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1941 - SCV's first real movie house, the American Theater, dedicated in Newhall [story]


Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Sunday, Feb 24, 2013
Darryl Manzer

Darryl Manzer

The movie, “The Last Roundup,” had many scenes of Mentryville. I’ve watched it over and over and I still can’t quite identify those other places I see.

Just where was the outlaw’s cabin? Placerita? Towsley? Not quite sure – but I took a drive to Towsley Canyon in hopes some of the topography would look at all similar to the scenes in the film.

Well, the first big problem is that the major West Coast interstate highway blocks the wide view of what might have been. But there are a few features that slightly resemble those of the film.

You know, more than a few films have used Towsley Canyon as a location. It was near the main shooting spot for the “The Last Roundup,” and just like today, film production companies liked to save money. Take the wagon full of stuff down the road and turn right. Find the next canyon and start filming. Pretty easy. They didn’t have to post bright yellow signs with names and arrows pointing to the location. Just listen for the noise of the production … and the cows … and birds … and people and … you get the idea.

There is a ridgeback near the entrance to Towsley that sort of looks like it was in the movie, but I can’t be sure. I’ll keep looking.

rivendalesignThat ridgeback is really close to – or maybe even in – the section of the city of Santa Clarita called Rivendale. Annexed into the city, it is a little piece of land of about 60 acres that are within the city limits – and west of the interstate. Sixty acres that have been used for the arts for years with film, photography, paintings and theater all components of the artistic makeup of that place.

Today the Rivendale property provides inexpensive parking for folks using the trails in the canyon that are part of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority park system.

For a short time, along with the land my folks leased in Pico Canyon, we leased a small portion of Towsley from Standard Oil for additional grazing area for our herd. Like Pico, it, too, was very cheap to rent. About $ 75 a year.  So, for a year, we had a big spread – with a lot more fences to check.

There were barns and stables that are long-since gone. A simple gate kept the public out and the cattle in. There was never any talk of Shakespeare or native American gatherings or concerts. It was a quiet place with only the traffic from Highway 99 as a background noise producer.

Times have changed. The 60 acres of Santa Clarita are an area of open space with city limits, and that land might just fill the need for an outdoor amphitheater that could accommodate live theater (such as the Shakespeare Festival), native American gatherings (such as those of the Fernandeno-Tataviam Band of Mission Indians), various concerts and many other events.  Planning has started, and Santa Clarita needs the input of citizens to help in the decision process.

This coming Saturday, March 2, at 10 a.m. at Wiley Canyon School, there will be a meeting to discuss just that – what the Rivendale property might become and how it should be used. Come out and let the City know your thoughts.

In the past, various groups have indicated they’d like exclusive use of the area. Some yell for more sports fields for soccer and such. Others want a performing arts stage, and still others want their own spot in the SCV.

RivendaleOS-Outreach-Mtg-copy3-323x250I’m here to tell you that no one entity should get exclusive use. Not a one. It has to be useful to everyone in some way. Additional soccer fields would be nice, but many of us don’t play the sport. A place for a company of actors devoted to Shakespeare would also be nice, but what about others’ plays and concerts and pow-wows and maybe even the celebration of, well, anything?

Historically, the place was used for oil drilling. That wouldn’t fly today. But later it was used for filming, so theater is a natural fit. So are all of the other uses. Used by all, it would only add to one of the best places in our valley.

But in doing “whatever,” we must use the environment properly. Maybe parking lots need to remain of gravel but maintained. In many places, like where I lived in Virginia, folks park on the grass for such events. We can’t have vast lawns to park upon, but we do have gravel. The rain soaks in and doesn’t wash off a paved area carrying the oil and dirt from cars.

And if it is to be an amphitheater, it should blend into the environment. I’ve seen plays and concerts where the performers seemed to come from behind trees and large boulders to perform.  The benches could be as simple as possible, too.

Keeping it simple is the key to the thing. Nothing fancy. Use what is available and leave nature to do the rest.

The early film folks here in the SCV did just that. They used what was available and left the rest. Hope we have learned that lesson.

 

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com and his commentaries, published on Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. David Stears says:

    Thank you Darryl for such a rich portrait of Towsley. As the Executive Director of the Shakespeare Festival, I agree with you one hundred percent: balanced approach to any project in the space, incorporating the natural environment, and non-exclusive, shared use by residents and local groups. Shakespeare, other plays, concerts, celebrations, hiking groups, and many others can share the space. How wonderful would it be to have a new trailhead for hikers (with water, information, restroom, maybe an emergency phone). The City remains a wonderful project partner for local groups and residents. There is no need to have a an exclusive group be a master lease holder and control the site. Our residents need to speak up and make sure this beautiful park remains open and available to everyone.

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