September 4th, 2011:

Southern California Pioneer Walt Penland

Los Angeles just turned the ripe old age of 230! I imagine that fact will be a surprise to many who thought the film industry created everything. After all, being the entertainment, or should I say fantasy, capital means we can make ourselves what we fancy—from cowboys and aliens to sex symbol divas and millionaire studs, and everything in between.

I was fortunate to live in old ranch country (think late 19th to middle 20th century) before it became fully developed with one huge residential development after another. When I was running the Acorn, a local weekly newspaper in the Conejo Valley, I interviewed Walt Penland, who was born in Calabasas in 1905, attended the one-room schoolhouse there and lived the rest of his life in the same general area. For his 75th birthday, he was being honored as a community activist for his work in helping establish the local chamber of commerce, the water district and the school district. By the time Walt died not long after, the area was full of freeways, various school districts, with shopping centers almost everywhere.

When Walt was growing up, his parents, who had also been born in California, raised horses and farmed wheat and barley on over 1,200 acres of leased land, now the site for the exclusive Morrison Ranch Estates in Agoura Hills. The owner of the land was a fellow named Plummer who also owned the land that became the site for the famous Hollywood Bowl. Below is Walt Penland leaning on an old ranch building now long gone .

Walt was retired from the LA County Sheriff’s Department and was a fascinating storyteller; after all he’d seen lots of change. He married Dot, a local girl, when she was 16 and he was only 19. Dot’s father helped build the Malibu Lake Clubhouse in the Santa Monica Mountains and later became a caretaker of the grounds. Malibu Lake was surrounded by small vacation homes owned by such stars as Clark Gable, who would come to enjoy the fishing and hunting. More recently Malibu Lake has been a movie site for such films as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and “Must Love Dogs.”

Before his 32-year career as a deputy sheriff, Walt had done some farming, construction work and been a school bus driver. He had a Model T Ford touring car and drove Agoura’s few students (most of them ranch kids) over the steep Calabasas grade into the San Fernando Valley to attend Owensmouth High School (now Canoga Park High).

In their early married life, Walt and wife Dot rented little homes in the area for $5 to $15 a month. Nowadays, much of this same area is full of homes nearer the million dollar and up price tag.

Walt joined the Sheriff Department in 1930 and was assigned to the new station in Malibu in 1935. No longer part of law enforcement, that brick building still stands on Pacific Coast Highway and faces the Pacific Ocean. Getting to work was a challenge since the Santa Monica Mountains had to be traversed through one windy canyon road or another. During winter rains, Walt would have to drive miles out of his way. In extreme cases, he said, he’d have to leave his car at the Bel Air Country Club and walk the six miles down the coast to the station.

Radio cars were new in the early 1930s and transmission was a one-way affair. Deputies would frequently have to find the highest spot around (fairly easy in the mountains) to receive their messages.

The Agoura-Las Virgenes Chamber of Commerce gives a yearly recognition award to a deserving person in the community. It’s called the Walt and Dot Penland Award.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria Giraud

 

Author of Melaynie’s Masquerade

historical fiction – Amazon books

 

Editor — 85 books in all genres

 

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