In the 1920s, the Westwood Auto Club was a force to be reckoned with. After all, it served as Red River Lumber Company’s de-facto chamber of commerce. The club had a lot of influence during the construction of Highway 36. They did have one item of contention with the state when the highway was completed. They did not the like the idea of being snowbound in the winter months and yearned for the day when the state would keep the highway open year round. In November 1928, the club wrote State Highway Engineer Comley to plead their case: “We believe that in asking for this we are justified as in previous years we have been snow-bound for at least four months each year, and as you realize that our work is more or less seasonal nature and that vacations are taken when work is slow or the woods closed down, it does not give us a chance to drive our cars to the section we most desire to spend our vacations and leisure time, and where our cars give us the pleasure that we desire. In addition to that phase of life we would use our cars to a very large extent to also pursue business, which would make this road available for that purpose.
“It is our earnest desire Mr. Comley that you study this problem further, and give it your earnest consideration and although there can be many points raised against the feasibility of is points in its favor should and we hope will predominate. The control of this road during storm periods would eliminate any hazard to lives and we agree that that has been our highest argument against opening the road.”
Comley concurred and understood the plight of not only the residents of Westwood, but all those located along the route who were shut out from winter storms. On the other hand, Comley informed the club there was little in his power he could do to rectify the situation. It was a matter for the State Highway Commission to determine and equally important how to finance the snow removal. The Auto Club’s persistence paid off, a year later the Commission informed the group that beginning in the winter of 1929-30 they would keep the highway open year round. After all, the Commission cited that nearly a million dollars had been spent to construct the highway, therefore it made no sense to have it closed during the winter months.
On January 2, 1916, it began to snow, and snow and snow for nearly three weeks. At Westwood it was reported that they fourteen feet of snow. Resident Manager, Fletcher Walker called it a “blue snow.” From this particular snowstorm, standard snow removal techniques of Westwood streets were no match to combat the deep snow. Someone came up with ingenuous idea to build a snow roller to compact the snow. The Westwood correspondent to the “Lassen Weekly Mail,” observed, “The immense snow roller is in successful operation on the streets. It leaves a compressed trail wide enough for teams to pass. Eight to twelve horses have been used to haul it through the streets and the affair makes an interesting ensemble.”
By far one of the Westwood’s largest attractions was its company store. This was not your typical company store. Westwood would not have a so-called Main Street complete with a business district, but Fletcher was intrigued with the development of department stores in major cities. Adaptations, of course, were made for what worked in San Francisco or Minneapolis would not apply to Westwood.
Of course the building needed to be conveniently located. What better location than near the mill entrance and adjacent to the railroad depot. This store was dubbed the Big Store and during its evolution kept getting, bigger and bigger.
On Christmas Eve 1913, the Big Store opened its doors for business. The Plumas National provided the following description: “A complete butcher shop, a drug store, grocery department, men’s furnishings, women’s goods, hardware and shoe departments are all under special heads, each of whom is a specialist in his line. Nineteen men are employed in the store at the present time.”
In time, certain features in the original store would be relocated elsewhere such as offices, thus providing the Big Store with even more room to expand its merchandise. In February 1916, the Big Store got even bigger with another forty-foot addition. The facility could boast 73,125 square feet of retail space, with an additional 8,800 square feet utilized for offices and other purposes. It was the largest department store north of Sacramento.
Yes, there are two Westwoods in California. In the 1920s a subdivision known as Westwood Village was created in Los Angeles. It would soon become home of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Because of UCLA’s medical center, some time’s a person’s place of death is listed at Westwood and some times the Lassen County Recorder will receive an inquiry for a death certificate for a person that died at the other Westwood.
It was seventeen years ago on this date that voters approved a ballot initiative to amend the county’s General Plan, Zoning Ordinance and Westwood Area Plan to allow the development of a four-season resort near Westwood known as Dyer Mountain. It was proposed to build three golf courses, ski runs, along with thousands of houses, condos along with commercial retail projects. It became a contentious issue fought by environmental groups. Plagued with financial and legal issues the project has been derailed. I am sure there can be volumes about the topic.
In February 1925 groundbreaking occurred on the corner of Birch and Fourth Streets for the Westwood Theater across the street from the Opera House to the north. The majestic three-story Tudor style building was built in a mere two months, and became Westwood’s tallest building. On Wednesday evening, April 22, 1925, the Westwood Theater opened its doors for its gala opening. All 1,100 seats were sold out for the viewing of the featured movie “The Sea Hawk.”
The Westwood Theater was not entirely dependent upon films originating from Hollywood. On occasions, the local residents were able to see themselves on the big screen. In the spring of 1921 the Anita Stewart Company had a contract to film the Great Western Power Company’s operations at Butt Valley. The film company while there used the opportunity to film Red River’s operations. In August, Stewart’s film of Red River’s activities made its debut at the Opera House. As one reviewer duly noted: “The film is a good reproduction of the many plant activities and the town of Westwood in general. It may need a little censorship before it is ready to go to the general public. One street scene shows the block wagon pounding along, evidently on a hurry-up trip to keep home fires burning. A little behind is the garbage wagon doing its part to make Westwood a rival of spotless town. These little details have been already enjoyed by the “home folks” but when it comes to a general public proposition it is not desirable to give undue prominence to these very necessary activities.”
It is only fitting that on Labor Day that we remember the great purge of in which nearly 400 men, women and children were forced out of their homes in Westwood on July 13, 1938 over a labor dispute, one that lingers to this day. Yet, by the end of that historic day the California Highway Patrol, with the National Guard on standby placed a blockade on the community, sealing it from the world until things could stabilize. According to historian Gerald Rose about the historical significance of the purge he wrote, “Not until the 1941 deportation of Japanese-Americans was there a large forced migration of United States citizens.” To learn more about Westwood’s labor history, read Red River: The Turbulent Thirties.
One of the peculiar oddities back in Westwood’s early history there were no accommodations for the traveling public. The Red River Lumber Company who controlled the town wanted it that way. This would hinder any “undesirables” to try infiltrate the town, i.e., such as union organizers. However, Red River needed to provide some sort of accommodations for people visiting on official business with the company. Red River constructed the El Solano at 501 Birch Street to meet those needs.
In the 1930s, during Red River’s financial crisis, the company converted its American Legion Hall into a hotel known as the Blue Ox Inn, and thus the El Solano diminished in status. It would later be converted into apartments. In the fall of 1965 the Assembly of God Church renovated the building, and the second story removed. Today, it is a private residence.
In 1903, the first automobile traveled through Lassen County. Ten years later the car craze struck the region, as it did the rest of the state. These new car owners were anxious to travel, but the old wagons roads of yore, was not acceptable. In 1916, the voters of California passed an $18 million bond measure that led to the beginning of the state highway movement. Construction slowly began on Highway 36 and one of the momentous occasions occurred in 1923. It was the completion of the $45,000 concrete arch bridge over the Susan River at Devil’s Corral. In the summer of 1929, the last link of the highway between Red Bluff and Susanville was completed with a realignment of the roadway near Coppervale. The process to build the highway took nearly twelve years at a cost of a million dollars. The state initially designated as Highway No. 29 and in 1935 it was changed to Highway No. 36. Another important aspect when the highway was completed that state did snow removal to keep the highway open year around.
This was one of the biggest stories of 1978. It was not only an emotional issue, but a political one, too. It all began, in May, when Beaty & Associates made their intentions known that they would be logging adjacent to the cemetery, but harvesting trees in the cemetery. A group known as the Concerned Citizens of Westwood requested intervention from the Lassen County Board of Supervisors to prevent the logging in the cemetery for they feared it would be transformed into a “valley of stumps.” The County was hesitant to interfere, as they did not have the authority, as the county did not hold title to the property. It was cited even with adverse possession with the burial rights, it did not cover timber or mineral rights. Beaty later rescinded its plan to log the cemetery. Several years later, some large pine trees were removed as a safety issue. One of those trees, had a bronze marker attached to it, to memorialize the 1929 death of Fletcher “Cub” Walker Jr. who died in a airplane crash near the cemetery.