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The keeper of the keys to the past

Steeped in the past, looking to the future — the SCV Historical Society

Posted: October 17, 2009 7:51 p.m.
Updated: October 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Pat Saletore poses at the railroad station managers desk complete with telegraph and antique telephone at Heritage Junction adjacent to Hart Park.

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Saugus Train Station houses an area called the "Tin Room." Originally, it was used by station agents as storage for important papers as it was less susceptible to fire.

Nowadays, Pat Saletore uses it to protect boxes filled with rocks.

The executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society keeps about a dozen or so file boxes around not because she retains much interest in geology. Rather, she feels that these artifacts are gateways into the past.

"They look like rocks," said Saletore. "But because they were used by local Indians, they are important."

Of late, the artifacts, as well as countless photographs and other items of local history, are in the process of being catalogued and made available to museum visitors.

The process is arduous and time consuming. Saletore undertook the project when she became executive director.

"I think people would be really shocked to see how much we really have," she said.

Saletore hopes that the project will be completed "sometime within my lifetime."

The cataloguing is being done by two volunteers, which remain the lifeblood of the museum.

"History is only saved by the people who care about it," Saletore said.

Such a short-staffed institution often means that many of the less-than-glamorous responsibilities fall to Saletore.

"The men's toilet was running so I had to stop at the hardware store. It's a really romantic job," she joked.

She also is the keeper of the keys to the numerous buildings that comprise Heritage Junction, home of the SCV Historical Society.

Saletore took the job of executive director back in late 2004, after volunteering at the museum for nearly 20 years.

The 55 year-old Idaho native has always held a passionate view of history.

"History is my first love. That's where my heart really is," she said.

Saletore moved to the SCV in 1978, with her husband, Dilit, and became active in several political causes, including the cityhood movement.

When an expansive dump was proposed for Elsmere Canyon, Saletore was against the idea. She took to the SCV Historical Society as a way of finding information that could help the cause stop the landfill.

"I was in the midst of protesting the use of Elsmere Canyon for a dump. And I wanted to get as much info as I could about the history of Elsmere," she said. "They were literally going to put the largest dump in the world at the end of what is now Newhall Avenue."

The movement succeeded. The dump was stopped. But Saletore's story with the historical society was just beginning.
In the late 1980s, Saletore began to notice that the quiet "cow town" of the SCV was starting to fill up with people.

"All people who had moved here in the 1980s moved in thinking they moved into a new house in a new town and had really no idea of the history. I thought that was a sad lapse," she said. "I thought it was important to get the word out there that there was a wonderful, rich history here."

Saletore became a docent around that time. Docents are tour guides, of sorts, and are responsible for interpreting the information presented at the museum. She remains one of the most dedicated docents and her pride shows.

"I give a really great tour," she said. "Ask anybody."

But the goal, for Saletore, remains the same - remind people who they are and where they come from.

"You should value it for what it is because you chose to live there. You chose to live there because of what it is and you should value what it is and what it was by extension," she said.

Saletore believes that efforts such as these allow locals to appreciate the world around them, and the idea of paving over everything for development's sake would be a waste.

"There's richness in understanding how you got somewhere," she said. "If it's not preserved then you have the San Fernando Valley or something."

From the Native Americans to the cowboys, from the gold rush to industrialization, from railroads to cars to planes, it's all a part of the community.

"So far from being a new bedroom community with stucco homes and pools in the back yard, the roots in this community go way, way deeper," said Saletore. "We can all take a share in that because we are all residents of this community. This community is the way it is because of the way it was 100 or 200 years ago."

For information about the SCV Historical Society and its programs, to volunteer or to donate visit www.scvhs.org. The SCV Historical Society, adjacent to Hart Park, 24107 Newhall Ave., Newhall is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays 1-4 p.m.

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