02 November 2008

La Vida Mineral Springs History from the Los Angeles Times

Some digging around in the archives of the Los Angeles Times recently yielded some interesting material concerning the change in management of La Vida Mineral Springs in 1932 and an earlier indication as to why part of that change may have occurred.

On 5 June 1932, under the column "Resort and Hotel Notes," there is a short piece with the subheading "New Management." The description is: Long famous for its hot soda water baths, the La Vida Mineral Springs has been taken over by new management. Every effort will be made to give the public the best possible service. Accomodations at La Vida consist of hotel rooms and completely furnished housekeeping cottages and cabins. There is an excellent cafe and a well-stocked store operated in connection with the establishent. Two bath-houses offer the guest a choice in the type of treatment taken. La Vida is located in Carbon Canyon thirty miles from Los Angeles via Telegraph Road, La Habra, Brea, and Olinda. It is worth noting that Telegraph Road, formerly the Los Angeles and Anaheim Road, was renamed simply because a telegraph line was strung along the historic route in the 1800s. It also was, from the 1920s onward, the historic Highway 101 coming from Los Angeles southward into Orange County (Interstate 5 largely paralleled the same path when it was built in the 1950s.) From there, there would be a turnoff to other roads once La Habra was reached and then drivers rode further east through Brea and Olinda.

Five months later, on 27 November 1932, under the "Resort Notes" column and the "Healing Waters" subhead came this: One of the world's finest mineral waters bursts forth from its subterranean chambers along the hillsides of Carbon Canyon, a scant thirty miles from Los Angeles. La Vida Mineral Springs are noted for the wonderful healing qualities of their natural hot soda water. The soda water as contrasted with the more common iron or sulphur waters is especially recommended in the treatment of rheumatism, stomach trouble, neuritis, sciatica and kindred ailments. There are two bath-houses at the spring with ample facilities for the various types of baths. Guests at La Vida may stay in the hotel or in adjoining cottages and cabins which are equipped for housekeeping.

There was another interesting article that year, from 17 June, that came under the "Vacationland" section with the title "Health-Giving Springs Abound in Southland: White Man's Luxurious Resorts Utilize Healing Waters Discovered by Indians." In this piece, reporter Lee Shippey wrote about the use of many mineral and hot springs by the native peoples of the area and not without utilizing some of the political incorrect (by our standards) viewpoints of the day. For example, Shippey asked "why was it that those untutored savages were taught a knowledge of healing far greater than the white man's and still copied by the white man?" Further on, he states that "winter was very hard on the Indians before the padres [Roman Catholic missionaries] rounded them up in missions and taught them how take care of themselves," as if the natives were unable to "take care of themselves" over the 10,000 or more years that they lived here before the Spanish arrived! Moreover, we learn (!), "they were anything but dietitians. They ate acorns, some roots and herbs and quantities of sundried meat." Still, in another back-handed compliment, Shippey intoned "but they had more sense then some of us who have succeeded them. They saw the gifts nature has provided and made use of them." One of these gifts was the presence of the hot and mineral springs found in the region, among many of which was La Vida, mentioned by name but without any elaboration in the article.

Incidentally, there was an earlier clue as to why William Newton Miller, the founder of La Vida, may have decided to sell out. As has been amply documented, Carbon Canyon and its surrounding area has been subject to fire and flood, the latter often following the former. For example, there was a heavy rainfall in the winter of 1926-27. In an article from 17 February 1927 titled "Orange County Isolated," there was reference the "reports from Anaheim were to the effect that twenty blocks of the residence district of that town were under water and about three times that area in Fullerton, a few miles west, as a result of a cloudburst yesterday afternoon in Carbon Canyon, in the northeast corner of Orange County." A later paragraph noted that "the resort at La Vida Hot Springs in Carbon Canyon was reported destroyed by the cloudburst. Wires to the resort were down and the Carbon Canyon road closed." As stated in other posts in this blog, the paving of Carbon Canyon Road had just been completed in 1926. If the reports were true and La Vida was literally wiped out by the flooding of Carbon [Canyon] Creek, Miller may have rebuilt, but with the onset of the Great Depression three years or so later, it may have been a financial drain for him. Consequently, it is has been said, boxer Archie Rosenbaum came in, as the above 1932 articles indicate, and took over the resort.

There were more severe floods in 1938, which prompted a major federal government effort to provide flood control throughout southern California. Plans for dams were put aside during World War II but revived again in the 1950s, leading to the completion of the Carbon Canyon Dam by the beginning of the next decade.

Although oral histories from the 1970s included recollections from longtime Olinda oil field residents that La Vida was heavily used by locals and, in the 1930s and after, by Jews from Los Angeles, another interesting tidbit was discovered. The 28 February 1939 issue of the Times pointed out that the Portland Beavers, a professional baseball team in the Pacific Coast League, was conducting its spring (pre-season) training in Amerige Park in Fullerton. This park, opened in 1917 at 300 W. Commonwealth, a few blocks west of Harbor Boulevard (then Spadra Road, after its connection to a small town now part of Pomona), began to serve as a spring training site for Pacific Coast League teams in 1935, continuing to do so for twenty years until just before the demise of the league. Not only, however, did the team train in Fullerton but it also was "traveling daily to near-by La Vida Mineral Springs 'to boil out' aching muscles."

The following year, the Beavers were back training at Amerige Park. In the 23 February 1940 issue of the Times it was reported that "Lavida [sic] Hot Springs, located near Brea, daily is helping to soothe the aching muscles of the Portland Beavers, who drill from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. [at Amerige] and then leave for the springs to soak out the soreness after a hard workout." The article also made sure to point out that "Skipper Frederick [manager John Frederick] and his Oregonians are well pleased with the combination Amerige Park-LaVida [sic--again] Hot Springs facilities and "Doc" Michel, veteran trainer of the club, calls the setup "one of the finest he has seen." It is worth noting that, just as Major League teams conduct their winter leagues and spring training in Florida, Arizona and the like, the reason for teams like Portland and Seattle to come south to Orange County (Seattle trained in Anaheim in 1939) was to avoid the heavier rains of the Pacific Northwest. Incidentally, the Sacramento Solons ("solons" being a term for lawmakers), the Hollywood Stars and the Los Angeles Angels also trained at different times at Amerige Park.

Well, that will do it for now. At a future date, there'll be a post about the more recent history of La Vida, including some interesting uses of the site in the 1980s!


Theresa Ullrich said...

Thanks for your great blog! The article on La Vida is so interesting.
We were just exploring the area today- trying to imagine where the pools and hotel were. Found the warm water too!

Paul said...

Hello Theresa, what a coincidence that I saw your comment after just now posting something on La Vida and the images I took on the day the Brea side of Carbon Canyon was reopened, a month ago yesterday.

If you check it out, you'll see a view looking east across Carbon [Canyon] Creek where the hotel and pool were. I wasn't able to get to that part of the property last month and want to go back there, if I can. Another view shows a steam vent I stumbled upon in the hillside.

At any rate, thanks for visiting and please come back to see what's new.

ekim said...

Very interesting, I spent most of my childhood at La Vida Hot Springs; thanks for the history lesson.

Anonymous said...

as Hello, when I was a young girl, about 8 years old, 1950/1, my mother and grandmother took me to La Vida and we sat in the hot healing waters which were in funny cement basins that were square - as I remember it. The water looked kinda icky - but it was fun. My grandmother had a hip problem and the water helped her. Thanks for the article - I had begun to think I imagined the trips made there! Millie

Paul said...

Hi Ekim and Anonymous, I occasionally troll back through old entries to see if there are recent comments and came across yours. Thanks for stopping by and glad you found the post useful. There is quite a bit elsewhere on the blog about La Vida which you may want to check out.

Nicholas M. Williams said...

I have a few comments to add regarding the La Vida Hot Springs from a family genealogical research project I've been pursuing for the past several decades. My grandparents sold their farm in northern Missouri around 1902 and moved to Southern California. I have been told by several ancestors - now deceased - that my grandfather, James Monroe Williams, managed the La Vida Hot Springs for a number of years between 1902 and approximately 1905. My father, Nicholas Monroe Williams, was born in 1904 in Clearwater (Paramount) and he and several of his brothers and a sister and some cousins have told me about the cement tubs that were used at the hot springs. I would love to hear from anyone who can verify that James and Mae Williams ran these hot springs during this time period. Nick Williams

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your interest in La Vida Hot Spring. I have heard the existing property owner, at long last, would like to re-develop the area (perhaps by turning it into a drive-in cafe). But the owner will first need some professional assistance in digging the hot spring. Would appreciate it if anyone can recommend a service provider or enlighten us on the permit matter (if required).

Paul said...

Hello Nick, this is very interesting. It has been said, as I think I mentioned elsewhere, that the water was first noticed in modern times by 1896 oil explorations on the site. I haven't seen any reference to the Williams family at La Vida, which isn't to say that this means anything, but maybe they were there because of use of the water by those working in the Olinda oil fields? Maybe something will come to light on this. Thanks for checking out the Chronicle!

Paul said...

Hello Anonymous, is there a new owner of the La Vida property? Leo Hayashi had owned it since the mid-1970s and ran the resort until the late 1980s. I would assume that the city would issue permits for any subsurface investigations by geotechnical specialists? Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Hello Nick, I did a little poking around with census info and found that the Williams family was living in the Clearwater precinct of Downey Township in 1910 and James M. Williams was a grocery store owner. About 1918 or so, he died, however, and his widow was living in Huntington Beach by 1920. In 1900, James Williams (stove factory worker) and May Johnson were living in the same household in Nettleton (Jonesboro), Arkansas. Their oldest child was born there about 1901 and their second child was born two years later in California, so the 1902 date, of course, is correct for their move to California. The problem will be linking them to La Vida from 1902-05, though the dates certainly match up well.

John said...

One significant fact in the history of "La Vida Hot Springs" as it was known in 1972.....(OK, not really significant) is that for about 3 months I played guitar and sang at the restaurant that was/is there. This was right after I got out of the U.S.A.F. in 1972. I quit one night when the old guy who ran the place had the TV at the bar on while I was playing and I asked him "What do you want me to do??!!" He replied "I don't give a (*(^$&% what you do." So...I went into Real Estate. John Boyer AZ

prs said...

Hi John, thanks for checking in and leaving the comment. If you have something more you'd like to say about your reminiscences of La Vida, let me know. I'd be happy to post it on its own.

Bodney Romero said...

I used to go there once a week in the 80's . Some Koreans took it over and apparently they ran a brothel there downstairs. I told some friends that ran a holistic medical group about it and they and Buddy Ebsen were thinking of buying it but it would have been too much work.

Too bad, that water, alkaline based, was the best ever.
They'd take you to a room and wrap you in wool blankets for an hour and put an ice cold towel around your head. " cold towel!!", we'd yell when we started baking too much. Dennis the attendant would laugh and fix us up.

Those Koreans really effed up that place, a potential gold mine that eventually crumbled away in history.

Glen Ivy then ended up being my hot springs spot till I moved to Hawaii.

Great memories of La Vida

No, I never got any 'mammaries' there... Haha

Pamela said...

Was trying to find pictures of La Vida from the mid-80's when I worked there to show to my nephew. Chris Cromwell was the owner and I was one of many servers at that time. Live music both inside and outside with folks sitting on lawn chairs on a Sunday afternoon. Labor Day BBQs and events; one band was "Coyote" and another "Spare Chang."

When I get some time to find them, I'll post some pics.

Good times, good memories and thankfully we survived one of the many fires in The Canyon during that decade.

prs said...

Hi Pamela, thanks for the comment and, if you have any photos that you'd like to post here, let me know.

Nick Williams said...

I have a slight correction to make regarding my grandparents, James and Mae Williams, who managed the La Vida Hot Springs. I have since learned that James and Mae managed La Vida in 1915 after moving to a house across the "road" (actually a wagon trail up the canyon) from the hot springs. Before 1915, James managed the Clearwater (Paramount/Hynes) Mercantime Store and was the postmaster of Clearwater. Their white clapboard house was butted-up against the hillside on the south side of the canyon, opposite the hot springs. I would love to get a photograph of their house in Carbon Canyon!

prs said...

Hi Nick, thanks for returning and for the update. That is helpful to know.

Nick Williams said...


I have been looking through your earlier blogs and links regarding the La Vida Hot Springs, and have discovered two very interesting "coincidences" that may have a connection to my grandfather, James M. Williams, and his position as manager of La Vida Hot Springs in around 1915.

The first pertains to Edward F. Gaines, a "farmer" and property owner in the Olinda Village who actually lived in Carbon Canyon. Gaines supposedly moved to the Carbon Canyon area after 1910. What is interesting to me is that he moved there from Clearwater (now the city of Paramount) where he farmed...the same town that my grandfather lived in and at approximately the same time period he moved his family to Carbon Canyon to manage the hot springs.

Secondly, in the remembrances of Jack Gauldin, a resident of Olinda until 1924, Mr. Gauldin describes using two dozen mules and about 27 men to construct the first rudimentary road through Carbon Canyon in 1914 or 1915. What is interesting to me is that he is quoted as saying "There was an old gent by the name of Jim Williams who lived in there...who wouldn't allow the road through his property on the higher ground and told them 'it's all right to stay down in the canyon'". Knowing what my father has said about his father's personality, I can believe that he could very well have said this to the workers.

Nick Williams

Anonymous said...

Hello: We began to frequent La Vida in the late 1960's, around 1970 and thereafter, until the untimely destruction from a cooking fire we think. The hotel still had rooms and I remember staying there in the early 1980's. La Vida had the best protocols: soak submersed in adjusted La Vida very hot water individual tile stalls with iced cups of the La Vida Mineral Water to drink; then proceed to the dry cedar-lined sauna to sweat; then proceed to the cool-down room, where you were snugly wrapped in a clean sheet on individual padded tables, your face surround covered by iced terry towel and your body covered with a thick plastic sheet on top of which was placed a very thick wool blanket. Afterwards or prior to the procedure, you had the choice of style of massages, swedish/shiatsu/etc. Please have the new owner of the property contact me at (949) 675-8938 to discuss their plans to rebuild this vital health historical California heritage site. Thanks, Chris McKinney

Anonymous said...

My La Vida visits were all in the mid 70's to early 80's. I remember the sound of the canyon wihile soaking in the outdoor mineral water pool. I remember the massage rooms and the wonderful relaxing Swedish massages.

Most of all, I remember getting a hydro bath, sinking deep into the HOT mineral water and letting the jets really work your muscles. YES!!! Then into the sauna - a nice very hot dry sauna - with some mineral water to sprinkle on the hot rocks. Lastly, into the blanket sweat room - cool, clean sheet on a padded bench, being wrapped up like a mummy in the sheet and then a in a heavy wool blanket, tucked up close around your neck, and finally a towel soaked in ice and mineral water covering your entire face and head. Lying there, limp and relaxed for 40 minutes. Heaven.

Best of all, if you were there during the daytime, you could stop in at the restaurant/coffee shop for the absolute finest chocolate malt to be found anywhere on earth. Oh, I miss La Vida. If the new owner(s) bring it back, I'm there, definitely there. And I'll bring lots of friends.

LCN said...

I have been looking for the reason the La Vida hot springs went out of business and I came across this via my wonderful daughter who did a little research and forwarded this to me. I am so elated that someone is taking an interest in redeveloping La Vida hot springs. I miss seeing those beautiful pools of water when I was a child and we traveled the canyon back and forth through there. I do know one thing, who ever rebuilds it will probably have to think "Bigger" when it come to parking. With the increase of the population, La Vida will have a lot more visitors than one ever imagined. LCN.

Tim said...

I used to live just up the road in Sleepy Hollow back in the 70's. It was a peaceful,pleasant place. I miss it a lot.

Anonymous said...

When I was in high school one our driver education spots was Carbon Cayon Rd. The instructors liked because it was so windy.

Later my family and I built a house off of Vallet Springs Rd. one of the communities off of Carbon Canyon Rd. My father also had a small farm at the end of Carbon Cayon near Chino.

We originally lived in Hawaiian Gardens CA and on our way through the Canyon many times we stoped at La Vida Hot Springs and had lunch.

I remember once in the 80's after I was newly married. Me, my wife and my very young son (he was still a toddler) stopped on a Sarurday afternoon and saw one of the best blues bands I have ever seen.

I wish I could remember their name. They had a female singer and she came on and did a version of "Born Under a Bad Sign" that would make Albert King Proud.

The place was full of bikers (real ones, not like you see now) and they just added to the roadhouse atmosphere of the place.

I was sad to see it go. Southern Califoria really lost a landmark almost on the order of when we lost the Swing Auditorium where the Rolling Stones played their first US gig.


prs said...

Hello Nato, thanks for leaving the comment and sharing some recollections of La Vida. Come back soon as there will be more posts showing vintage postcards and an old La Vida bottle opener.

Terry Roach said...

My great grandparents owend La Vida Hot Springs. My grandparents then bought it and ran it until the mid 70's. I believe. My mother was raised at the springs from the time she was 3 and went to Brea High school. It was sold in the 70's to someone from japan I believe. If you would like more information. I have pictures and history of the Hot Springs.

prs said...

Hi Terry, great to have you visit and comment. Yes, any info and photos you have to post here would be awesome. How can you be contacted? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

My Grandmother who was a Physical Therapist there in the early 60's had her legs blown off when a boiler under the floor where she was working exploded.

prs said...

Hello Anonymous, sorry for the delay in responding. There is actually a separate post on this blog about that horrible explosion back in 1963. This is the link to it: https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=7766959241150105184#editor/target=post;postID=9001237875626150938;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=6;src=postname. The post was from 16 February 2013. Thanks for your comment.

Steve Lackey said...

Thanks PRS I would love to see the post about the horrible explosion but it says I can't access it. can you help me? is there another way to get to the info?

prs said...

Hi Steve, here is the text from that post--the article was fairly brief:

In the 15 September 1963 edition of the Los Angeles Times is an article titled, "Nine Injured, Two Gravely, in Blast at Resort." The piece went on to say that the previous day at 2:45 p.m., a water heater in the basement of the two-story bathhouse exploded. While there was no fire resulting from the calamity, the effects of the explosion were such that the "first and second floors of the bathhouse were blasted into shambles."

Deputies with the Orange County Sheriff's Department reported that there were some twenty people in the building, most in the dressing rooms, but none actually in the bath area. Other guests were in nearby hotel cottages and the pool, within about a hundred feet of the bathhouse, and strongly felt the blast, but were unhurt.

Of the nine injured, two guests with minor injuries were transported to La Mirada Hospital. Seven others were taken to St. Jude's Hospital in Fullerton, including two guests and three employees, one, 17-year old attendant Jimmie Dale Gray, who lived at the resort, being released quickly after treatment for minor injuries. A masseur, Robert Paque of Orange, suffered a broken right arm and foot injuries, while physical therapist Ernest Brown of La Habra, had leg wounds.

The two badly injured persons, however, were, indeed, gravely wounded. Mamie Slaton, a 51-year old attendant at La Vida and a resident of Yorba Linda, was so badly hurt that both legs were amputated by surgeons at St. Jude's. Physical therapist and La Vida resident, Nina Lackey, age 60, was also facing amputation of one of them due to the severity of her wounds.

While officers on scene could not speculate on the cause of the explosion and what the financial loss would be, the paper reported "that the bathhouse is probably a total loss."

Anonymous said...

Here's my small contribution: In the early 1970's I was project manager for an addition to the market at the north end of Beachwood Dr. in the Hollywood Hills. Demolition of the Shell station next door to the market revealed an old dump where I recovered intact a one gallon screw top glass bottle with print on one side "LA VIDA FOR LIFE MINERAL WATER" & on the bottom "McL". At that time I called the springs and was told the bottle may have been from the'20's or early'30's. It now serves as an interesting door stop.

prs said...

Hello Bob, thanks for stopping by and that's a great little story. That wording "La Vida for Life" was used in advertisements from the late 20s/early 30s, as well. A number of different La Vida bottles have been posted on this blog, but none that early.