Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Inventory at Mentryville.

This post-1994 Earthquake inventory of the features and artifacts at Mentryville was completed by the Lagasse family and signed June 30, 1995 — a date that marked both the retirement of Frenchy Lagasse from Chevron USA (previously known as Standard Oil Company of California) and the family's formal departure from Pico Canyon.

Mentryville's only residents since 1967, Frenchy and wife Carol raised three daughters — Nanette, Suzette and Laurette — in the 13-room mansion first occupied in the late 1800s by oil driller Alex Mentry. During the years leading up to the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976, which was also the centennial of Mr. Mentry putting California on the map as an oil producing state, the Lagasses carefully restored the village and made it a real "step back in time" for history buffs. They welcomed visitors, met former teachers and students (Mentryville had an active school until 1932), and became part of the fabric of the Santa Clarita Valley community through their involvement in heritage organizations such as the SCV Historical Society, Questers, and Daughters of the American Revolution.

Frenchy capped off the last well in Pico Canyon in 1990 — Mr. Mentry's famous Well No. 4. Four years later, the Northridge Earthquake knocked the family out of the "Big House," as they called it. They moved into a trailer on the property. Meanwhile, Chevron was looking to divest itself of its nonproducing properties, one of which was Mentryville. On June 6, 1995, Chevron sealed a deal with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy that converted 3,085 acres of land west of Interstate 5 into permanent open space. Valued at a total of $7.3 million, the Conservancy purchased 2,151 acres in Rice, East and Towsley canyons for $4.9 million; Chevron donated 851 acres of Pico Canyon (including Mentryville); and the city of Santa Clarita picked up the 53-acre Rivendale property at the mouth of Towsley Canyon in exchange for its participation in the financing.

Their daughters grown, Frenchy and Carol moved to Lebec, but not before completing an inventory that itemizes artifacts they found in Pico Canyon; improvements they and others made to the grounds and buildings (such as the monument Frenchy built for the state historical marker); relics they left behind for the future enjoyment of Mentryville visitors (such as a set of Judge John F. Powell's books) — as well as certain antiques which were given to them as their personal property (such as school desks from a former Mentryville teacher), which they took with them to Lebec.

Less than eight months later, on Feb. 10, 1996, while vacationing in Arizona, Frenchy died in his sleep. He was 72.

During the run-up to the property transfer, Conservancy officials voiced their intent to maintain the buildings as a museum and collaborate with the SCV Historical Society or a like-minded organization which would open them and staff them with volunteer docents once or twice a month. In January 1996, Paul R. Higgins, a Historical Society director and environmental educator, organized the Friends of Mentryville for that purpose. The Friends gave tours of the town (exteriors only) and collected artifacts such as "replacement" school desks for the one-room Felton schoolhouse.

Then nature struck again. Not earthquake this time, but wildfire. Little did the Friends of Mentryville know their last offical act would be a mad dash to pack up the school books and desks and as many artifacts as they could grab as a freakish onshore flow drove flames from Simi Valley to Stevenson Ranch in October 2003. County firefighters went to heroic lengths to save the historic buildings when the fire blew through the canyon. The Friends assigned the rescued artifacts to secure storage, where they remain today. In the interim, the only significant use of the buildings has been by film and television companies. (Mentryville was home base for the HBO series, "Big Love.")

The goal of restoring Alex Mentry's mansion and the Felton schoolhouse and other structures at Mentryville and turning them into a public museum never came to pass — and not for lack of potential volunteers or community interest.

— Leon Worden, 2019

CN9501: pdf of original inventory courtesy of Cynthia Neal-Harris. Download individual pages here.
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