Thursday, July 24, 2014

Historic Barrel House building hits century mark

The Barrel House Market in Victorville is one of the city's oldest buildings and is coming up on its 100th anniversary. (JAMES QUIGG, DAILY PRESS)

Rene De La Cruz
Victorville Daily Press

VICTORVILLE — Whether it was buying candy or cashing paychecks, one downtown liquor store still holds many cherished memories for longtime residents of the Victor Valley.

The historic Barrel House Market building celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The Barrel House was built in 1914 on the corner of D and Fifth streets. Designated as a Historic Point of Interest by the city of Victorville, the cinderblock and cement building was used as a restaurant and jewelry store until 1933, when it became a market and liquor store.

Store owner Norm Danial, 69, said an old wooden sign that once hung outside of the building states that the store was erected in 1934, but the city and other experts said the building has been at the site since 1914.

“The sign hung over the door, which was in the shape of a huge barrel,” said Danial, who purchased the store 24 years ago. “In 1998, some crazy old guy backed into the building with his van and destroyed the barrel door after we closed.”

According to Gabino De La Cruz (who is the reporter’s father), Victorville civic leader Cory Moore and his wife, Violet, were the first owners of the Barrel House.

“It was an American-style restaurant, jewelry story and grocery store before it was the Barrel House,” said De La Cruz, who turned 90 in February. “... I remember my dad taking me there to buy groceries when I was 5 years old in 1929.”

A March 1950 edition of the San Bernardino County Sun reported that the $6.5 million Victor Housing Project at George Air Force Base had just broken ground with the 650-unit housing project named Cory Moore Village in honor of the community leader who died in an auto accident.

“The Moores were good people, very nice,” De La Cruz said. “They helped a lot of people in the community.”

Danial said since the store is located near the California Route 66 Museum, tourists from all over the country as well as Europe and Asia have stopped into the liquor store to ask questions and snap photos.

A chuckling Danial said he was told that a previous store owner would fill customers’ wine bottles from a barrel located at the back of the store.

Todd Gudal, who now lives in Wrightwood, said he lived nearby on Second Street growing up.

“When we were kids we would go to the Mojave River and find arrowheads and trade them for candy and toys,” he said. “Later on, when I worked at the cement plant, we would stand in line and cash our paychecks there.”

Gudal said he was one of many employees from Southwest Portland Cement Company who would visit the Barrel House to cash their checks, purchase snacks or pick up a six-pack of Lucky Lager beer.

Ruth Nolan, who graduated from Apple Valley High School in 1980, said her brother John used to work at the Barrel House while he was getting his teaching career started.

“I also used to shop there all the time and even had a line of credit with a longtime previous owner, Vi, an amazing woman,” said Nolan, a professor of writing and literature at College of the Desert.

Fern Rush said when she was a little girl, the Barrel House was always the last stop before her family headed out to Bell Mountain for a family adventure.

“I remember we used to get penny candy from there. We would save up one dollar’s worth of pennies and get 100 pieces of candy,” Rush said. “Summer time at D Street park was nothing if we couldn't get candy, pop or ice cream from the Barrel House.”

Debra Stone said she avoided the Barrel House because she “always saw it like a bar for drunks,” but Rani Walker said alcohol was not a part of her family’s Barrel House memory.

“My husband's father had a radiator shop near the Barrel House so he made many trips there as a kid,” said Walker, an administrative assistant at VVHS. “He said that the thing he loved the most was that they kept the Ding Dongs in the freezer.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

State Fair board shelves plan to demolish 1938 building

This historic building at the Arizona State Fair Grounds was scheduled to be razed July 16, 2014, in Phoenix, but that process was halted. The Art Deco building dates back to 1938 and was constructed by the federal government as part of a New Deal-era program to lower unemployment during the Great Depression. (Rob Schumacher/The Republic)

Dustin Gardiner
The Arizona Republic |

After facing a gantlet of criticism over its attempt to raze a historic Depression-era building, the Arizona Exposition and State Fair Board voted Tuesday to shelve the demolition plans for now.

State Fair Deputy Director Wanell Costello said the agency, which had rebuffed previous efforts to save the structure, is now "looking for creative solutions not to tear it down." State Fair officials will meet with city and state leaders to examine alternative uses.

Board members overseeing the agency voted unanimously to halt demolition plans "until further notice." But no guarantees about the building's future were made, and preservation advocates said they will continue to seek a more-binding commitment.

The reprieve is the latest twist in a contentious fight over the fate of the Civic Building, also known as the WPA Administration Building, on the fairgrounds near McDowell Road and 19th Avenue. The structure was built in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration, a federal agency that led projects to put people back to work during the Great Depression.

Bulldozers were prepared to raze the Art Deco structure last week, until preservationists filed a last-minute lawsuit. The State Fair had wanted to remove the dilapidated building to make room for more asphalt vendor space.

Friday, July 11, 2014

World’s Tallest Thermometer in Baker lights up again

LaRae Harguess, daughter of the original owners Barbara and Willis Herron, holds up a pair of souviners avaliable in the Thermometers adjacent gift shop, and original light, which have since been replaced with LED's, and hot sauce. After 3 years of being dark the World's Tallest Thermometer, at 138 feet, lit back up on Thursday July 10, 2014 after the original owners of the Baker, California, landmark repurchased the property through a foreclosure. (Will Lester/Staff Photographer)

By Grace Wong,
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

BAKER -- Cheers erupted when LaRae Harguess flipped the switch to officially re-light the World’s Tallest Thermometer in Baker.

Harguess, the daughter of the late Willis Herron, creator of the World’s Tallest Thermometer, said the celebration was “festive” and “fun.”

“It was so, so cool,” Harguess said. “I know I was beaming from ear-to-ear. My mom was here and she was really happy, too. I think it’s so neat that so many of the townspeople and tourists came to say ‘thank you’ for restoring this thermometer. One local even said ‘You have given hope back to our townspeople,’ and that’s what my dad would have wanted. That is what this is all about.”

The date was also significant: It was the 101st anniversary of the hottest day ever recorded officially, 134 degrees in nearby Death Valley.

Harguess said more than 100 people were there for the re-lighting of the thermometer at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

Herron erected the 134-foot red and white thermometer in 1991 but when he became ill, sold it. The thermometer changed hands several times, falling into disrepair before its glowing numbers finally went dark.

Barbara Herron, now 79, decided she would use her savings to reclaim the thermometer and in March of this year, the family got their giant landmark back.

“All of the family members, at different times, felt the presence of my dad here yesterday,” Harguess said. “He was just smiling down on us, and we were just overjoyed and of course, had a huge sense of relief.”

The thermometer’s gift shop also opened for the first time and among t-shirts and keychains, plaques with original lightbulbs from the thermometer are also available for sale.

“Our first sale was one of those lightbulbs to a lady from Paris,” Harguess said. “We have a limited amount and we didn’t want to throw them away and we just thought that it’s kind of a cool thing to sell. All the kids and the grandkids have one and I told them, ‘I’m giving you this so you can look and remember to always keep this in the family, no matter what.’ ”

The family is also planning a dedication ceremony Oct. 11 and grand opening of their store. The ceremony will include a plaque dedicated to Willis Herron and is open to the public.

“You don’t realize you appreciate something until you don’t have it any more,” Harguess said. “It was almost more special this time because we now know what it is to not have it. Last night, after everyone went home, we all just stood out there and seeing this thing at night, it’s just so beautiful.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Indian Wells plans for Carl Bray monument revived

The former Carl Bray House & Gallery building prior to its demolition in Indian Wells. Bray, known for his desert landscapes, bought property along Highway 111 in Indian Wells in the early 1950s. The city bought the land in 2009. (Omar Ornelas, The Desert Sun)

Xochitl Peña
The Desert Sun

INDIAN WELLS – Talk of creating a monument along Highway 111 to honor the late artist Carl Bray — in the spot where his home and gallery used to be — has taken place for years.

But recent renewed interest in the idea has the Indian Wells City Council taking up the subject during a study session next month.

Adele Ruxton, president of the Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation, hopes this time, the project will actually happen.

“It’s time. It’s like ‘OK let’s get something done.’ It’s something that has been on the (list) of things to do and then something else comes up,” she said.

On Aug. 21, the council is expected to provide direction to staff on the design of the monument, said Warren Morelion, the city’s community development director, via email.

“Once staff receives direction, it will go through the normal entitlement process. The plan is to get the project construct(ed) by next summer,” he said.

The city has been talking about an “interpretive exhibit” at the location where Bray’s home and gallery used to be since at least 2010.

Bray, known for his desert landscapes and most notably his paintings of the wispy smoke tree, bought property along Highway 111 in Indian Wells in the early 1950s for $1,000. His neighbors at the time included a few cabins, a dance hall and a couple businesses.

As Indian Wells developed, Bray’s paint palette sign and misshapen landscaping started to look out of place surrounded by golf courses and gated communities, but the property’s historic significance could not be ignored.

The property used to be the site of one of the largest Cahuilla villages in the valley.

Bray sold the land in about 2000 and moved to Banning. He died in 2011 at the age of 94.

Ruxton knew Bray personally, and visited him at least once a month after he moved.

“He had a great sense of humor. If you met him for the first time you would think, ‘I’ve known this man for my entire life,’ ” she said.

The city purchased the 14,148-square-foot former site in January 2009 for nearly $260,000 claiming the structures on the land posed a “safety hazard.”

The home and gallery were eventually demolished, causing debate between the city and those who wanted to see the buildings preserved.

Ruxton wanted the structures saved.

“That should be turned into something historic,” she said of the now-vacant site.

The historic preservation foundation will meet with city officials next month to talk about the monument, as well.

What had been envisioned, she said, was a monument worked into the landscape that bicyclists or walkers could access. There would be no place for people in cars to park, she added.

In 2012, city staff had anticipated costs of about $35,000 for the monument. Morelion said the city recently directed up to $65,000 for the project.

Resident Denny Booth believes even $30,000 is too much for the city to spend, especially at a time when funds are tight.

He thinks there are much cheaper options available.

“Put up a boulder with a bronze plaque,” he said.