31 March 2015

Two Early Photos of La Vida Mineral Springs

Courtesy of University of California, Irvine's Special Collections come these two great early photos of La Vida Mineral Springs, taken by Edward W. Cochems (1875-1949), an amateur photographer based in Santa Ana from about 1919 until his death:

This first view is titled "Bath House, La Vida Springs" and shows a simple, rustic wooden structure with a lattice-work fence just steps off Carbon Canyon Road.  To the east are a couple of cars, dating the photo to the late 1920s or perhaps the early 1930s, while the stand of eucalyptus trees in the background, where the picnic facilities were, still have a survivor or two today.  The location appears to be just where Carbon Creek crosses the highway from its north to south sides.

The second is denoted as "Sulphur Springs / La Vida Cal," and depicts a pipe angled from the top left and depositing a stream of mineral water from what appears to be the hillside above Carbon Creek onto a pile of rocks accessed by a rough wood footbridge.  The precise location may be difficult to pinpoint in today's topography, given that conditions have likely changed a great deal in terms of what is left of the hillside, what course the creek follows and so on.  The date is almost certainly the same as the one above.

The Edward Cochems Colllection at UCI comprises some 1,100 glass plate negatives and about 100 prints with about 40% of the collection available online.  For more on this remarkable collection, please click here and here.

Click on either image to see them in new windows in enlarged views.

21 March 2015

Carbon Canyon Water-wise Garden

Today being the first day of Spring and seeing that our continuing severe drought, now in its fourth year, raises essential questions about California's water supply and use, it seemed an appropriate time to discuss one of the hidden treasures of Carbon Canyon: a water-wise garden just off Carbon Canyon Road at Canon Lane.

Situated on a narrow stretch of land between the state highway, Fire Station 64, and the Western Hills Country Club, the garden's entrance is off Canon Lane and decomposed granite foot paths wind and wend their way for about one-eighth of a mile to the east.

Alongside the paths are dozens of grasses, bushes, and shrubs that are drought-tolerant.  Many of these make for great hedges and screens or as ground cover and are flowering and are just starting to burst into flower as Spring debuts.  Among the varieties found in the garden are blue fescue grass, wild lilac, prickly pear cactus, lavender, rosemary, oleander, myrtle, and white rockrose.

Several types of trees provide abundant shade and have interesting textures and colors to bring variety to the landscape.  Among those in the garden are peppers, sycamores and coast live oaks.

Sure, there are some cacti, but even some of these have flowers and others, like the prickly pear, can be used as food, but the vast majority of the plant life in the garden provide a variety of color, texture and sizing to provide diversity for any landscape environment.

Besides, it's going to be a necessity, provided our drought conditions persist for long period, as many climatologists are predicting, for people in our region to rethink their landscapes.

Thirsty lawns, pools and hot tubs and other water-guzzling elements will have to be replaced by those more sensitive to our semi-arid desert conditions and the drought.

More than a century of assumptions about what is considered "normal" rainfall (those standards being established in the late 19th-century when rainfall was above what we now know to be long-term historic patterns), delusions that exported water could provide us a permanent and abundant supply, and behavior that encouraged waste, such as planting alfalfa, nuts and other water-intensive crops (many of which are exported anyway), we have to come to terms that our sense of "normal" is, in fact, "abnormal."

The problem, as with any large-scale transformation, is that it takes significant time and resources (monetary and human) to implement systemic change.  And, this is in the best of scenarios when there is consensus about the existence of the problem and what to do about it.

In the case of water in a state as big, diverse and populous as California, we've been very slow to make the needed adjustments to changing conditions.

This was taken by my younger son .

Time, however, is not on our side at this point.  We have one or, perhaps, two years of reliable supply left for most of the state and some places have already run out of enough water to sustain activities, including the beautiful Central Coast town of Cambria.  Santa Barbara is readying to reactive a desalination plant that was built and never used--but its cost and inefficiency are of concern.

While 80% of the state's water use is in agriculture (again, much of it for high-water use crops) and residential conservation is not the most pressing need, there is still much people can do to reduce their water use, 70% of which goes to landscaping.

The Carbon Canyon water-wise garden offers an impressive array of plants that, for the most part, are easy to find and can go a long way to reduce water use.  As we lurch towards more severe rationing during a drought that could well extend into decades, the need to save water becomes more pressing.

20 March 2015

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #17575 + an Observation

This is another fairly recent example of errant driving on Carbon Canyon Road, this being eastbound across from the old La Vida Mineral Springs property in Brea--a location where many an accident has occurred over the years.

In this case, the driver skirted the shoulder, scraped the hillside, deposited some skid marks and left some driving light lamps, part of a grille and other debris behind.

As one of the curvier sections of the state highway, this vicinity regularly has vehicles straying from the roadway and into the hillside, guardrails, light poles, other cars and so on.

Now for the bonus.  On Tuesday, while puttering along at 48 in a 45, this blogger was passed on the shoulder to the right by a motorcyclist who entered Carbon Canyon Road from the Western Hills Oaks or Mountain View Park tracts on the Chino Hills portion of the canyon.

Then, the rider took to the middle of the highway to pass two other cars.  When we all pulled up to Chino Hills Parkway, the motorcyclist stopped at the red light and then promptly made the left turn before the light went green.

The death of Tammy Seagraves at the hands of a drunk driver on the state highway just a few weeks ago would seem to be the most likely opportunity for local police to make some sort of effort to patrol Carbon Canyon Road.  This is something that's been said many times here before--that the death of an innocent person might prompt action.

After waiting a while to see if there was any prompting, it appears that there is no interest among Chino Hills city or police officials to take any steps to even occasionally patrol the road.  While on one hand, this is disappointing, on the other, it is not surprising, given the general indifference in the past.

Many of us who live and/or drive the canyon regularly can only hope that we aren't the next innocent victim of dangerous driving, because any response from local officialdom appears to be a pipe dream at best.

17 March 2015

Sleepy Hollow Artist's New Mural

Click on any photo to see them in enlarged view in a separate window.
Lena Sekine, a Sleepy Hollow-based artist and a neighbor, has just completed a large outdoor mural for a neighbor on Rosemary Lane that spans the back wall of the house next door, and is a gorgeous and colorful evocation of natural elements enjoyed by the patron who commissioned it.

The photos included here, taken this morning, show the mural and its elements of waves (the woman who requested the artwork is an avid surfer), sun, and mountains, as well as the community name.

Lena has also decorated portions of the landscape around her own house with similar design elements and her work is helping to beautify the neighborhood.

Having her, Hillary Miller (who was profiled here recently for her art exhibit still showing at the Chino Hills Community Center), and other artists in Sleepy Hollow helps make it the vibrant and unique place it has been for nearly a century.

For more information on Lena and her art, please click here for her blog; here for her Etsy shop featuring interesting and artistic jewelry; here for her Pinterest page; and here for her Instagram page.

12 March 2015

Oil Drilling in Carbon Canyon's Chino Hills Portion, Part Five

It appears that the earliest oil well drilled on the Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon took place in 1929 in the vicinity of today's Western Hills Oaks housing tract.  The well, called "Marie #1" was started by the Urmi Oil Company, which incorporated in October that year, though a Los Angeles Times article from late May noted that the firm was preparing to rig up its well, which was a wildcat (in a geologically unproven location) on a lease.  Who owned the land in question, though, was not stated.

The project hadn't progressed very far, however, when a problem ensued.  A Corona Courier article from early August 1929 reported that Urmi Oil filed a complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court asking for an injunction against five men for "disrupting and damaging" their well.  It was stated in the piece that two of the men, Robert Rankin and Roy Harvey, were "placed in charge of the well without authority" and that damages of $1,000 were done as a result.  There was no explanation of who hired the two men or any other details, but it appears Urmi was in a lull on the project and someone, perhaps the property's owner, went ahead and hired a crew to continue drilling.

A clue to what happened with the project seems to come from a San Bernardino Sun article from April 1931, where it was reported that a San Bernardino County superior court judge issued a ruling concerning "titles of two ranches near Chino, one in Carbon canyon and the other in Soquel canyon." The defendants, who were on the losing end of Judge F.A. Leonard's judgment, were the Urmi Oil Company, General Petroleum Company (a well-known Los Angeles firm that had a project in Soquel Canyon), and George and Anna Marcell, as well as their Marcell Petroleum Company, Ltd.

The transfer of two properties in Carbon and Soquel canyons from George Marcell to John Schuh, as detailed in the San Bernardino Sun, 21 April 1931.  From newspapers.com.
From this article, it looks as if the Marcells were the owners of the two properties and then leased out portions of them to Urmi and General Petroleum.  It may be that the Marcells were the ones who hired the five men, against whom Urmi sought that injunction on the Marie #1, to further work on that well, perhaps because Urmi was lacking funding to continue with that work.  This seems borne out by the fact that later references to the well indicate that it was Marcell who drilled the well.

In another interesting sidelight, the Sun reported in June 1932 that Frank Creasey was arrested on a complaint filed by Urmi Oil Company, which charged that he stole over $7,000 worth of material from the Marie #1 well site.  Creasey answered that he had a signed order from George Marcell "authorizing him to take the oil well equipment from the Marcell company's leased property that was occupied by the Urmi Oil Co. He said Marcell owned the material in question."  Given that there was no further reporting on this incident, it can be assumed that the case was dropped and that Marcell had the legal right to remove the well equipment.

George Marcell, born in 1887, was a native of Brooklyn, New York (it was still an independent city when he was born, but became a borough of New York City when he was a small child) and remained there until his late twenties, working as a fruit company clerk and bank teller.  By the early 1920s, however, George and his family relocated to Los Angeles, settling in Hollywood, where he was a bonds dealer and banker.  Before the decade ended, Marcell became an oil operator, establishing the Marcell Petroleum Company.  The small firm had at lease one other oil project besides that Carbon Canyon well, this being out in the Playa del Rey area on the coast near Los Angeles International Airport (then called Mines Field.)  After losing his property in Carbon and Soquel canyons, Marcell continued in oil, as will be seen below, and also was the Vice-President of the Los Angeles Board of Public Utilities and Transportation in 1937 and resided in Beverly Hills before retiring to Pasadena.  Marcell died in 1978 at age 91.

The main owner of the two ranches became John E. Schuh, who was born in Hotzhausen, Bavaria, Germany in 1883.  Somehow, though, he migrated to Shanghai, China where he worked as a confectionery [cake] baker before taking a ship to San Francisco in 1915 and working in a German-owned bakery in the city before he moved to Palo Alto.  By 1923, Schuh had relocated to Long Beach, where he opened his own bakery in the city's downtown.  By the end of the Twenties, he expanded his business to include a cafe and it looks as if he operated his business there through the 1930s. In the early Forties he worked at the famed Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.  Schuh, who married later in life, lived for a time in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley and for a longer stint in west Los Angeles, when he worked at the Ambassador, but returned to Long Beach for his remaining years and died after 1962.

Schuh owned his ranches for several years before arranging for a lease with the Carbon Canyon Oil Corporation.  In October 1938, the Los Angeles Times reported that the derrick was built and equipment being installed for a test well on the Schuh ranch, which was described as being 448 acres.  The site was said to have been "less than a mile north of a wildcat drilled by Marcell Petroleum nine years ago."  In addition, the article continued, "The Marcell hole was reported to have picked up sands at 1200 and 1600 feet, with oil and gas showings," this evidently providing enough encouragement and incentive to Schuh and Carbon Canyon Oil Corporation to give the area another shot.  Consequently, the new attempt was anticipated to hit commercial product between 1400 and 1600 feet down.

By early November, a date of the 15th had been selected to "spud in" the well, meaning to start actual drilling.  However, there were delays, and in late January 1939, the Times reported that Carbon Canyon Oil Corp. was readying the well, now called "Mills #1", and that the projected depth of hitting oil was now 1600 to 2000 feet.

In early April, the Times noted that John Hokom, whose efforts were detailed on this blog last year, began his work on 167 acres adjoining the lease of Carbon Canyon Oil Corp.  Meantime, the latter company was still trying to get its test well started and another delay pushed back the spudding to the 10th.  Once again, reference to George Marcell's 1929 test was made to show that there was some promise of oil to be located in the Carbon and Soquel canyons area and the paper alluded to the fact that there were four companies planning to drill in the area.

Finally, in early June, the Times noted that Carbon Canyon Oil Corp. finally began its test well drilling, a good eight months after it was supposed to begin work.  The depth was now stated to be 2000 feet.  Meanwhile, Hokom's well was reported to be a half-mile to the south, but twice as deep.

An article from the Santa Ana Register, 24 June 1939, discussing two oil projects on the 448-acre Schuh ranch in Carbon Canyon near where the Western Hills Oaks subdivision is now located.  From newspapers.com.
Then, a 24 June 1939 article in the Santa Ana Register revealed details about the Hokom/Schuh endeavors that the Times did not discuss.  Namely, even though Schuh foreclosed for his 448-acre ranch in the early Thirties against George Marcell and others, it turned out that the owner of the Carbon Canyon Oil Corporation was none other than Marcell.  Moreover, the Hokom well was on the Schuh ranch and the Los Angeles plumbing contractor spent $12,000 to acquire a 2 1/2% royalty interest from Schuh.  The article went on to state that Marcell had drilled a well nearby in 1929 and his newest effort "was started a month ago and a depth of 200 feet reached when [a] decision was reached to drill a deep test."

As was the case with the Urmi/Marcell well, however, John Schuh ran into financial problems quickly after starting his test well.  In December 1939, a foreclosure action was instituted against him by Oil Tool Exchange, Inc. on an October 1937 mortgage for a little over $15,000 payable over two years.  When only $2,500 of the borrowed sum was repaid, Oil Tool Exchange filed its foreclosure action.

Nearly two years later, in November 1941, the Schuhs filed their response and cross-complaint, acknowledging the note and the mortgage, but denying that they ever received the notice of the execution of those documents or that they got the money.

Instead, Schuh claimed that he had made an arrangement in June 1937 with the Louis C. Simmel Organization to extend up to $6,000 as a line of credit from an oil drilling project Simmel was engaged in at Kern County.  Then, Schuh maintained, Oil Tool Exchange made a secret arrangement with Simmel about its appropriating Schuh's debt to Simmel in lieu of monies owed to the company by Simmel and which the company sought to make good on in a September 1937 court filing!  

Further, Schuh argued that he "was in such financial difficulty that in order to protect his entire holdings from threatened involuntary bankruptcy proceedings" brought forth by Oil Tool Exchange, he and his wife agreed to execute the mortgage and note and paid $2,500 towards satisfying the terms.  The Schuhs prayed that the court would not only return the note and mortgage to them, allow the return of the $2,500 and give Oil Tool Exchange nothing, but asked for $15,000 in damages.

Finally, Schuh alleged that two documents involving a transfer of interests in the Kern County property to his wife and a quitclaim involving the property from the Schus' trust to themselves individually were, in the first case, a forgery and, in the second, a misrepresentation of what he thought was a lease, not a deed.  Schuh, however, could not prove the forgery allegation and the court found his argument on the quitclaim unfounded.

The trial court, in hearing the evidence, found that the situation was far more complex than argued by the Schuhs.  For example, the agreement with Simmel was unconditional and unlimited.  Moreover, the Simmels made arrangements to pay the Schuhs a 2 1/2% royalty for whatever was produced by the Kern County oil well and gave them a 20% interest in additional property for future development.

Moreover, it turned out that Oil Tool Exchange, Simmel and Schuh all worked with the same attorney, so that any claim by Schuh of trickery or malfeasance on the part of his partners was not demonstrated to the court, which also ruled that any allegations against the attorney were not relevant as points of law to the case.

After the trial court ruled against Schuh, he filed an appeal, but the appellate court upheld the lower court's determination in 1944, ending the matter.  The convoluted circumstances shown in the case revealing Schuh's financial distress probably explained how he lost his Long Beach bakery and cafe and took a job at the Ambassador Hotel.

The drilling of the Schuh well was clearly beyond his means, which is not an uncommon problem for would-be oil tycoons chasing black gold, especially in unproven areas like the Chino Hills portion of Carbon Canyon.  Its proximity to the mighty Olinda field convinced him, Marcell, Urmi Oil, Shelly Stoody, Homer May and others mentioned in this blog that there might be fortunes to be made, but they proved ultimately elusive.

10 March 2015

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #17341 & #17444

UPDATE: 8:50 A.M.: OK, traffic is moving smoothly again westbound on Carbon Canyon, so whatever took place earlier looks to be handled.

A fire truck with sirens wailing and lights flashing moved down Carbon Canyon Road through Sleepy Hollow and points westward about fifteen minutes ago and traffic has basically been a standstill.

A crash, which is where indications point, appears to have occurred near the county line.

Last Wednesday the 4th, there was a single-car crash that caused the closure of the state highway at Azurite where the Summit Ranch community is located at the S-curves in the Chino Hills portion of the canyon.

This has been quite a run of accidents on Carbon Canyon Road lately, including the tragic death of a Chino Hills woman at the end of February.