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Winter 2019


Winter 2019

Publishers' Message Putting together this edition of Imperial Valley Alive has been a nostalgic trip for the crew here. Before entering the public relations and magazine publishing business, all of us spent a number of years at the Imperial Valley Press. For this Winter edition, we are drawing on that experience and resurrecting some historical stories that were originally published in the Inland Empire Magazine, an annual publication that was produced by the Press from the late 1940s through the late 1990s. These stories (with just a few editorial modifications to eliminate confusingly dated information) are being reprinted with permission of the current Press management. We appreciate the support of Todd Schurz, CEO of Schurz Communications — former Press owners — as well as Lisa Reilly, interim publisher of the Imperial Valley Press. We were not sure who still owned the rights to the stories, so we obtained permission from both. The nostalgic part of this effort is the fact the principles at Imperial Valley Alive worked with — and in some cases were mentored by — the writers of these stories. Two of the best-known writers we present in this edition are the late Robert V. Liggett and the late Virginia Horn. Imperial Valley Alive publishers Bill Gay, Susan Giller and Peggy Dale all worked with, and were mentored by, Bob Liggett when he was managing editor at the Press. Bob was a journalist’s journalist, an adroit writer and an extraordinarily patient and generous teacher. He came out of the Midwest in the late 1960s to lead the newspaper’s editorial department until his retirement in 1989. Bob loved history, which is evident through the story we are republishing here that deals with early transportation challenges in the Valley. Then there was Virginia Horn. Virginia was a whimsical and wonderful colleague who started at the Press in 1965 as a part-time correspondent and became a

and heart-warming event in the history of Calipatria when a community came together in the midst of a family tragedy that ultimately resulted in the construction of Calipat’s signature 184-foot flagpole, the “World’s tallest” and dedicated to “Good Neighborliness.” full-time reporter in 1967. She is perhaps The other Inland Empire story best remembered in the Valley as the reproduced here is a 1976 piece by Bill newspaper’s Probe writer from 1977 until Gay, which has been edited for length. He shortly before her death in 2003. Virginia spent days in front of a microfilm machine was one of a kind. She was a selfgoing over old editions of the Press and taught writer, an incisive reporter and a the former Brawley News to develop a challenge to edit as she would vigorously story about the 1907 county seat fight defend every word in whatever story was when Imperial County separated from being edited. We are proud to present an San Diego. example of her work in the Inland Empire Rounding out content in this edition is story she wrote about El Centro and a story on Bill Caldwell’s avocation as Holtville founding father W.F. Holt. a collector of relics and gems of local Two of the other Inland Empire historical significance. This has led to magazine writers presented in this edition spent a relatively short time at the development of a unique business in El Centro. Imperial Valley Press but nevertheless We also have several items dealing with had an impact while they were here. the heritage of the California Mid-Winter Richard Lucy and Fred Vaughn were, Fair, including a racing story by Mickey respectively, a copy editor and reporter Dale and vintage photographs by the there in the 1970s. late Bert Hoppe. Another item that adds Richard’s sense of humor comes vibrancy to this edition is Antoine Abouthrough in his tongue-in-cheek story Diwan’s piece on the Imperial County about the naming of our local cities. Historical Society. You will learn all about Cabarker, Braly, So, as we bring you some stories of our Silsbee and Paringa. Spoiler alert: you will need to read the story to find out what rich heritage, we hope you enjoy this visit with the foundations that made Imperial is significant about those names. Valley come alive.  Fred’s story relates a momentous

TOP LEFT TO RIGHT: Susan Giller, William A. Gay , Sue Gay, Peggy Dale BOTTOM FRONT: Bill Amidon, Alejandra Noriega Winter 2019



Volume 3, Number 1 EDITORS & PUBLISHERS Bill Gay Sue Gay Susan Giller Peggy Dale

CONTRIBUTORS Antoine Abou-Diwan Stefanie Campos Mickey Dale Dylan Nichols

COVER PHOTO Joselito Villero

GRAPHIC DESIGNERS Alejandra Noriega Alejandra Pereida

WEB DESIGNERS Jesus Uriarte Sergio Uriarte

The 1966 California Mid-Winter Fair as seen from the Ferris wheel.. - Photo courtesy of Mickey Dale

PICK | Valley picker helps preserve local history, Page 6

PRESERVE | Early years celebrated at Pioneers' Park Museum, Page 22

SALES Bill Amidon Sue Gay Mark Gran John Lovecchio

SOCIAL MEDIA Marissa Bowers

RELIVE | Imperial Valley tracks roar into racing archives, Page 18 Fairgrounds through the ages, Pages 20-21

INSIDE | Publishers’ Message, Page 3 Calendar of Events, Pages 34-35 Kid Wise, Page 26

ADVERTISING 760-693-5330

SUBSCRIPTIONS Send name, address and email address along with $20.00 (plus tax) for annual subscription to:

Reliance Public Relations, Inc. P.O. Box 1944 • El Centro, CA 92244 IMPERIAL VALLEY ALIVE! is published quarterly by Reliance Public Relations, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical for any purpose without the written permission of Reliance Public Relations, Inc.


Winter 2019

ON THE COVER: Ted Flores, fair exhibit designer, uses antique memorabilia to decorate recreations of iconic Highway 86 sites in the Preble Building for the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta in Imperial. - Photo by Joselito N. Villero



Inland Empire Magazine stories are being reprinted with permission of the Imperial Valley Press 1976 - County Seat Fight, One of most bitter contests in Southwest history, Page 8 1969 - When Death Awaited: Trip into the desert was fictionalized in "The Winning of Barbara Worth", Page 10 1971 - Communication Legacy of W.F. Holt, founder of El Centro and Holtville, Page 12 1974 - So High, Yet So Low: How Calipatria came together to express "good neighborliness" in the midst of tragedy, Page 14 1975 - Cabarker, Silsbee, Braly: Local cities "gone" forever, Page 16

Long-playing vinyl albums and a turntable at Antiques & Auctions shop in El Centro. - Photo by Joselito N. Villero

The cover of the 1932 auto races at what was then called the Imperial County Fair Grounds Speedway. The program was collected by the late Don Templeton of Imperial - Image courtesy of Mickey Dale

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LEFT: Vintage tricycles for children for sale at Antiques & Auctions shop in El Centro. ABOVE: Bill Caldwell, owner of Antiques & Auctions shop in El Centro. - Photo by Joselito N. Villero

Historic gems By Dylan Nichols The term “picking” may not mean much to most people, but to Imperial Valley native Bill Caldwell, picking is a way of life. Picking refers to the art and practice of searching garage sales, swap meets, estate sales or even derelict barns and structures to find lost and forgotten artifacts, relics and gems of historical significance. A picker is a sort of modern history archaeologist. It is a calling Caldwell has followed for about 30 years, traveling across the country in search of items. “ I got into it because I believe in the saving of the heritage of the Valley. There’s lots of things that some people are willing to just give away that are so incredible,” said Caldwell. Some of these items include vintage bicycles, suitcases and several pieces of antique furniture. Several of these items are on display and for sale at Caldwell’s store Antiques and Auctions located at 455 W. State Street in El Centro. Caldwell runs the shop with family friend Tiffany Mendoza. Caldwell has some finds that he keeps for himself including original paintings by Salvador Dali and LeRoy Neiman.


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"Picker¨ helps preserve heritage

Caldwell said he favors paintings and photographs because they are visual representations of history. Recently, Caldwell came upon a large collection of photos by the late El Centro photographer Bert Hoppe, who documented activities locally for decades, most notably at the California Mid-Winter Fair in Imperial as well as at other fairgrounds in the state. This group contains photos of numerous politicians visiting the area including Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Without Caldwell’s intervention, the trove of

historical photos, which had been sitting in storage since Hoppe’s death in 2013, would have been thrown away. Also among the photos were some of the late United Farm Worker co-founder Cesar Chavez when he was arrested in Calexico in 1973. Caldwell has decided to donate some of the photos to the Chavez family and some to the Smithsonian Museum. Caldwell started picking by meandering through various garage sales and swap meets looking for things that interested him. He doesn’t have a specific goal in mind when he’s out picking, but follows a simple motto: “If

A child's toy car is among items at the shop. - Photo by Dylan Nichols

I don’t have it, I need it. If it looks like it served a purpose in the past, then I will buy it.” Caldwell has stuck by his picking motto and it certainly shows. He boasts several unusual items such as Russian crosses believed to be from the 1880s and a case full of antique fire extinguishers from the early 20th century, Caldwell has gone in search for items to add to his inventory across the country, to states like Texas, Washington state and to the East Coast states of Maine and Virginia. He and his wife travel frequently, which has given him the opportunity to find different pieces of history across the United States. He also has plans to travel to Italy later this year. “I’m making sure to bring an extra suitcase.” he said. Caldwell said the East Coast is incredible for finding historical items. He thinks Maine was the best state he’s traveled to for picking. “Here in California, you find stuff from the 1930s,” he said. “But on the East Coast, 1930s is the new stuff that people leave on the side of the road.” Yet, Caldwell does not have to venture

Antiques & Auctions is full of vintage items. - Photo by Dylan Nichols far for finds, he has found plenty of “picks” locally. “There’s just so many different things. You never know what you’re going to find,” he said. “The Valley has a long history that is so much more than a lot of people could imagine.” One interesting piece of Valley history Caldwell has found is a set of old menus

from different restaurants from around the Imperial Valley. They includes menus from the original La Hacienda restaurant in Imperial and the Waikiki restaurant in El Centro. The menus are on display at the store, but Caldwell has no plans to sell them. CONTINUED | PAGE 36

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W.F. Holt Inland Empire image The Imperial County Courthouse as it stands today. - Photo By Bill Gay

1907 county seat fight By William Gay 1976 Inland Empire Magazine (Reprinted with permission)


The Valley’s sibling rivalries, so apparent at high school football games, is really rooted in an event over 100 years ago when it sought separation from San Diego County and had to decide the location of a county seat. The resulting election was called “one of the most bitter contests for location of a county seat in the history of the Southwest.” The fight was played out on the pages of three newspapers of the time: The Imperial Valley Press, which championed the newly formed El Centro; the Imperial Standard, which advocated for Imperial, and the Brawley News, which ended up offering its home city as the compromise. The protagonists were citizens with strong, independent personalities. There was W.F. Holt, seemingly arrogant yet apparently optimistic and considerate of other people; wealthy, and tireless enough to found the cities of El Centro and Holtville in addition to bringing railroads to the Valley. Winter 2019

One of the most bitter contests for location of a county seat in the history of the Southwest

Holt, however, also was accused of working to line his own pockets. According to some, Holt founded El Centro (first named Cabarker) to prevent a rail line from going to Imperial. He also took over the Imperial Valley Press and funded The Brawley News to have media support in his drive to gain the county seat for El Centro. There was Edgar F. Howe, editor of the Imperial Standard newspaper. His newspaper led the fight on behalf of Imperial. Meanwhile, Holt financially backed Myron D. Witter and the founder of The Brawley News. But the News later strayed from Holt’s position by expressing the view that Brawley should be the county seat. The battle lines formed in May 1907. A group of Imperial men set up a meeting at that city’s water company hall to begin the process of “county division.” According to news accounts, 100 Valley citizens attended, but the Imperial Valley Press contended invitations were sent only to people favoring Imperial. The Brawley News reported that Judge

F.C. Farr made an “eloquent” speech in favor of forming a new county. The judge, from Imperial, stated there would be a better system of local justice, instead of relying on San Diego courts. The I.V. Press was not so gracious. “The speech was unnecessary, but it had been prepared for the occasion and had to be uncorked … When the learned attorney had pulled the tail feathers out of the American Eagle in his appeal to the patriotism (of his listeners) … the program carried with a rush,” the article stated. Farr’s “program” was a resolution to appoint a committee (three persons from each voting district) to take up the county division project and circulate petitions calling for an election. The balloting by Valley residents not only would separate the area from San Diego County, but also would name a county seat and elect the first county officers. At the time, there were 42 registered voters in El Centro, 510 in Imperial. At least one uninvited guest attended that first Imperial meeting. As noted in the I.V. Press, “A.D. Medhurst, of El Centro,

was not one of the 100 selected (to attend the meeting), but he secured a proxy and butted in.” Medhurst fired the first round for El Centro by telling the gathering it had “gall” to act without being democratically selected for that purpose. He demanded the meeting be adjourned and reconvened in two weeks, with delegates selected by people of the various voting precincts. Farr objected because Medhurst was not an official representative had no right to make the motion. According to the El Centro newspaper, “It was apparent to the chair that Medhurst would have to be squelched....” Meeting chairman Roy D. McPharron, an ex-mayor of Imperial and the Valley’s first attorney, ruled Medhurst’s motion out of order. The I.V. Press concluded McPharron ruled the meeting “purely a private affair”. It was at that initial session that the strategy of the division battle became evident. Imperial wanted a summer vote; El Centro backers wanted to wait until fall. With Valley residents heading to the coast for the summer, the number of available registered voters in the Valley was greatly reduced. El Centro proponents figured they had a better

RIGHT TOP: A plaque marks the spot of the first county courthouse, which today houses the Elks Lodge in El Centro. RIGHT BOTTOM: The building was the county's original courthouse. - Photos by Bill Gay chance of landing the county seat if balloting was held when more voters were available to participate. The resolution, adopted at the May 2 Imperial meeting, meant that city got the jump on the campaign. El Centro advocates set another meeting. The Imperial Valley Press advertised it for “all who are in favor of holding the county division after the hot weather is over so that the new county will not be formed before there will be money to operate it.” Meanwhile, Howe’s Standard accused Holt and his Holton Power Co. of trying to defeat the division attempt. Years later, in his autobiography, Holt noted “Imperial threw mud and (said) mean things about El Centro and its people, especially about (Holt). They accused him of many bad things, but he paid no attention to any of this.” CONTINUED | PAGE 38

Winter 2019



LEFT: A Model T sits at the Yuma Crossing. ABOVE: Portions of Old Highway 80 pass pens that housed animals near In-KoPah. - Photos by Bill Gay

When death awaited By Robert V. Liggett 1969 Inland Empire Magazine (Reprinted with permission)


Getting around the Imperial Valley is a high-horsepower, air-conditioned cinch today. Time was when it loomed as the death defying stretch along the route of the Butterfield Overland Stage. Wheeling along Imperial County’s divided, limited-access freeways with “horses” to spare under the hood doesn’t require the same rugged pioneer spirit of yesterday. And once off the freeway, the motorist finds the county crisscrossed by 1,360 miles of state and county blacktopped highway and uncounted scores of miles of city streets. But just “getting there” wasn’t always so easy. Imperial Valley is a young culture. One of its singular attributes is the continued presence of people who still remember how it was at the beginning. There are those like Rollie C. Clark of El Centro who were in the front ranks of those early battles. They were a tough, sun-hardened breed who wielded determination like a lance to turn a desert wasteland into a civilization. Winter 2019

Trip into our desert by the family of Rollie Clark fictionalized in Harold Bell Wright's "The Winning of Barbara Worth¨

Of such is the story of Imperial Valley people. The very network of highways in the Valley is testimony to the transformation from desert to comfortable habitat the Valley has undergone just since the turn of this century. San Diego, barring a sandstorm on Mountain Springs grade, is but two hours from El Centro today along highways that for the most part carry posted 70 mile-an-hour speed limits.

4 MPH in 1902 But when Clark and his father, the late R. H. Clark, clattered in a covered wagon down that grade in 1902 – just a year after the first irrigation water sloshed into the Valley from the Colorado River – they were lucky to make four miles an hour. And that pace could be averaged only when the wagon could be kept rolling for as much as an hour at a stretch. Twice on that grade, Clark’s old Studebaker prairie schooner had to be unloaded and dismantled – once to winch it over a washout, once to squeeze it through a narrow rock pass – then reassembled and reloaded again when the obstacle was cleared.

The trek from Pasadena to the Imperial Valley, through San Diego, took 14 days. It led them to a 160-acre homestead tract on the Date Canal, south of what is now El Centro in the district that still bears the name “Clark’s Corners.” There, the elder Clark became one of the first cantaloupe and alfalfa growers in the area and the first farmer to milk a herd of Texas longhorn cows. The key to desert travel always has been water. The Clarks carried large barrels of water hanging on either side of their wagon, enough, hopefully, for both man and livestock. So the trip, as they all were then, was from one water hole to the next. If the supply from the last springs lasted to the next, the travelers were all right. If not, they were dead.

Plunge Into History The Clark party made it down the grade, plunged into the sandy expanse of the desert and emerged on the pages of the novel that, early in its history, made Imperial Valley famous. “The Winning of Barbara Worth” was written by Harold Bell Wright, himself an early resident of the Valley. The Clark party, including Rollie, his

father, a brother, J. Hunter Clark, and an uncle, Neil Clark, met T. D. McCall as they rolled into the desert from the Mountain Springs grade. McCall advised them against pressing on. “People are dying out there” he warned. Four miles east of Coyote Wells, the Clarks came upon the first evidence that McCall’s foreboding was valid. They found a man’s body, unearthed by coyotes from its shallow sand grave. A buggy stood like a grave marker nearby, but the horses had vanished. A trunk had sprung open, strewing the wardrobe of a husband, a wife and a little girl about the sand, but an extensive search produced no sign of the mother and daughter. The Clarks buried the desert victim then plowed on deeper into the mesquite-covered West Mesa. But the desert was determined to test their mettle, too. It hurled the full fury of a sandstorm at them, and they lost most of their water. They had just two gallons remaining in their barrels when they arrived dirty, thirsty and all but whipped on the shores of what was then the Blue Lake, south of Seeley. Blue Lake later drained into the Salton Sea when the rampaging Colorado River finally was harnessed after the devastating floods of 1906-07. Several years later, the elder Clark told the story of their desert crossing to Wright. The story became the basis for the novelized version of the discovery of a desert foundling, Barbara Worth. “I remember that he came to our home one day to have my father tell him the story,” Clark recalls. Wright even then was at work on the novel which so poignantly described the hardships, the trials, the defeats and the successes of conquering a desert with irrigation water from a river 50 miles away. The Clarks’ migration into Imperial Valley was a typical story, repeated hundreds of times over as the population swelled from a handful of men with a dream in 1900 to more than 10,000 in 1905 as more water became available to open more and more land to cultivation. The desert was just as much a killer then as it was in 1775, when Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza pioneered, at heavy cost of life and livestock, through the Valley in search of a route to coastal missions.

The history of the Plank Road is told at Yuma Crossing. - Photo by Bill Gay

Chugging Auto Comes Not far behind the water and the people came the automobile, and its chugging, backfiring, unmuffled impact on the American way of life. By 1906, Barney Oldfield had driven a measured mile in 59 ½ seconds in Los Angeles. Already the railroad was here, and, in 1905, it was pushed by W.F. Holt deep into the center of the Valley to where the new city of El Centro was soon to rise. No longer did the traveler have to figure on a tedious and dangerous 10-day trip between Tucson and San Diego, through the Imperial Valley aboard the Butterfield Overland Stage. Even that, for a stagecoach, wasn’t such a bad time. It did have to swing south out of Yuma into Mexico to avoid the virtually impassable “American Sahara,” the sand dunes. It did have to negotiate Devils Canyon on the west before reaching the safety CONTINUED | PAGE 41

Winter 2019



Telephone operator switchboard stations are on display at Pioneers' Museum. - Photo by Joselito N. Villero

Valley communication legacy

of W.F. Holt


"The Missourian¨ founded both Holtville and EL Centro

By Virginia Horn 1971 Inland Empire Magazine (Reprinted with permission)

He inscribed his book, “To Fannie, my playmate, my sweetheart, my wife.”

When a Valley resident picks up a telephone, drops a dime into a vending machine for a local newspaper or flips on the air conditioning, he uses services first provided decades ago by W.F. Holt. He was the hero of two novels, a banker who never foreclosed on a business in his life but a tough businessman who once cut off Mexicali’s electricity because the revolutionary government did not pay its overdue bill. He underwrote the first church in the Valley and purchased the first school bonds and he founded most of the banks, the newspapers, the power, telephone and ice companies. When he grew old, he wrote his autobiography, and although he never established residence in the county, he devoted most of the 300 pages to his part in taming of the “Sahara of the West.” Like the dashing heroes of old, he had a touch of the romantic in his nature.

He had a touch of the pompous. He referred to himself throughout the book as “The Missourian.” Only occasionally did he indicate he was known by friends as “Frank.” Holt was a legend in his own time. He did nothing to prevent it. He named his first city, Holton, later changed to Holtville. He put his name on his power company, the Holton Power Co., which grew from power generated by water dropping over the bluff of the “east mesa,” site of Holtville. In his autobiography, he does not mention his brother, LeRoy Holt, who was a partner in so many of his enterprises. Some say the brothers had a “falling out.” Old texts do not mention it. When Holt came to the Valley in 1901, he was a prosperous man. Sure he had contracted tuberculosis, he had given up a good job as a the manager of a bank in Missouri. He lived to be 81 years old. When he stepped off the train at Flowing Wells, the desert stretched, wild and deceptively peaceful, far into the distance.

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The Missourian

Bloom Like Nile Plans already were underway to bring water to the land. Holt, having seen other parts of the west settled and tamed, was excited by the raw land needing only water to “bloom like the Nile desert.” It was a hard 28 miles to the Imperial Land and Cattle Co. settlement (now the site of Imperial), the outpost from which the land would be settled. Frank Holt likely was met at the settlement by his brother, LeRoy, who had arrived a few months earlier. The settlement was a rude collection of tents, one frame building and a patch of green sorghum planted for cattle feed. Presumably, water was hauled to the patch. Water from the canal project would not arrive for another four months. That same year, the brothers would join together to build the second building in town, a newspaper office. It is not clear who put the money up, the Holt brothers or the land company, but an early historian noted that LeRoy Holt nailed the shakes on the roof. Holt strung a telephone wire from Imperial to telegraph lines at Flowing Wells a

few months later so he could contact his business associates in Redlands. The line later became the Holton Telephone Co.

Phones vs. Laundry Phone messages were later relayed to the distant parts of the Valley via the barbed wire fencing along the railroad tracks. Pioneer women often hung laundry to dry on the lines, cutting off service to the area until the wash was spotted by repair crews or dried. Life was primitive in the settlement. Holt recalled shaking a rattlesnake out of his bed. Food arrived full of worms or spoiled. Labor was hard to get. A room in a canvas-topped hotel cost $2.50 a day. Holt, who built the hotel, 50 years later remembered the dimensions, the placement of the studding and the 30 rooms, a “far cry from the Barbara Worth Hotel built 14 years later,” he recalled. When the hotel was built, lumber was hard to get. Nobody had seen it rain in the arid desert; some said it never rained in the Valley. The canvas was stretched flat over the building to keep out the sun. One day it rained. For three days it rained. Water collected in the canvas and, in the middle of the first night, it sloshed onto the beds of the roomers. Some less hardy souls sought refuge in the hotel’s kitchen, Holt recalled. But most climbed back into their wet beds, slept and woke steamy but refreshed. The hotel cook was hard-working and extremely clean and able, Holt said. Ultimately he turned the management of the enterprise over to the cook, profits and all. The cook kept a pen of chickens behind the hotel to produce eggs for the kitchen. When a large bag of prunes arrived at the local general store full of worms, the cook dickered and purchased the prunes as chicken feed for $1. Fruit was hard to come by in the settlement and the cook provided jams and jellies to relieve the monotony of the diet. One day all of the jars labeled “strawberry,” “blueberry” and “plum” contained the same dark jam. Holt tasted the jam. It tasted like prunes. He declined a second helping. He noticed the other boarders eating the jam. There were several comments, “all of this factory jam tastes the same.” Holt did not tell the cook’s secret “because in all other ways, he was such a fine man and good cook.”

Vintage telephones on display at Pioneers' Museum - Photo by Joselito N. Villero Holt purchased 17,000 acres in the Holtville area cheaply in 1902 because engineers for the land company had decided the area was too high for watering by gravity flow from the canal. They were wrong. He later purchased the townsite and began laying out lots in 1903. Some said his first dispute with the land company came because the company did not want competing townsites in the Valley. Some said he purchased the El Centro site out of spite. Holt vowed to make it the largest town in the Valley, and he fought the “selfish interests” at Imperial to make the city the county seat in 1907. When El Centro won the county seat battle, it had 42 registered voters out of a total of 1,500. On the event of the election, Holt called meetings in El Centro, Calexico, Brawley, Holtville, Calipatria and Westmorland.

Newspaper Support

In anticipation of the fight, he purchased the newspaper in Imperial (which he founded in the beginning) and moved it to El Centro. He imported newspaper writers from New York and Los Angeles to manage the operations. The paper eventually would founder under such a high-class CONTINUED | PAGE 40

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REMEMBER | Calipatria's flagpole reaches 184 feet above sea level from the Valley's lowest-elevation city. -Photo by Bill Gay

No real work was done toward construction of a marker until tragedy struck a local community businessman on the night of Oct. 5, 1957. Druggist Takeo Harry Momita and his wife, Shizuko Helen, were involved in an auto accident during a trip to Los Angeles. Momita’s wife, a beloved Calipatrian who helped her husband in his drug store, was killed and Momita confined to a hospital for two weeks. This was the second great tragedy in Monita’s life, a naturalized Japanese-American who had been born in Hiroshima, Japan, and landed in America, with his mother and one brother, in 1909. He joined his father and two other brothers at an asparagus ranch on the Sacramento River. Later he attended the University of Southern California College of Pharmacy and after graduation came to the Imperial Valley. Momita operated a pharmacy in El Centro and Brawley between 1934 and 1942. He lived and prospered in the Valley until the hysteria of a nation at war with his homeland stripped Momita of his business and home. Momita and his family were sent to the Relocation Center near Parker, Ariz., where for three years they lived in crude barracks, plagued by insects and smothered by dirt and dust. Paid only $19 a month for a camp job, Momita and his family survived on 37 cents worth of rations per day. With the end of the war, Momita brought his family back to the Valley to pick up the pieces and start over again. It wasn’t easy, but he was able to reopen his drug store in El Centro and in 1952 bought the Calipatria Drug Co. In 1956 he finally gained his U.S. citizenship. As Momita lay in the hospital, grieving over the loss of his wife, the news of the tragedy stunned the community. Then-Calipatria mayor Edward Rademacher, Councilman Frank Garrett and other civic leaders rushed to Momita’s bedside to comfort him. Mayor Rademacher, knowing the importance of Momita’s business and seeing a fellow townsman in great need, asked Momita if they could run his drug store until he was able to come back and take over. Momita agreed and the morning after the accident the drug store was doing business with volunteer help. Rademacher and Garrett took time away from their own businesses to help run the drug store. From Brawley Chester Thompson of White Cross Pharmacy came three hours a day to fill prescriptions. By Fred Vaughn Calipatria residents truly came alive with a spirit and a willingness 1974 Inland Empire Magazine to help one of their fellow citizens. The story probably would not (Reprinted with permission) have gained the national and worldwide attention it did if it had not happened during an important turning point in America’s history. There are many unique and one-of-a-kind features in the Imperial Two thousand miles away, in Little Rock, Ark., the first rumblings Valley. Without doubt, the tallest one is the Calipatria flagpole. of the later headlong drive for racial integration were occurring. The It stands as a marker to the city’s depth below the surface of the clash of National Guard troops and demonstrators protesting the sea. Residents take pride in being known as members of “the lowest forced integration of local schools was giving America a bad name down city in the Western Hemisphere.” Too, the pole is a monument overseas. to the willingness of Calipatrians to help one another in a time of The State Department spread the story of a community helping need. a minority member as a counterbalance weight to Little Rock The early stirrings of an idea to build a marker showing how far throughout Asia and Europe. Estimates made at the time indicate Calipatria was below sea level started sometime in the late 1920s. Momita’s story was worth a million dollars in raising the esteem It became a favorite topic of discussion at Chamber of Commerce of the United States abroad. It showed that neighborliness and meetings and other town gatherings. brotherhood did have a meaning to Americans.

So high

—yet so low down


Winter 2019

Signage tells the story of the flagpoles. -Photo by Bill Gay With wide attention drawn to the story, many gifts and donations were received for a “memorial for Helen” from all 50 states and many foreign countries. Momita, touched by the thoughtfulness of so many, felt his late wife would not like being remembered in such a grand fashion, as she had lived a simple life. Instead, Momita donated the funds to start the old dream of a flagpole moving toward reality. With his donation, a “Build the Flagpole” campaign was started. Donors were given stock-like certificates to show how many inches of flagpole their donation had bought. Momita further donated to the fund and suggested that the flagpole be dedicated to the “Good Neighborliness” of his fellow Calipatrians. Donations of more than just money were received. The president of Pacific Southwest Pipe Company offered the services of his company free of charge to design and construct the flagpole. The final donation came from Momita. He had moved from Calipatria to Los Angeles, where he appeared on the “This Is Your Life” television show. Along with a new car and several prizes, Momita was presented with a donation of $1,000 for the flagpole. The flagpole was constructed of 11 sections of welded steel tubing, each a different diameter, so the pole tapers from 24 inches across at the base to a mere five inches at its top. Weighing over 18,000 pounds, the flagpole is equal in height to a 16-story building. It is set into a foundation of reinforced concrete 18 feet in the ground that weighs over 82,000 pounds. The flagpole was constructed to withstand both an earthquake and high winds. At 184 feet tall, its tip reaches sea level. The pole has two sets of ropes. One is used for the flag, the other to hoist 11 strings of lights used at Christmas time to turn the flagpole into the tallest Christmas tree anywhere. Three types of flags have been flown from the Calipatria flagpole – the regular flag, measuring six by nine feet; a special silk flag, 12 by 18 feet; and one measuring 24 by 36 feet. The large one is reserved for special occasions. The cost of the flagpole was $10,000, all of which was donated. In the early 1960s the Navy donated two old-time ship anchors, which were placed at the base of the flagpole. Efforts are underway to secure a ship’s bell, offered some years ago by the Navy. Visitors from all over the world have signed the guest book, indicating the great interest this unique Valley landmark has created. It can be justly said that the “World’s Tallest Flagpole” is a fitting marker for the “lowest down city in the Western Hemisphere,” and for the people who call themselves Calipatrians.  Winter 2019



A building associated with the Bank of Italy later became the First National Bank before it closed. The structure dominates the corner of Niland Avenue and Main Street in Niland, near the railroad tracks. Niland, one of the Valley's first communities, was originally called Old Beach before being renamed to make reference to the fertile Nile River region. - Photo by Bill Gay

Cabarker, Silsbee, Braly

Local cities ‘gone’ forever

By Richard Lucy 1975 Inland Empire Magazine (Reprinted with permission)


Names of Valley cities are readily familiar: Calexico, El Centro, Brawley and on and on and on. But who thought up each name? And where is Cabarker, Silsbee and Braly? And Paringa? Starting at the border with Calexico, it’s obvious that Calexico and Mexicali traded letters: Mexicali in Mexico is a combination of Mexico and California; Calexico reverses the combination. According to the Calexico Public Library, the city’s earliest settlers named the town in 1901. The title became official on April 16, 1908. Calexico also claims to have had the Valley’s first Bermuda grass and, as an even more noteworthy distinction, the first planting of trees in the Valley. (History is somewhat hazy about where all the other trees in the region came from, but presumably Calexico citizens thought enough of their self-styled arbor day that they thereafter claimed to have been the first residents of the Valley to plant trees.) Calexico, according to history, actually Winter 2019

was a mistake. The firm that was responsible for bringing in many of the settlers, the Imperial Land Co., wanted a border city and chose a spot. To the land company’s horror, the site was swallowed up in the 1906 Colorado River flood. Landowner George Chaffey then reportedly donated his 160 acres to the new townsite, which the settlers named Calexico. No one person is given credit. Thereafter, Calexico climbed steadily in population. The land company advertised in eastern publications that the city had “pleasant living conditions.” Nestled as it was right on the border with Mexico, Calexico soon became known as the rather wild city in the Valley’s cluster of towns. Legally, it was a dry town in the early 1900s. But, in principle, it had a liquor business that could modestly be called “roaring.” And then there’s Cabarker, that famous city in the center of the Valley.

Cabarker? That was a city founded by W.F. Holt,

who purchased the land and named it for his pal, C.A. Barker, who had helped him finance the purchase. In those days, apparently, pioneers were not easily swayed. Despite the fact that the founding father should logically have had some say in choosing a name for his city, the townsite soon was being called El Centro, “the center.” Poor Barker was forgotten entirely – even by friend Holt, who soon was campaigning to make “El Centro” the county seat. Other pioneers had streets, roads and avenues named for them. One of Calexico’s main thoroughfares is called Heffernan for an early, influential leader. And Brawley was named – against his wishes – for a man who had scarcely anything to do with the Valley. Mr. Barker lost not only the city named for him but never got so much as an alley in his honor. Fickle fate. El Centro was called by that name, according to some records, on April 6, 1908. Soon, the energetic little city was grappling with a nearby city, Imperial, to become the county seat. The struggle soon turned to almost a brawl, and both cities behaved most

unlady-like in winning the cherished title. W.F. Holt, the so-called “father of El Centro” (or Cabarker, if one preferred … and, obviously, no one did), was the leader of the drive to win for El Centro the county seat. He was opposed by Imperial, three miles to the north. And spearheading that city’s drive was LeRoy Holt, brother of W.F. Committees were speedily named to promote each city as county seat. Imperial was older than El Centro and evidently more cagey. If slyness counted for anything, Imperial should have won. For instance, when the El Centro committee was formed, the city was startled to learn two Imperial residents were on it. As a matter of fact, an Imperial pastor was named campaign chairman. The squabbling became notorious all over the Valley. Aloof Brawley in the north became so disgusted with her bickering sisters that she offered, with great dignity, to be a compromise choice. No one paid much attention to the offer, especially in Imperial and El Centro. El Centro was awarded the title of county seat on Aug. 6, 1907. As for Imperial, it may have lost that

contest, but it holds several other titles in Imperial Valley history. It is the oldest city; it established the county’s first chapters of the Eastern Star and Masonic Lodge. It had the first church in the region and the first brick building. One further distinction: It was “the poorest piece of soil in the Valley for a townsite,” according to one early historian of the county. Imperial was declared a townsite in 1902, although people had been living there since 1901. Those who had established the community were unaware of the bad soil conditions. LeRoy Holt named it Imperial Valley (knowing that “desert” in the title would not promote migration to the spot), and the first community adopted that same name as its own. “No, no, no!” according to legend, was the response of J.H. Braly, the Los Angeles businessman who, in 1902, learned the city was being named for him. “I don’t WANT my name on a failure!” he told the Imperial Land Co. Alas, he already had sold the firm 4,000 acres, and the townsite was established and rapidly being called Braly.

The Niland bank building is illustrative of the neoclassical style, a common style for banks and public buildings during the first half of the twentieth century. - Photo by Bill Gay His response was prompt: He “prohibited” the use of his name. So A.H. Heber, the head of the land company, recalled a Chicago acquaintance named Brawley … and Braly became Brawley. Poor C.A. Barker … His name was available – and it remained available … Four businessmen from Banning made the first auto trip to Brawley in 1907. It took them four days, they reported to the CONTINUED | PAGE 42

Winter 2019



Dick Fries and Gordon Woolley pace the trophy dash lineup as they head down to the green flag to begin the 1966 California Racing Association season of sprint car racing - Photo By Bert Hoppe

Racing By Mickey Dale


Automobile racing has a rich and storied history in the Imperial Valley dating back to the turn of the last century. Racing has been conducted on various tracks throughout the Valley on ovals from 1/8 mile to more than a mile in length. Yet the first race held locally was a road race that drew nationally recognized racers. The Imperial Valley Road Race began in downtown Imperial on Feb. 22, 1913. It made a trio of 67-mile loops that stretched from Imperial to near Brawley, around to Holtville and circled back to Imperial. Among the entrants were two of the most famous race drivers of the day, 1905 National Driving Champion Barney Oldfield and Ted Tetzlaff, who was fresh off a second-place finish at the Indy 500 in 1912. Oldfield handily won the race, covering the 203 miles in 4 hours, 41 minutes and 11 seconds in his Fiat 70. The race drew an estimated 30,000 spectators Valleywide, according to a report in the Winter 2019

IV tracks roar into racing history

Sacramento Union. In 1930, the Valley’s first large oval track was built at what was then called the Imperial County Fairgrounds. Measuring a monstrous 1.1 miles, the oval followed what is now the front stretch of the existing fair race track and the south turn but extended north to near Second Street in Imperial. The extra wide track, a full 100 foot in width, was built in time for the Automobile Association of America (AAA) to sanction a Pacific Coast points race for championship cars during the 1930 Imperial Valley Mid-Winter Fair. The race used the same type of cars that competed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway each Memorial Day. The track would also be used for horse racing that first fair year, according to a news clipping from the Imperial Valley Press. An all steel and concrete grandstand to accommodate 2,000 spectators was built for that opening race. Nearly 90 years later, the grandstand is used for many events at the fairgrounds. The first race meet at the fair was

conducted on March 2, 1930. It consisted of qualifying, a pair of 5-mile heat races, a 10-lap Consolation and the 40-mile Main Event. William “Shorty” Cantlon and Ted Simpson won the heat races with Al Gordon taking the Consolation. The first feature event on the new track was won by Simpson in 33 minutes, 16.4 seconds. The track would quickly earn the reputation of being one of the fastest dirt ovals in the country, bringing many famous drivers to the Imperial Valley. Among the entrants during that first decade was Indy 500 winners Howdy Wilcox (1919 Indy winner), Wilbur Shaw (1937, 1939-40), Bill Cummings (1934), Kelly Petillo (1935), and Floyd Roberts (1938) as well as AAA National Champions Bob Carey (1932), Rex Mays (1940-41) and Ted Horn (1946-48). Capacity crowds regularly packed the grandstand to see the annual event involving the high-powered, speedy single seat vehicles. The racing was fast and furious, with excitement galore including one accident in 1933 that was

one of the most spectacular in the history of racing. It occurred in the Consolation race. After a pair of yellow flags due to spins at the start and a faulty restart, Harry Insinger crashed into Harry Gentry directly in front of the standing room-only crowd, sending Insinger's car into a series of barrel rolls. The first gyration threw Insinger from his car, which continued flipping wildly down the track. Fellow competitor Otto Wolfer tried to avoid Insinger's out-ofcontrol car by quickly turning left into the infield rodeo chutes, hitting an inside rail, striking 15-year-old El Centro resident Randall Conner and narrowly missing Imperial County Coroner A.R. Underwood, who fell backward. Wolfer's car also flipped, hurtling him from his car 35 yards through the air, his body somersaulting once before landing between two officials in the elevated judges’ stand. The observation post stood 15 feet above the track. Wolfer suffered a fractured spine, concussion and internal injuries. Insinger dislocated his knee, and Conner broke his leg and suffered an infection from a cut on his left leg. According to news reports, the teenager was thrilled when famed Indy driver Shorty Cantlon visited him at La Solana Hospital, the predecessor of El Centro Regional Medical Center. Sadly, Cantlon perished at Indianapolis in 1947 when he avoided the spinning car of Bill Holland and crashed hard into the outside concrete retaining wall, suffering fatal injuries. Tragedy struck the Imperial racing scene the following year when popular racer Ernie Triplett died along with fellow racer George “Swede� Smith and crewman Cambert “Hap� Hafley in the dusty aftermath of a crash involving Smith and Jimmy Wilkinson. The 1934 death of Triplett, a two-time Pacific Coast AAA Champion, shocked and saddened the American racing

National Sprint Car Hall of Famer Gordon Woolley is shown on his way to a third feature win at Imperial in the Pop Miller Chevy in 1965 - Photo By Bert Hoppe world. A group of miniature Indy cars raced for the first time in the Valley in 1935 as the popularity of the racers helped spawn an organization of its own in the area, midget cars. The midgets raced before tremendous crowds throughout California. A professional racer could make a good living racing seven days a week on the statewide circuit. In their debut at the Imperial track, Gil Guthrie won the race on a shortened 1/5 mile track over such national stars of the day as Bob Swanson, Bill Betteridge, Bob Ware and Johnnie Keim. El Centro's Fred Salmen, one of the founders of the local midget racing club, was third in the 1936 race. This sparked a group of racers that started another open CONTINUED | PAGE 37


You WILL be amazed with the changes we have made throughout the Casino!    Winter 2019



Fair History Tradition puts ag first

The 2019 edition of the California Mid-Winter Fair runs from March 1 through March 10 on grounds the 111-year-old fair has occupied since 1930. In keeping with this year’s theme, “Get Your Kicks on Route 86,” the fair was a nomad of sorts in its early years. Its first headquarters was El Centro. Then it spent a number of years in Brawley before finally settling alongside Highway 86 in Imperial. Today’s California Mid-Winter had its origins in December 1907 when a colt show, under the auspices of the Imperial Valley Stock Breeders Association, was held in a vacant lot in newly founded El Centro, near Blakinton’s Stables. Things got more sophisticated for the fair the following year when Articles of Incorporation were filed by the Imperial County Fair Association with startup funds of $25,000 that were used to acquire land for the fair east of the railroad tracks in El Centro. The fair that year featured a half-mile race track with a baseball field in the middle of it. During the fair, a baseball game between Brawley and El Centro high school players was held as well as a Wild West show and exhibits featuring livestock, fruits, flowers and culinary creations. The fair continued in El Centro, although there were no fairs held in 1915 through 1920 because of World War 1. However, there was a livestock show in 1916 sponsored by the Farm Bureau and the El Centro Chamber of Commerce. In 1921, the 45th District Agricultural Association was formed to organize future fairs and in 1922 a $50,000 bond issue was proposed to acquire a permanent site for a fairgrounds in Imperial. That effort failed when Brawley interests mounted a campaign to defeat it. Brawley was rewarded for its efforts by becoming home to the mid-winter fairs from 1923-1927. They were run by the Brawley Commercial Club. In 1926, the event became the Imperial Valley Mid-Winter Fair and it acquired 100,000 square feet of exhibit space. But the final fair there in 1927 suffered financial losses due to bad weather. It was in 1930 that the fair, under the 45th Agricultural Association, arrived in Imperial with new grandstands, a racetrack and an administration building. The following year, the fair’s first steel exhibit building was constructed. Improvements also included lawns and cactus gardens. A building to house the Pioneers Association was built using lumber from the demolition of the water tower in Imperial. Through all of the fairs, there has been one tradition that has been a constant, no matter what the location. The Valley’s agriculture industry has been a central focus of all of the fairs. Veteran fair board member Bo Shropshire articulated it well to a reporter just before the fair celebrated its 100th year anniversary. “While we do have other industries, we still are an ag county. That’s where all jobs emanate from,” Shropshire said. “One of things we want to get across, we still want people to understand where lettuce comes from, that carrots grow in the ground and that milk doesn’t come from the grocery stores, it comes from cows. “We want to help keep that ideal alive and in front of the public,” he said. 


Winter 2019

1965 monkey grinder

Fair opening day 1966

Styx 1977

Photos from the archives of the late Bert Hoppe

1967 Auction arena

1967 Fair Parade

1971 Fair Grounds


1967 KXO Fair Booth

1969 Fair Grounds



Winter 2019



LEFT: Lynn Housouer, chief executive officer of Pioneers' Park Museum and Imperial County Historical Society. TOP: A diorama shows a woman in a tent house and a farmer using a Fresno scraper implement pulled by mules to level fields. - Photos by Joselito N. Villero three-four days, and skim water off the top,” leaving sediment behind. More fundraisers, Those stories, Housouer said, were her favorite things about Imperial County community history. activities ahead “Look how they struggled to build the Imperial Valley,” she said. “They were tough homesteaders no matter the ethnicity. They one room. Nowadays the complex sits stayed here, and made the Valley what it is.” on 22 acres, and has a budget that runs Those that wish to hear more stories “easily a couple hundred thousands a about the Imperial Valley can look forward year,” according to the Historical Society to monthly lectures at the museum. The CEO Lynn Housouer. lecture series shines a spotlight on Valley Pioneers’ Park Museum does not get the residents with stories to share. Past topics benefit of state or federal funding, so its have included little-known secrets about the next few events are going to be fundraisers, Salton Sea, tales about the outdoors and she said. community-sourced agriculture. It’s managed and run by locals for locals. Housouer said she began to volunteer at Area businesses provide much of the the museum in 1993, when her youngest museum’s funding, and a passionate group son started kindergarten. She became of volunteers help keep it going. CEO in 1997. “On an average day we have 8-10 “I hope it continues to grow and progress,” volunteers,” Housouer said. “On Pioneers’ she said. “I’d like to see more community Days we had up to 50 volunteers.” activity and involvement. We’re open Many of the locals are descended from Saturday. I’d like to see the community the area’s pioneers. here.”  “It’s important to us to preserve our history, so future generations know about the hardships they suffered,” she said. Those stories are great. Carson Kalin, an area farmer, said that his grandmother and her husband decided to move from Texas to the Imperial Valley after seeing advertisement that said that if you move to the Imperial Valley, there’s water. “Imagine coming here in 1900 when there was no electricity and it was still as hot as it is today,” Kalin said. “I remember my grandma telling me about once a week A diorama of cowboys tending heifers is on going into town and getting water they’d display at the museum. use for a week. They would wait for it to sit -Photo by Joselito N. Villero

Historical Society By Antoine Abou-Diwan Noted civil rights activist Marcus Garvey once said that “a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” And though there is little risk that Imperial Valley residents will forget their roots, the Imperial County Historical Society aims to continue to preserve and amplify the stories of the people that made the Valley what it is today. Founded in 1928 as the Imperial Valley Pioneers Society, the organization is best known for Pioneers’ Park Museum on Aten Road in Imperial. The museum opened its doors to the public free of charge earlier this month, and some 2,200 people visited its exhibits and demonstrations. Regularly, the museum is open to visitors 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. It closes during the summer. The admission fee is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $2 for children up to age 12 and free to children 5 and under. Admission is free to Historical Society members and membership is $25 a year. Membership helps further the mission of the organization, which is “to preserve the unique development of the irrigated desert and the people who developed the area's modern history.” The museum was initially housed in just


Winter 2019

Winter 2019


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Nana's Kitchen


Artisan Bristo

Mexican Restaurant

Bar & Grill · Steakhouse

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Starbucks Calexico


Italian Restaurant

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Olive Garden


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Winter 2019

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Coffee Shop

Artisan Bristo


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Lalo's Catering

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Vegetable Growers For 50 years the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association has grown right along with the profusion of produce its members cultivate. And from today’s vantage point, the history of the IVVGA seems to prove the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. “Vegetable growers are resilient, we have to be,” IVVGA President Ryan Mamer said. “That makes IVVGA as vital today as ever because of all the issues and regulations growers face. Information and advocacy are as important as ever.” Despite the litany of concerns growers must brace for, Valley vegetable crops are booming. The Agricultural Commissioner’s 2017 Crop and Livestock Report, the most recent available, is a testament to how much the value of vegetable and melon crops have grown and changed over the years. The report listed the value of all local produce crops at nearly $1.02 billion, nearly half of the county’s $2.06 billion agricultural and livestock output for the year. And some of today’s star performing local produce crops, such as romaine, broccoli, spinach and spring mix, weren’t even mentioned in the county crop report 50 years ago, except in a few cases, as a footnote. Back in 1968 when IVVGA was formed, the total value of vegetable and melon crops in Imperial County was listed as $66.5 million in the Annual Crop and Livestock Report. Yet in the ensuing years more than a few promising vegetable and melon crops have come and gone. Tomatoes, for instance, are no longer grown commercially in the Valley. Also gone is asparagus. While melons remain a celebrated spring crop, the days of a healthy fall melon crop ended, the victim of whitefly infestations. Whether it is pests, market conditions, food safety concerns, the weather, labor or laws, growing produce is not for the faint of heart. Mamer is no stranger to the many challenges a vegetable grower must face. A fifth-generation Valley grower, he said when he was young his father bowed out of vegetables and shifted to field crops to temper the risks his farm faced. While the risks remain, Mamer said today he and other vegetable growers are benefiting from growing consumer interest in healthy living, which includes increased consumption of vegetables. Consumer interest has prompted local growers to try many crops and varieties not previously grown in the Valley such as Brussel sprouts, kale, swiss chard, endive. “We are always trying to learn to grow the new thing,” Mamer said. “We have to because we constantly have to adapt to change.” Vegetable growers also have to be ready to implement strict food safety and other constantly changing regulations. And just as they were 50 years ago, vegetable growers are concerned about having and conserving water for their crops. IVVGA Executive Director Kay Day Pricola said, “Our purpose from the beginning and still today is to focus and provide advocacy on issues that affect growers and citizens alike, such as labor, food safety, water rights and other pressing concerns.” Though issues may change, the organization’s purpose will not. “We will face the challenges and changes year by year as we look forward to the next 50 year,” Pricola said.  Winter 2019



Winter 2019

ECRMC Education center

Health learning center opens at Imperial Valley Mall

Walking by large glass display windows, a passerby may mistake what lies inside to be just another retail outlet. Walk through the glass doors into the beautifully lit, modern open room with pops of magenta, however, and a visitor will realize the potential. And education center. A place of learning across from the food court in the Imperial Valley Mall? It may seem unlikely, but El Centro Regional Medical Center has found that its new 10,000-square-foot facility is a perfect location to serve the Imperial Valley. “We selected the Imperial Valley Mall location due to its ease of access and central location to what we do,” said Shiloh Williams, director of education, development and research for ECRMC. “The open concept allows us to move and adapt rooms based on need, meaning we can host classes large or small. Being next to the food court is just a plus.” The El Centro Regional Medical Center Community Education Center is a space that is dedicated to delivering high-quality patient and clinician education. ECRMC will focus on developing and administering programs that are geared toward patients and their caregivers being able to effectively manage their health. The realization of the Community Education Center was a new endeavor for the Holtville native. The process began in spring 2018 with an idea to provide the hospital’s patients and community members with a space for accessing educational programs that would supplement their health care. Williams, who has worked at ECRMC since 2013, wanted to have a space that would impact more patients. Patients who might not otherwise have access to improving their health. “My personal reasons for starting the Community Education Center was the realization that we have an entire subset of the population that have low health literacy skills, meaning they cannot comprehend their own healthcare issues,” said Williams. “We often hand patients a piece of paper with information about their condition or disease and expect them to read and understand it.” The former emergency room nurse explained that many of the materials are standard and written at the sixth- to eighthgrade reading level. She said the average reading level for adults in the Imperial Valley is closer to second or third grade. “My hope is that the Community Education Center, partnering with ECRMC’s Multidisciplinary Research Council and our local agencies, will be able to determine how best we can meet this population’s needs and ensure they have the ability to understand their health and their treatment. This understanding allows patients to become engaged participants in their care and contributes to improved health and wellness for all here in the Imperial Valley.” Williams is passionate about providing new resources for the community. She said, “If you give me the space, we’ll build it.” The result? The new Community Education Center. New programs will be offered as the space evolves. The

Educators at El Centro Regional Medical Center's Community Education Center at the Imperial Valley Mall in El Centro. - Photo by Joselito N. Villero beauty behind the open concept is that it is so versatile. Multiple spaces can be created with partitions and chair/ table configurations. While there are three defined classroom spaces currently, the configurations could easily provide six. ECRMC recently added a portable kitchen to its repertoire. Williams envisions local chefs teaching diet-specific cooking classes in the future. Classes tailored toward locals with diabetes or in need of heart-healthy meals would teach the skills needed to improve their diets. Currently, programming at the Community Education Center includes: • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation: Heartsaver, Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiopulmonary Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, Neonatal Resuscitation Program (Express Training Solutions) • Trauma Nursing Core Curriculum (Express Training Solutions) • Diabetes Prevention Education • Childbirth • Breastfeeding • Nutrition Education Course offerings will continue to grow as ECRMC assesses needs and determines what will be most helpful to the residents of the Imperial Valley. Currently, there is a Breastfeeding Support Group that meets monthly at the center. ECRMC would like to add similar support groups as part of its regular programming. The hospital would partner with various agencies throughout the Imperial Valley to bring in experts and their services. “We hope to continue developing the space as we continue to pursue our mission of providing excellent (and helpful) educational programs to the community,” said Williams. “ECRMC wants to see patients succeed with their health and our Community Education Center is an important component of our organization’s mission”  Winter 2019


Imperial County Behavioral Health Services

Face-to-face socialization an important skill



ocial media use among teenagers and young adults is being linked to cyberbullying, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The problems, experts say, are worsened by the pervasiveness of electronic devices which, combined with social media use, are stripping away face-to-face interactions and opening the door to anonymous bullying through threats or harassment. Loss of personal interactions is taking a toll, especially on today’s youth, experts say. “For some, social media is their only form of communication and socialization,” said Dalia Pesqueira, program supervisor with the Youth And Young Adult program at Imperial County Behavioral Health Services. “Face-to-face socialization is an important Winter 2019

skill we obtain to create empathy and effective communication skills needed for our development and survival.” “Perceptions through media and possible fake friends can be deceiving and harmful to our developing youth,” she said. “Social media becomes detrimental when it lacks limitations and when face-to-face socialization is eliminated.” As a result, Imperial County Behavioral Health Services is seeing increases in cyberbullying, but also in cases of depression and anxiety among youth, said Jonathan Fonseca, registered associate clinical social worker with Behavioral

Health Services’ Youth And Young Adult program. Pesqueira added that low self-esteem, issues with body images and insomnia also result from social media use and abuse. Many teens who become dependent upon social media tend to isolate at home, Pesqueira said, and the problem worsens without the face-to-face interactions that are so important to communication and development. “A lot of our teens depend on the amount of likes or attention they obtain from others approving their post,” she said. “Some compare themselves to images, lifestyles, and

successes portrayed through media.” Posting online often becomes a form of self-marketing, Fonseca said, comparing the timing of posts and what users are posting to techniques used commercially to promote a business or service. “Marketing (on social media) is becoming about the stories we tell about ourselves,” he said. “You post a picture, then give it 15-20 minutes, then check it for likes,” he said. “It’s become an art when to post it” for maximum effect, he said. “Likes” on social media, as well as other responses from “friends” or followers, has a down side, both Pesqueira and Fonseca said. “People are focusing on the likes,” Fonseca said. “We do what it takes to get that reward.” Not only does Fonseca have plenty of research to back him up, but Facebook founding president Sean Parker has publicly admitted that the app launched in 2004 was created with that reward in mind. Parker has described a like or comment on a post as giving users “a little dopamine hit.” (Facebook co-founder Sean Parker bashes company, saying it was built to exploit human vulnerability,” CNN, Nov. 9, 2017.) “Dopamine is the response/reward

chemical where when we do something good, there’s instant gratification,” Fonseca said. “Our brains get in gear for that.” With teens, if they don’t get the response they want, the effects can be devastating. “I have kids come in telling us they’re not liked, not as popular. It leads to a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression,” he said. Navigating social media is all about balance, both Fonseca and Pesqueira said. Behavioral Health Services is helping youths learn that balance through several evidence-based models used in individual or family therapy. “We are trying to teach family members to have a balance between media and the outside world,” Pesqueira said. “It’s important for parents to provide a good example. We need to teach our children to cope with feelings and the fast changes of this world without depending on tablets or television to calm or entertain them.” Parents are encouraged to limit their own use of electronic devices and give their full attention to their children and teens, Pesqueira said. “We teach our parents as well as our teenagers to limit their media use and to

understand the pros and cons,” she said. “Media can provide an opportunity for easier way to socialize when having problems connecting with others but overuse can create dependency and can develop more challenges to conduct face to face conversations due to a disconnect with the real world. Teaching effective face to face communication skills and healthy boundaries with social media can provide a healthier balance in our lives.” Said Fonseca: “We’re losing the ability to soak in the moment” by overuse of electronic devices and dependence upon social media. He told the story of a photo that went viral on the internet in which dozens of people in a crowd are holding up cellphones, capturing a moment. In the middle of them, one woman stands enthralled by what she is watching, no phone in sight. “Why are you there?” he asked. “Is it to tell the story or to enjoy the moment?” “It’s all about finding balance,” he reiterated. “It’s fine to share, but it’s not about the likes. It’s about the experience you’re sharing. These are tools we can develop.” 

202 N. Eighth St. • El Centro, CA 92243 For an appointment or assessment please call:

800.817.5292 • 442.265.1525 Winter 2019


Growing to

Better Serve the Valley Our District has grown from one hospital in 1950 to include more than 10 clinics across the Imperial Valley fit to take care of everyone’s healthcare needs. From vaccinations and tummy aches to physical therapy, women’s health and more, our clinics aim to provide care for patients throughout their life.

PIONEERS Calexico Health Center

The Center is a full-service healthcare clinic with an urgent care center and is staffed by full- and part-time physicians ready to serve your primary healthcare needs. The center brings together several of the best physicians in various specialties. Visit the Calexico Health Center when you need help with: • Wellness Care & Women's Services • Vaccinations • Routine Physicals • Pediatric check-ups and health screenings

The Cancer Institute at PIONEERS

The Cancer Institute provides a full range of state-of-the-art care, including chemotherapy, biotherapy and immunotherapy treatments for a wide range of cancers. It was developed with patient-centered comprehensive care and comfort in mind. Our goal is to provide a full-range of medical care and an infusion center in a comfortable setting.

PIONEERS Children's Health Center

In downtown Brawley, the Children’s Health Center offers families better access to pediatricians, clinicians and children’s health services in the region. Visit the Children's Health Center if your child needs help with: • Primary Care • Well-Child Check Ups • Childhood Vaccines • Sick Visits

Center for Digestive and Liver Disease at PIONEERS


The Center for Digestive and Liver Disease provides research-based, best clinical practice care for a wide variety of digestive problems. Visit the center if you need help with: • Acute and chronic liver disease including hepatitis and cirrhosis Winter 2019

At Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District it's the commitment of many with the focus on one - you.

• Abdominal pain and/or bleeding • Bariatric endoscopy • Colon cancer

Center for Joint Replacement at PIONEERS The Center for Joint Replacement is a dedicated, patient-focused center for joint replacement candidates to receive excellence in patient care before, during and after surgery. The center offers the following: • Experienced, board-certified orthopedic surgeons • Nurses, therapists and patient-care technicians who specialize in the care of total joint replacement patients • A full-time joint program coordinator who acts as the main liaison and guides patients every step of the way

PIONEERS Health Center Our Health Center is located across the street from our hospital and is a fullservice clinic. It is operated by our staff of trusted physicians and nurse practitioner. Visit the Center for help with: • Minor illnesses like coughs, sore throat, pink eye or bladder infections • Minor burns, cuts, wound, sprains and strains • Monitoring for diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol • Skin conditions like eczema, shingles or athlete’s foot

Specialty Center at PIONEERS The Specialty Center is a cuttingedge medical-imaging center that uses techniques such as X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds and 3-D mammograms to provide advanced diagnostics and progressive treatment options for a variety of diseases. The state-of-the-art center can help with: • Vascular and Arterial Disease • Dialysis • Interventional Oncology • Women’s Health

Surgical Health at PIONEERS At Surgical Health we can help with the diagnosis and treatment of problems with the female/ male urinary tracts as well as general surgery consult, treatment and follow up. Some of the procedures we perform in the office and at Pioneers Memorial Hospital include:

• Urology • Prostate Biopsy • Vasectomy • Circumcision • Bladder catheter change

Therapy Solutions at PIONEERS Therapy Solutions at PIONEERS helps patients recover from illness, injury or surgery. Our team of certified physical therapists and nurses are committed to excellence and are equipped with the knowledge and equipment to treat everything from strokes to bone fractures and head injuries. Therapy Solutions also has dedicated therapists in many specialties, including: • Post-op recovery • Pediatric therapy • Wound care • Return to work

Women's Health at PIONEERS

The doctors and staff at Women’s Health are dedicated to providing comprehensive medical care to Imperial Valley women. Our team can help with all aspects of women’s healthcare, from cervical cancer screening and family planning to prenatal and postpartum care. We invite you to visit us for assistance with: • Gynecological Care • Pre-conception Counseling • STD Screening • Cancer Screening

Wound Clinic at PIONEERS The Wound Clinic is a state-of-the art, outpatient clinical wound center that specializes in hyperbaric medicine. Hyperbaric medicine works because it quickly delivers high concentrations of oxygen to the bloodstream, accelerating the healing rate of wounds. We provide treatment for a wide variety of wounds, including: • Bone necrosis • Brown recluse spider bites • Chronic non-healing wounds • Diabetic foot and leg ulcers Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District is a proud affiliate of the Scripps Health Network. The mission of the Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District is to provide quality healthcare and compassionate service for the families of the Imperial Valley. 

Pioneer Day at Pioneers Park Museum. - Photos by Alejandra Noriega

Calendar of Events March 15 Entertainment and Food Festival 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Hangar 6 at Naval Air Facility El Centro, 2024 Bennett Road. The festival is open to the public. For more information, visit www.

March 16 NAF El Centro Air Show 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., NAF El Centro, 2024 Bennett Road. Gates open at 9 a.m. for Wings Over the Desert, the NAF El Centro 49th annual Air Show. Flights begin at 11 a.m. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron will perform as will a lineup of civilian performers. The event is free, parking is free. Premium seating tickets are available by phone only at 760-339-2559.

March 16 Dunaway Dash 5/10/15 K Trail Run 7 a.m. to noon, Dunaway Road south exit off Interstate 8. Trail running and walking event that allows runners to pick their desired distance before or during the event.

The information included in the print version of Imperial Valley Alive! is what was available by publication deadline. Visit our calendar online at and submit your event information.

One fee covers all three distances of 5, 10 or 15 Kilometers. $25 per person. Children under age 10 can participate for free; must be accompanied by an adult. Late signups are at 7 a.m. Racing starts at 8 a.m. For information or to register, visit dunaway-dash-trail-run-tickets55421895381?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

March 16 35th Carne Asada Run 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Eager Park in Imperial Pre-register by March 4. Preregistration is $35; day of show is $40; second vehicle is $15. Registration includes two carne asada lunches, dash plaque and goody bag. Show and Shine and Raffle, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Award ceremony, 2:30 p.m. Contact Mike Taylor, 760-356-2173 or mike5@, or call Joseph Bernal, 760-960-2111.

March 16 Imperial Market Days 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., downtown Imperial.

California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta 2019 Daily

Saturday, March 2

Silent Disco (Casa de Manana)

Kalimba-Tribute to Earth Wind & Fire (Rabobank Center Stage) 8:00 PM

Grounds Acts

Sunday, March 3

The Suzy Haner Hypnosis Show (Rabobank Center Stage and Palm Oasis Stage)

Freestyle Motocross (Grandstands) 3:00 PM, 5:00 PM, 7:00 PM

Pacific Animal Productions The Magic of Terry Godfrey Balloonacy with Dennis Forel Stilt Circus Various performances throughout the day

Dia de la Familia

Friday, March 1

High School Madness (Grandstands) 6:00 PM

Traxxas Monster Truck Tour (Grandstands) 7:00 PM (Separate Ticket Required) Walk Like A Man-Frankie Valli Tribute (Rabobank Center Stage) 8:30 PM Seniors Entertaining Seniors (Plaza Patio) 3:00 PM

GRUPO REGADO CODIGO 442 (Rabobank Center Stage) 4:00 PM

Monday, March 4 Voltai-EDM DJ (Rabobank Center Stage) 8:30 PM

Tuesday, March 5 Craft Beer Festival 6:00 PM

Pure Majik (Rabobank Center Stage) 8:00 PM Winter 2019



allick & Volk is a family-owned and operated mortgage lender with one simple mission… to assist members of the community in realizing the great American dream of home ownership. Our business model has been successful since 1932 – and its foundation is rooted upon our knowledge of the mortgage industry and our unwavering commitment to our clients. The local El Centro office opened its doors in August 2007 and has been the leading local Mortgage Company in the Imperial Valley for 10 years, assisting well over 3,000 families. We are proud of our community support, customer service and exceptional standing in the mortgage industry. Our team has a reputation for quality, knowledge and integrity. Our passion is to bring clarity and transparency to mortgage lending while offering personalized services. Purchasing and moving into a new home is an exciting process, but some families are afraid to even inquire, fearing they won’t qualify. At Wallick & Volk, our goal is to take the fear out of home financing. We look at the process differently than our competition. We educate our clients so they can make informed decisions that fit their individual future needs. Preparing with a WV advisor, prior to pre-qualifying, provides clients the tools to get ready for a successful home buying experience.

It is a SIMPLE 5-step process that WV advisors will guide you through. STEP 1- Get Your Finances in Order 32

The health of your financial situation will determine whether a lender will grant you a mortgage. One Winter 2019

of the most important steps you can take toward the dream of home ownership is to review your finances and make any necessary changes and improvements.

STEP 2- Get Pre-Qualified

Once you’ve determined what you can afford, and your finances are in order, arrange financing. Getting pre-qualified with a Wallick Volk trusted advisor lets you know how much house you can afford. It also can give you a big advantage at different stages of your house hunt, from helping you prepare your budget and set your expectations, to strengthening your negotiating position with the seller.

STEP 3- Look for the Right Home Finding the right real estate agent to help you through the search and purchase process is important. A good agent will provide you a professional market analysis to show how much a given house is worth and help you avoid paying too much. They will help you negotiate the price and guide you through the contract and purchase process.

STEP 4- The Mortgage Process Now that you’ve found the home of your dreams, you are probably wondering what’s next. The great news is that your Wallick & Volk team will be guiding you through what can sometimes be a daunting

experience. Wallick & Volk has unparalleled service and arguably the fastest closing times in the industry.

STEP 5- Get the keys to your new home! In 2018 our El Centro branch helped over 75 families receive down payment assistance, our goal for 2019 is to help another 100 families receive this assistance!

It all starts with our mortgage professional and ends with happy clients. Our Mortgage Professionals manage their business portfolios with candor and integrity to ensure that your needs are understood and addressed with a comprehensive and personal home buying solution. We enthusiastically deliver home buying options customized to your objectives and expectations. Wallick & Volk is dedicated to serving new and existing home owners in utilizing mortgage management tools in a way that will maximize their financial investments for a lifetime.

an investment for a lifetime.

We do not simply provide mortgages. We provide peace of mind by ensuring each borrower’s individual needs are understood, and that the options to address those needs will be carefully explained. We are dedicated to helping our clients manage their mortgage to maximize its beneficial impact on their finances. We treat each mortgage as

Thousands of people each year dream of becoming homeowners, many of these people have been told “NO”. These are the families we want to help Who do you know that can benefit from down payment assistance? Let’s get you prepared for

Wallick & Volk has decades of experience working successfully with FHA, VA and USDA agencies and programs. We also provide expertise in conventional and government loans.

homeownership! Call us today! 760-336-3911

In 2018 our El Centro branch helped over 75 families receive down payment assistance, our goal for 2019 is to help another 100 families receive this assistance!

Licensed by the Dept. of Business Oversight under the California Residential Mortgage Lending Act. License #4130785 | Corp NMLS 2973 Not a commitment to lend or extend credit. Winter 2019


28th annual Holtville Rib Cook-Off at Samaha Park in Holtville - Photo by Alejandra Noriega


March 21

March 22

"We Grow That¨ Dinner 6:30 to 9 p.m., Imperial Valley Expo, Imperial. The “We Grow That” Dinner is coordinated by Rollins Creative LLC and honors Imperial Valley agriculture. Scholarship and grant recipients will also be announced. Tickets: $70 per person or $120 per couple. Suggested dress code: Semiformal/cocktail. Tickets are available online at For more information or sponsorship opportunities call 760-354-2064. Rollins Creative LLC Presents the Imperial Valley Ag Expo “We Grow That” Dinner on Friday, March 21, 2019 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the IV Expo.

Second annual Imperial Valley Ag Expo 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Imperial Valley Expo in Imperial. There will be demonstrations, tours, workshops, vendors, food music and entertainment. Admission is $5 for adults ages 18 and over, free for college students with identification, and free for children under age 18.

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March 23 6th annual Taste of the Valley 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Rollie Carrillo Quad at San Diego State University Imperial Valley, 720 Heber Ave.,

Calexico. The event is a scholarship for SDSU IV, which this year is celebrating 60 years of higher education in Imperial Valley. Tickets are $45 in advance at, and $50 at the door. Entertainment will be by La Cachimba.

March 30 IVC Color Run The Imperial Valley College Associated Student Go vernment and Pioneers Memorial Hospital District will host a Color Run at 8 a.m. at the college. Registration for the run is $15 and all proceeds for this event will go toward the IVC Kitchen, which provides food for

students facing food insecurities. The first 250 people to register for the color run each will receive a free T-shirt and will automatically be entered in a drawing to win a beach cruiser donated by Pepsi Cola. Registration is online at For more information, send email to miriam.

March 30 Holtville Rotary Pulled Pork Cook-Off 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Holtville City Park. Presented by the Holtville Rotary Club, the event will feature a Cornhole Tournament hosted by Humble Farmer Brewing. Entry fee is

$40 per team. Prizes will be awarded for first-, second- and third-place teams. For more information, contact Ross Daniels at 760-4556988, or send email to danielsjr@ or

April 6 Holtville Derby Days 6 p.m. to 11:50 p.m., Imperial Valley Swiss Club, 1585 E. Worthington Road, Holtville. Proceeds benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Imperial Valley’s Holtville site. Cocktail hour starts at 6 p.m. and the races start at 7 p.m. Come dressed in your best Derby gear to be entered to win a prize. For more

information, visit

April 13 The Great Taco Showdown 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., North Plaza Park, Brawley. Featuring the “best taco contest and taco-eating contest.” There will be live entertainment, vendors, a beer garden and more. For information, visit or call Chamber Executive Director Katie B. Luna at 760-344-3160.

California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta 2019 Wednesday, March 6 Demolition Derby (Grandstands) 7:00 PM

Downtime (Rabobank Center Stage) 7:30 PM

Thursday, March 7

Queen Nation (Rabobank Center Stage) 8:30 PM

Friday, March 8

April 20 Imperial Market Days 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., downtown Imperial. 

Hip Hop Hooray (Rabobank Center Stage) 8:30 PM Livestock Auction

Saturday, March 9 Dwarf Car Racing (Grandstands) 5:00 PM (Separate Ticket Required) Livestock Auction LEFT OF CENTRE (Rabobank Center Stage) 8:30 PM

Sunday, March 10 Heritage 500 Race (Grandstands) 2:00 PM

BREAKFAST Brunch & Lunch










A red tractor and train cars for sale at Antiques & Auctions shop in El Centro. - Photo by Joselito N. Villero “People have asked me how much I want for the whole collection, but, it’s just not about money. I keep them because I know that they will be safe and preserved,” he said. Several pieces of the rich history of the Valley are on display at Caldwell’s store, but he sees Antiques and Auctions as more than just a run-of-themill retail store.


Winter 2019

“Long-term, we see the store as kind of a community center where local businesses can come and promote themselves at events that we host,” he said. Currently, there are plans for a local business event at the store where different local businesses from around the Valley can come and promote themselves. As the name suggests, Antiques and

Auctions acts as an auction house as well as a retail store. Caldwell and Mendoza are contracted to handle property from the estates of people who have died locally and in Yuma. The business partners auction off the property, and whatever is not auctioned, is held at the store for sale. The store itself features an impressive inventory of several of items ranging from antique cash registers to a large assortment of vintage comic books. The store has something for everyone to enjoy. Arguably the most impressive aspects of the store’s inventory are the albums and records. Caldwell said records are common in most estate sales and because of that, Antiques and Auctions has a collection that numbers well into the hundreds. Bill said he’s seen people spend hours looking through the collection and coming out with several albums to take home. So whether it’s music, or art, or just history in general, picking is a way to immerse yourself in history. And going into Antiques and Auctions is like stepping back in time. 


wheel class called Micro-Midgets. On Easter Sunday in 1950, five men and their home-built racers competed on a 1/10 mile track located on the southwest side of Imperial. This would mark the first race of the newly formed Imperial Valley Micro Midget Association. Ward Swarthout was instrumental in getting the local group going and it eventually grew to more than 30 cars powered by motorcycle engines, outboard motors, electric lawn mower engines and even bilge pumps. The quickly growing racing group garnered national news with feature articles in Time Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union to name a few. Academy award-winning actor Broderick Crawford, who later starred in the Highway Patrol television show, was once featured at the Brawley track to help raise funds for the March of Dimes charity. Hundreds of fans would flock to the Imperial track and ring the oval with their family cars for the late-afternoon races. If the racing continued after sunset, fans turned on their headlights to illuminate the track. Eventually, tracks were built on Palm Avenue in Brawley and at Fourth Street and Euclid Avenue in El Centro.

That track eventually became Swarthout Field, named after the organizer of the division, Ward Swarthout of Modern Paint and Body Shop. After the Imperial track closed, due to the soil’s high alkali content, which made for extremely muddy racing conditions, the El Centro and Brawley tracks raced every other Monday night. Swarthout won the first points championship over Jack Sadler, who won the next three titles of the IVMMA. Salmen raced in the micros along with other drivers such as Buster Collier, Wild Bill Ashbrook, Bob Butters, and Mac McGrath. The fairgrounds' mile track was reduced to a half-mile track in the early 1950s, when horse-racing grew in popularity. That changed in 1956 when promoters Al Frager and Charlie Curryer brought in the California Racing Association and the tradition of featuring sprint cars at the California Mid-Winter Fair. Dubbed the “big cars,” they were similar in appearance to the race cars that ran at Indianapolis. For the next 31 years -- horse racing returned, briefly, in 1980, huge crowds packed the stands to watch the “big cars” race.

Imperial became known as a stepping stone to the Indy 500 when such drivers as Parnelli Jones, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby and Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., Jim McElreath, Jim Hurtubise, Roger McCluskey and many more used the fairgrounds half-mile to launch their careers to Indy 500 success. The half-mile track was reduced again to a 3/8ths mile track with stock cars -- the first under the I.V. Motor Racing Association, sprint cars and midgets continuing to race in the form of CRA, the World of Outlaws, United States Auto Club and the Sprint Car Racing Association. While the track wasn't as big, the talent of drivers was enough to propel them to Indianapolis and NASCAR in stock car ranks. Perhaps the best known on the 3/8ths mile was 20-time World of Outlaws Champion Steve Kinser, who raced in the 1997 Indy 500, and multi-time NASCAR Champion Jeff Gordon, who wheeled a midget at Imperial in 1989-90. It would take a book to chronicle auto racing history in the Imperial Valley, a history that has left an indelible mark not only in California, but across America. 

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Imperial, CA 3275 Hwy 86 760-355-7800

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Holt, who referred to himself as the “Missourian,” wanted to let El Centro grow in population to “give it equal voting strength with Imperial” before holding an election. However, Holt added that the Imperial people and their promoters were “too smart to be caught napping in this way.” As a result, “Missourian was thus forced into the county seat fight long before he was ready for it.” The El Centro bid to postpone the election died at its own meeting, again through the efforts of an alert, aggressive Imperial crowd. While Imperial won that battle, it began to lose the war. The Brawley News reported that citizens from Imperial packed the El Centro meeting “and by their high-handed way in which they manipulated affairs managed to lose 100 votes for their city.” According to Witter, Imperial ensured attendance by having livery stables furnish “free rigs,” which resulted in every man in the city going to the meeting. “Even the dogs went … and, at times, occupied a prominent position in the proceedings,” said Witter. The news article stated residents of Heber, Calexico, Holtville and, of course, Brawley “have expressed their deep disgust at the manner in which the politicians of Imperial are attempting to corral and dictate everything in sight.” What apparently upset the Brawley newspaper publisher was that an Imperial man was named chairman of the meeting, beating out a Brawley nominee. A resolution was adopted endorsing Imperial’s wish to get an election started during the summer months. Holt, through the newspaper, conceded defeat in this one aspect of the battle. After the vote, “The minority then readily acquiesced to the wishes of the majority, and their (El Centro’s) labors henceforth will be for the county division as soon as


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possible.” For the rest of May, the committee worked to determine the boundaries of the new county. Those to be proposed to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors commenced at a point 25 miles west of Brawley and extended east to the state line. They originally had been prepared to take in a part of Riverside County, including a number of miles of railroad, The Brawley News reported. However, the planners left that part out, apparently because nothing was known about the wishes of residents living there. According to the Brawley newspaper, the northenders regretted the decision to exclude the northernmost areas from the future Imperial County. The Riverside County portion would have been within Brawley’s road district and it included many valuable mines, nearly 100,000 acres of patented land in Palo Verde, and 15 to 25 miles of railroad. “All these would pay taxes to the Brawley road fund and enable many bridges to be constructed at much less expense and far more rapidly …,” according to the newspaper. Brawley blamed Imperial. Witter’s newspaper wrote, “The only reason for not taking this section into the new county seems to be a fear on the part of Imperial that they might not be able to control the votes and that Brawley would have more taxes for a road fund than is desired.” Throughout June and July, the battle got hotter as the Standard continued publishing attacks on Holt, while The Brawley News and Imperial Valley Press (usually in unison), bitterly assailed Howe. Then, Brawley actively entered the county seat race, basically to protect its interests after being burned on the boundary issue. Holt later wrote that Brawley was the “uncertain quantity” in

the election. He stated the city “made a good, clean fight” with a campaign which included a speaker brought from Los Angeles. But Brawley, unlike Imperial, “did not say mean things or throw mud.” Brawley’s strategy was to convince Imperial its cause was lost and get that city to throw its votes to Brawley to prevent El Centro from winning. Witter stated Brawley was the geographic center of the Valley and logical new county seat. When its campaign opened June 28, a lead story in the News proclaimed that Brawley’s bid “has been opened under conditions which assure … victory.” The article stated although “a few weeks ago, Brawley was taken as a joke, today her chances are more than conceded; her friends enthusiastic, her rivals anxious.” In an early story on its campaign, the News reported that “Imperial is sorely discomfited, and El Centro is amazed.” But emotion on the part of El Centro was not reflected in its newspaper, which in a straight manner reported Brawley was making a bid. Both newspapers, however, continued their fight against Howe and the Standard. The County Division Committee called a convention for July 15, 1907, in Imperial’s water company hall, to nominate a slate of officers who would be listed on the August ballot. Cities were to send delegates, based on their number of registered voters. Brawley was entitled to 11; Calexico, 14; Holtville, 12; Imperial (city), 14; Imperial (outside), 4, and El Centro, 5. The rest came from smaller Valley towns. The convention became another power struggle. But, this time, the strength of Holt’s opposition was too much for Imperial. The powerful chairmanship of the convention was won by C.H. Day, who beat an Imperial Methodist minister, the Rev. Wentworth. O.B. Tout, of Calexico, who later authored “The First 30 Years,”

was convention secretary. None of the candidates nominated were from either El Centro or Imperial. The nominees selected included John M. Eshelman, district attorney; Mobley Meadows, sheriff; D.S. Elder, county clerk; Paul Bowman, treasurer; F.J. Cole, judge; T.J. Mitchell, coroner, and J.E. Carr, school superintendent. Various independent candidates later announced a bid for county offices, but all those nominated, except one, won their races. The only convention nominee beaten was John B. Hoffman, who lost the county assessor post to challenger Fred Fuller of Silsbee. It was immediately after the nomination convention that probably the most serious charge in the clash was levied. Howe published a letter in his Standard, written by S.J. Ulrey, which apparently charged that Day had no right to be at the convention, much less be its chairman. Day responded by filing a “criminal libel” suit against Howe and Ulrey, while the I.V. Press and Brawley News took the opportunity to again lambast the Imperial paper. The Press alleged “that Mr. Howe seems never to be satisfied unless he is maligning and defaming someone.”

In a letter to the I.V. Press, published again on page one, H.J. Messinger, Holtville, wrote, “It is not to be expected that men should have hair and brains both, but there is one in the Imperial delegation (Ulrey) who has neither. The heat of the campaign continued to escalate. In early August, just days before the balloting was to take place, Holt felt compelled to go on a speaking tour. On Aug. 3, the Press reported “victory” was “assured” for El Centro, justifying the estimation by a poll of available votes. The day before, in giving a “last word to the voters,” Witter endorsed the concept of division during the summer instead of in October. He also made a last pitch for Brawley to be the county seat. Tuesday, Aug. 6, 1907, the battle gave way to the voters. The Brawley Voters League hosted a free election day dinner in the Bungalow Hotel. Schoolhouses in some cities served as polling places; El Centro used its bank building, Calexico, its newspaper office, and Imperial, the same water hall that had been the scene of so many bitter division meetings. Brawley’s hopes that Imperial would concede defeat and hand its votes to the Northend city died shortly after returns

began to come in. Results from Brawley, El Centro and both Imperial precincts were the first to arrive that night, and they reflected a strong pro-Imperial trend. Incomplete returns showed Imperial leading with 296 votes; El Centro had 238 and Brawley, 204. The trend shifted when totals from outlying areas arrived. Calexico, Holtville, Silsbee, Old Beach and River gave the county seat to El Centro. Final results showed 563 votes for El Centro, 455 for Imperial and Brawley, 222. The new county seat carried all voting areas, with the exception of Brawley and Imperial. The closest contest was in Holtville, where 97 votes went for El Centro, while 60 were sent to Imperial. Although Imperial in the next few days alleged fraud had been committed in the El Centro polling area, the county seat battle was over. In the autobiography, written 35 years later, Holt stated the campaign was so intense, “Missourian decided that, though he was in it and would do his best to win the battle, he had no desire to ever go into another fight of this kind – and he never has.” 

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payroll and be sold as a losing proposition, but it served its purpose. It still exists as the Imperial Valley Press. Holt felt strongly about newspapers in the early days. Reading the news was a comfort to the settlers; it kept them in touch with the rest of the world, he reflected later. He always maintained the Valley was 400 miles from San Diego because to get there it was almost necessary to catch the train at Flowing Wells and travel to San Diego via Los Angeles. For two years, he served as a San Diego County Justice of the Peace, the first Valley justice, he believed. He never took a dime for his services. Trouble usually was handled by making the disputants shake hands. One man refused and was told it would be best if he left the Valley.

No Liquor Allowed In his two years as justice, Holt recalled no serious incidents. The area was dry; liquor was not allowed. The Valley needed railways to all points, not just the one line owned by Southern Pacific crossing the northern end, he decided. He raised $200,000 and incorporated the Holton Inter-Urban Railway in 1903.


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He began grading the route for the anticipated railroad, although he admitted later he did not know what step he would take next. The company built 10 miles of track from El Centro to Holtville before it was incorporated into the Southern Pacific lines. The land company sold parcels at 25 percent down. But most of the settlers seeking land had very little money, Holt noted. He offered land with no money down, 10 years to pay. He never took a parcel back. Most of the landowners paid for their property long before the final due date. While he seemed to be able to swing deals involving millions, Holt mentions often in his book the periods when he was short on cash and he would go to Los Angeles bankers for financing. The bottom fell out when a government survey in 1902 reported that most of the Valley’s land was worthless. All credit sources dried up. Holt looked across the Valley and noted he had everything he owned, his credit and his reputation tied up in the Valley. He said he did not despair. The survey had to be wrong. Crops were growing in the Valley. When the first crops came in on 1,500 acres planted in 1902 and on 5,000 acres in

1903, the yields were double that planted in other areas. The land boom was on again. Holt said he repurchased 160 acres he had sold to a friend for $1,800 for the same price when the friend panicked after the government survey. Four years later he sold the parcel at four times that price. The floods of 1906-07 set the Valley back again. But by then the settlers had put down roots. The area, the Nile of the Americas, was on its way. LeRoy Holt, the real first banker of the Valley, moved his wife and sons here in 1901. He was president of the first three banks established by the Holt brothers. Frank Holt never moved his wife, Fannie, here. She stayed safely in Redlands with his daughters, Chloe and Catherine. He commuted to the Valley to pioneer. When he grew old, Holt would look back over his pioneering in wonder; as if it had all happened to another self, the “Missourian” of his autobiography. “Sometimes the Missourian grew tired,” he recalled. “Sometimes he looked back and wondered how he was able to accomplish all of the things he did.” 


of the coastal city. The capacity for speed came with the automobile, and to realize the benefits of that capacity meant to tear down the natural barriers which separated Imperial Valley from the outside world and kept it as a true frontier area. Translated, that meant roads. The automobile simply buried itself to the axles in desert sand. Roads could be graded along the adobe surface of the desert flatlands, but the sand dunes presented another problem. Bypassing them meant adding nearly 50 miles to the distance between San Diego and Yuma. They had to be penetrated. Supervisor Ed Boyd experimented with a “brush road” through the dunes in 1912. It was made by spreading a trail of brush over the dunes to keep automobile wheels from sinking into the sand. For a time it proved to be “better than nothing.”

Plank Road Opens

The first Plank Road opened to traffic in 1914, consisting of two 24-inch parallel tracks made of three 2 by 8-inch planks laid side by side and joined together with 2 by 6-inch ties. The driver didn’t take his eyes off this road; a moment’s mental

lapse meant running off the tracks, hubcap deep into the sand. But the first Plank Road was a monument to united community effort. Imperial County furnished food, a work camp near Gray’s Well, and paid for material haulage to the construction site. The cities sent from 10 to 50 men a day to work on the project, and every ablebodied man took his turn on the road gang. Sun and sand, more than traffic, took their toll in that first primitive wooden highway. It was worn out in two years and was replaced in 1916 by a solid plank road, remnants of which remain visible on the drive along Highway 80 or Interstate 8 today. The planks were nailed first to heavy cross ties, banded with strips of iron, then coated with asphalt. The 30-foot sections, with passing turnouts every half-mile, were laid along the contour of the ever-shifting sands of the dunes. Four horse teams could move a section and did each time it appeared a stretch was about to be covered with the blowing sand. The drive from El Centro to Yuma still was not an easy one. Col. Ed Fletcher, the San Diego real estate developer who helped raise the money to finance

construction of the plank roads, tells of having to carry enough spark plugs to stop and change them every 15 miles in some of the early vintage automobiles. And the smart driver never tried to negotiate the Plank Road alone. He would wait until several cars were ready to make the jaunt and together, each ready to help the other in times of distress, they would start out. The desert, even after the advent of the automobile, was still no place for the meek. And the sand dunes were accorded the respect of even the strong.

Southland's "Main Street¨ Today, they are among the Valley’s most tempting tourist attractions. They draw dune buggy enthusiasts by the hundreds. But the weathering sections of the old Plank Road remain visible as a reminder of the days not so long ago when an attempt to negotiate them was a flirtation with disaster. A few more years will see Interstate 8 pushed to completion all the way from San Diego to Savannah, Ga., a 3,000-mile stretch through the nation’s southland. 

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newspaper upon arriving, because they had had to complete the road and bridge as they progressed. Understandably, they returned via the already constructed road to San Diego. Meloland was named, according to Valley pioneer Agnes Northrop, by famed novelist Harold Bell Wright. While residing in that area and writing, he marveled at “how mellow” the land was.

And the name stuck. Holtville, of course, owes its name to influential Valley pioneer W.F. Holt. Probably no other early settler was more instrumental in founding towns than Holt, a banker from Missouri who arrived in 1900 for health reasons. He founded Holton in 1903; but, by the time the town was incorporated in 1908, it was being called Holtville. One of the Valley’s late-comers was Calipatria, which reportedly was named by George Harrison Gray Otis and approved by the Imperial Valley Farm Lands Association, a group formed to buy land from the Southern Pacific Railroad. Otis in 1914 joined the words California and the Spanish word “patria” (country, land) to make still another Valley residential area. Lost to history is the dubious reason for forming the town on April Fool’s Day in 1914, but the event was celebrated annually with a birthday ball that attracted Valleywide attention. Even more noteworthy is Calipatria’s 184-foot flagpole, said to be the tallest in the Western Hemisphere and constructed to be tall enough to come up to sea level. It was built in honor of Helen Momita, a druggist’s wife killed in a 1957 auto crash. The pole was dedicated to good


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neighborliness. Her husband later was made famous on the “This Is Your Life” television program, which told of the community efforts. Westmorland, incorporated in 1934, was laid out, according to pioneer W.E. Gullett, by the Los Angeles-based Oakley Co. Some records say it was formed as early as 1910, although the area consisted for many years of only a few buildings. It was not for another decade that Westmorland experienced a real growth spurt. The Oakley Co. named the townsite Westmorland because of the attractive sound. A new region promising more land in the West would attract the restless easterners seeking one of the last frontiers in the United States. Religious folk arriving in the Valley in the dead of summer might be startled to learn that the devilishly warm desert has been compared officially to the Bible’s Holy Land. But Niland, one of the earliest settlements in the region, was named by pioneer John Reavis to make reference to the Nile lands’ fertility. Early settlers must have wondered, too, since Old Beach (as it originally was called) did not appear to be much of a Promised Land in the beginning. For one thing, there was no water for Niland, nor were there any roads to connect the site with established towns. AND IT WAS this spark that kept the hope of a new community burning … or at least smoldering. It took a great deal of determination – and faith – for the sturdy people who first settled the region. They had to sit patiently and wait for water canals to be built for them. And nobody was in a real hurry to construct water facilities – at least, not until some decent roads could be built.

So Nilanders sat out an admittedly slow expansion period when growth came to a standstill. By the late 1920s, however, Niland was experiencing a small boom, reaffirming the faith of its hardy band of pioneers. Maybe, after all, a reference to the Nile and the Promised Land was not so offbase after all. Heber, naturally, was named for early pioneer A.H. Heber, one of the developers of the region. It had been laid out strategically by land promoters and originally was intended to be a desert mecca between El Centro and Calexico. It was formed in 1904 after a false start in 1903 as Paringa, named by George Chaffey. He also first called the Salton Sink and the Colorado Desert the more pleasing name of Imperial Valley. He may have lost out in naming Heber as Paringa (an Australian name, where Chaffey had been toiling in the desert before coming to the Valley). But he does go down in local history as naming Imperial Valley. Win some, lose some. Seeley, begun in 1902, was Silsbee originally, named for San Diego cattleman Thomas Silsbee. But Silsbee, the community, got washed away in the flood of 1907. With a slight change in letters, a new Silsbee was started in 1911 as Seeley. The Valley cities today bear proud names, distinguished names: El Centro certainly is the center of community activity; Calexico’s name proudly shows off its Mexican-Californian heritage. And, except for Mr. Silsbee, Mr. Barker and Australia’s Paringa … and possibly Mr. Braly, everyone else is equally as impressed with the final choices of Valley city and community names. 

ECRMC Community Education Center The great care that is provided at ECRMC also extends into the classroom, where patients, healthcare professionals and the community are invited to learn more about health and wellness. For more information on our classes and to register, visit us online:

ECRMC Education Team

Current programming: •CPR: Heartsaver, Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiopulmonary Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, Neonatal Resuscitation Program •Trauma Nursing Core Curriculum •Diabetes Prevention Education •Childbirth •Breastfeeding •Nutrition Education

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ECRMC Community Education Center 3451 South Dogwood Avenue Suite 1330 (Inside the Imperial Valley Mall) El Centro, CA 92243

(760) 370-3501 Follow us for future course Winterofferings! 2019







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10/ Imperial Valley Alive! / Winter 2019  

Imperial Valley Alive! is a quarterly magazine for residents, newcomers, visitors and those who want to rediscover all the region has to off...

10/ Imperial Valley Alive! / Winter 2019  

Imperial Valley Alive! is a quarterly magazine for residents, newcomers, visitors and those who want to rediscover all the region has to off...