22 December 2013

Personal Recollections of La Vida Mineral Springs

Recently, correspondence with Roberta Wright, whose family operated the La Vida Mineral Springs resort on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon for nearly fifty years, included information that helps provide a fuller picture of the history of that facility.

Mrs. Wright's grandfather, William Newton Miller, was the owner of La Vida from about 1924, as first noted here from an Orange County Register history timeline.  The source, however, stated that Miller operated the resort from that date with an unnamed son-in-law.  What Mrs. Wright clarified was that the son-in-law was, in fact, her father Robert L. Dickenson, who, with his wife, Lois Miller, owned La Vida with the other Miller children and managed the site for some thirty years.  A post on this blog showing a 1960s postcard of one of the pools at La Vida included mention of a 1957 Los Angeles Times article that quoted "R.L. Dickenson" talking to the paper about the opening of the second pool at the resort.  At the same time, some online references to Brea city council meetings from 1963-1967 included material about Dickenson petitioning the council for hearings about issues like property tax valuation and costs for new water delivery systems at La Vida.

This 1951 photo provided by Roberta Wright looks from near the hotel at La Vida Mineral Springs westward across the pedestrian footbridge and towards the restaurant, in front of which are some parked cars.  Visible is the light snowfall that was remembered vividly by Mrs. Wright, whose grandfather became owner of the resort in the 1920s and whose parents managed the facility until it was sold in 1973 or 1974.
Mrs. Wright observed that, "in 1924 the property was owned by a boxer named Archie Rosenbaum.  Some time after that my grandfather came into the picture."  Earlier posts here discussed that Rosenbaum, a native of Russia, was a restaurant owner in Los Angeles and could be tracked as being at La Vida from 1926 until the early 1940s.  It turns out that this corresponds for the most part with William Newton Miller's tenure at the resort.  Perhaps Rosenbaum bought the resort and then Miller came in shortly afterward, because much of Rosenbaum's years specifically identified him with the café at La Vida, while Miller, then, managed the mineral springs and lodging side--the 1940 census showed Miller as "manager" of the springs.  Mrs. Wright stated that "we did not move there until 1944," to counter the misinformation in the timeline that her father, who was born in 1914, helped Miller open the site in 1924 (Dickenson was only 10 years old then!)

She also commented that "my grampa was in the oil business and lost a fortune when the crash hit.  The only thing he came away with was the springs, very sad time for the family."  She noted that Miller, who was listed in the 1930 census as an "oil operator" was a partner in the Pugh-Miller Drilling Company and was a trustee in the Bank of America, as well as being involved in other organizations.  Recent poking around found maps showing that the firm had oil wells near Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains and, more importantly, in Signal Hill near Long Beach, which was a hugely successful oil field in the 1920s and afterward.  The crash of the stock market in 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression is what Mrs. Wright referred to as affecting Miller's financial situation, leaving him with only La Vida.

Later, her account continued "my grandfather's shares were distributed evenly among the 4 siblings.  The older 3 had also purchased some shares but my mom and dad had the most after grampa died."  William Newton Miller, who was born in 1889, died in 1974, so those shares came some fifty years after he first became owner of La Vida. 

She went on to say that "there were also 3 cabins across the street from the parking lot many years before me, but when I was young there were still remnants of the cabins on the ground.  There also was a cabin on the hill across from the lower bath house which was below the restaurants about 20 yards of more.  I used to work at the old bath house."  As for this information, the first part seems to refer to structures, including one noted in several older (1920s or 1930s) real photo postcards of La Vida and one of these was lived in by the family of James Williams, who operated the resort from about 1915, a decade or more before Miller.  William's descendant, Nick, shared some of that history and some photos of the family house perched on the hill across Carbon Canyon Road from the facility.

As for the old bath house, this is another structure found on La Vida postcards from the 1920s through the 1940s or 1950s, of which several examples have been posted here.  Mrs. Wright recalled that "in the old bath house each tub had its own little room."  One of the posts quoted from a Los Angeles Times report in the late 1950s about a disastrous boiler explosion that destroyed the original bath house and seriously wounded several persons.  In the newer bath house, she remembered, "families would come in and go into the tub area and all of them would get in the tub together.  The tubs were Roman sunken and you went down a few steps to get fully in."  There is also a 1960s postcard, highlighted here in the past, that showed these tubs in the new bath house.

Mrs. Wright also stated that "there used to be a bottling plant down by where the old water tank sits on the hill and they bottled soda pop."  This location would be on the far west side of the property where the tank, still sporting the La Vida logo, is the last major physical reminder, aside from bridge support bases and sidewalk remnants, of the facility.  There was, however, also a La Vida plant in downtown Fullerton, as noted in some of the previous posts here.

She went on to say that, "around 1945-48 the soda pop company was sold to a man named Charley Shook (or Shuck)" who had once worked for Dr. Pepper.  The earliest indications of the existence of the La Vida bottling company is from the late 1920s, about the time Miller became identified with the site, and there was a considerable expansion of the business during that era and well into the 1930s, when La Vida products were also bottled in northern California.  Other posts here have featured La Vida bottles from such places as Sacramento and have spotlighted advertising efforts from the company in magazines and newspapers in the western states.  Mrs. Wright then said that, "after that [the mid to late 1940s] they only bottled the spring water for a time and then that was also abandoned."  Again, there are other posts here that feature La Vida bottles that appear to be from late 1940s to early 1950s era, when Shook (Shuck) appears to have expanded his efforts to market the soda.

Mrs, Wright  continued that, regarding the water, it "is not sulphur, but mineral.  There was a small sulphur stream that came out the canyon wall just down from the restaurant but it wa sclose to the water line of the creek.  The spring is in a sort of a cave and was not drilled out by oil seekers."  This is an interesting tidbit about the two types of volcanically-derived water found not just at La Vida but elsewhere in Carbon Canyon.  Paul Nolan Hyde, a longtime resident in Sleepy Hollow, shared some of his remembrances for this blog in its early days, and specifically remembered the sulphuric content of the water in Carbon [Canyon] Creek when he was a boy back in the 1940s.

Another remarkable photo of the unusual snowfall at La Vida Mineral Springs in the winter of 1951.  Roberta Wright, who supplied the image and her recollections of her family's long ownership of the resort, stands in the parking lot near the restaurant.  In the background, behind the cars, is the pedestrian footbridge to the hotel and bath house, which dated from the 1920s and was destroyed by a boiler explosion in the later 1950s.
There was another notable tidbit shared by Mrs. Wright, namely that "we had a heavy snow in 1951 that covered everything, very pretty, it was the only snow storm ever recorded at La Vida."  This was, indeed, a rare phenomenon, when snow, albeit in small amounts, got to so low an elevation.  Mrs. Wright provided the photograph shown here documenting the snowfall over sixty years ago.

She also had an important correction regarding the pools, mentioned briefly above.  She noted that "the pools are not described properly.  The one in front with the fountain is the wading pool.  It was the original pool and was at first deep in one end, but my dad had it filled to be a wading pool and installed the fountain when they built the big one behind it."  This can be seen in the postcard here, highlighted in a previous post.

There was one other interesting Carbon Canyon tidbit shared by Mrs. Wright, namely that "my parents were part owners in the El Circulo, which was the place where the skiing ramp is."  This was the "Club El Circulo," which Allen McCombs, publisher emeritus of the local Champion newspaper, stated was opened about 1963 where the old Camp Kinder Ring was operated from 1928 to 1958 by a Jewish organization in Los Angeles. 

This new resort, Mrs. Wright went on to relate, "probably would have done well" except that there were some management issues "and the whole thing fell apart."  She went to say that "even if the skiing ramp had not worked the rest of the project was a great idea and a lot of people came there to picnic and have dinner.  There was a nice bar and restaurant and they had very good food."  El Circulo later turned into the "Purple Haze," which had a colorful history in the late 1960s/early 1970s.  The site has been, for many years, a horse stable and cattle sales facility.

The skiing ramp was known as "Ski Villa" and one of the more popular posts on this blog is about the short history of this unusual all-weather ski ramp with white needles as the base surface and the cement remains of which still are on the hillside off Canyon Hills Road just north of Carbon Canyon Road.  With, however, indications that work on the long-gestating Canyon Hills subdivision of 76 houses is finally starting, the remains of the ramp are likely to removed in the very near future.

Here is a detail showing two iron chairs, which had the La Vida name imprinted on them, in the lawn near the hotel and bath house, with part of the pedestrian footbridge in the background.  This is again from the winter of 1951 when an unusual snow storm dropped powder on the resort.  Courtesy of Roberta Wright, whose grandfather William Newton Miller purchased La Vida in the 1920s and whose parents Robert and Lois Dickenson ran the facility until it was sold in 1974.
Mrs. Wright's offer to provide some memories and information about the Miller/Dickenson family's ownership and management of La Vida for over a half-century fills in many gaps in this blog about the history of Carbon Canyon's most notable site.  She ended by noting that it was about Noon on 4 December 1988 when the hotel, located on the eastern side of the resort, burned down.  By then, the facility had been sold about 1974 to Leo and June Hayashi, who continued to own the site until it was purchased by Tadayao Hata, who owned a large mineral springs spa in Japan. 

Hata still retains ownership of La Vida, though his late 1990s plans to reconstitute La Vida in a modern spa remains unrealized.  Leo Hayashi also retains ownership of land within Carbon Canyon, though some 400 acres of steep hill lands on the south side of Carbon Canyon Road just east of Hollydale Mobile Home Estates was purchases from him by the Orange County Transportation Authority and transferred to Chino Hills State Park in a deal involving transportation mitigation funds elsewhere in the county.


Anonymous said...

Thanks again for such a great website -- and thanks to Mrs. Wright for sharing her memories. I love learning about the Canyon's past. Thanks again for all the work you do on the Chronicles!

A grateful reader

prs said...

Hi "A Grateful Reader," thanks for the nice comment. It's always great to hear someone say they like what's on this blog. Which makes me "a grateful blogger" for knowing that people enjoy what it here. Have a great New Year!