31 May 2012

La Vida Mineral Springs History: James Williams, Manager in the 1910s

As new information comes in, the early history of the La Vida Mineral Springs resort in the Brea portion of Carbon Canyon is becoming gradually clearer. 

When this blog started a few years back, the information then located was that the complex was started by William Newton Miller and a son-in-law in 1924, as found on an Orange County history timeline.  Since then, however, some poking and digging has revealed that there is an earlier date for the resort, as well as some notable later history.

Part of this was brought forward by a commenter to an early La Vida post from this blog.  Nick Williams passed along family information that his grandfather, James Williams, operated the La Vida resort about 1915.  This was a date a decade sooner than what had been stated, but one that could be corrorborated by a recently-located advertisement in the student magazine of the George Junior Republic, now Boys Republic in Chino Hills.  In the February 1915 issue, the institution's print shop placed an ad listing, among its several customers, the "La Vida Springs."  So, here was the earliest established date for the existence of the resort, almost a full decade prior to the 1924 one from the timeline.  Incidentally, a search of the 1910 census, which specifically identified an "Olinda precinct" within the Fullerton township, did not located any reference to a hot springs.

Recently, Mr. Williams conveyed further information that ties his family to La Vida at that 1915 time period.  His grandather, James Williams, a native of Sturges, Missouri, northeast of Kansas City, lived in Nettleton, Arkansas, not far from Memphis, where he married his wife, Bessie Mae Johnson, and the couple had their first child there.  James was working as a maker of staves for wooden barrels, but, in 1902, the family migrated west to Los Angeles County, where James' father, George, had come and bought some land in Long Beach (see the photo below of George, James and other Williams silbings.) 

This photo shows James Williams (top row, second from right), who was the manager of La Vida Mineral Springs from about 1915 until his death in 1919, with his father next to him, and some of his siblings at his father's Long Beach property, 1915. Click on the photo to see in enlarged in a separate window.  Courtesy of Nick Williams, grandson of James Williams
James Williams settled with his family in Clearwater, now the city of Paramount, and took on work as a clerk in a grocery store.  In the 1910 census, he was listed as a "grocery merchant" and he and his wife had five children.  A local directory four years later listed James as general manager of the Clearwater Commercial Company and the postmaster at the community's post office.  Mr. Williams noted that his grandfather was hit on the head from something that fell from the store rafters and was subject to severe seizures.

This might explain why he went out to Carbon Canyon to run the newly-opened "La Vida Springs" resort, as it might have been less of a stressful environment for him.  Importantly, Edward F. Gaines, who had been a farmer at Clearwater and certainly would have been a customer of Williams' store, bought a ranch in Carbon Canyon, located in and around what is now the Olinda Village subdivision and probably including the La Vida property.  While Gaines' occupation was running cattle, it seems very likely that he opened the first version, called "La Vida Springs," of the resort and enticed Williams to be the manager.

Across Carbon Canyon Road, which was just about to be graded all the way through from Olinda to Chino, from the resort was a small white frame house, placed in a rectangular pocket on the hillside perched fifteen feet above the thoroughfare.  Mr. Williams had long heard about the house, but only recently was able to find photographs, courtesy of Chris Jepsen of the Orange County Archives.  To see these images and a couple of later views of La Vida after the Williams family left, please see here.  One is a fairly close view of the front of the house taken from a little to the west from the resort parking area.  The other is a broader view looking west with the resort on the right and a portion of the house visible to the left.  The other views showing the picnic area and some cabins are probably from the late 1920s or early 1930s.

These images matched one Mr. Williams already had that showed one of his aunts at the rear of the house, only a portion of which could be seen in the photo (see below.)  As his father Nicholas and aunt Frieda told him years ago, the house "was on the east side of the canyon across from the bath house.  The only road up Carbon Canyon was to take a wagon up the creek bed."

This photo shows Frieda Williams, daughter of La Vida Mineral Springs manager James Williams, near the back of white wood-frame residence the family lived in across Carbon Canyon Road from the resort, ca. 1915.  Click on the photo to see it in a separate window in an enlarged view.  Courtesy of Nick Williams.
Another interesting recollection came from a cousin, Irene Williams McNabb, who came out from Missouri to visit the family in 1915 and remembered that: "When we were there in 1915, your grandparents lived a little health resort up in the canyon.  James Monroe [Williams] was managing this health resort.  It was a very primitive hot bath.  You walked down into these cubicles . . . cement places . . . and they let the water cool awhile before you went in, it was that hot.  Your Aunt Frieda and I were practically the same age, and the only girls, and we just roamed those hills there."  Naturally, the five Williams children attended Olinda's "little green schoolhouse," located on what is now Carbon Canyon Regional Park.

Unfortunately, the tenure of the Williams family at La Vida and Carbon Canyon was only about four years or so, as James Williams suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and tumor and died at age 49 in 1919.  By the 1920 census, his widow and children had relocated to Huntington Beach, and, by that time, Allen Abbott, most recently farming at Buena Park, was listed as the manager of "La Vida Springs."  Further solidifying that idea that it was Edward Gaines who first opened the resort at La Vida, research revealed that Abbott's mother was Gaines' sister.

In late 1924, a "La Vida Mineral Springs Company" received its incorporation designation from the State of California and this was almost certainly William Newton Miller's enterprise.  Whether he leased the land from Gaines or acquired the property himself would be revealed through research into county land records.

In any case, the history of the La Vida Mineral Springs resort can definitively traced back almost a decade earlier than was thought a few years ago.  Hopefully, continued research and contributions like those by Mr. Williams will help unearth more of that early history of Carbon Canyon's most significant landmark.

20 May 2012

Carbon Canyon Road Brush Clearance This Week

Commuters will get double the fun this week driving through Carbon Canyon.  Along with the continuing water line project along the state highway in the Brea portion of the Canyon, in which, from roughly 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., lane closures will occur, there will be another project taking place on the Chino Hills side.

This work is being conducted by state agencies CalTrans and CalFire, which will be engaged in removing brush on the easements on the sides of Carbon Canyon Road within the Chino Hills section.  They will be out from tomorrow, Monday the 21st, through Thursday the 24th from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.  As this is being done, the road will be reduced to one lane in the areas affected.

Although these are not peak driving times, there will be five hours during the next four days, during which portions of the road in both Brea and Chino will only have a single lane open.

Whatever inconveniences the work involves, the results will be significant.  With the brush clearance on the San Bernardino County side, potential fire hazards will be reduced.  On the Orange County portion, the improvements in water delivery will then be followed by paving of the state highway by CalTrans, something that has been needed.

17 May 2012

The 1940 Federal Census and Olinda

The 2 April release of the 1940 Federal Census provides an opportunity to see how much the Olinda community changed in comparison to the two previous enumerations from 1930 and 1920.  The most obvious change is the rapidly declining number of people.  In 1920, the community numbered about 950 persons.  Ten years later, the total was less than half, just over 460.  In 1940, there were five pages of the census marked "Olinda" and most of a sixth sheet identified as "Olinda/Carbon Canyon."  The population on these several sheets totals 232 persons, only a quarter of that found twenty years prior.

There could be many reasons why the rapid decline was found.  Two major potential ones stand out.  First, oil production at the field, which opened in 1896, could have dropped significantly, either because of dwindling crude reserves or that coupled with a lessened demand because of the Great Depression which spanned the decade of the 1930s.  Another reason, though, would be that more and more oil workers were choosing the reside in nearby towns away from their places of employment, instead of the in the "company towns," such as existed at Olinda.  Notably, of the 65 households in the Olinda area in 1940, only 10 of them (or about 15%) of them consisted of home owners, the rest being renters. It might well be that those oil workers who could afford to own their own homes would choose to live in Brea, Placentia, Yorba Linda and other communities in close proximity to the Olinda fields.  In contrast, the were 240 households in 1920 and 119, almost exactly half, in 1930.

Of the 232 denizens of Olinda counted by census taker Carl Smith from 15-17 April, 121 were male and 111 female, a 52/48% split.  This represents only a slightly narrowed change from the previous censuses, in which, in 1930, women were 47% of the population, and, ten years before that, 46%.  Persons under 21 years of age numbered 82, totaling about 35% of the residents (in 1920, they were 39% and ten years later, 43%).  As to ethnicity, 93% were white and, of the 217 white persons, only two came from Europe, these being a couple who were German and Hungarian.  The remaining 15 residents were Latino, coming from three households of the Valenzuela family, who worked as ranchers.  This census also asked residents where they had lived five years prior and virtually everyone was in the same house, excepting a couple who came from Long Beach, another transplanted from Anaheim, a family that had been in Buena Park, and one person who'd migrated from Iowa.

Regarding occupations, there were the usual oil field job holders, running the gamut from general laborers to rod men, gaugers, pumpers, pullers, mechanics, carpenters, truck drivers, janitors, bookkeepers, and so on.  There was an "oil shop foreman" as well as an "oil production manager."  A husband and wife were proprietors of the local filling station (him) and general store (her) and these two were one of the few homeowners, residing in a house self-valued at $1500.  There was a separate "oil company store manager."

There were, though, quite a few persons who worked in occupations outside the oil industry.  These included citrus workers, including packing house employees, a worker in the Orange County Juvenile Home, a part-time school teacher, a high school secretary, a school principal, a bank stenographer, an insurance salesman, and a cafe laborer.  There were also several people labeled as "new worker," which was not specified as to what this exactly meant.  Several ranchers were listed among the denizens, as were a few folks associated with the La Vida Mineral Springs resort.

This detail of the above page shows the 29 residents living along Carbon Canyon Road in the Olinda community of the Fullerton Township in the 1940 federal census.  Clicking on the image opens it in a separate window with a larger view.  The image was uploaded from Ancestry.com which obtained the original census sheets from the National Archives.
This leads to the 29 persons identified as residing specifically in Carbon Canyon along Carbon Canyon Road.  Four households were headed by oil company workers, one of which 66-year old N. J. Neal, was a home owner, in a self-identified $500 modest residence.  Neal's son, E. H., owned a similarly-valued home, and worked as a citrus packing house packer. 

Another son, Elton A. Neal, was listed as a "cafe owner," and this would appear to mean the cafe at La Vida, which, in 1930, had been run by Archie Rosenbaum, generally thought of as the resort's manager during much of the 1930s.  As noted in the post about the 1940 census in Sleepy Hollow, however, Rosenbaum was shown as living in that community and associated with the Hiltscher hot springs resort, just over the county line.

A. J. Barnes, a 58-year old native of Ohio, was shown as "principal of school," which would probably indicate the Olinda School, formerly located on what is now the east end of Carbon Canyon Regional Park.  He lived with his Missouri-born wife and 24-year old son, the latter being the insurance salesman noted above, and the family was unique in Olinda in that all three were college graduates.

Edward F. Gaines, who came to Olinda in the 1910s and took up ranching on land in what is now Olinda Village, was shown as being 72 years old and living with his 78-year old wife Tammie, in a $5000 residence.  His occupation was, as it had been since he came to the area, "ranching for self."

This left two other households, both associated with La Vida Mineral Springs.  The first was that of 27-year old Aubrey Meyers, born in Oklahoma, and who was listed as "laborer, La Vida Springs," and his 24-year old Kansas-born wife, Naomi, who was a bottler for the famed La Vida mineral water. 

The other was that of W. N. Miller, a 50-year old Missouri native, his 49-year old wife, Minnie, also from Missouri, and their five year old son, "Billie" or Billy.  Miller's occupation was "mgr of La Vida Springs" and, notably, he was renting a residence at $20 per month.  This is notable because online references state that William Newton Miller (who has been discussed elsewhere in this blog) started La Vida in 1924 with a son-in-law, although not only was Miller too young to have had a son-in-law at that time, but there was clearly an operating La Vida Mineral Springs resort well into the 1910s.   More on that history to come very soon.

So, it is not entirely clear what the situation with William Miller was--the 1940 census indicated that he, his wife and son (there were three older children who had moved out of the household as adults by 1940) were at the same residence in 1935.  Prior censuses in 1930 and 1920 show that he was an "oil company driller" in the first, and a "petroleum producer" in the second and he had lived in a comfortable bungalow in downtown Anaheim that he purchased in 1924. 

A likely explanation is that Miller had reopened La Vida in 1924, ran it for several years and then fell into hard economic circumstances during the Great Depression.   By the mid-30s, then, he became a manager, renting a residence, at the resort he formerly owned.  What would be interesting to know is what happened after 1940, to Miller, to La Vida and to the wider Olinda community (which, actually, almost certainly became narrower.) Unfortunately, the 1950 census won't be released until 2022!

12 May 2012

Carbon Canyon Brush Clearance Due by Tuesday the 15th

The deadline for clearing brush on the Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon, established by the Chino Valley Fire District, is this Tuesday the 15th.  After that date, inspectors from the district will be going through the Canyon and determining which properties have not yet been cleared.


Those areas that are not adequately cleared will be cited, crews brought in by contract with the district, and property owners subject to paying these costs and potential additional fines.

The reason for the mandate is to remove as much flammable material as possible within the Canyon as we head into the warmer Summer season when drier conditions mean that the likelihood for wildfires are much greater.


Meantime, the brush drop-off program, coordinated by the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council with assistance from the City of Chino Hills and roll-off bins provided by Chino Hills Disposal, was conducted earlier today.  A couple dozen or so drop-offs by about ten different persons led to filling several tons worth of plant material in two large bins.  Fire Safe Council members assisted residents in offloading the material from their vehicles into the bins.

This Wednesday, the Fire Safe Council will be recognized for its volunteer efforts to promote fire awareness and prevention at a meeting held at Western Hills Country Club, during which time council members will receive certificates of appreciation for their donated time over the course of the last year. 



Congratulations to those persons who take time out of their busy lives to work for the promotion of fire issues in Carbon Canyon!

11 May 2012

Even More Carbon Canyon Homes Coming?

As reported in the last two issues of the Chino Hills Champion, a long moribund project to build an unspcified number of homes on over 500 acres in the Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon is being resurrected.

First, in last week's 5 May edition, the Champion noted that the Chino Hills City Council was to approve an agreement with a firm for an assessment of biological resources and native trees that would involve a significant increase from $70,000 to over $130,000 for the project.

Initially dubbed "Canyon Meadows" and then "Ranch of Carbon Canyon" which is more than a little ironic because whatever meadows or ranches existed in that area of the canyon would have been obliterated, the 1990s project attracted plenty of attention when the developer asked for a change in zoning so that the number of homes would move from 114 to 341.

In turn, the grassroots group, "Save Our Canyon," [a precursor of sorts to today's "Hope for the Hills," which has been battling the "towers of terror" renewable energy project by Southern California Edison], developed [!] the momentum to get Measure U on an election ballot and its approval in 1999 mandated that the city could not approve projects for more units than allotted on the Chino Hills General Plan.

In 2000, the developer went in and razed nearly 500 trees, mostly native oaks, as preliminary work commenced, but then walked away from the project.  Consequently, the site, south of Carbon Canyon Road at the intersection of Canyon Hills Road and directly across the highway from our latest suburban "improvement," the Circle K market & etc., retains its treeless appearance more than a decade later.
Taken from Canyon Hills Road looking south towards the area, across Carbon Canyon Road, that is now dubbed "Chino Hills Country Club," a residential project of an unspecified number of houses on nearly 540 acres.  The landscape still shows, over a decade later, the destruction caused by a developer who removed almost 500 trees, mostly oaks, and then abandoned an earlier version of the project.   The photo was taken on 12 May 2012.

Tomorrow's edition of the Champion notes that the project has been "rebranded" as the "Chino Hills Country Club," and, at a recent City Council meeting, members Ed Graham and Peter Rogers took the opportunity to mention that residents should "keep an eye on the project," though what exactly this is supposed to mean was not explained further.

What was noted, according to the city's community development director, is that the application from the developer will take about a year to prepare and then it could be up to six more months beyond that for the application to be submitted.  The project was described as a "blank slate" [also an apt term for the denuded landscape there after the tree-removal debacle.]

So, it will be some time yet before the project takes shape, if it does at all, but it is worth taking a bit of time here to remind ourselves that there are already two as-yet-unbuilt approved projects on the Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon.  The first is a 90-unit one northwest of the Carbon Canyon Road/Canyon Hills Road intersection and the other involves 28 residences across from Western Hills Country Club at the northeast corner of Fairway Drive and Carbon Canyon Road.  There is also the current, if slowly developing, "Elements at Pine Valley Estates" at the north edge of the Western Hills facility, which involves 98 houses.  Finally, the dormant Canyon Crest project, proposing 165 houses, showed stirrings of rebirth a year ago on 367 acres on the north side of the Canyon in Brea.

With all of the attention being given to the Tehachapi renewable energy project and its massive towers, it may not be all that long before a lot of that community activism might be needed again out in Carbon Canyon. 

Meantime, as council members Graham and Rogers noted, "keep an eye on the project."


10 May 2012

Carbon Canyon Brush Clearance Drop-Off This Saturday

From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday, 12 May, the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council will be offering the first of two brush clearance drop-off programs. 

Held next to Western Hills Park, across from the Chino Valley Fire District station, on the corner of Carbon Canyon Road and Canon Lane, the program allows residents of the Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon to drop off cleared brush from their property. 

Thanks to the City of Chino Hills, two large roll-off dumpsters provided by Chino Hills Disposal will be on-hand for the collection of this material.  All residents need to do is bring their cleared brush and Fire Safe Council members will assist in placing the material into the dumpsters.

This event is timed to assist people in meeting the 15 May deadline, imposed by the fire district, for the clearance of brush in order to minimize potential fire risks as hotter weather comes and drier, combustible plant material accumulates.

There will be another drop-off date in the Fall before the Santa Ana wind season kicks up and brings further fire risk.

For more information on the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council and its activities and programs, please see here.  Regarding the Chino Valley Fire District, click here.

02 May 2012

Carbon Canyon Wildfire Awareness Fair This Saturday!

The Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council, an organization dedicated to promoting prevention of and preparedness for fire, is holding its annual Wildfire Awareness Fair this Saturday, 5 May from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Chino Hills State Park Discovery Center in Brea.


The free event will feature vendors providing information on public safety, firewise and waterwise landscpaing, fire protection products (such as chemical foams used on structures), children's activities (including face painting and a native plant project), a live animal exhibit and more.

Sponsors, in addition to the Council, are the cities of Brea and Chino Hills, the environmental group Hills for Everyone, California State Parks, the Brea Fire Department, the Chino Valley Fire District, CalFire (the state fire agency), Myers and Sons Hi-Way Safety Company, and State Farm Insurance.

For those people living in the 3,000+ houses within the Carbon Canyon area and those outside, there is plenty to learn about and from at this important event.  While it has been 3 1/2 years since the major Freeway Complex fire that ravaged the Brea portion of the Canyon, the threat of fire is nearly always present and anyone who lives in proximity to areas that are prone to wildfires will benefit greatly from attending.

More information on the Council and its activities can be found here.