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Our Valley: The Signal celebrates 90 years

Posted: February 7, 2009 1:15 a.m.
Updated: February 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Jose Paz Perez works in the press room at The Signal in Valencia. The Signal is celebrating its 90th anniversary today. Jose Paz Perez works in the press room at The Signal in Valencia. The Signal is celebrating its 90th anniversary today.
Jose Paz Perez works in the press room at The Signal in Valencia. The Signal is celebrating its 90th anniversary today.

It was February 1919. Congress set aside most of the Grand Canyon as a national park; Oregon became the first state to place a tax on gasoline. And in Italy, Benito Mussolini formed the Fascist Party.

On Feb. 7 that year, a newspaper called the Newhall Signal released its first edition, printing out of a small office on Spruce Street.

Today marks the 90th anniversary of that paper, which has undergone lots of changes over the decades but remains the Santa Clarita Valley's paper of record.

What began as a two-sided weekly gazette reporting local farm news is today a multi-section daily newspaper that serves a valley of nearly a quarter-million people.

"Our goal was to bring the community together, and I think we did that," said Tony Newhall, whose father, Scott Newhall, owned the paper from 1963 to 1978.

Tony Newhall worked for The Signal from 1968 to 1988, serving as circulation director, general manager and eventually publisher.

The paper was founded by Edward H. Brown, who in 1919 charged $2 for a one-year subscription.

Front-page news included tidbits such as the following: "Mr. and Mrs. W. Connoly visited Los Angeles and the beaches Sunday."

No doubt the biggest story covered in the early years of the Newhall Signal was the St. Francis Dam disaster in 1928.

Early on the morning of March 12, 1928, the dam up San Francisquito Canyon - brainchild of William Mulholland - broke, sending what the paper called a "death flood" of billions of gallons of water thundering across the valley, sweeping to the Pacific Ocean and leaving more than 400 people dead in its wake.

In 1938 the paper changed hands; Brown sold to Fred Trueblood for $5,000.

"In those days Newhall was a ranching environment," said Fred Trueblood III, grandson of the newspaper's second owner.

The Trueblood family, originally from Indiana, arrived in Newhall after helping run newspapers in New Mexico and Arizona.

"It was a wonderful childhood," said Trueblood, whose father, Fred Trueblood Jr., also worked at The Signal. "It was kind of a giant family."

Early on, the Trueblood family lived on the ranch property of silent film star William S. Hart. Trueblood said his grandfather, F.W. Trueblood, would make weekly visits to Hart's home, helping the nearly-blind Hart go through his mail.

He said the mission of the paper remains the same.

"What's important is it has a local connection," he said. "It is the community's newspaper."

When F.W. died in 1960, his son became publisher. But the paper was sold in 1963 to Ray Brooks.

Less than a year later, The Signal was sold for about $60,000 to Scott Newhall, who had spent the previous several decades at the San Francisco Chronicle.

In January 1964 the paper introduced a new look, which was modeled on the Chronicle and remained fairly consistent for decades. Scott Newhall gained national fame for writing flashy, 19th century-style editorials that were prone to hyperbole and often started on the front page.

"We tried to create a paper that would ... give people something to rally around," said Tony Newhall, who was 22 when his father bought the paper.

In 1978 The Signal was purchased by Charles Morris, who heads up what is now known as Morris Multimedia. Based in Savannah, Ga., Morris Multimedia owns more than 90 publications including daily and weekly newspapers.

The Newhalls left The Signal in 1988, and the paper went through several publishers over the next 20 years. Last September, Ian Lamont joined the paper as publisher after spending nearly 30 years in the news business, most recently at the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

"It is a privilege to be at the helm of a community paper with such a long and rich history," Lamont said.

"Over the next decade, working with passionate and devoted people, I expect The Signal to add some exciting new chapters to its history. Then at 100 years, we will have one heck of a celebration."


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