Monday, August 25, 2014

Indian Wells moving forward on Carl Bray tribute

A sign from the now-demolished Carl Bray gallery and home along Highway 111. (Photo: Xochitl Peña/ The Desert Sun)

Xochitl Peña
The Desert Sun


A huge wooden painter's palette that stood along Highway 111 in Indian Wells and served as a tribute to Carl Bray's artistic contributions will be resurrected.

City officials plan to use either a replica of the memorable landmark or restore the original one that's now in storage to create an historical monument.

"It is an iconic sign," said Jan Holmlund, an adviser to the Indian Wells Preservation Foundation. "It is something that means a lot to a lot of people,"

The famous palette sign, which also let people traveling east on Highway 111 know they are close to the edge of the city limits, came down in 2010 after the city purchased the property and demolished Bray's gallery and home.

Since then, leaders have discussed — but never formalized — ways to honor the desert landscape artist.

The Indian Wells City Council last week finally set that vision in motion by approving a concept for the monument, one of three scenarios that HSA Design Group presented.

City leaders indicated they wanted two curved stone walls with plaques mounted on the walls, showcasing the history of the city and Bray. The wooden palette sign also will be showcased prominently near its original location.

"It is the last remnant of the old village of Indian Wells. This was the historic beginning," said Adele Ruxton, president of the Indian Wells Preservation Foundation.

The plans also includes natural stone benches, green space and the addition of the smoke trees, which Bray favored in his art.

The site is accessible from a public sidewalk. Public parking nearby will not be provided.

Councilwoman Mary Roche said she can envision walking maps with directions to the monument being handed out to guests at the city's local resorts.

"I think this concept would be a wonderful addition to our city," she said.

While Bray is best known for his art, Roche said he also is considered a founder of the city and its commercial area.

According to Ruxton, Bray's neighbors back in the day included "a few cabins, a dance hall, two small grocery stores, two gas stations, a café and … a rattlesnake pen."

Bray bought that property along Highway 111 in the early 1950s for $1,000, which used to be the location of a Cahuilla village and was said to house an Indian well.

Bray sold the land around 2000, and moved to Banning. The 94-year-old died in 2011. The city in 2009 purchased the property in a foreclosure.

The city decided to demolish the buildings on the property because they were run down and deemed a safety hazard.

But because of the land's historical significance and ties to the Cahuilla Indians, an environmental impact report required an "interpretive exhibit" related to Bray as "artist, railroad man, builder and last resident of Old Indian Wells Village."

Development of the monument is expected to cost more than $30,000. The council has asked HSA though to look at revisions that could reduce the cost.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Southern Pacific Railroad made path through the "heart of the desert"

Floodwaters from the Colorado River filled the Salton Sink in 1906 -1907. The Southern Pacific Railroad tracks had to be moved. (Photo courtesy of Salton Sea History Museum)

Denise Goolsby
The Desert Sun


The transcontinental railroad opened the doors to America, especially those lightly traveled areas where Herculean efforts were required to cross hundreds of miles of remote wilderness, steep mountains, and endless desert.

Discovery of gold in 1848 focused world attention on California and the Pacific Coast region. At the time, early settlers had few options in cross country travel: An arduous overland journey across the plains by oxen or mules, or long ocean voyages via Panama or around Cape Horn.

A growing sentiment in the west and east favored a railroad that would bind the nation closer together.

The roots of Southern Pacific Railroad's path through the Coachella Valley can be traced to the country's pre-Civil War days and the creation of the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California, incorporated June 28, 1861.

The brainchild of Collis P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker, the corporation was formed to build the western portion of the Pacific Railroad — a transcontinental link from Sacramento, east over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Construction began in Sacramento in 1863 followed by authorization of Congress in 1863. The line traversed 690 miles over the mountains and across Nevada to meet the Union Pacific at Promontory, Utah, where the last spike was driven on May 10, 1869.

In 1865, the Southern Pacific Railroad was organized to build lines from San Francisco to San Diego and eastward to rails being proposed to reach westward from New Orleans.

The surveyors for the Southern Pacific route reached the site of Indio, known as Indian Wells at the time, on March 25, 1872. They reported that this point was halfway between Los Angeles and Yuma, Ariz. A perfect spot for a train depot.

Southern Pacific acquired a 22-mile railroad from Los Angeles to Wilmington, opened in October, 1869 and construction began during 1873 on lines north and east out of the city.

Trains were operated to Colton on July 16, 1895 and to Indio on May 29, 1876.

After the railroad's arrival in 1876, Indio really started to grow. The first permanent building was the craftsman style Southern Pacific Depot station and hotel. Southern Pacific tried to make life as comfortable as it could for their workers in order to keep them from leaving such a difficult area to live in at the time. It was the center of all social life in the desert with a fancy dining room. Dances were hosted on Friday nights.

While Indio started as a railroad town, it developed into an agricultural area shortly thereafter. Onions, cotton, grapes, citrus and dates thrived in the arid climate due to the ingenuity of farmers finding various means of attaining water — first through artesian wells.

The arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad would leave an indelible mark on the Palm Springs-based Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and shaped the future of the tribe. In the 1860s, the Federal government granted the railroad ten miles of odd-numbered sections of land on each side of the railroad right-of-way.

In 1876, when President Ulysses S. Grant established the present Agua Caliente Indian Reservation by executive order, only the even-numbered sections were still available. This created the reservation's "checkerboard" pattern.

In 1875, the Cahuilla Indians began working on the construction of the railroad. The tracks ran about six miles north of the Palm Springs Way Station, which served as a stagecoach stop from 1865 until the rail line was completed in 1887.

The Southern Pacific built a Spanish-styled railroad station in the 1930s, located in North Palm Springs on Tipton Road off Highway 111.

By this time, Palm Springs had already become a popular tourist destination and was known as a world famous winter playground for Hollywood stars. The Southern Pacific, traveling on what became known as the Sunset Route, now delivered travelers right at the doorstep of this thriving desert community.

A 1914 brochure touting the Southern Pacific Sunset Route as the "Best Route to the California 1915 Expositions" — the Panama-Pacific Exposition was being held in San Francisco and the Panama-California Exposition was taking place in San Diego — provided colorful descriptions of the stops along the route, which originated in New Orleans.

This is how the railroad's literature depicted the desert 100 years ago:

"Yuma, the Colorado River and California is reached 1,754 miles west from New Orleans … the route is through a region that is peculiar and interesting. At Imperial Junction, a branch line of the Southern Pacific runs south to the celebrated Imperial Valley, which has sprung into a wonderful existence in a night, almost, because of its splendid fertility, its varied, almost tropical products, freedom from frosts, great volume of water for irrigation, taken from the Colorado, and its rapid development and adaptability for all forms of agriculture, yet in the heart of the desert."

That year, 1914, the valley shipped more than 4,000 cars of cantaloupes alone, to all sections of the United States. From a waste only a few years ago, the Imperial Valley now has a population of 25,000 with fine towns, street cars, clubs, newspapers, excellent hotels and a high class civilization.

The journey is then through the Salton Valley and along the northern shores of the Salton Sea made by an overflow of the Colorado Rivers some years ago. Here the train runs for miles below the sea level, at Salton reaching the bottom of a great depression at a depth of 253 feet. This condition is peculiar and unequaled and is not even approximated by any other railroad in the world. The route through the California desert passes through Thermal, Coachella and Indio, all below sea level, and climbs the divide, reaching the apex at Beaumont, California."

Next week: Southern Pacific Railroad History in the Coachella Valley, Part II.

Sources: City of Palm Springs, Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Historian Pat Laflin, Coachella Valley Water District, Central Pacific Railroad website, Michael L. Grace (Palm Springs Rail Heritage blog)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

All steamed up: Brothers to recreate 1st car trip from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon's South Rim

Nick (left) and Chris Howell pose beside the 1902 Toledo steam car that is believed to be the first car to ever drive to the Grand Canyon. The two brothers plan to recreate the trip. They will be in Flagstaff Aug. 25-27. (Courtesy photo)

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Arizona Daily Sun


When English fish wholesaler Nick Howell purchased a 1902 Toledo steam car from an Internal Revenue Service auction in Michigan in 2004, he knew he had something special.

He just didn’t know how special or that the car would wrap him and his brother, Chris, into a wild adventure to the Grand Canyon.

Turns out the steam car was the first car to ever make the trip from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon and the brothers have brought the car back to the U.S. to recreate the trip. They plan to arrive in Flagstaff Monday afternoon and start for the Canyon on Aug. 26.

The public is invited to visit with the brothers. They’re expected to arrive in town at 3 p.m. Monday at the Courtyard by Marriott, 2650 S. Beulah Blvd. A Darracq roadster that will follow the Howells on their trip will also be there.

Residents may also see the brothers driving around town in the historic car. They’ve got other photo ops set up for the Coconino County Courthouse and the Weatherford Hotel.

The crew will start their trip at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday at Hart Prairie Road (FR151) and Highway 180. They will be followed by the Darracq and a couple of other chase vehicles with cameras. They’ll drive until 7 p.m., then haul the car on a trailer back to Flagstaff for dinner.

Wednesday, they’ll start at 7 a.m. where they left off the night before and hope to arrive at Grandview Point at the Grand Canyon at 4:30 p.m.

At 5:30 p.m. they’ll load up the car and trailer it back to Flagstaff. Details of their schedule can be found on the Howells’ blog, www.toledosteamcar.com.

* * *

The Howell brothers live in England. Nick owns a fish wholesale business in Penzance and his brother does gardening and landscape design.

According to an interview with the London Sunday Times, Nick is a bit of a classic car enthusiast. He told the paper that he’s owned classic cars before and has several friends who own steam cars.

Steam cars were some of the first automobiles made. They burn gasoline, which heats water and turns it into steam. The pressure generated by the steam pushes a series of pistons that move the wheels of the car. The cars lost favor after the internal combustion engine was invented.

According to the brothers’ blog, when Nick unpacked the car in England, he noticed that the wheelbase was about six inches longer than the specs listed for a Toledo. The car also came with a newspaper clipping describing a similar car that was supposed to make a trip over the Rocky Mountains.

Using the Internet, Nick was able to contact 13 other Toledo owners around the world, who were just as puzzled as he was about the length of the car.

After eight years of research, Nick found a 1901 story in the Los Angeles Herald that described a Toledo steam car that was custom built for an Oliver Lippincott. Lippincott was a photographer who planned to make the trip over the Rocky Mountains. In order to make the trip the car’s chassis had to be lengthened by six inches.

A later article states that Lippincott canceled his Rocky Mountain trip in favor of proving to the public that a car could make the trip between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Lippincott wanted to start a steam car line to the Grand Canyon. He needed a way to prove that the feat could be done and done faster than the stagecoach and cheaper than the train that made the run on a regular basis.

According to his blog, Nick thought his car might be the actual Toledo that made the trip to the Grand Canyon. He started fixing it up in preparation for showing it in a few car shows. For a 112-year old car, it was in pretty good shape. Nick only had to replace three pieces of wood on the body — two pieces were split and the third was scorched from the engine. He also rebuilt the engine.

* * *

Then this year, Howell and the Toledo were invited to participate in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance car show in California. He jumped at the chance and thought it might also provide him and his brother with a chance to recreate the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon trip by Lippincott.

He contacted the Arizona Trail Association and was able to recreate most of the trip on Google maps. He won’t be able to stick to all of the original route because of the terrain, but he plans to follow it as much as possible.

The Howells hope their trip to the Grand Canyon will be less eventful than Lippincott’s.

According to the book “Mountain Town,” Lippincott arrived in Flagstaff on Jan. 2, 1902, with the car and Winfield Hogaboom and TM Chapman from the Los Angeles Herald.

The three men hired a local man, Al Doyle, to guide them to the Grand Canyon. Lippincott boasted that the car would make the 67-mile trip in about eight hours, so extra food and water were not necessary. In the end, it took the men four days to reach the canyon.

According to Hogaboom’s tale in a Feb. 2, 1902, edition of the Herald, the trip started out all right until Doyle recommended the men stop because night was starting to fall. The men stayed the night with a couple of cowboys at “Moodyspan’s cabin.”

The next morning, the car was frozen stiff. The men used most of the gasoline they had to thaw it. Once they got started, they traveled another 10 miles before the water gauge broke and they lost all of the steam the car had generated.

At the same time, the car had used up the last of the gasoline the crew had brought from Los Angeles. They poured in some “gasoline” they had bought from Flagstaff to restart the car.

“When we started again it was plain to be seen that this fuel was not going to give the amount of heat required to keep up sufficient steam,” Hogaboom wrote, “Besides, it produced a dense volume of smoke that poured out of the ventilators and enveloped us.”

* * *

The car chugged along slowly for a few more hours, but before long the men had to abandon the luggage. About a mile after abandoning the luggage, the car’s sprocket chain broke.

The men were able to fix the chain but the next morning the car only went two miles before it stopped working again. The four men abandoned the vehicle and set out to cover the remaining 18 miles on foot.

One by one, the men, who had had nothing to eat or drink for the last two days, sat down and refused to walk any further. The only man to actually make it to the canyon on foot was Hogaboom. A team of horses was sent out to recover the car and the other men.

According to “Mountain Town,” the men and the car stayed at the Grandview Hotel at the Grand Canyon for four days before most of them returned to Flagstaff via a train to Williams and then Flagstaff.

Lippincott drove the car back, after a supply of good gasoline came to the hotel on the train. The trip from the canyon to Flagstaff took him about seven hours. His dream of starting a motorized bus tour to the canyon later failed.

* * *

According to their blog, the Howells’ trip to the U.S. is also turning out to be quite the adventure.

On Aug. 4, a few days before the brothers packed up the car to make the trip across the ocean, they received a call from former late-night talk show host Jay Leno. He had heard of their trip and offered them the use of his garage.

Leno collects classic cars and apparently has a few steam cars of his own. He picked up the brothers up from their Los Angeles hotel on Aug. 8 in a White steam car and gave them a tour of the town.

The next day, the brothers found out that their car was stuck in U.S. Customs. The car was released on Aug. 11. The brothers then had a bit of trouble installing a new gas burner in the engine and getting the car to run properly. On Aug. 13, they loaded the car onto a trailer for the trip to the car show the next day.

The first day of the car show, they ended up getting lost and then arrived before the rest of the classic cars at the gathering point. Then they had trouble finding the right fuel for the car. But they ended up winning the Chairman’s trophy.

The brothers plan to trailer the car to Flagstaff. They hope to arrive Monday afternoon and start their trip to the Grand Canyon on Tuesday.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Mojave Phone Booth

When Doc started calling a phone booth in the middle of the desert, he was sure no one would ever pick up.

WBAA Public Radio from Purdue NPR Transcript

Listen to the story

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT, "The End Of The Line" episode; stories about what to do when there's nothing left to do. And our next piece takes place in southwestern United States. Some guys give up on their silly little ideas and other guys, not so much.

JOE ROSENBERG, BYLINE: OK. So this story starts out back in the mid-90s, in Phoenix, where Godfrey Daniels...

GODFREY DANIELS: My given name is Godfrey Daniels, but I go by Doc.

ROSENBERG: He's heading back home after seeing this band, Girl Trouble. And after the concert someone hands him a copy of their zine. Remember zines? If not, don't worry - they're kind of like, a pre-internet miniature magazine.

DANIELS: So as I was walking home, I was kind of flipping through it and on about the third or fourth page there were a couple of letters to the editor. And one of them mentioned that there was a phone booth in the Mojave Desert miles and miles from any pavement, just sitting by itself.

ROSENBERG: And this, for Doc, just made no sense.

DANIELS: I wasn't sure that I believed it.

ROSENBERG: Why not?

DANIELS: Well, I didn't have any reason to believe it. I mean, I don't know if, in the age of cell phones, if it's the same, but, when you were out in the desert in those days you were on your own. You couldn't call people. So the idea that there could be this phone booth just sitting out in an un-contactable place, it was kind of like, if somebody was on the moon, you know, and you could talk to somebody on the moon.

ROSENBERG: Where did he say it was exactly? Like what was the nearest recognizable landmark?

DANIELS: He didn't say. It was a really short little paragraph and there wasn't really any solid information really, other than the number.

ROSENBERG: And so when Doc got home he thought, OK. Why not give it a shot?

DANIELS: And I jabbed in the number and it just rang. And I let it ring for a long time. And I was just imagining making a phone ring out where presumably no one could hear it except the coyotes. But then there was also in the back of your mind, the thought - what if? Like, what if somebody is wandering by? Who would be out there? Who would pick up? It just really grabbed me. And so I hung up and then I just kept thinking about it. I kept thinking about it all night long. I was thinking about as I fell asleep and it just somehow got me to its clutches.

ROSENBERG: And so the next morning...

DANIELS: I called again. I just kind of became obsessed.

ROSENBERG: Soon Doc found himself calling the phone all the time. When friends visited his house he'd twist their arm and make them call it. He even put up a post-it note in the bathroom mirror.

DANIELS: It just said, did you remember to call the Mojave Desert today? But it turned out I didn't need it because I used to call many times a day.

ROSENBERG: Like, how many times?

DANIELS: If I was supposed to be working, I was probably calling at least once an hour. And again this is all assuming that it actually existed, which I had no proof of.

ROSENBERG: Like, on speakerphone? Or, like, you would stop everything?

DANIELS: No, no, no because that would require explanations. I would just, you know, have the phone kind of cradled against my ear. You know, just listening to it ring.

ROSENBERG: Doc knew it was weird to keep calling a number with no one on the other end. But if he was ever pressed about it, he'd say it was like being a ham radio operator. One little person sending the signal as far as he could into the ether, wondering if another little person was out there listening in, waiting to be contacted in that uncontactable place.

DANIELS: So I figured I would be doing this forever. I really didn't think anybody would ever pick up the phone.

ROSENBERG: But then just one month after he started calling...

DANIELS: Just doing my daily call and...

(SOUNDBITE OF BUSY SIGNAL)

DANIELS: I got a busy signal.

ROSENBERG: So Doc actually managed to record that call.

DANIELS: I look like I'm an idiot because I keep saying, wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CALL)

DANIELS: Wow. No way.

And I thought, well, I must have mis-dialed. So I dialed it again. Then it was a busy signal again.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF BUSY SIGNAL)

(SOUNDBITE OF BUSY SIGNAL)

DANIELS: I realized, OK, either something has gone wrong with the phone company here or somebody is using the Mojave phone booth right now. I was totally hyperactive. My main thing was I didn't want them to get away. Like, I was thinking, I need to catch it right when they hang up that phone. So I just redial, redial. And it rang. And it rang four or five times. And I thought, oh, crap. And then I heard a voice say, hello.

ROSENBERG: Sadly, Doc was only able to properly record his own words at this now historic moment.

DANIELS: But as many times I had called, I had given remarkably little thought if any to what I would say, you know, and I said...

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CALL)

DANIELS: Hello. Are you in the Mojave Desert?

And she said, yeah. And I said...

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CALL)

DANIELS: You are. OK. This is going to sound like a strange question - why are you in the middle of the Mojave Desert?

She said, I'm making my calls.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CALL)

DANIELS: Oh, like, you live out there? And you don't have a phone?

ROSENBERG: I got to say, when I looked at the transcript it was kind of funny because, like, you think everything is cool. You're like...

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CALL)

DANIELS: So what do you do out there?

ROSENBERG: And she's like cinder-mining.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CALL)

DANIELS: What you do with cinder?

ROSENBERG: She's like, cinder blocks. And you're like, that's so cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CALL)

DANIELS: That is so cool. This is so cool that somebody finally answered.

And she said, that she never heard the phone ring before.

ROSENBERG: Can you tell me her name?

DANIELS: Yeah. Her name's Lorene.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CALL)

DANIELS: Lorene, it's nice to meet you. If the phones ever ringing again, pick it up. It'll be me. Alright. Nice meeting you. Bye.

ROSENBERG: Was there any sense of disappointment?

DANIELS: No. No. Disappointment about what? Not at all.

ROSENBERG: Well, let me put it this way. It's almost kind of like the idea that this phone is ringing out there in the desert and anyone could pick up. But then finally picks up and it's just Lorene.

DANIELS: No, no, no, no. See, I look at it the exact opposite way. Somebody did pick up and I had no right to expect anyone ever would. So this was great to hear a human voice in place of the ringing, you know, I mean, this was a payoff. It just encouraged me more. And the instant I hung up I kick myself because I had forgotten to ask her what was probably the most important question - which is where was the phone booth? But of course I had no way to get in touch with her except to find the thing.

ROSENBERG: So Doc calls around, does some sleuthing and a few months later gets his hands on the equivalent of an X-Marks-the-Spot map, showing the supposed location of the Mojave phone booth.

DANIELS: So I thought, oh, we're all set. So my friend and I took off and traveled all the way to the Mojave Desert. And this is in the middle of August. And so it's scorching hot, just scorching hot. Basically as far as you could see you saw Joshua trees and then we saw this little dirt path that was marked, you know, danger, danger, warning, maintained - blah, blah, blah. That was the road we were supposed to take. So we were, you know, we were just going along, going along. At first I thought this is not bad at all. But the further along that we went the road would narrow and the thing was that the sun was going down and in the daytime you've got these grand, huge vistas and you have a sense of where you are. But when the darkness drops it's just what ever you can see right in front of you. And we were ringed by storms. There was lightning almost in every direction. So then I started to think, if we have any kind of a problem unless we do find the phone booth we have no way of, you know, letting people know we're really in trouble. But at a certain point, just barely in the reach of the headlights, I thought I saw a line of telephone poles. And there was a little jut to the left and then a little jut to the right. And I brought the van to the stop with the headlights just shining right on the Mojave phone booth. It was really quite a moment and there's bullet holes in, it there's no glass it's all busted out, it's kind of a wreck, you know, but to me was just - it was beautiful. I needed to hear that phone ring. I needed to hear what I had been causing to happen all this time out there. So I called my friends pager and here I am out in the Mojave surrounded by Joshua trees and lightning and desert and now there's a familiar ring. And it was so loud, it was really loud, the bell was just crazy loud. For me that was kind of the moment, is hearing that phone ring. It was everything that I had been imagining when I was calling.

ROSENBERG: After that, Doc thought the story was over. He did keep calling the booth after all someone else could pick up. But that was just for him. He never really expected anyone else to care until he did something which would have not have seemed risky back in 1997. But which today is obviously very, very dangerous. He gave the booth a webpage.

DANIELS: And in those days the Internet, there wasn't that much on it. So I thought that was about as far as it would go.

ROSENBERG: But yeah, that's not what happened.

DANIELS: Next thing you know I'd go to my P.O. Box and there would be clippings about the Mojave phone booth from newspapers in languages that I didn't read. It just spread. So I thought, well, this is unexpected.

ROSENBERG: And so when Doc and his friends returned to the booth, about a year after his initial visit, when they got there this phone - way out in the middle of nowhere - which Lorene had said she'd never heard ring, it was ringing off the hook.

DANIELS: You didn't have to call anybody. It was just as soon as you would hang up the phone it would start ringing again. It was just crazy. You'd pick it up and, you know, who's this person going to be? Where are they going to be? And you had no idea it could be somebody from, you know, Vietnam or Iran or just anywhere. Some people would call and you couldn't talk to them because they didn't speak English. And again, you know, most of the time it wasn't about the content. You know, you're not really saying anything. It's really not the point. It's just the connection. An old trucker guy called and I think he just wanted to be listened to. He wanted to tell stories about his trucking days. And he didn't seem to have anybody to tell them to.

ROSENBERG: How many calls did you end up taking that day?

DANIELS: It would be over 100 guaranteed. And admittedly you hear the phone ring and after a while it would be like, you get it - no you get it. It's your turn. You get it. We eventually had to take it off the hook so we could sleep.

ROSENBERG: And when they put it back on the hook the next morning so they could leave...

DANIELS: There wouldn't have been a way to leave in silence. I mean, you were going to have to - since it was ringing all the time, you were going to have to drive away from a ringing phone.

ROSENBERG: And people weren't just calling the booth. They were visiting, traveling all the way out to the desert just for the honor of informing callers that yes, the phone booth was real.

ROSENBERG: This is from a short documentary made about the booth. It's just a montage of people from all over the place, taking calls from all over the place.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOJAVE MIRAGE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We're here. Where are you? England. We're from Switzerland. Australia. Right on, bro.

DANIELS: You were presenting yourself to the world in a way that anybody would wanted to could call you. There was no control over who could call that phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No. I don't think. You used to work for the circus? We're you quadriplegic? Or paraplegic? Quad? Wait a minute, you got fired from the circus because your best friend slept with somebody else? How long were you in a coma? A couple weeks. Yeah me too. I was in a coma for two weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: It's kind of fun. You should come out and do this.

ROSENBERG: Did you like the fact that it became popular or would you have preferred it to remain...

DANIELS: No, at first I liked it. The hesitation came about just because once something like that gets out of control then you know that the equal and opposite reaction is going to come. The only question was, when? And then in May of 2000, Lorene's brother on the way out to the mine stopped and answer the phone, because it was ringing of course, and talked to some guy in England. Who said, he was sitting there with his fiancee having tea and crumpets. And he talked to him for a little while. And then continued on to Lorene's. And then in the morning when they were leaving, the booth was gone.

ROSENBERG: In this case, the equal and opposite reaction had come in the form of the National Park Service. It turned out that the booth was almost smack-dab in the center of a new national preserve. And the phone had laid dormant, it hadn't been a problem. The park officials haven't taken kindly to all the new foot traffic or, for that matter, the ringing. By the time Doc figured out what was happening it was already too late.

Did you go out and see this for yourself?

DANIELS: No, no. I didn't go out until I think about, oh, 2009-2010, long, long after. I mean, once I knew it was gone I didn't want to go out.

ROSENBERG: Why not?

DANIELS: Just be too sad, you know. I mean, I have a lot of fun there. (Laughter). You know, it was funny, too. That people did keep going out and they would go and visit the concrete pad that the booth had stood on and a guy made a really nice tombstone for the booth. And everything that anybody brought out there the park service hauled off. And eventually they came out and broke up the concrete pad and took that away, too.

ROSENBERG: So it was like it was never there?

DANIELS: Yeah. When I was there the only thing left was a few pieces of glass from the broken windows. And people would say, yeah well, it's not your phone booth. And I would say, I know, it's not my phone booth, but it's my fault, you know. It wasn't as though I set out to make a phone booth famous, far from it. It's just had I known I might not have done it. I mean, I might still. I don't know, but I might not have.

ROSENBERG: With the booth even hold the same appeal today given that we can now reach anyone anywhere?

DANIELS: No. I mean, that's something that I have thought about is whether it could have happened even five years later. And I just don't think it would have. I mean, that was kind of the magic of being in contact in an un-contactable place. And I don't think you have that feeling now.

ROSENBERG: Did you ever try calling the number again after that?

DANIELS: Oh, of course. Come on, Joe. (Laughing). Of course I did. I mean, they let it ring for a long time. I mean, they left - even though the phone was not there.

ROSENBERG: But, would that even make sense because you're not even making a phone ring anymore in the desert. You're just making a kind of a...

DANIELS: Sure. I would know that. But still it would be like listening to a song that meant something to you. I don't know. I guess I did just like calling out to the booth and hearing it ring in the end.

WASHINGTON: Big thanks to Doc for sharing his story. You can still see the original Mojave phone booth webpage in all its glory at dueceofclubs.com. And stay on the lookout as well for Doc's upcoming book about all his adventures in the Mojave. Many thanks as well to Karina Cleverly Roberto and Derek Roberto for letting us share clips documentary-short "Mojave Mirage." We'll have a link to both the website and the film. It's snapjudgment.org. Now, when SNAP returns, it's all well and good to give your all for family and friends, but what about someone you don't even know? On SNAP JUDGMENT The End of the Line episode continues, stay tuned. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Footage courtesy of the documentary short "Mojave Mirage" by Kaarina Cleverley Roberto.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A look at Juan Pollo founder Albert Okura’s success, big dreams

In 2005 Albert Okura, founder of Juan Pollo restaurants, purchased the small town of Amboy for $425,000 from Bessie Burris. Okura is in the process of restoring the town. (Photo by John Valenzuela — staff photographer)

By Jim Steinberg
The San Bernardino Sun


AMBOY >> It’s 111 degrees in the Mojave Desert, and Albert Okura effortlessly unloads large boxes of drinks and snacks from the back of a van. It’s taken him three hours to drive here in a wildly decorated vehicle topped with a toy motorcycle mounted by a plastic chicken.

Nearby, there are several groups of European foreign visitors at the gas station or inside its adjacent convenience market. Okura could be overheard telling one cluster, “I own this town.”

It’s true. All part of a destiny.

The word destiny is important for Okura, 63, who is marking his 30th year in business as founder of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain, based in San Bernardino but with 28 outlets in Southern California.

Some day, that destiny will include overtaking KFC, in terms of number of chickens sold, he said.

LESSONS LEARNED

Okura is marking this anniversary with a self-published book, “Albert Okura The Chicken Man with a 50 Year Plan.”

“Intellectuals don’t like the book,” he said, “but people who have started their own business do.”

The book is designed, he said, to give “life lessons” to people across the planet who want to get into the restaurant business.

There’s another reason for the book, Okura said.

With outlets in San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties, Okura (who walks briskly and frequently wears running shoes) said,“I’m looking for someone smarter than me” to guide the chain’s future growth.

He’s also looking for an inventor who can bring sophisticated computer technology into the rotisserie chicken cookers to standardize the labor-intensive cooking effort required to turn out the kind of moist, tender and flavorful product Okura said customers have come to expect.

He’s also looking for someone with money to invest in the firm.

“That’s one of the reasons for the book.” Okura said. “So people would understand my philosophy and want to join me.”

The athletic-looking Okura, with an upper torso like a college track team member, said, “I’ve taken the company as far as I can.”

‘WONDERFUL MISSIONS’

Okura owns the original McDonald’s restaurant site in San Bernardino, which is both his corporate headquarters and a museum, and has a small Route 66 Museum adjacent to his San Bernardino restaurant on 5th Street, which at one time was Route 66.

Inside, there are relics that harken to the early days of fast food, and it’s a destination for tourists from around the world.

And then there’s the preserved ghost town of Amboy, west of Needles and east of Ludlow on Route 66.

Owning Amboy is exactly the kind of unconventional endeavor for which Okura has become known.

“Okura goes off on these wonderful missions not tied to the bottom line,” said former San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris.

“Amboy is a complete hole in the ground...a money pit,” Morris said. “He thought it would be interesting to own a town on historic Route 66 even if it is as dead as doornails. He is interested in the history of the Route and the history of the city...the guy is a giver...he has ways of uniquely giving that are his own.”

DESTINY

When Okura first heard Amboy was for sale in 2003, he hadn’t heard of it.

But a friend told him he needed to buy it and when he saw it, he agreed.

In 1976, when Okura bought his first house, in Torrance, his real estate agent told him that he regretted not buying raw land decades before.

From that moment on, Okura said he believed buying a town would be his “destiny.”

For now the “destiny” of Amboy includes its two dirt landing strips, its 26-unit motel, an abandoned 1950s-era Packard in the parking lot. Roy’s Motel and Café is a Route 66 landmark.

Founded in 1859, the once gold- and silver-driven community met its demise with the completion of Interstate 40 in 1984.

Along with its landing strips and motel, it’s got a church, a functioning post office, four gas pumps and a variety of scattered buildings.

Like many communities across The Mother Road, Amboy had come to rely on tourism. Then the interstate sucked away its lifeblood.

But Okura sees a strengthening interest in Route 66 — domestically as well as internationally, and believes tourism may become a driver.

A DEAL ON A TOWN

Initial efforts to buy Amboy for a $1 million-plus price tag fell through, but he was successful in 2005 for a mere $425,000.

“You see, it was my destiny,” he said, putting emphasis on the “was.”

Amboy hasn’t changed dramatically since Okura purchased it. But delivering a water system has been more complex — and costly — than anticipated. Okura believes he’s close to a working system that could supply water for future town growth.

One of the difficulties has been to find good technicians willing to travel to the remote Mojave location.

The gas station has re-opened, although pumps only work for regular gasoline. Bathrooms have been reopened and inside the station are drinks, snacks and a place to cool off.

There’s still work to do with the water system, but ultimately Okura would like to see a cafe operator come in and reopen the iconic Roy’s Cafe, although he says it would be difficult to make a profit.

“It would have to be a family operation to be successful,” he said.

The same is true for reviving the motel, he said.

Amboy is hot in the summer and cold in the winter, he said. “It’s more about the Amboy charm and the open country.”

The night skies are beautiful, he said. “For people who like the desert, it’s ideal.”

NATURAL-BORN ATTENTION-GETTER

Although he’s no Harvard MBA, Okura is quick to recognize creative people and harness their talents. And he understands how to tap the power of traditional and social media to champion his Juan Pollo brand.

As an example of his showmanship, his numerous vehicles with wildly colorful cartoon characters painted on the sides are fixtures in the region.

But even this eruption of color doesn’t generate the buzz Okura seeks.

So he puts plastic motorcycles on top of some vehicles — using plastic chickens as riders.

On a recent drive on the 15 Freeway, a laborer in the passenger seat of a flatbed truck was seen using a smart phone to photograph Okura’s van as he drove it in the southbound lane near Barstow.

“You should see mothers pointing this vehicle out to their kids,” he said.

Years ago, Okura said, he had a very expensive, high-performance truck. And when he drove that along area freeways, “nobody cared.”

Bad news, too, has brought him attention.

Okura boasts that San Bernardino’s bankruptcy has brought him a lot of media attention, especially among international media outlets.

For most of those, including a television piece that aired across Italy, Okura said he strikes a positive note about how he’s going to focus on his business and prosper, while others, he said, complain about a municipal government that drove the city into financial ruin.

REALIZING HIS DREAMS

Another “destiny” in his life is overtaking Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“That will probably take about 50 years,” said Okura, a Chino resident.

That means, he said, he must live until he’s 113.

Medical science is advancing rapidly, he said, and after all, his father is 98.

Who knows....

Judi Penman, president and CEO of the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce, said of Okura: He “has more than just one dream, and he fulfills them. He is an honorable man with many talents. He digs in and accomplishes things.”

Cahuilla dug wells near La Quinta's Point Happy

Point Happy Date Gardens at the intersection of Highway 111 and Washington Street in the 1960s. This is now the site of Vons shopping center. (Photo: Photo courtesy of La Quinta Historical Society)

Denise Goolsby
The Desert Sun


The area just east of the Santa Rosa Mountains, where its foothills jut out into the desert near the intersection of Highway 111 and Washington Street in La Quinta, used to be home to the Cahuilla Indians. Later, it was a watering hole along a stagecoach route, and for many years, a working ranch.

The sprawling land where the ranch once stood is now occupied by Plaza La Quinta, a bustling shopping center anchored by a Vons grocery store and the Estates at Point Happy, an enclave of luxury homes.

The Cahuilla Indians found the area — which became known as Point Happy at the turn of the 20th century — a hospitable spot, as the Santa Rosas provided protection from fierce desert sandstorms and flash flooding.

Along the wash, the Cahuillas dug gently sloping pathways down to the springs below. The hand-dug "Indian Well" was located less than 300 yards from Point Happy. It was destroyed in the 100-year flood in 1916.

When gold was discovered in La Paz and Ehrenburg, Ariz. in 1862, Major William Bradshaw established the first trail through the Coachella Valley and across the Colorado Desert to California's neighboring state. Point Happy soon became a landmark for stagecoaches traveling the Bradshaw Trail. During this period, the stop began its tradition as a hospitable "watering hole" for desert travelers.

The area, tucked under the shadow of the Santa Rosas, was named after Norman "Happy" Lundbeck, an early desert settler who began homesteading the area in the early 1900s. Lundbeck established a stable and small store and sold wares to those traveling across the hot, dusty desert. A one-room elementary school was built on the property in 1916.

The Point Happy property and 135 adjoining acres were bought in 1922 by philanthropist Chauncey D. Clarke, who named it Point Happy Date Gardens. Clarke, who thought climactic conditions were similar to those in the Middle East, raised Arabian horses on the ranch for four years until his death in 1926.

J. Win Wilson, in a Los Angeles Times article dated March 8, 1925, said Clarke, "is a very enthusiastic booster for the dates and horses of the old world desert lands. The desert climate and condition, he believes, offer the finest training ground for making the horses both sure-footed and strong in shoulders and joints. In other words, he believes that conditions in the Coachella Valley are so similar to those in Arabia, where the Arab horses have been developed to perfection, as to afford ideal environment for the raising of this notable breed of equine."

The Times article described the agreeable conditions at the ranch, where at the time, Clarke had 11 horses — five stallions and six mares.

"His stud is provided with all modern conveniences: solid box walls, corrals, tank house and modern living quarters for his trainer. A quarter-mile track is also a feature, for regular exercising of his horses figures prominently in Mr. Clarke's plans."

Louise Rodarte Neeley, historian and a member of one of the city's pioneering families, recalls happy days at the ranch, where her father, Teofilo Rodarte was a foreman and her mother, Juanita, was the Clarke's housekeeper.

She said the ranch was filled with date palms and avocado, orange, fig, pecan, apricot, mulberry and grapefruit trees, row crops and sugar cane.

"We swam. We hiked. We had the mountain to the back of us," she said. "Growing up was happy. It was wonderful. Mother had chickens and a cow. We had the run of the place."

Her father was hired in 1923 and continued until his death in 1943. Her brother, Jess Rodarte was hired to tend the date trees.

Neeley said Mrs. Clarke's full-time gardener, Mr. Akahoshi, planted a large vegetable garden for home use and maintained an extensive rose garden and many varieties of annual flowers for the pleasure of their guests.

Knowing he was ill, Clarke sold his horses to the Kellogg Ranch in Pomona. Clarke died on Aug. 22, 1926. It is said that those horses became the breeding stock of the purebred Arabians in California.

His wife, Marie Clarke, a founder of the Hollywood Bowl, was instrumental in setting up and financially underwriting the Indio Women's Club. She continued to live on the ranch after her husband's death. She died on Oct. 30, 1948, leaving the property to Claremont College, which in turn, sold off parts of the property.

Point Happy Date Gardens was sold to William DuPont Jr., CEO of DuPont Chemical Corporation in the 1950s. He built a home in the Santa Rosa Mountains overlooking the ranch. To the southwest of the palm grove, he built a Spanish home with a pool and tennis court for friend Alice Marble, the top-ranked American woman tennis player in 1939.

Marble, a longtime Palm Desert resident, won 18 Grand Slam championships. She died at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs in 1990.

The house was finished on Dec. 16, 1965. DuPont Jr. died three days later. Portions of the ranch were sold off to subdividers.

The last owners of the ranch were Dr. Earl R. Kiernan and his wife Florence. By 2004, the final page was turned in the ranch's storied history with the construction of the Estates at Point Happy.

Sources: La Quinta Historical Society, La Quinta Museum, City of La Quinta Historic Context Statement, 1996.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The first and last days of Route 66 in Southern California

Route 66 (now Main Street) passing through the business district of Barstow, circa 1948. This busy downtown district was bypassed when the 15 Freeway from Victorville to Barstow was completed in 1958. (Courtesy photo)

By Mark Landis
San Bernardino Sun


Affectionately known as “America’s Mother Road,” Route 66 was created in 1926 by patching together a 2,448-mile network of existing streets and dirt roads. The historic highway cut a rambling path through the heart of the U.S., running from Chicago, Illinois, to California’s Pacific Coast.

The ink on the newly drawn route maps had barely dried before the road began a continuous process of paving, widening, straightening, and realignment. But even as Route 66 evolved and improved, new highways were already being planned that would eventually bypass and replace the old road.

The section of Route 66 that ran through San Bernardino County was originally part of National Old Trails Road which was designated in 1912. By May of 1914, road signs had been placed on most of the route through Southern California, and the flow of traffic over the rugged highway began to increase dramatically.

In Southern California, Route 66 became a lifeline of transportation and revenue that stretched from the remote desert town of Needles on the Colorado River, to the seaside community of Santa Monica.

More than 240 miles of the highway passed through San Bernardino County, and most of those miles traversed inhospitable sections of desert. Tiny oases sprouted up along the highway, providing gas stations, auto camps, cafés, and motels. These remote enterprises survived entirely on the business generated from the highway, and the traveling public was equally dependent on the services they provided.

In the larger, more established cities like Victorville, Barstow, and Needles, the highway passed through the heart of town, and the central business districts grew up along the route. City officials and business owners were quick to oppose any changes to the route that could negatively affect their economy.

Few of the people who depended on Route 66 for their livelihoods would have noticed a subtle turning point for the highway that occurred in 1935. On May 8, the San Bernardino Sun reported that $1 million of state highway funding had been allocated for construction of a new freeway from Pasadena to Los Angeles.

The Arroyo Seco Freeway (later renamed the Pasadena Freeway) was opened to the public in November 1940, making it the first freeway in the western United States. This six-mile stretch of intersection-free roadway signaled the beginning of California’s massive freeway building program that would continue for decades.

The first direct threat to travel and commerce on Route 66 became a reality in 1944, when the California State Highway Commission began buying up the right-of-way for a great “highway of tomorrow” from the Inland Valleys, to Los Angeles. Huge new post-war highway projects were planned all over the state, and war-weary Californians were ready to move into the future with modern freeways.

By 1945, construction of a 10-mile section of the new Ramona Freeway from Colton to Etiwanda Avenue in Ontario was underway. This section of the freeway would basically run parallel to Valley Boulevard, which was the closest major east-west thoroughfare.

On March 14, 1947, California Gov. Earl Warren cut the ribbon on the new section of superhighway, predicting that “one day, super freeways will reach from one end of the state to the other.”

The merchants and cities along Route 66 must have caught a glimpse of their future when the Valley Boulevard businessmen confronted Gov. Warren, protesting the deep impact the freeway would have on their livelihoods. They said the lack of adequate signs, and access had already greatly reduced their business.

Mile by mile, the Ramona Freeway bridged the gap between San Bernardino and Los Angles. Oddly, the entire right-of-way had not been purchased, nor had the exact route of the freeway been finalized before construction began.

The name of the Ramona Freeway was officially changed to the San Bernardino Freeway in 1954.

The new San Bernardino Freeway ran generally parallel to Route 66, just a few miles south of the old road. By 1957, the entire freeway could be traveled from Los Angeles to San Bernardino. This allowed motorists to completely bypass more than 50 miles of Route 66 between the two cities.

A new section of freeway running north and south through the heart of San Bernardino was opened in 1960. This section became the present-day 215 Freeway. It bypassed the portion of Route 66 that passed through town on Mt. Vernon Avenue, and many of the downtown merchants were wiped out by the loss of business.

Up in the High Desert, Route 66 was slowly being paved over or bypassed by the new Barstow Freeway. This section of freeway would eventually stretch from the summit of the Cajon Pass, all the way to Barstow. In 1956, the Barstow Freeway bypassed the section of Route 66 that ran through downtown Victorville. This marked the first major desert city’s downtown district to be bypassed by a freeway.

In 1958, the new section of freeway between Victorville and Barstow was opened, and the tiny desert communities of Oro Grande, Helendale, and Hodge were bypassed.

Fortunately, these communities were able to survive on other sources of revenue like cement manufacturing, farming, and nearby George Air Force Base.

By 1971, the scenic section of Route 66 through the Cajon Pass was completely replaced by the new Interstate 15 freeway.

The last original section of Route 66 through the desert between Barstow and Needles was bypassed in 1973, when the construction of Interstate 40 was completed. Interstate 40 bypassed, or paved over, 165 miles of Route 66 through San Bernardino County. The town of Daggett and the rest stop communities of Newberry Springs, Bagdad, Amboy, and Essex, were left stranded in the desert by progress.

Within a few short decades after its conception, Route 66 was unceremoniously dismantled, and rendered obsolete by an expanding network of modern super-highways.

Thankfully, many sections of the old road were preserved, and are still in use today as city thoroughfares, and pieces of rural highways. Beginning in the 1990s, Route 66 saw a resurgence of tourist traffic. Drivers came from all over the world, seeking out the remaining sections of the old highway to relive the nostalgic glory days of the Mother Road.

It seems that even America’s beloved Route 66 was really only a stepping stone in the rush of unstoppable progress to build a great federal interstate highway system.