April showers bring May flowers, but rain was an unwelcome sight in Saugus on April 25 and 25, 1931, for those were the dates of the sixth annual rodeo at Hoot Gibson's Golden State Ranch — the former Baker Ranch Rodeo and the future Saugus Speedway.
Saturday's grand entry made it through under threatening skies, but Sunday's deluge forced a one-week postponement of the major competitive events. A crowd of 25,000 spectators might seem fantastic, considering the number was more than 10 times the entire population of the Santa Clarita Valley — but it was down from 1930, when 33,000 attended and an estimated 25,000 had to be turned away for lack of capacity.
That said, the weather didn't seem to bother Hoot's Hollywood friends — including a little-known Clark Gable — who were wined and dined by the popular cowboy actor and his bride Sally Eilers at their lavish Spanish adobe home. Later known as the Bonelli House, it stood at what is now the southwest corner of Soledad Canyon Road and Commuter Way (the entry road to the Santa Clarita Metrolink station). In February 1988, seven weeks after Santa Clarita incorporated as a city, its owners demolished the house for fear the new city would try to force them to save it as a historic structure.
'No Expense Has Been Spared.'
Going in, Gibson had high hopes for the 1931 event — his first as sole presenter in Saugus. Gibson writes in the program book:
Just as England's triumphs in battle have been credited to the training of that nation's war leaders on the football fields of Eton, so has the winning of the West given immortal glory to that far sturdier breed whose dashing horsemanship, learned and nurtured on ranch and range, vanquished mountain, desert and plain, and won the way to the Pacific.
It is to bring back and perpetuate a true picture of that great epoch in the history of this nation that the Golden State Ranch invites you to spend an afternoon in the great outdoors, with a touch of the desert before you and the high hills walling you in with the glamorous, colorful past. Today you are living history with the sons and grandsons of the men who made it.
This year the prize money has been considerably increased, in order to insure participation at the Rodeo of the best riders in the world. Additional seating accommodation has been provided, and every care taken for your safety and comfort.
We offer you this year the greatest bronco herd that has ever been gathered together. Among their number are several with international reputations. My own stock has been augmented by a herd from the northern part of the State. The cowboys and cowgirls who compete and succeed in their rides may well be credited with rare courage and horsemanship of the highest type. The cattle are the best Brahma stock the country affords, particularly adapted, because of their speed, for testing the ability of competitors.
The Golden State Ranch Rodeo has already achieved recognition as a national event bringing to the Southwest the fame it justly deserves as one of the great horse and stock centers of the country. No expense has been spared in bringing this about. Each year the Rodeo grows bigger and better and enjoys the increasing support of the people.
I greet you as my guests for today, and in thanking you for your patronage want you to feel that every year, for at least one day of care-free recreation, the Golden State Ranch "es su casa" (is your home).
Alas, stormy skies weren't the biggest problem Gibson was weathering. Money-wise, he was under water. By 1933, he owed $60,000 on the Saugus property, and he was in arrears. He sold the rodeo business in 1934.
The new owner would struggle, too, and this time the weather really was one of the biggest problems. The Great Flood of March 2, 1938, which killed at least 113 people in the greater Los Angeles area, wreaked havoc on the Saugus rodeo grounds. Long story short, Bill Bonelli picked it up for pennies on the dollar and turned it into the Saugus Speedway.
LW3677: pdf of original program book purchased by Leon Worden. Download individual pages here.