Posts Tagged ‘California’

This weekend a winner will be crowned at the 89th Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. While we wish all the ladies luck, here at Peeling Back the Bark World Headquarters our favorite Miss America will undoubtedly remain one woman born all the way back in 1928.Miss America Green Cross

Miss American Green Cross, as she is known, was unveiled in Glendale, California, 87 years ago. Posing against the backdrop of a cross, her striking figure appeared with her arms outstretched in a call to save America’s trees. But who was this woman and where did she come from? To fully understand her story we need to go back a few more years to the origins of the American Reforestation Association.

American Reforestation Association logoThe early 1920s was a time of growing concerns over dwindling forest resources in the United States. In response to this perceived crisis, the American Reforestation Association was incorporated in Los Angeles in 1923. The stated aim for the group was “the saving of America’s greatest asset – trees. Not simply for sentiment but for the very life of the nation.” The official organizational motto was “The sapling of today is the man-timber of tomorrow,” and the group promoted tree planting, while also disseminating educational materials on the value of trees, hoping to influence the public on the need for laws to protect America’s forests.

ARA membership emblemThe organization also worked closely with various Hollywood figures, hoping to use the growing film industry as a means of promoting the group’s cause of planting trees. From its base in Southern California, the Association recruited membership from across the country. The official membership emblem greeting potential new members was a woman in a crown of laurels (labeled “America”) with arms outstretched against a cross backdrop under the words “help save our trees.”

This symbol appeared on American Reforestation Association publications and promotional materials, before eventually becoming the group’s centerpiece as the organization re-branded. On December 3, 1926, the American Green Cross Society was formally created as a successor to the American Reforestation Association.

Green Cross announcement

The group was publicly launched with a series of events in Southern California in April of 1927, in conjunction with national Forestry Week observances. This included a tree planting event on April 30, 1927, at Royal Palms (San Pedro, CA) near the Pacific Ocean end of Western Ave. The event was attended by U.S. Forest Service Chief William Greeley and featured the planting of 20 different trees from historic spots (including trees from Mount Vernon, Monticello, Fort McHenry, and other locations).

The local influence of the group was significant enough that in February 1928 the city of Glendale offered an office building and auditorium with a block of property valued at $150,000 to the American Green Cross to be used as their national headquarters. Around this time plans for a large monument also began.

The artist Frederick Willard Potter sculpted the monument – an imposing work featuring a bronze version of the familiar Green Cross woman atop a pile of logs all standing on a six-foot high stone base. The base featured a plaque as well as the words “help save our trees” and “the forest is the mother of the rivers.” The statue was placed in Glendale at the intersection of Broadway and Verdugo Roads at the corner of the Broadway High School campus (now Glendale High School).

Potter statue

Frederick Potter (left) with his American Green Cross statue.

The unveiling ceremony was attended by Potter as well as his model Verlyn Sumner. A Los Angeles Times report of the event began, “Amidst the cheers of several thousands of school children and citizens, the American Green Cross at Glendale yesterday unveiled a monument dedicated to forest conservation and propagation.” Lieutenant Governor Buron Fitts in his speech at the ceremony stated that “Just what the Red Cross means to humanity now, the Green Cross will mean to humanity of the future.”

While the Green Cross organization would ultimately prove to be short-lived, the strange journey of Miss Green Cross herself was only beginning. A few years after the dedication a car crashed into the statue’s base, causing significant damage. Shortly thereafter the statue was moved away from school grounds and relocated to a remote canyon area behind Brand’s Castle (now Brand Library & Art Center). As if following the statue’s path, the Green Cross organization also began to fade from public view during the 1930s. The statue was abandoned, vandalized, and mostly forgotten over the next few decades until a group of hikers “re-discovered” it during the 1950s. By this time the statue was crumbling and Miss Green Cross was missing an entire arm. In the late 1970s Glendale’s Historic Preservation Element designated the statue as a landmark piece and it was selected to be relocated to a prominent place in Brand Park. The statue was moved to storage in 1981 to await restoration work.

After significant work by Glendale artist Ron Pekar – and significant cost – the restoration project was completed. The Miss American Green Cross statue was unveiled at its current home in Brand Park with a re-dedication ceremony in 1992.

The story doesn’t exactly end there, though. In January 2007, a group of community service workers clearing brush behind Brand Library uncovered a buried arm. After an initial shock, they soon realized what they had found was a 3-foot-long bronze arm – which they later discovered was a missing piece of the original Green Cross statue. The Glendale Parks Department evidently now holds permanent possession of this original appendage (which had already been replaced in the restoration efforts).

While the statue itself remains in a prominent place near Brand Library Park, the origins of the Green Cross lady – as well as the stories of the American Reforestation Association and the American Green Cross – are unfortunately mostly forgotten.

Reforesters of America

1925 book by the American Reforestation Association.

Moulding Public Opinion

1927 book by the American Reforestation Association and the American Green Cross.

Help Save Our TreesMiss Green CrossMiss American Green Cross plaque

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Over 300 historic U.S. Forest Service photographs from California were recently added to our image database, thanks to a collaboration with USFS Region 5 (Pacific Southwest). Matthew Stever, a Region 5 Heritage Photo Project intern, organized and scanned a large number of previously uncataloged photographs from the region, and digital copies were added to the FHS online image database. The photos come mostly from the San Bernardino National Forest, range in date from the 1910s to the 1960s, and cover a broad array of topics including forest rangers at work, fire prevention, fire suppression, recreational activities, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The collection also highlights some lesser-known pieces of California history, such as the story of Camp Cajon.

Camp Cajon stone signAt a time when long-distance auto travel was still relatively new, Camp Cajon became a nationally known rest stop along an important route into southern California. For travelers during the 1920s and 1930s — long before the era of interstates, rest areas, and ubiquitous hotel chains and fast food restaurants — Camp Cajon provided a roadside stopping place, complete with facilities for eating, camping, and much more.

The camp was the brainchild of citrus grower William M. Bristol, who had a moment of inspiration while attending the dedication ceremony of the Pioneers Monument in December 1917. This monument to early settlers was erected along the National Old Trails Highway in Cajon Pass, at the junction of the Salt Lake and Santa Fe Trails (north of San Bernardino, along present-day Interstate 15). While at the dedication, Bristol came up with the idea of building a welcome station and rest area in Cajon Pass as a “gateway to southern California.”

Bristol returned to the area following World War I, pitching a tent in Cajon Pass during May of 1919 and intending just to stay a few months. Instead of building a few picnic tables and heading back to his orchards as originally planned, Bristol soon found himself immersed in a large-scale project which would continue on for years.

On land donated in part by the Santa Fe Railroad, Bristol began his work by building picnic tables. A master craftsman, Bristol designed and built a unique series of large round concrete tables, which would come to define the site even as it expanded.

The round concrete Camp Cajon picnic tables (0512_233).

The iconic round concrete Camp Cajon picnic tables (0512_233).

The initial dedication ceremony for Camp Cajon was held on July 4, 1919. A poem written especially for the event by Jennie Cook Davis was read, a quotation from which was set on a tablet in a stone sign marking the camp’s entrance:

“We have builded a shrine to friendship, good-fellowship and cheer,
That all who cross our threshold may find refreshment here.”

The camp quickly grew as sponsors provided funds for more picnic tables, large stone cooking stoves, massive barbeque pits, bath facilities, and more. The Elks Club built a stone lodge building, and a store and post office even sprung up. These facilities provided a place of much-needed comfort for motorists just emerging from miles of desert. The rest stop, picnic area, and free campground became well known nationwide as a can’t-miss stopping point along the route into southern California. A headline from a 1921 Los Angeles Times article summed this up: “Camp Cajon Takes Cake for Comfort, Gives Motor Travelers Great Welcome as They Come in from Desert.”

Camp Cajon travelers

Travelers making a stop at Camp Cajon (0512_118).

The legend only grew in 1926 when the National Old Trails Highway became part of Route 66, and the country’s iconic east-west highway ran right through Camp Cajon.

Unfortunately, Camp Cajon’s time was ultimately short-lived. Devastating floods during March of 1938 completely destroyed the camp, burying the facilities under piles of rocks and sand. Less than 20 years after Bristol began construction of the first picnic table, the camp was left in total ruin.

Three years later the Camp’s founder would end his own life. Bristol, a vocal proponent of euthanasia, took his life rather than continue suffering due to a debilitating illness. Ever a craftsman to the end, Bristol built his own wooden coffin by hand, got inside and shot himself.

No trace of Bristol’s once famous camp is left in the original Cajon Pass location today. The Camp Cajon site sits near a McDonalds on the edge of Interstate 15 just south of its intersection with Highway 138. While the camp was buried and built over, pieces of Bristol’s work still live on elsewhere. Several of the original concrete picnic tables from Camp Cajon were salvaged, and can be found in Lytle Creek and Perris Hill Parks in the city of San Bernardino.

Continue below to view Camp Cajon photos from the collection. To browse additional Region 5 photos, search all fields for: “0512_*” (which is the ID# prefix for the images added as part of this project).

Present day site of Camp Cajon

Present-day site of Camp Cajon, just off Interstate 15.

Camp Cajon

Stove and picnic tables at Camp Cajon (0512_235).


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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 12, in which we examine Benny Beaver.

Although Benny Beaver is back in the news, don’t be confused. The one making news is Oregon State University’s mascot, and that’s because he’s been redesigned. Again. The Benny Beaver beloved by forest history buffs was the mascot for the Redwood Region Conservation Council (RRCC).

Benny BeaverThe RRCC was a forest products industry group in the Redwood-Douglas fir region of California that sought to inform the public about the necessity of conserving the area’s natural resources, in particular commercial timber, and the importance of doing so for the benefit of all. The RRCC was involved in certifying forests for the American Tree Farm System and already employed Woody and the Keep Green program to get the word out about fire prevention when Benny was introduced.

What makes this character stand apart from all those is that his creators went to the trouble of formulating a backstory for him. Benny was introduced in the summer of 1965 (we don’t know when they stopped using him). In the introduction below, besides learning about Benny’s extended family and ancestors, they even implied that he was OSU’s Benny Beaver—hence the reference to being mauled by a wolverine (in 1965’s Rose Bowl, the University of Michigan handily defeated OSU.) And when Benny was introduced, Bernard Z. Agrons was RRCC’s president, so we think that’s where the name of Benny’s great uncle came from. Anyway, his creators did such an entertaining job on the backstory that I’m going to let the announcement of Benny’s “hiring” do the talking.

Benjamin “Benny” Beaver—faller, bucker, dam-builder and member of the world-famed lumbering family—has joined the Redwood Region Conservation Council as its supervisor of forest activities.

Benny applied to RRCC headquarters for work following a six-month period of convalescence.

Last January 1 while inspecting the culinary qualities of the wood structures which support Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, he was seriously mauled by a curmudgeonly wolverine. Seems the wolverine had left his home in Michigan for a trip to Disneyland and had stopped off in Pasadena for some mild exercise. A beaver with a football was all he could find to tussle with.

Healed, Benny headed back to his familiar forest where, he says, the most dangerous creatures are 21-year-old loggers on Saturday night and a funny old bear who wears a silly hat.

Benny’s first assignment will be to work with that bear—Smokey they call him—in an effort to keep the Redwood Region green. But being a charter member of the “hard-hat-on-head, we’re-not-dead” club, Benny indicated he would try to talk Smokey out of wearing his felt campaign hat.

“Widow-makers,” he warned, “can drive you into the deck like a wicket.”

Well known as an industrious woods worker, Benny has numerous qualifications for his job in forest conservation.

His great-great-great granddaddy pioneered the technique of selective logging, and early lumberjacks copied Benny’s great uncle Bernard Z. Beaver’s method of getting logs from the forest to the mill by river floating.

As a matter of fact, Benny’s cousins still excavate canals—some several hundred feet long—to float wood for life’s necessities into their communities. Their dams are engineered perfectly to keep the water in the canals at a proper depth….

The announcement concluded: “RRCC hopes the Redwood Region will welcome Benny Beaver. We expect him to fight wildfire, prevent litter-bugging and help us tell the public that conservation means the wise and multiple use of our natural resources.”

That last statement reveals the stumbling block to success that so many forest history characters trip over: they are given too many things to simultaneously to represent and it confuses the target audience. Is Benny about fire prevention? Stopping litter bugs? Wise and multiple use? Aren’t the first two really just part of the third? This problem of a muddled message is why the Forest Service later created Woodsy Owl—people were trying to use Smokey Bear to talk about litter and other issues and it diluted the power of Smokey’s message. Further complicating Benny’s path to stardom was the introduction of Cal Green and Sniff and Snuff in California the same year Benny was introduced. How’s a beaver in cut-off overalls supposed to compete against charismatic Cal and the sartorial splendor of Sniff and Snuff? As Benny might say, dam if I know.

Fighting forest fires in northern California kept Benny as busy as a, well, you know.

Fighting forest fires in northern California kept Benny as busy as a, well, you know.

The RRCC made ads like these available to newspapers.

The RRCC made ads like these available to newspapers.

Redwood Region Conservation Council letterhead

Redwood Region Conservation Council letterhead featuring Benny Beaver.

RRCC Benny Beaver poster

RRCC vice president Norman Traverso with student poster contest winners, 1966.

RRCC bookmark.

RRCC promotional bookmark featuring the “Woody” character.

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