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A look at Val Verde's history, part 1: the 'Black Palm Springs'

Community: Area’s storied past ranges from Mexican mining town to bohemian enclave

Posted: April 24, 2010 11:14 p.m.
Updated: April 25, 2010 4:55 a.m.
An aerial view of Val Verde. This first installment of a three-part series looks at how Val Verde evolved from a Mexican mining town to a bohemian enclave in the 1920s and 1930s. An aerial view of Val Verde. This first installment of a three-part series looks at how Val Verde evolved from a Mexican mining town to a bohemian enclave in the 1920s and 1930s.
An aerial view of Val Verde. This first installment of a three-part series looks at how Val Verde evolved from a Mexican mining town to a bohemian enclave in the 1920s and 1930s.

In the early 1900s, blacks couldn’t play in most of Southern California’s big-city parks. They couldn’t buy homes in many nice neighborhoods — or even rent a room in most hotels.

But there was one place where racially oppressive rules didn’t apply: a town called Val Verde.

The resort haven nestled among rolling hills west of the Santa Clarita Valley became known as the “Black Palm Springs.”

By the 1930s, the area was in full swing.

African-Americans threw holiday parties year-round. They held coronation balls and pageants, put on sensational Fourth of July celebrations and frolicked in Val Verde’s park pool.

And while most descendents of those early residents  have moved away, other cultures have arrived and left their own fingerprints on the community, reflected in its oddly — and some say endearingly — mismatched neighborhoods.

A recreational refuge
Val Verde’s storied past involves blacks, whites and Latinos living near a landfill tucked in the northwest corner of Los Angeles County.

The picturesque community is now home to multigenerational Latino families, whose ancestors picked fruit and vegetables in nearby growing fields that have since been paved over to build homes, shopping centers and industrial parks.

Once a Mexican mining town, Val Verde was opened up to Los Angeles’s black community in the early 1900s by a wealthy white woman from Pasadena.

Angered by Jim Crow laws that segregated blacks and whites in public schools and on public transportation, in restrooms and restaurants, the woman — whose name has been lost to history — purchased land in Val Verde and welcomed black residents there, according to Douglas Flamming, author of “Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America.”

In 1924, land was purchased by Sidney Dones and Joe Bass. The men wanted to turn Val Verde into a resort community for other blacks.

By the 1930s, the area was wildly popular, mainly because it was one of only a handful of locations where blacks could go for recreation, according to Flamming.

Harry Waterman, a white developer looking to make it rich, described Val Verde as a “sun-kissed valley with wooden hills ... and becoming a veritable paradise of comfortable homes in an idyllic spot.”

Waterman donated 50 acres of land in 1937, which eventually became Val Verde County Park.

The enclave attracted celebrities and a Who’s Who of black society, including film stars Louise Beavers and Hattie McDaniel.

McDaniel was in the film “Gone With the Wind” and was the first black person to win an Oscar for her role in the movie.

The town boasted picnic tables, sports fields, barbecues and theaters with all-black productions. Hundreds of people visited Val Verde — especially in the summer.

With the advent of civil rights reforms in the 1960s, many blacks moved back to the city and visited Val Verde on weekends and vacations.

Not ‘homogenized’

Today, Val Verde boasts an estimated 500 homes.

Most streets are cul-de-sacs, others just a few blocks long. Land doesn’t appreciate quickly in Val Verde.

Two-story homes started to appear in 1998, and again in 2004 through 2006. Then the recession set in.

“There haven’t been many new buildings constructed in Val Verde when compared to other portions of the Santa Clarita Valley,” said Mitch Glaser, a regional planner for the county of Los Angeles. “Folks want to keep it a rural community surrounded by hillsides.”

The town, like its history, is an eclectic patchwork quilt.

One homeowner could have a small shack-like home with chickens running around the yard, while his neighbor might live in a modern, two-story house.

Many homes are about 800 square feet. Home additions, trailers and boarded-up houses are part of the scene. Some are connected to the sewer lines; others use septic tanks.

A few signs for home-based businesses dot the sides of the roads. There are only two actual storefronts: a market and a pest-control company.

A barber shop closed in March.

Three small churches serve Val Verde: Castaic Community African Methodist Episcopal Church, Macedonia Church of God in Christ and one without a name on the building.

The closest fire station is five to seven minutes away.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Newhall celebrates Mass every Sunday in Val Verde Park.

It’s far from the getaway place it was in the olden days. Most residents live there full time.

Andy Walter, a Realtor with Valencia-based Intero Real Estate Services, said he only takes certain types of homebuyers to Val Verde — ones who seem to embrace individualism.

“Val Verde doesn’t match the expectations of a typical Santa Clarita buyer,” Walter said. “Santa Clarita is a master-planned tract of homes with homeowners associations that control everything. You don’t have bright green houses or a purple house.

“(Val Verde) is not tract homes, it’s not planned,” Walter said. “It’s not homogenized.”



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