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What should the roundabout’s story be?

Posted: September 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.

When I drive by the construction area of what will soon become the downtown Newhall roundabout — not to be confused with any medical-related term that shares the DNR acronym — I am reminded of the words of our illustrious Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.

“Good luck with that,” the supe so simply stated at the Chamber’s State of the County luncheon. I chuckled then, and I’m chuckling now, but I’ll hold my opinion until it opens and give it a whirl.

But what fascinates me most is the robust dialog surrounding the work of art destined to be the focal point of the roundabout.

One could argue that no art would be appropriate, since by its very nature art should be actively studied and sweetly savored — something logistically difficult to do while keeping eyes on the road, dodging cars, navigating a circumference and formulating an exit strategy.

But not having an art piece seems dull and a waste of valuable real estate. So what about the two options put forth by the Santa Clarita Arts Commission?

I traveled to City Hall to review the models and cast a ballot. But I couldn’t vote for either one.

Not because they were lacking in design aesthetic. Both were artfully done and conveyed a story. It just wasn’t the right story.

Yes, the Tatavian Indians secured a place in history as the first known inhabitants of the Santa Clarita Valley. Yes, our Western film heritage is enviable and anchored our movie-making know-how in these parts.

But, hands down, the greatest story of all in this one-horse-town-turned-metropolis is that of William S. Hart.
Local historian and award-winning columnist John Boston recently wrote that Hart was just about one of the biggest cowboy stars on the planet.

“Volumes couldn’t hold the amazing life of this man, who not only defined the modern cowboy star, but America as well.”

“John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper — dozens and dozens more of Hollywood’s Western icons — all give thanks to Hart for creating the first true Western hero.”

“In turn, these important spiritual and American ideals of heroism, the sanctity of the individual, of what it is to be a man, of doing the right thing — even at one’s peril or death — became one of, if not the, identifiable badge of what America is. This message was sent and resent to millions of viewers worldwide.” (Source: Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Guide, © 2013)

But Hart’s story doesn’t begin and end in film and entertainment. His legacy is far more than the collection of motion pictures that archive our tumbleweed past.

It is that part of his story after film-making where Santa Clarita transformed under his care.

America’s iconic cowboy hero retired to Newhall in 1926. When he died 20 years later, Hart magnanimously left his home and the surrounding land to the county of Los Angeles, hoping to give back to the community that had treated him so generously, according to his namesake museum’s website.

The story goes further. Bill Hart was also a great art collector; his magnificent homefilled with an impressive collection of western-themed art. 

Available to all who venture up to Hart’s imposing castle situated on La Loma de los Vientos (Hill of Winds) in Newhall, his collection holds oil paintings, watercolors, ink drawings, bronze sculptures, authentic Native American artifacts, and movie props from the 1920s.

And one more thing: Santa Clarita’s one and only high school district was named after the community’s benefactor, as was the first high school built in our valley. Hart was reportedly quite touched by the honor.

So all of this is a roundabout way of saying that any discussion of immortalizing a piece of history on what will be the gateway into downtown Newhall must begin and end with William S. Hart.

With the physical location of the roundabout directly outside the park that also bears his name, how could it possibly be anything else?

Cowboy. Benefactor. Legend. I’m thinking an imposing bronze figure of William S. Hart and his famous horse, Fritz.
Wait! Hold your horses! Seems Billings, Montana, paid tribute to our hometown hero a few years back when they erected a statue of Hart leaning against Fritz at their airport entrance.

Well, we may not be the first to the corral, by golly, but I’m sure we can do one better. After all, we have a roundabout!

Teresa Todd is a Newhall resident, president of Point of View Communications and adjunct professor at Loyola Marymount University.


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