As the George R. Stewart biography heads toward publication, I’m considering another book. The overall book, at this stage, is about the national parks. But in order to give a grand overview of parks and rangering, I need to tell the Scott family story. The first Scotts were rangers, the recently-deceased head of the clan was a ranger, and I’m a ranger. Writing up nearly a millennium of family, including immigration to Ireland and Boston, service in the Civil War, probable involvement in building the Union Pacific, life in San Francisco from about 1870 through today, family connections to film, oil, and manufacturing, and my work with the national parks and NASA is going to be a big task. It should keep me out of trouble for a decade, and by then I’ll be too old to get into trouble.
And what has this to do with Atwater? One section of the book, or opus, as currently conceived, may focus on Atwater in the early 1940’s. My parents lived there when I entered life, so it was the first neighborhood I knew. Dad’s good friend, Bob Broughton and his family lived there as well, and my mother’s sisters in nearby Glendale and Eagle Rock. So we had many good family memories — and in my case, the first good memories of a place. For example, Bob and Dad used to take cousin Larry and I to the old Glendale station to watch the steam trains; afterwards we went to Van De Kamps for hot chocolate and donuts.
But it’s much more than nostalgia. That nearly mythical time — the golden age of California, of movies, oranges, oil, and autos which has captured the culture of humankind — was also the time when California was inventing the national park, and establishing large, wild city preserves like Griffith Park. Atwater seems to be one of those places where many new trends meet and interact and give birth to a new age.
The fact that Disney’s California Adventure is going to honor Atwater is quite proper, because the neighborhood is truly an archetype of that golden mythical age. (And especially proper since Bob Broughton worked for Disney and eventually became a Disney Legend.)
There’s also a George R. Stewart connection. When the family lived in Pasadena, Stewart’s father bought a house in Hollywood. He decided to move the house’s furniture to the family home. Young George and a hired man went to Hollywood, loaded up the furniture, and took it back to Pasadena — in a horse-drawn wagon, on Los Feliz Boulevard, in 1910. Stewart remembers thinking it must have been one of the last horse-drawn wagons to use that busy road.
When the furniture movers went through early Atwater, they passed about a block from the place that would become the first home I knew.
It’s a small, circular world.