Friday, August 27, 2010

Movies in the Santa Clarita Valley: Mentryville, Part One

In my Movies of the Santa Clarita Valley series I did last fall (can you believe it's been almost a year already?), I talked about various spots in the SCV that were places of movie history. Now that I've moved out here to the SCV, I am so glad I did that series, because it's given me an appreciation for so many places out here that I would have not known about before. I tend to be on the lazy side when it comes to exploring the places around where I live, wherever that may be, and sometimes I'll go years without knowing about some spot's historical significance.

One of the places I plan on visiting soon out here is Mentryville.

Located four miles west of the Lyons Avenue exit on the I-5, Mentryville was an oil drilling town in the late 19th century. The first oil strike was on September 26, 1876, and by 1900, Mentryville was a booming town of 200 people. The town was centered around it's oil well, "Pico Number 4," the first commercially successful oil strike in California, and the longest running well on record, finally being capped in 1990.

Wikipedia writes about the man who was the town's namesake:

"The town was named after the superintendent who was in charge of the oil field, Charles Alexander Mentry. Mentry lived in the town until his death in 1900 and built the 13-room mansion that still stands there. In 1900, the Los Angeles Times described Mentryville as "an ideal community of modest homes," where families were reared and a schoolhouse, social hall, bakery, boarding houses, bunkhouses, blacksmith shop and machine shop were built.

"There was also a gas-lighted tennis court, croquet fields, and a main road paved with local asphalt. One thing the town lacked was a bar. Mentry had reportedly "imbued the town with his puritanism as well as his name," prohibiting drinking and the use of foul language. When Mentry died, the entire town of more than 200 persons, except for three individuals left behind in Mentryville, traveled to Los Angeles for his funeral, bringing with them a large floral arrangement in the shape of an oil derrick.

Mentryville was eventually abandoned, partially because the amount of oil slowed over time, and partially because of changes to the oil industry. During the 1930s, most of Mentryville's remaining residents left, many tearing down their houses board by board and nail by nail, and taking it all with them. By 1962, Mentryville had become a ghost town, with only a caretaker family living in Mentry's old 13-room house. A visitor to the camp that year reported that 'rusted oil equipment cluttered the canyon,' toppled derricks lay rotting, and the cemetery was 'choked with weeds, hidden and forgotten.' "

Mentryville was rescued, first by Francis "Frenchy" Lagasse who persuaded Standard Oil not to raze the town in 1966, and later by the Santa Clarita Historical Society. Mentryville is now loving maintained by Friends of Mentryville.

Mentryville and Pico Canyon also have their place in SCV movie history, having been used in such films and THE COLOR PURPLE and such television shows as THE X-FILES AND MURDER, SHE WROTE. More recently, Mentryville has been the setting for the fictional polygamist compound in the HBO series BIG LOVE.

Photos courtesy of the Santa Clarita Historical Society and LA Mountains.com. There is a map of the park here.

For other installments of Movies in the Santa Clarita Valley, go to the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

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3 comments:

Ron Scheer said...

Great post and pics. I can get really curious about the social history of a place, and this one cries out to be recalled. Your mention of the overgrown cemetery makes me think of how such a place marks the resting place of a community's collective past - so much of which is unrecorded and lost forever.

Barry Traylor said...

I am curious about something, are triple digit temps common in the Santa Clarita Valley?

Laurie Powers said...

I can't wait to visit this place, Ron and I plan on taking lots of photos.

Barry, yep, during the summer. This summer, although the past few weeks have been extremely hot, has been mild for the most part.