Apple Valley was not quite so obscure a place as I may have implied. Even as a child, I was aware of a couple exceptional circumstances. First, it was the home of then famous (if by now likely forgotten) singing movie and TV stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Their signature song was “Happy Trails to You…” (YouTube). My family even met them once, outside after church, at Church of the Valley along Highway 18. (My parents were nominally Methodists, but were not hard-line about it the way so many people are now; they took their kids to church, as I grew up, more as a matter of social habit than out of any motivation toward religious inculcation.)
Years later after Rogers and Evans died, there was a Roy Rogers Museum in Apple Valley, along Highway 18, that stood for many years. It later relocated to Missouri (http://www.royrogers.com/museum.html) and eventually closed. A few of their artifacts remain at the Victor Valley Museum, in Apple Valley, (http://www.sbcounty.gov/museum/branches/vvm.htm), that I visited in 2011.) Their legacy lives in the names of roads in Apple Valley: “Happy Trails Highway” (Highway 18, as it runs through the valley) and “Dale Evans Parkway”.
Apple Valley was also noted for its “house on the hill”. The hill is that narrow ridge that parallels the angled portion of Highway 18. At the top of which had been constructed a modernist house with a pool split between the indoors and the outdoors. The house was built by Newt Bass, one of the founders of Apple Valley, who along with Bud Westlund had developed the valley by buying 6300 acres of desert land with the intention of developing a cattle ranch; instead they sold the land as real estate, and became wealthy. There’s more background and many photos of the house in this article, Newt’s Paradise – Apple Valley’s Spectacular Hilltop House, on a blog devoted to historic southern California architecture.
The house was built in the 1950s (the article doesn’t say exactly when), and when my family lived there for several years in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, my father even took us on a tour of the house (enabled by the local real estate firm, Apple Valley Ranchos, if I recall). I remember that indoor/outdoor pool especially.
Years after we’d moved away, the house was nearly destroyed by fire in 1967. It was partially rebuilt, but never sold as a house, and was used as office space for some years, before being abandoned and falling into complete disrepair. The shell of the house is still there. I found this YouTube video of a local guy hiking up to the house in 2010, and discussing its history, and giving us views of the surrounding valley.
A story I heard later, from my father, was that a James Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever (1971), had been filmed in that house. This was not true, I later discovered; the claim was some confusion with a similarly spectacular house in Palm Springs, the Elrod House, designed by John Lautner. (You can find a clip from that film, shot inside the Elrod House, on YouTube. And anyway the hilltop house in Apple Valley had burned down by then.)
I knew about Roy and Dale, and the hilltop house, as a child. More recently, in researching the area, and revisiting it in 2009 and 2011, I learned a bit more. Wikipedia’s Apple Valley entry tells us its history, including the railroad station established where Victorville is now, and how ranching and farming in Apple Valley fell off after World War I and the Depression. The last few apple groves were killed off by fungus infections in the 1940s.
In the ‘50s and ‘60s Apple Valley promoted itself as a desert resort town, a sort of cut-rate Palm Springs that was a bit shorter drive from LA and Hollywood, by 50 miles or so. Nestled below the Newt Bass hilltop house was the Apple Valley Inn, a high-end, for its time, collection of bungalows surrounding parking lots and a swimming pool. Wikipedia’s Apple Valley Inn page notes that that the Inn, which opened in 1948, “originally allowed only white Christians as patrons”. It closed to the public in 1987, though part of it still remains (www.historicapplevalleyinn.com/) as a facility that can be rented out for events.
The Wikipedia page for Apple Valley shows a long list of “notable people” who lived in or spent time there, evidence of its proximity to LA and its attraction as a desert resort. One example: none other than Richard Nixon spent three months at Newton Bass’s hilltop house, in 1961 (while we were living there!), writing his first book.
The Wikipedia page also has a list of films and TV episodes filmed there, including an episode of the popular TV series Perry Mason, and the film Ordinary People (the golf course scene perhaps? I’ve seen the movie a couple times and can’t now recall what scene might have been shot there).
The larger town of Victorville (Wikipedia), now cut through by Interstate 15 and traffic back and forth between LA and Las Vegas, has similar credits for films, if not residents. One notable Victorville event: in 1940 the screenwriters for Citizen Kane, Herman J. Mankiewicz and John Houseman, spent 12 weeks working on their script at the Kemper Campbell Ranch, in Victorville along the Mojave River and virtually on the border of Apple Valley.
On one of my return visits to the area, I think in 2009, I drove far into the still desolate north end of Apple Valley, to where my GPS map indicated a town named “Bell Mountain”, centered on an intersection of two roads a bit east of the actual mountain of that name. Little was there. Some web sleuthing turned up the fascinating information that a “community” had once settled there, by people who’d been rejected from staying at the Apple Valley Inn! There was even a post office there, for a while. But in 2009 there was no visible community (no commercial buildings at all, no shops, no gas stations, no diners), just remnants of old settlements, houses, and trailers. As ‘standards’ at the Apple Valley Inn relaxed over the decades, the need for segregation dwindled and vanished, presumably.
(As always — this is a first draft, potentially to be revised for later use.)