just off Carbon Canyon to the north astride the borders of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties.

As noted in previous posts, Frances Klug, a Placentia resident, was disenchanted with the direction of the Roman Catholic Church in its post-Vatican II era and formed St. Joseph's Hill of Hope in 1967 in response.  Raising funds from supporters, Mrs. Klug was able, in 1972, to acquire 440 acres and announced ambitious plans for a compound from which to operate.

This ca. mid-1970s postcard, manufactured by Kolor View of Los Angeles, shows a pastoral landscape of oaks, wild grass and shrubs along Lion Canyon Road leading to the St. Joseph's Hill of Hope religious compound to the north of Carbon Canyon and was intended to draw potential congregrants to the organization.
Usually, cards of religious facilities and institutions show the structures that constitute the core of the enterprise, but it appears that this card was made shortly after the acreage was purchased when there were no structures to depict. 

Obviously highlighting the natural beauty of the area, and it would be interesting to know where this exactly was taken—somewhere along Lion Canyon Road, the main unpaved access road to the site—the intention was to attract potential congregants.  A profusion of oak trees, carpets of wild grass, and a small portion of a shrub in the foreground set an idyllic scene from nearly forty years ago.

The postcard's back has a short message about the natural beauty of the Hill of Hope site and an address to write to for more information about the organization, which was founded in 1967 by Frances Klug who became disillusioned with the post-Vatican II direction of the Roman Catholic Church.

The text on the upper left of the card's reverse reads "Natural beauty along the rugged mountain road leading to St. Joseph's Hill of Hope in the Carbon Canyon area of Brea, California.  For information, write P.O. Box 940, Anaheim, Calif, 92805."  Presumably, that address is no longer valid!

12 December 2012

Carbon Canyon Fire History: The Conflagration of 1990

It was late June 1990 when a transient started a fire that raged throughout Carbon Canyon and scorched over 6,600 acres and destroyed fourteen houses, all of these in the community of Sleepy Hollow.

To the west in Brea, the flames came very near to destroying the La Vida Mineral Springs Cafe, which, notably, was said to have been "built on the site of a 19th-Century stagecoach stop," a claim that has no basis.   The owner of the restaurant, Don Himes, who noted the structure was 64 years old, placing its construction in 1926, which squares with some of the sources noted in this blog, was also grateful for a Los Angeles County Fire Department five-engine crew that preserved the cafe from the inferno.  Significantly, this crew worked from the cafe roof and Carbon [Canyon] Creek, which ran directly behind it and had to deal with "bamboo" that caught fire.  This is the notorious arundo donax, which has been under an intensive eradication program along the creek since the November 2008 blaze.

There were also concerns that the fire could consume portions of Olinda Village, though the community was spared major damage.  At any rate, a Los Angeles Times article on the 29th went into great detail concerning the fire's effects and quoted many canyon residents.

Moreover, hundreds of firefighters manned the lines on the fire and at least eight sustained minor injuries.  Other damage included the destruction of some four miles of phone lines, affecting service to nearly 1,000 customers, while Southern California Edison lost a few power poles and cell tower (how many of us had those massive things in '90?) and Southern California Gas shut down service in the area until the blaze was over.

A large number of the more than 200 residents of Sleepy Hollow had evacuated the scene and 30-plus year resident Don Briney, who still lives in the neighborhood, pronounced the fire "the worst one we've ever seen," eclipsing even the 1958 fire, which occurred when he was a fairly new resident.  Briney was able to save his home by using his garden house and wetting the structure overnight, but he and his wife expressed concern that fire crews were no adequate in their part of the fire zone.  An Orange County fire captain, Dan Young, countered that crews were there, but were focused on houses where brush clearance had taken place according to the department's recommendations, because these residences had "the most likelihood of being saved.  Indeed, with the thick growth of trees and brush, it was remarked that there was great surprise that there wasn't more damage.

The most notable loss in the fire was what has been called "the Doctor's house," a sprawling 8,000 square foot house that sat on top of the hill above Hillside Drive on the northern portion of Sleepy Hollow, where the lion's share of the damage in the fire occurred.  Another two-story residence was consumed completely, leaving 48 cinder block columns, a chimney, several blackened cars and an indoor pool with water blackened by burned wood from the house.

One reisident, Robin Overholser described the fire as "a tidal wave of flame, while Yvette Magliozzi, commented that "the smoke was so bad you couldn't sleep."  Overcome with emotion, Linda Wolverton exclaimed that she gave a firefighter "a big old hug" and credited crews with saving the community.

Still, a state forestry department captain, Bruce Brown, noted that the area, with its proximity of houses to open space with the density of plant material prone to extreme dryness, was "designed for disaster" and commented that "it could have been a bad, bad situation."

In the over 20 years since, more houses have been added to the Canyon and more will undoubtedly be built (with the Madrona/Canyon Crest project back in play again on the Brea side).  Even with improvements in prevention, firefighting tactics and communication, and other factors, the risk of catastrophic fire will not go away, especially if some predictions of the effects of climate change hold true. 

05 December 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #10444

Returning home from the Brea side of Carbon Canyon about fifteen minutes ago, a wreck that appeared to involve two cars was being dealt with by Fullerton/Brea Fire Department vehicles in front of the El Rodeo Stables across from Carbon Canyon Regional Park.

Perhaps there'll be some details forthcoming about this latest incident.

30 November 2012

A Chino Hills Chinese Maternity Hotel Controversy

See the end of this post for December updates . . .

Early this month, in its edition of 3 November, the Chino Hills Champion ran an article from reporter Marianne Napoles about a sprawling 7,000-square foot house on ten acres overlooking Carbon Canyon Road near Chino Hills Parkway, in which, since this past March, a facility calling itself the "Los Angeles Hermas Hotel" is housing pregnant women from China who pay $5,000 to $15,000 per month to fly into the area; stay at the "hotel" and units at the Green Valley Apartments downslope from the mansion; use shuttle services to and from their "hotels;" give birth in a Monterey Park hospital; recuperate for a month at the "hotel;" and then return home, but with a child that is an American citizen.  The house, which attracted some attention, because its previous owner, Julie Sa, sought to subdivide the parcel for four additional units, was bought in 2011 by Hai Wong Yu.  Further attention was generated in the late winter when nearby residents noticed groups of expecting Chinese women walking through the neighborhood and cars shuttling to and from the "hotel" to the Green Valley Apartments.

A Chinese Web site, www.asiamchild.com, (click here to visit the site, which, obviously, is in Chinese, though you can try a translation function that may or may not help in understanding the site's content) promotes the enterprise, which at those prices clearly is available to the rapidly-growing well-to-do of mainland China.  The 3 November article stated that a previously-operating site advised its clients to seek a "tourism" visa and then travel in the early stages (before the ladies start "showing"), so as to avoid scrutiny.  The site promotes visits to regional tourist attractions and spells out manifold benefits to having U.S.-born babies, who, as citizens, are eligible for free public education through high school, in-state tuition fees at colleges and universities, low-interest education loans, high-paying jobs, Social Security benefits, and so forth.  Not surprisingly, the original site was taken down and a redirection was made to the current one.

Notably, no one in city government was aware of the existence of this enterprise, of which variants are found throughout the United States and emanating from China and other countries.  Since then, Napoles has followed up with updated reporting, just about each week, including one in tomorrow's 1 December edition.

In the newest piece, the City of Chino Hills, rebuffed in a request to inspect the home, received a court order to inspect the residence, did so last week and is now prepared to issue a cease-and-desist order after checking for violations of city code.  From a criminal law perspective, a review by the Chino Hills Police Department found that no illegal activity was being conducted in the operation of the "hotel."

It was determined in September that extensive renovations were conducted without permits and, more noticeably, 2,000 gallons of raw sewage leaked from the property and contaminated a storm drain back.  Because of its location, like those in Carbon Canyon, the house is on a septic system and it was reported that Wu hired a company to clean the tank every day, whereas most owners of properties with septic might do so every few years.

Curiously, Wu's attorney, Add Smith, who first claimed his client had relatives staying with him at the house and that he had no knowledge of the use of the house as a "maternity hotel," later expressed a bland conclusion that the property owner needed to address the laws of the city and state.  As it turned out, however, Smith has also, along with his son, been the building and planning consultants for the "hotel"!  It would not appear that Wu has received adequate consultation or counsel from Smith, who has been evidently "confused" about the project he has been paid to advise on from both legal and operational standpoints!

Last week's review of the property uncovered more violations of code  City attorney Mark Hensley explained that, within a couple of weeks, that order would be issued and noted that the case was quite strong for a code enforcement prosecution.  At the same time, Hensley cautioned the city and its officers and staff from getting involved in "political" elements surrounding the case.  Specifically, this meant council member attendance and commentary in and among the community regarding the "hotel" and its operations.

This is because there has been a groundswell of activity from local residents in recent weeks, including discussions between concerned residents at city and police officials on the 8th; a town hall meeting on the 17th with Assembly member Curt Hagman; the formation of a new grassroots organization calling itself notinchinohills.org (click here to visit the site); a meeting held two days ago at the house of former school board member and recently-defeated city council candidate Rossanna Mitchell; and a public protest to be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the corner of Peyton Drive and Chino Hills Parkway.

Mitchell has, in fact, been getting plenty of media exposure of late, including interviews on KABC's television news program and the show of the controversial radio duo John and Ken of KFI, both airing just today.  It is perhaps not a coincidence that Mitchell is running again for council in the Spring special election for the recently-vacated seat of Bill Kruger.

Predictably, the outcry on this whole episode takes on many dimensions.  Some decry the use of a commercial endeavor in a residential neighborhood.  Others lament the "anchor baby" or "maternity tourism" component as a manipulation of 14th Amendment citizenship rights.  A few have expressed concern about speeding shuttles through the area's streets and the sewage overflow into the neighborhood.  And, there are those who cite all these and probably other reasons.

The "Not in Chino Hills" Web site is rather vague about its purposes, stating:

We are concerned Chino Hills residents that want to preserve our family oriented community. We want to continue to enjoy our beautiful city and we welcome everyone. But to preserve what we cherish we must also protect our city.
Our mission is to keep a vigilant eye and use all our efforts necessary to do so. We are a grassroot organization who will organize and rally behind a cause that will serve the families of Chino Hills.

Yet, nowhere on the site is there anything specific about the grounds that exist to "protect our city" and "our family-oriented community" with "a vigilant eye" from the "maternity hotel."

Regardless of the moral, ethical and political issues involved, the only response the city can take is on the legal question of code violations and the use of the property relative to its zoning.  Assembly member Hagman did state that the lack of a business license was tantamount to tax evasion, which was a matter for the state Franchise Tax Board to deal with.

As City Attorney Hensley stated, further developments should come to light soon about the city's order for the "hotel" to cease operations under current conditions.  What comes beyond that will be interesting to observe. 

UPDATE, 4 December:  The San Gabriel Valley Tribune has weighed in on the maternity "hotel" matter in its today's edition editorial pages, as can be seen here.  Whether its call for county, state and federal intervention is heeded will be something to watch in upcoming weeks and months.

UPDATE, 5 December:  Another article from the San Bernardino Sun on this maternity "hotel" issue and reporting on another community meeting sponsored by the "Not in Chino Hills" group can be found here.

UPDATE, 10 December.  And, there's more from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin about the general issue of "maternity tourism," as contained here.  In the same issue is an allegation of another "maternity hotel" site in the Grand Pointe gated community, as found here.  A couple of days back is this piece (click here) in which city officials comment on the "Not in Chino Hills" group's activities.  And, if you can't get enough, there's more:  try here and here and more on the general issue related to the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution is here.

UPDATE, 17 December: The Champion, with reporter Marianne Napoles continuing her in-depth coverage of this issue, had more interesting information in last Saturday's (15 December) issue.  A court-ordered inspection of the interior of the "hotel" took place after several attempts by police and city officials were rejected by the property owner. 

The unannounced visit, on 19 November, revealed that the house, built in the mid-1970s with 7 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms, was illegally converted to 17 (yes, 17) of each.  10 of the rooms were occupied and one woman there stated that she was paying $150 a day, even though there were a host of unsafe conditions in the structure, including exposed electrical wires, insufficient bathroom ventilation, areas of rooms without sufficient flooring, non-habitable spaces converted to rooms, food served without county health permits, and etc. 

In addition, the property was using 4,000 gallons of water a day, but with a septic system only to designed to handle 1,500.  Employees did not have work permits, but were on travel visas and there were no doctors or nurses at the site, according to an affidavit by a former employee.  This for a "hotel" for pregnant women (with their newborns) paying hefty sums for the privilege of living in a residence nowhere near up to code.

Chino Hills City Attorney Mark Hensley has requested a cease-and-desist order from the court, requiring that the business shut down its operations.  From there, who knows what will be done regarding illegalities germane to the "hotel"'s operations.

27 November 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #s10341 and 10383

Two more incidents from the last day or two to add to the recent resurgence in misdirected driving in Carbon Canyon.

This first is westbound in Sleepy Hollow just a short distance before the now-shuttered Canyon Market.  The driver veered onto the nearly non-existent shoulder and gave the "Narrow Bridge" sign a little shove, but at least the innocuous sign narrowly avoided destruction.

Further down the highway, between the historic La Vida Mineral Springs property and Olinda Village and also westbound, a power pole was given a little shredding.

26 November 2012

New Name, Same Game: From Canyon Crest to Madrona

This is not something to give thanks about, especially the day after the holiday, when the mail brought a notice from the City of Brea regarding the "Notice of Availability of 2012 Update of EIR 02-01 for the Madrona Residential Development Plan (a revision of the former Canyon Crest Plan.)

That's right, it's time to go through the wringer one more time and play another round of that game involving a 367-acre parcel to the north of Carbon Canyon at the northeastern corner of Brea.  The long-playing drama involving housing development plans for this scenic, undeveloped land moves to its next stage.

The Shopoff Group, which had taken its Canyon Crest development plan to the City Council, which then was hearing an appeal of a (narrowly-successful) Planning Commission approval, terminated its plans for the project just as the November 2008 Freeway Complex fire scorched the entire site.  Because of the blaze, the City Council directed staff to consider the conflagration's effects on any future development plan for the area.

Meantime, the property passed into the hands of the Old Standard Life Insurance Company of Spokane, Washington, which hardly behaved by any old standards of ethical business behavior before it, too, faced financial distress before its reorganization.  A lengthy series of posts here in the first part of 2009 detailed, or tried to, the convolunted, complicated and complex story of that business.

Finally, the severe recession of Fall 2008 (brought about by financial companies, not perhaps unlike Old Standard) put the brakes on any idea of development with the Canyon Crest project--at least for awhile.  The new owners of Old Standard, however, recognizing the potential value of an undeveloped property, which would appreciate with a tentative tract map in hand, regardless of whether the likelihood to build was present, made a move to restart the project. 

This link (click here) from the State of Idaho in Spring 2009 detailed the liquidation of Old Standard, but note that the end indicates that the portfolio of its bonds, loans, and real estate is "significant" and that "good success" had been experienced with liquidation.  The situation with Canyon Crest should, obviously, be examined with this situation in mind.

Early last year, Canyon Crest was revived with Old Standard hiring Irvine-based Concorde Development to manage the project.  Concorde, founded by Dennis Gage in 1984, is not a big-name developer, but has had some housing projects in the far southern portions of Orange County, specifically San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. 

On occasion, as is often the case, problems arose in these communities.  At San Clemente, his proposal to build houses at what was the end of Camino de las Ramblas met with resistance from local residents, who had enjoyed being at the earlier end, and the City Council, which felt that the project had too many issues to be approved until Concorde came back with a plan that met their approval, if not those of the residents.

In San Juan Capistrano, Gage proposed an apartment complex on land near a projected high school.  To that end, he engaged in some agreements with the school district to assist in financing for the school, while working to get his project approved.  When the city enacted a moratorium on all application for proposed housing projects while seeking to update its mid-1970s General Plan, Gage sued the city, aided by a builders' association legal defense fund, and won.  Eventually, Gage bowed out and sold the property to another developer, which succeeded in building single-family homes on the site.

Finally, Concorde, through a subsidiary (and can those relationships be tough to sort out), built a commercial center in Stockton, in central California, during the glory days of 2005.  The property was sold last year after Stockton became a "poster child" for all that can go wrong with untrammeled development and poor planning.

Canyon Crest, however, has become a phrase loaded with baggage from many years of travails and travels through the several layers of the planning process in Brea.  Clearly, it was time, at some point in 2011 and 2012, for a new start.

Hence, Madrona!

At the moment, there are several documents available online for those who just don't have enough to do, but might be concerned with the future of Carbon Canyon to pore through.  Characteristically, these can be mind-numbingly long and filled with technical language.  Perhaps the most accessible and least weighty of these is the Madrona Development Review Submittal, of 19 June 2012, which can be accessed here.  At 89 pages, it is not as War and Peace-like as some other docs, such as the updated Environmental Impact Report, which can be found with the above submittal and a boatload of other material by clicking here.

In any event, the main "changes" to the Madrona Project from Canyon Crest are:  3 fewer houses (these that were strangely situated away from the others very near the border with Chino Hills), but a drastically-reduced amount of grading from 9,500,000 cubic yards to a little under 5,000,000.  There is, obviously, more to the reboot, but that's for another post.

Meantime, public comment on the updated Environmental Impact Report is to be sent to the city's chief planner, David Crabtree, by no later than 7 January, so anyone concerned about what the Madrona project will potentially do to Carbon Canyon has until then (interesting how the comment period comes during the busy holiday season) to have their say.

23 November 2012

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #28: A La Vida Mineral Springs Ashtray

It might be appropriate (or not) that this installment comes as some of the history posts here deal with the fire history of Carbon Canyon.

In any case, here is an ashtray that might have been found in a motel room, the restaurant, or other
public areas of the La Vida Mineral Springs resort, which operated from the 1910s to the 1980s, located on the Brea side of the Canyon, a short distance east of Olinda Village.

Interestingly, the wording notes that the resort was in Placentia, not Brea, and this was the location generally assigned to the facility in its earlier years.  For example, directory listings from the 1920s always gave Placentia as the city of location, as did most of the soda bottles using water from La Vida that were issued from the late 1920s (some did say Fullerton, which is where one of the bottling plants was located, while others were bottled in northern California plants such as at Sacramento and Stockton.) 

Notably, the early black-and-white real photo postcards that show the site in the late 1920s or early 1930s invariably will say "La Vida Mineral Springs, Calif," and omit the nearest city or town.

It doesn't appear to be until well after World War II when the the location was given as Brea--these are found on the color postcards that look to have produced in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as other artifacts like matchbooks.

Given this, it appears that this ashtray goes back to the earlier days, perhaps from the 1930s or 1940s, though there is no obvious way to discern the date (the words "MINERAL SPRINGS" appear to look somewhat like Art Deco, which was everywhere in the Thirties.)  It's a utilitarian item, to be sure, but is still one little historical tidbit to add to the history of Carbon Canyon's most notable historic site.

21 November 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #s10222 and 10223

A little more than a week ago, a skewed set of skid marks appeared on the westbound side of Carbon Canyon Road on the Brea portion about halfway from the San Bernardino/Orange counties line and led to tire marks that veered onto the shoulder where a dropoff to Carbon [Canyon] Creek is located.

Within the last couple of days, just west of the old entrance to the La Vida Mineral Springs hotel, another confrontation between a westbound vehicle and a new guardrail from the recent road improvements took place.

There seems to be a bit of an epidemic of questionable driving on the highway as of late.

20 November 2012

Carbon Canyon Cattle and Horse Rancher Passes

A neighbor passed along the news today that Bill Friend, who has been running the cattle and horses that so many of us see along the Chino Hills and Brea portions of Carbon Canyon and beyond, including the adjoining Soquel Canyon, died on Sunday.

Friend, who was in his 80s, was often seen with his old pickup truck, stopped at the two major locations where he handled his herds--these being along Carbon Canyon Road east of the Summit Ranch subdivision and further west across from the intersection of the state highway and Canyon Hills Road across from the Circle K market.

His animals grazed widely on city-owned open space, as well as private held land that he leased and they have contributed greatly to the visual sense of the rural heritage of Carbon Canyon. 

It is not too much of a reach to suggest that he was carrying on a tradition that dated back to at least the 1840s when Antonio Maria Lugo acquired the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, which extended westward well into the Canyon and when cattle and horses were the economic lifeblood of the southern California region for several decades afterward. 

Locally, cattle, sheep and horses were part of the environment of what became Chino Hills until very recently as development finally came to the area in the latter half of the 20th century.  Friend's grazing of his herds was a vestige of that tradition.

What will become of the animals remains to be seen.  While the city open space at the east end of the canyon might still be used for such purposes, there is said to be an application to be submitted soon to the City of Chino Hills for a large housing development on the land closer to Sleepy Hollow across from the Circle K.

It is possible that the ranching and grazing era might well be coming to a close with Friend's passing.  If so, it brings another element of change that could lead to a significant altering of Carbon Canyon as we know it.  Hopefully, someone will be interested in carrying on the operation.

Condolences are offered to Mr. Friend's family on their loss.

REVISED 21 November:  More information was made available on an e-mail from a Chino Valley Independent Fire District inspector, who added this link here with a 2011 article from the Chino Hills Champion on Mr. Friend and his family's long history in the Carbon Canyon area.

19 November 2012

Carbon Canyon Fire History: The 1978 Sleepy Hollow Firestorm

A decent downpour over the weekend came at the fourth anniversary of the 2008 Freeway Complex fire and it might well be that this year will pass without a major blaze, though who can tell.

In the long history of major conflagrations in Carbon Canyon, the next significant event after the 1929 and 1958 fires was one that broke out almost to the day of the latter one.  On 23 October 1978, a wildfire erupted that brought back memories of two decades before.  In fact, the Los Angeles Times article that appeared to discuss the new event was titled "Carbon Canyon Village Spared With Wind's Aid" and began with this statement:

Twenty years ago, almost to the day, a wild fire burned 32 houses and cabins in the quiet little Carbon Canyon community called Sleepy Hollow.  Monday, for several nervous hours, history threatened to repeat itself.

A total of 3,000 acres was consumed by the flames and threatened to road down the steep ridges flanking the neighborhood, but as reporter Evan Maxwell noted, "this time, the Santa Ana winds may have been on the side of man, according to fire officials.  Those winds carried a plume of smoke over Orange County, but Sleepy Hollow was spared."

From all appearances, the fire was racing without pause towards the community, which was said to contained about 100 buildings, but heavy winds caused them to react so that "the main body of the fire was blown past the community . . . before flames stated backing down the hillsides to the homes."  With the unexpected occurrence, the article continued, "this may have prevented a maor disaster in the area . . . the flames were relatively subdued when they moved close to the homes, many in brush-choked canyons and beneath dry oak trees."

The situation changed so dramatically that some residents left fearing for the worst, so that "they left the windows and doors open in their houses.  Firemen had to enter dozens of homes to close them up."  Others stayed put and sprayed water on their roofs while firefighting aircraft dropped flame retardant material on the fire.  In all, there were some 350 fire personnel battling the blaze, which had been fueled by 40-mph winds before the intensity of the Santa Anas died down by dark, allowing crews to establish fire lines and institute back-firing along the perimeter of the blaze.

In addition to those who evacuated from Sleepy Hollow, there were about 200 cattle who were taken from a ranch in Telegraph Canyon--this being four years before the creation of Chino Hills State Park, so this was presumably the Rolling M Ranch--and some thirty horses from the El Rodeo Stables on the Brea side of the Canyon.  Olinda Village, including today's Hollydale Mobile Home Estates, which was then called the Wayside Trailer Park, was bracing for evacuations, but no mandatory order was given.

The conflagration moved south from Sleepy Hollow hearing across the open ranch land which became Chino Hills State Park and headed towards Yorba Linda, where some residents worried about what might happen, but the diedown with the winds eased concerns.  For all of the potential danger, not a single structure nor one casualty resulted from the fire.

Matters would not be so providential, however, in the next big Carbon Canyon fire, which will be covered soon.

13 November 2012

Happy 125th Birthday to the Chino Hills Champion

The newspaper industry has seen a precipitous decline in recent years and who knows where the whole concept will be in five, ten or fifty years, so it is all the more remarkable that the independent and local Chino/Chino Hills Champion is not only 125 years old this year, but is still viable and valid (at least it is to some of us.)

The Champion does a great job of covering local news, provides editorial balance, and emphasizes the community aspects of the cities of Chino and Chino Hills in ways that just are not seen that much any more and the achievement of its publishers and staff cannot be overstated.

The newest issue, out this past weekend, is also chock full of interesting historical material, including some pertaining to Carbon Canyon, though reading about local history generally is pretty cool.  With publisher emeritus Allen McCombs providing the bulk of the material about the history of the area, it makes the Champion that much more valuable.

So, congratulations to everyone at the Champion for continuing the long tradition of excellence and may the paper last at least 125 more years.

08 November 2012

Carbon Canyon Fire History: The Sleepy Hollow Blaze of 1958

Tonight, a light rain is falling and it would be nice to think that enough moisture will fall to hold off another dangerous brush fire in Carbon Canyon this Fall.  We shall see.

Following the last post about the near-disastrous Olinda fire of 1929 is one that was, by any standard, not near, but fully disastrous.  This was a conflagration that swept through Sleepy Hollow on the San Bernardino side of the Canyon in mid-October 1958.

As headlined in the Los Angeles Times:  "Carbon Canyon Blaze Checked; 32 Homes Lost."  And the subhead: "Fire Burns Over 260 Acres Before Being Controlled; Patrols in Area to Continue."
On a Friday morning, the fire erupted somewhere under conditions not evidently known.  While 260 acres seems quite small, compared to the many thousands that have been consumed in other incidents, this fire happened to roar through "the fringes of Sleepy Hollow" and destroyed those nearly three-dozen "homes and small cabins" noted in the headline.

Notably, the biggest damage was on the northeastern section of that community and then further out, including "at least 15 of 32 small cabins on the grounds of Workman's Circle [sic], a rest camp."  What this refers to, actually, is Camp Kinder Ring, the children's camp of the Workmen's Circle, a Jewish community association based in Los Angeles, which bought the land and built the camp in 1928 and afterward. 

Ironically, the article went on to report, "the camp was sold recently to a Los Angeles group for a reported $250,000."  This camp, located at the northeast corner of Carbon Canyon Road and Canyon Hills Road, is a horse and cattle ranch facility and some of the original surviving structures from the Jewish youth camp days are still on site.

The fire also caused injuries to several fire personnel who responded, including "four firemen hospitalized for heat exhaustion and excessive smoke" and a bulldozer operator, Ray Smith, "who was overcome by the heat and smoke" and remained longer in hospitalization than the others.

There was more to Smith's story, however, as revealed by San Bernardino County's State Forest Ranger, W. W. Skinner.  It turned out Smith "had suffered minor burns battling a fire in Santa Ana Canyon Thursday and collapsed during the height of the Carbon Canyon fire Friday."  Talk about dedication to duty and heroism among firefighters!

After a couple of days, the fire was finally contained and then extinguished, with a hundred or more firefighters from the State Division of Foresty and the Chino Fire Protection District, forerunner to the Chino Valley Independent Fire District, at work with patrol work continuing beyond that to check for flare-ups.

Future posts will cover later major conflagrations in Carbon Canyon.

07 November 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #10101

And . . . yet . . . again.

Not as dramatic perhaps as others of recent vintage, but this is the fourth example of damage done to brand-new guardrails installed along the newly-refurbished Carbon Canyon Road (State Route 142) by CalTrans District 12 on the Brea/Orange County side of the Canyon.

In this case, the location is on the eastbound side of the highway at the bottom of the steep slope coming down from Olinda Village just before the historic La Vida Mineral Springs property.  There didn't appear to be much in the way of skidding, probably high speed and a drift to the right that led to a folding of the lower part of the rail and dislodgement of a post or two.

This may or may not require as much work on the order of wholesale replacement as the other instances, however, and could certainly have been worse.  But, what if it was?

02 November 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #10023

Again.  For the third time within a month, a brand spanking new section of guardrail of the newly paved and otherwise improved Orange County portion of Carbon Canyon Road (State Route 142) has been taken out by an errant driver.

This occurrence is on the westbound side of the highway on the down slope a little west of Olinda Village.  The far east end of the rail has been crumpled and pressed against the steep hillside.

But, wait . . . there's more.  As an added bonus, the driver bounced off that end and headed down the road a piece skidding into another section of the rail set before, presumably, finding the roadway once more and continuing on his/her (probably his) merry (or, not so much) way.

Perhaps a positive view of this is that this is a way of keeping out state highway workers gainfully employed.

31 October 2012

Sleepy Hollow and the Carbon Canyon Mineral Springs Resort Redux

Back in early April, a post on the 1940 federal census in Sleepy Hollow referred to the existence of a mineral springs resort in the community and it was noted that some maps identified the "Carbon Canyon Mineral Springs" as in the neighborhood.

Then, community resident Ray Byworth stepped forward and offered a ca. 1960 newsletter image that showed the "Hiltscher Mineral Springs" resort, which existed on his property along Carbon Canyon Road, just a short distance east from the San Bernardino/Orange counties line.  Information on Fred Hiltscher, whose family were prominent in Fullerton (Hiltscher Park, for example, being a well-known amenity there, but less savory allusions to Ku Kux Klan sympathies are also linked to some family members.)  Two weeks after the census post, one on the Hiltscher Mineral Springs resort was uploaded thanks to Mr. Byworth's comment.

Now, within the last few weeks, a new aspect to the story has emerged, thanks to some photographs obtained from David Arnold, owner of a 1938 photo album that features remarkable images of the devastating floods that ravaged much of Orange County (and elsewhere in southern California) during that winter.  There were, however, several images taken in Sleepy Hollow and one specifically of the front of what was called the "Carbon Canyon Mineral Springs" and which was previously the Hiltscher Mineral Springs.  That image is below:

The Carbon Canyon Mineral Springs resort, also known as the Hiltscher Mineral Springs, on the south side of Carbon Canyon Road at Sleepy Hollow just east of the San Bernardino/Orange counties line.  This 1938 view was provided courtesy of David Arnold, owner of a photo album that includes several other views that may be of the other side of this facade.  Click on the image (and those below) to see a larger view in a separate window.

Because the 1940 census had information on those employed at the springs, including its manager, Victor Baden, who had lived elsewhere in 1935 (a question asked on this enumeration), but who may have been the manager in 1938 when the photos in the album were taken.

In any case, this set of photographs shows the same building from image provided by Mr. Byworth in the April post, but with the different name for the institution.  In addition, there are other several other photos that show a two-story frame structure but which is not identified as to location.

Here, then is the selection of images:

Notably, the above view was labeled on the photo album as a "Front View," though it appears to be from the rear of the structure, assuming that the slope at the bottom is the bank of Carbon [Canyon] Creek and the other side faced Carbon Canyon Road.

The view above, however, while definitely of the same side, does look different because of the exposure, with lighter tones in the photo than the one further up.

This shot seems as if it was taken around one side and certainly does take in the same side (at left) as that in the image before it, as well as another side of the structure.  Obviously, there are a number of oak trees throughout the property and, in the view above this one, what looks like a sycamore.

This image is likely of another side and really shows how wooded this property was, with only portions of the structure visible through the dense growth, which obviously has been one of the great appeals of Sleepy Hollow and Carbon Canyon generally.
The labeling of the album page next to this photo simply identified this as the "Patio" and there are some chairs, large square concrete pavers, what might be an outdoor barbeque stove built of river rock with a metal surface projecting out to the right and portions of the structure at the right.

Finally, this view is inscribed as the "Recreation Lot," though it is not entirely clear what forms of recreational activity might have gone on here--perhaps horseshoes--though there is a bench behind the oak tree at the right and there are structures off to the left.

Thanks to Mr. Byworth, it is known that this structure is a short distance east of the Carbon Canyon Mineral Springs on the same side of Carbon Canyon Road, but at the east side of the intersection of the highway with Rosemary Lane.

These are very rare photographs showing Sleepy Hollow and its mineral springs resort in the late 1930s and add more to the fascinating history of the community and of Carbon Canyon generally.

28 October 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #9999

This accident has happened within the last couple of days or so and is on the eastbound side of Carbon Canyon Road (State Highway 142), about 1/3 of a mile maybe west of the Orange/San Bernardino County line.

And, this is the second accident within the last couple of weeks that has caused damage to the new, extensive work done by CalTrans District 12 on the Brea side of the highway, including new paving, striping, and guardrails.

The other incident took place further to the west at the old entrance to the La Vida Mineral Springs resort.

So, there will have to be significant repairs made to this section of guardrail that was brand spanking new and which will have to replaced.

The details of the accident might have included injury to a driver or passengers, but it could be wondered if, because the license plate for the car is still on scene, an investigation that finds the cause to be reckless driving of some kind, that person could be held liable for the costs of repair?

A little further west on the same side of the highway, there is a little more debris and what looks like absorbent sand was laid out to clean up an oil spill--whether this was related to this accident or was separate is not known.

26 October 2012

Carbon Canyon Fire History: The 1929 Olinda Blaze

With hot, dry, windy Santa Ana conditions making their usual Fall appearance and the fire threat elevated in our region and, keeping in mind the interesting work done by the local group Hills for Everyone in documenting in map form the fire history of Carbon Canyon, here is the first in a series of posts mining the Los Angeles Times for articles on major fire events in the Canyon.

The earliest found is from 14 November 1929 and Santa Ana conditions were blamed for brush fires in several San Diego County locations with specific mentioned also made about "Shifting Winds Saved Olinda from Flames."

This short article noted that "Five hundred residents of Olinda today were thankful for the vagaries of a shifting wind which late yesterday stopped a sweeping fire that for several hours had threatened the community with destuction."

Showing just how primitive firefighting was eighty plus years ago, the piece went on to note that "More than 1200 men hastily recruited from the oil fields and surrounding communities had found it impossible to stop the blaze."

The conflagration started, it was reported, "on the Ed Gaines ranch in Carbon Canyon," this being the location of Olinda Village today, and it was noted that this was "a slight distance from La Vida Hot [actually, Mineral] Springs, a resort community."  The fire than roared westward for 4 1/2 miles "and was at the back yard of Olinda, when late in the evening the wind swung squarely about, halting its progress."

The blaze was said to have consumed some 5,000 acres "of watershed," which seems to indicate that it burned along the Carbon [Canyon] Creek and, perhaps the Soquel Canyon Creek, area on its way over towards Olinda.  Eight oil derricks, a small house and a powerhouse were destroyed on the leases of General Petroleum (three derricks and the powerhouse), Shell Oil (two derricks), Fullerton Oil (two derricks), and Chanslor-Canfield-Midway, also called CCMO (one derrick.)

In addition, before the wind shifted, "several hundred pumping wells were directly in the path of the blaze" and "also a number of large storage tanks were threatened for several hours."

It is worth noting that just about 80 years later within days of the 1929 blaze, a similar fortuitous circumstance came along in the Freeway Complex Fire.  In mid-November 2008, that conflagration, which laid waste 30,000 acres, had two major origins--just off the 91 Freeway and then heading north through Chino Hills State Park--and an oil field at Olinda near the Olinda-Alpha Landfill.

Sleepy Hollow residents, evacuated for three long nights as the firestorm threatened the community, returned to experience little damage, although a few homes (notably the Manely Friends stable in the Brea side just east of the old La Vida property) were burned to the west.

It was related that a firefighter from the Highland area near San Bernardino told a Sleepy Hollow denizen that he and his crewmates were on the line facing massive walls of flame and were preparing to spray retardant foam on houses and the retreat from the line because there was no way for them to stop the conflagration.

And, then:  the wind shifted.  It moved in a direction away from the houses and the community and headed elsewhere to the east.  Strange how history repeats itself.

Of course, firefighting planning, logistics, equipment and personnel are all far superior now to what they were even two decades ago, much less eight, but the threat of devastating fire is still there and, if the wind shifts the wrong way, all of the preparation and apparatuses in place may not be enough to stop the destruction of fire.

Folks in 1929 were lucky and quite a few in 2008 were, too.

14 October 2012

Early La Vida Mineral Water Company History Continued

To date, the earliest information found about the bottling and sale of the mineral water found at the La Vida Mineral Springs resort, in the Brea portion of Carbon Canyon, is Summer 1927.  That is when advertisements started to appear in the Los Angeles Times, generally in a section of the paper devoted to health, where books, medicines, diet products, and sanatoria were also promoted.

In the 31 July issue of that paper, for example, were two small ads.  The first, with the heading, "Regain Your Health—Be Well," and claiming that "La Vida Hot Springs Mineral Water should do it.  For indigestion, gas, stomach, liver and kidney troubles, nervousness, circulation, etc."  A Los Angeles address on South Spring Street, which was then the financial center of the city, was provides, as were phone numbers, for the firm, which was called the La Vida Water Company.

The second ad, just under the Langdon Health Clinic's claim that "we are masters of chronic disease," presumably meaning that they treated not caused such things, for only $25 per month, touted La Vida's water as "Nature's Great Health Remedy," and warned readers "Do Not Compare of Confuse This Mineral Water With Any Other Water in California."

By September, the company, using the slogan "Nature's Wonder Water" seemed ready to expand their content, as the issue of the 11th contained a much larger ad, that was titled "Health, Wealth, and Happiness," noting that "Good Health is of thegreatest value—the greatest asset—the other two objectives are secondary."  The list of maladies treated by the product grew, in addition to the few listed earlier, to "Sick Headache, Diabetes, Bladder Trouble, Neuritis, Bright's Disease, and Rheumatism."

The firm asked readers to "give us the opportunity to prove to you the Health benefits of La Vida Wonder Mineral Water.  We have bona-fide testimonials that it is helping many.  Give it a trial.  It may be just what you have been looking for.  Use a drinking water that comes the nearest to 'Nature's Best'— LA VIDA (The Life)."

The product was available in four one-gallon bottles delivered to the recipient's door for 75 cents and, naturally, "we refund the cost of La Vida Water to our customers if it does not give satisfactory resuts after a fair trial."  Alas, what constituted "fair"?

The reason for the expanded marketing seems to have lied in the fact that this ad mentioned that there was a "New $30,000 La Vida Bath House located in Carbon Canyon, Orange County, 30 miles east of Los Angeles via Whittier Blvd."

Two weeks later, beneath an advertisement interesting "Fig-Co" coffee substitute that promised to help for stomach, liver, kidney, heart and nerve problems, was another ad from La Vida, with a "Free Astounding Offer Special" that was "The Greatest Evidence of Proof Obtainable" about the remarkable curative properties of the water.  That is, "Two one-gallon bottles of La Vida Mineral Water Delivered absolutely FREE" to those who wanted to cure all of the above ailments, plus a few more, including "Auto-Intoxication" and "Gravel Stones."

With a limited time offer for a few weeks, the company "want you to know for yourself the great Health and Live-Giving Benefits of LA VIDA WATER the only natural water of its kind in Southern California."  Why, for those who gave it the opportunity, "Good Health is the Reward that hundreds and hundreds of people have obtained by drinking LA VIDA MINERAL WATER.  You will be amazed at the beneficial results."

By Spring 1929, the company began to refer to its product as "The American Vichy," mimicking the famed mineral waters of the south-central French resort town.  Noting that the company would provide a "Gallon Sample Delivered Free," the ad stated that "La Vida has performed miracles in restoring Health."  Incidentally, the company had moved to a new address at 927 W. 2nd Street, an address likely underneath the 110 Freeway just west of Bunker Hill.

In summer 1930, the company, which had a new name (see below) even with the onset of the Great Depression (which, however, did not fully develop until the massive bank failures of 1932), expanded its operations outside of the Los Angeles area.  The Times, in an 8 June, article noted that "twenty branches of the La Vida Mineral Water Company, from San Diego to Fresno, have been operned within the last few months."  These locations included Alhambra, Fresno, Pomona, San Diego, Fillmore, Redlands, North Hollywood, Glendale, Riverside, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Oxnard, Santa Barbara, Santa Paula, Pasadena, San Bernardino and Ventura.  Within a few weeks, it was expected that locations would open in San Francisco and Oakland, as well.

This movement was made because company officials stated that "Sales in January and February 1930 equaled sales for the entire year of 1929," and then March was better than the previous two months together, April saw a healthy (?) increase, and May almost doubled the performance of the month before, when over 4,000 new customers were obtained.  From our four delivery trucks in December 1929, the company was now operating thirty-four.

By August, the La Vida Mineral Water Company was operating main offices in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco, with 37 total branches and was sponsoring radio broadcasts on five Los Angeles, two San Francisco, two Oakland and Fresno and Santa Barbara stations that promised "An Incomparable Discovery for those in Ill Health."  Touting that "Many Thousands Benefited," the company averred that "a very large percentage of our new customes are commended by people who have benefited by the use of LA VIDA MINERAL WATER."

An advertisement from the La Vida Mineral Water Company from the 27 May 1931 issue of the Los Angeles Times.  Click on the image to see it in a separate window in a larger view.

The epitome of company advertising in these early years came with a full-page spread in the Times on 27 May 1931 that claimed, as so many others had, that "This May be the Most Important Message You Have Ever Read."  Ratcheting up the rhetoric in ways not approached before, the company breathlessly exclaimed that "literally hundreds of physicians right here in Southern California recommend and prescribe La Vida Mineral Water . . . Chesmists have analyzed La Vida and found in it remarkable properties which make it unique in the United States. . .  World-famous scientists, in Europe and America, have indorsed La Vida . . . No product has been more universally accepted than La Vida.  No product has received higher praise, more impressive indorsements from great authorities.  No product has so reached so quickly the heights of widespread demand." 

And, the coup de grace?  "There is a Power . . . a Force . . . in La Vida Mineral Water that almost defies explanation and description."  The prose built in intensity as "We in the La Vida Mineral Company have been watching the tens of thousands of people who have used La Vida—we have seen experiences so amazing that they are almost unbelievable—people who have suffered for years, now fully recovered and well—people who have bene enabled to discard their crutches and canes—people who can now eat nortmally again and sleep at night.  Think of what that means!"

To allay the skepticism of the doubting Thomases out there, the ad disregarded those who "just think they are ill" or who "are helped by anything the believe in," or who "are just slightly ill" because "they recover whether they do anything or not."  No, the company was talking about the seriously ill "who are worn out and discouraged."  In these cases, "those are the people who have found the amazing secret of La Vida—a secret that cannot be told in words, but that can be found in life."

Of course, the miraculous work of the water was not limited to customers.  La Vida's president "suffered for nine years with serious stomach trouble, and tried everything, without success—then he used La Vida, and stopped the trouble."  The vice-president found similar results, as did the bottling plant manager who "was forced to live on a diet of milk and raisins—for six years he suffered tortures with his stomach.  After three months of La Vida, his trouble was gone."  Arizona's La Vida rep ended "seven years of suffering" by using the water and "the man who directs La Vida distribution in Canada could hardly stand on his feet a year ago, because of rheumatic trouble—and today he is active and strong.

Even with these stunning testimonials, the ad claimed that the company refrained from advertising these anecdotes because "many experiences have never before been told publicly—we have been almost afraid to tell them, because seemed too miraculous to be true."  But, it went on to relate the tale of "a little girl who suffered for years from juvenile arthritis—who had to be carried from her chair to her bed—and who today is running gayly in her garden" and the woman who received injections after eating because of gastrointenstinal pain "who today eats freely without any ill effects."

Under a section titled "La Vida is Unique," it was explained that "La Vida is a natural alkaline mineral water flowing hot from the earth at Carbon Canyon, Orange County, California.  It is the only water of its exact kind in the United States" and comparable to European examples at Vichy, Carslbad (Czech Republic), Baden-Baden (Germany), Sardara (Italy), and Vidago (Portugal.)  It was stated that La Vida "contains a combination of minerals 20 times stronger than can be found in the average spring water."

Sure to spell out that "La Vida is not a cure-all, not a quack remedy, not a nostrum, not a drug," the ad noted that it did not treat ailments, but dealt with systemic issues that led to ailments, based on "the excess acid condition."  It then admonished readers to talk to their doctor and "your physician can tell you if La Vida can help you," just like today's pharmaceutical ads.  Still, the company went on to observe that "your health is too important—too serious—too sacred—for you to neglect this remarkable, tested, proven, method of helping to remove the cause of many troubles."

Under the prototypical heading of "Act Today!," the ad concluded by noting that the price was small, a four-gallon case for $2, for the benefits of using La Vida and implored readers to "go to your telephone right now—don't let another hour pass without making the decision that has mean health and strength to others. . . Make this day a red letter day in your life." 

It should be added that, by this point, less than a year after there were 37 branches of the company, there were, in late May 1931, a whopping 81.  In an article from the same issue as the amazing ad above, La Vida Mineral Water Company president C. A. Kleinman was quoted as saying that "our advertising campaign has created a demand for our product outside of Los Angeles and immediate expansion is necessary."  He was quoted further as remarking that we now maintain eighty-one Pacific Coast branches, employ 250 men and woman and operate eighty-nine delivery trucks.  Fifty-eight of these branches are in California."

And, by mid-July, the number of branches rocketed to 110 on the Pacific Coast, including Vancouver, B. C., Oregon, and Washington, as well as inland to Denver and Phoenix.  In a 12 July 1931 Times piece, Kleinman reported that the company "has entered on a year of expansion that promises to carry retail sales for 1931 to $750,000, according to plans for further distribution."  The article went on to note that "La Vida mineral water is a product of Carbon Canyon, near Los Angeles, and its properties have made it popular throughout the cpast area."  Moreover, its expansion can be noted in the statement that "from one central office and four trucks in 1929, the business of the company has grown to such an extent that more than 100 trucks now are used to handle the retail distribution."

After Summer 1931, though, material about the La Vida Mineral Water Company becomes scarce.  Likely, it entered into its expansion, as is all too often the case, too rapidly and got overextended.  The worsening national economy, which as noted above, led to the depths of the Great Depression as banks failed by the thousands in the U.S. in 1932, probably also had a role to play.  And, just maybe, the miraculous curative properties of La Vida mineral water weren't quite as advertised!

As to the La Vida Mineral Water Company president, he was an interesting character.  Charleston Adrian Kleinman was born in July 1891 in Toledo, Ohio to a father, Lewis, born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and who was a barber, and a mother, Pearl, from Odessa in the Ukraine.  About 1900, his parents migrated from Ohio to Los Angeles and his father died shortly thereafter.  In the 1910 federal census, Charles's mother ran her late husband's barbershop and the 18-year old was listed as a musician.  In fact, he did copyright a song called "Windy" in 1913.  By World War I, however, Kleinman was employed in the beans and rice wholesale business with F. E. Harris.

In February 1919, Kleinman pulled up stakes and went to Wichita Falls, Texas, which was in the midst of a oil boom.  He was briefly in a law firm called Lyons and Kleinman and then operated the Prime Oil Company with partner Mark Kleeden and a 1922 Encyclopedia of Texas had a lengthy entry on Kleinman, who was said to have been "a lawyer who has led the life of Los Angeles, California in civic and political activities for years."  It has been hard to find any information to substantiate that claim, though the entry (which was provided by the subject) offered that Kleinman finished second as a Republican in a campaign for the California State Senate.  He was said to have been a graduate at the law school at U.S.C. in 1915 and practiced law for two years before working as a teller and bookkeeper at two banks.  After his relocation to Wichita Falls, it was stated that he had 39 producing oil wells, 24 under his direct control on 2,000 leased acres with assets of $400,000.

By 1928, though, Kleinman was back in Los Angeles and was listed in the Register of Voters as an attorney through at least the mid-1930s.  His address in 1928 was 927 W. 2nd, the headquarters of the La Vida Mineral Water Company.  In the 1930 census, he resided in an apartment with his wife and was listed, again, as a general practice attorney.  His mother and sister, Rozella Kanter, however, who lived elsewhere, were working as a "Water Co. clerk" and "Water Co. stenographer," presumably for La Vida.

If 1932 was the turning point downward for La Vida, given its florid advertising campaign, perhaps too rapid growth, and then contraction as the nation's economy worsened, then Kleinman probably left the business and moved on.  His later years are sketchy:  he was in Los Angeles until at least the late 1930s and then turned up in Chicago, where he registered for the draft during World War II and resided with a woman whom he married a few years later.  In 1946, however, he was back in Los Angeles and married to another lady, whom he was with only a few years.  In the early fifties, he remarried again and there is no indication in the voter registers as to occupation.  Finally, Kleinman lived until August 1980, when he died in Brooklyn. New York.

It at least appears that the bottled mineral water from the La Vida resort started off in a modest way by about 1927 and then went into a startling expansion in 1929-31, after which the company's fortunes waned, if not ended, because there are later iterations of the La Vida water.  Hopefully, more information will be turned up that carries the story beyond its brief boom under Kleinman.

05 October 2012

The Great Brea Oil Tank Fire of 1926

Early in this blog, in July 2009, there was a post (see here) featuring a real photo postcard of a burning open oil tank in Brea, but there wasn't any specific information given.

This post is about a very similar view of the same incident, but, thanks to the wonders of the expanding information universe on the Web, much more is known about what was perhaps the greatest disaster that befell the local industry.

A real photo postcard by Dietrich Studio of Santa Ana showing the massive fire at the Stewart oil tank farm of the Union Oil Company of California, one-half mile west of Brea, which broke out on 8 April 1926.  Click on the image to see a larger view in separate window.  Image courtesy of Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

First, the image.  Simply titled "Brea — Oil Tank Fire" and including a stamp from Santa Ana's Dietrich Studios, the view shows a massive plume of black smoke rising from a large open oil tank surrounded by a simple earthen berm.  What was notable through magnification was white rectangular pieces lying along the bottom of the berm and these placed by men who can be discerned there.  Because the card was postally unused, meaning there was no message written on it, information had to be located elsewhere.

Fortunately, there were a few sources found on the Net that appear to identify the scene, which was a horrific one.  Namely, on the morning of 8 April 1926, a lightning strike hit the oil tank farm of the Union Oil Company.  This was west of town toward La Habra and not in or near Olinda, as shown by the following sources.

In the June 2001 issue of the Brea Historical Society's Historical Happenings newsletter, there was an interview by Society members Brian Saul and Kathy Canon with 95-year old Walt Bergman, who moved to the city in 1916.  One of his most unforgettable memories was this incident, namely that "Walt remembers standing, facing west [italics added for emphasis], at the counter of the family's Bergman Garage at the corner of Birch and Brea Blvd . . .  All of a sudden, he saw a 'whole wall' of flame shooting into the air . . . The fire, he said, lasted a week . . . [and] that because of the flames you could read a newspaper on Brea Blvd. in the middle of the night . . .  Even at 2 a.m., Brea was full of sightseers."  Note Mr. Bergman's recollection of facing west from the intersection of Birch St. and Brea Blvd.

And, on this interesting site (click here) called "Brea: Old and New," there is a cool aerial view of what was called the Stewart tank farm (Lyman Stewart being the longtime president of Union), a 1/2 mile west of downtown Brea.

The 9 April 1926 issue of the Prescott [Arizona] Evening Courier had a lengthy article about what was headlined "Brea Oil Fire is Fought by 3000 Workers, 2,500,000 Gallons Lost in Conflagration."  The paper reported on three burning reservoirs at the tank farm, involving what was actually 2.5 million barrels (not gallons--there are 42 gallons per barrel, so we're talking over 100 million gallons!) of crude.  Still, it was stated that the massive crew fighting the fire "claimed a victory in part, for it was indicated that they would be able to save three other huge reservoirs of oil and a number of surface tanks from the blaze."

The extent of the damage was revealed by the fact that "the most spectacular event in the progress of the blaze came late last night when the third tank was ignited as the other two boiled over.  The tan of over 1,000,000 barrels capacity exploded as it caught fire."  In addition, a small refinery and gasoline and oil distillate tanks were engulfed when the overflowing boiling oil jumped the earthen dikes and hit these sites, which "exploded in spectacular fashion, throwing their blazing contents in all directions for many yards."

Concerning the mysterious rectangular items at the bottom of the photo, the Evening Courier noted that the tank farm was "protected by the stiff breeze and dykes of sheet iron and earth [italics added]."  In other words, the above photo appears to show men laying the sheets of iron for prevention of further exposure of other portions of the farm to spreading flammable material.

Interestingly, it was also observed that "a new method of firefighting was given a trial when 20 artificial wind machines were rushed to the tank farm to keep the draft away from the remainder of the storage."  This novel experiment, however, proved unnecessary, because "the wind that held steady through the night proved more satisfactory, however, than its mechanical aids."

In the Miami [Florida] News of 10 April, progress on dealing with the conflagration was reported as the fire "seems to have been isolated, thus preventing it from increasing the destruction."  Burning oil from the three affected reservoirs  were heading toward a fourth, containing three-quarters of a million barrels of crude, but "with dykes erected around the fourth reservoir and around a nearby pump station, those fighting the fire expressed a belief that the fire would not spread further."

In reporting on the destruction wreaked by the tragedy, the News observed that "the Brea fire . . . caused, if it spreads no further, a loss of about $3,000,000.  Three reservoirs, a small oil refinery, 70 acres of walnut and orange trees, three expensive ranch homes, and several houses on tank farm property were consumed by the flames."

The Milwaukee Sentinel, also of 10 April reported that "three miles of galvanized iron barricades diverted the blazing oil into a pool where it will burn itself out without endangering the town."

Locally, at least one journalistic enterprise found a way, somehow, to make light (pardon the pun) from the disaster.  The Jaysee Torch, the student newspaper of the "Fullerton District Junior College," now Fullerton Junior College, had an editorial titled "Optimism."  In this piece, it was stated that

Last week the famous Brea oil fire burned up two million dollars worth of gummy asphalt.  It is an ill wind that blows no one any good.  In this case it was the flaming youth who profited from the disastrous conflagration.  Sheiks from all the colleges south of San Luis Obispo stepped the beloved to the hillsides adjoining the blaze and proceeded to enter upon the gentle art of caressing.  'Twas indeed a rare sight to behold, when all was illuminated by a sudden burst of flame, the hillsides adorned for miles about with the world's largest collection of petting parties.  The flame ascended neavenward through billows of black smoke like a pale moonbeam shimmering through the rafters of a deceased horse [house?!]; and while the earth was sprinkled with the star duest of romance — he slipped a kiss to her waiting lips.

          Blessings on thee, Union Oil,
          With thy tanks of blazing oil.

Regardless of the quality of the prose (and the poesy), it might help to know that "sheiks" were the hip young dudes of the day and that the "gentle art of caressing" and "petting parties" involved sheiks and shebas (these being the female paramours) going to at least second base in a flivver (car) parked on "Lovers' Lane."  In this case, the orange glow of flame seemed to be a metaphor for the heated passions of the young collegiates enjoying the relaxing social mores of the Jazz Age during the Roaring Twenties.  Wasn't that the "bee's knees" or the "cat's meow"?

Notably, a similar event occurred on a Union tank farm in San Luis Obispo on the morning of the 7th, the day before the Brea event, but the damage there was double, about $7,000,000, of the latter and involved about 8 million barrels of crude.  The insurance payout of some $9,000,000 was the single largest in California since the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of twenty years before.

Of interest, as well, is the fact that more than eighty years later, there are still environmental risks involved.  In San Luis Obispo's tank farm at the southern edge of town, oil was still bubbling to the surface in hot weather and Chevron, owner of the site, was proposing a cleanup preliminary to development of light industrial parks in the vicinity of the tank farm.  Chevron was actually using large nets, propane-powered noise guns and reflective tape (as used in vineyards) to scare away birds and other wildlife from the seepage of the old oil.

The real photo postcard above was obtained courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.