The Life And Times Of Scott Newhall.


Former Signal Owner Beat William Randolph Hearst At His Own Game.

Scott Newhall Scott Newhall, once the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, bought the Newhall Signal in 1963. He had been working for the Chronicle since he joined the staff as a summer replacement photographer in 1934, nearly 30 years earlier.

Scott hadn't really intended to go into the newspaper business. He had rather pictured himself ultimately becoming a director of New York's Metropolitan Museum or some other prestigious post.

He was plunged into the newspaper business by the fact that part-way through his sophomore year at UC Berkeley, we had flown to Reno and gotten married. Scott's idea was to finish college, buy a sailboat, and cruise the world together.

But then as he finished his sophomore year, I was a graduate student and had been offered a summer job by one of my professors. We temporarily postponed our sailboat dream. After all, if we could spend a couple of summers earning money, we could buy a better boat.


Scott never lacked superb self-confidence. Before I reported for work he went out and spent twenty-five dollars of our slim cash horde on a Leica camera. That was the latest thing — a so-called "candid" camera, that was fitted with oversized lenses and fast film, imported from Germany.

Scott roamed around the Berkeley campus and between classes tirelessly practiced on his new camera. We were both majoring in art, and Scott, though not a gifted painter, had an instinct for form and composition.

The day I went to work for the professor, Scott went down to the San Francisco Examiner, whose managing editor was a friend of his parents, and applied for a summer job. The editor sent his regards to Scott's parents, but said they didn't need him. So he walked down the street to the Chronicle.

Newspaper photographers then had to carry around a vast array of equipment: flash powder to be held aloft and ignited with a spark, or electric-light-sized flash bulbs, tripods, plus wooden frames holding packed film and a variety of cameras and lenses.

The city editor looked over Scott's "candid" shots and said, "That sure beats carrying around two suitcases and a tripod!" He added that one of their photographers had quit earlier that day, which was a Friday.

"We'll try you out as a summer replacement," the city editor said. "You can report for work Monday. You will, of course, develop your own pictures."

Scott had never developed a picture, nor did he have the faintest idea how it was done. He spent the weekend, morning to night, reading volumes on How to Develop Your Pictures, Photography for the Professional and Darkroom Chemistry from a huge stack of books delivered by a sympathetic friend.

Monday we both went to work. At noon my phone rang. Scott was on the line, speaking barely above a whisper: "I took a picture of Johnny Weissmuller and Lupe Velez and it came out! They're going to use it!"


Two years later we did buy a 42-foot ketch and sailed for nearly a year along the coast of Mexico, making frequent stops while I tried to strengthen my feeble navigational skills.

We wrote articles for the Chronicle to keep body and soul together. Scott was now a skilled photographer.

During the stormy season we parked our boat in a tropical port and bought a couple of bony horses to ride over the mountains in search of a reported lost Aztec gold mine. We never found the mine, but one night Scott's mare stopped to eat some poor Indian's corn. Scott, exasperated, kicked the mare. She kicked him back, launching a bone infection that not long afterward landed him in a Mexico City hospital, and then back home to San Francisco, where most of his right leg was amputated.

"I don't wanna be a photographer anyhow," he said. "This gets me out of that."

Our good friend, the editor of the Chronicle, offered Scott a desk job, from which he graduated to editing the Sunday magazine and moved onward and upward to the top editing job.

When he became editor, the Chronicle had a circulation of around 170,000. Hearst's rival Examiner had 350,000. Scott assured me he would "bury" the Examiner and then proceeded to do so.


Chronicle
Ruth and Scott Newhall (right) with Pulitzer prize winner Herb Caen at the Chronicle, ca. 1940.
Scott's preoccupation was good writing. He filled the Chronicle with columnists who became required reading.

Herb Caen — Mr. San Francisco — was hired back from the Examiner. When the Examiner started a popular column signed by "Ann Landers," Scott hired her identical twin, Popo Phillips, for whom he invented the name "Abigail van Buren" — Dear Abby, to troubled correspondents.

He wrote outrageous editorials. When the Examiner, always on the side of prudishness, started a campaign against topless dancers in the North Beach bistros, Scott wrote the briefest editorial of his career: "The trouble with San Francisco is not topless dancers, it's topless newspapers."

He carried the torch of dissent against the Vietnam War, maintaining (with good reason, it later turned out) that the American government was lying to its people.

He also had notes of cheer: he fondly saluted Pacific Southwest Airlines for redesigning their flight attendants' uniforms "so they look like the delectable in-flight cupcakes they used to be."

The day the Audit Bureau of Circulation broke the news that the Chronicle had passed the Examiner in the circulation race, Scott sent for tubs of ice and cases of champagne for a full-scale staff celebration. Scott, a non-drinker, hoisted a glass of ginger ale.

The goal achieved, Scott grew restless. By the early 1960s he had been working for the Chronicle for nearly 30 years.

"I'm tired of being one of the hired help," he said. "Let's buy a paper of our own."

We both knew it had to be a small paper, because anything we bought would have to be purchased with borrowed money. We had been sending our three sons through Stanford University, and our bank balance was negative.

One of Scott's other activities was as a board member of the family-owned company founded by his great-grandfather — The Newhall Land and Farming Company. Among the company's assets was a 45,000-acre ranch surrounding the small communities of Newhall and Saugus, which then claimed a total population of about 3,500. Scott had heard that the community's weekly newspaper, the Newhall Signal and Saugus Enterprise, founded in 1919, was for sale. We borrowed the money and bought it.


The community was bound to share in California's exploding growth. It was obvious that the cattle on the hills and the fields of barley and onions that lay around Newhall and Saugus would soon become real estate rather than farmland.

The directors of The Newhall Land and Farming Company struggled and debated. Some cousins wanted to retain the farmland as great-grandfather had done. But others said development was inevitable, and rather than selling off the land they ought to create a well-planned community.

The chairman of the board, Atholl McBean, said, "There's one member of the family whose business is words. Scott, you find a name for the new community."

That was the start of Valencia.

The idea of Valencia, and the planners' idealized designs, were revealed to merchants and politicians and other leading citizens at a dinner party given in a huge tent set up on a hill near the soon-to-be freeway. The dinner was elegant, ornamented by the presence of a handsome doctor, the mayor of Valencia, Spain, who had been flown over to christen his city's young namesake. It was an intoxicating view for merchants whose principal customers had been farmers and the new residents of working-class subdivisions.

The transplanted San Franciscans found that their new community was not devoid of excitement.

There was the time in the mid-1960s when a United Airlines plane embarrassingly ran out of gas on a flight from Reno to Burbank. The pilots managed to set it down for a bumpy landing in a plowed field next to what was called the Saugus-Ventura road, at a spot now occupied by the Valencia Town Center mall.

Nobody was hurt. It made for some wonderful pictures for the Signal. United hired Newhall Land equipment to level and compact a runway across the field where it landed. They sent out mechanics who replaced landing gear and a propeller, and, some weeks after the emergency landing, the Signal photographed its takeoff. It was an event that United Airlines preferred to forget, but it was a glorious scoop for the Signal.


Scott wasn't the only ambitious publisher who sought to serve the growing community. He had the inside track, of course, having bought the existing 44-year-old weekly, but there were several challengers.

Most of them counted on the fact that Scott's flamboyant editorial policies annoyed many local citizens. The rival publishers ignored the fact that the customers had to read the Signal to be annoyed.

In an era where competitive newspapers were slowly dying out across the nation, there wasn't room for two papers in a community that had yet to count 20,000 residents.

Perhaps the greatest threat to the management of the Signal was Art Evans' weekly Sentinel.

Art was a popular and convivial Sand Canyon resident, with a variety of past experiences including some stints at newspapering. It was he who thought up the name "Canyon Country" to describe the eastern part of what had been included in "Saugus."

Art was seeking weapons to topple the Signal from its perch. Pointing to Scott's stand on the Vietnam War, he hinted in several editorials that Scott's views were dangerously Red. Scott replied by writing a front-page editorial, "I'm Calling You Out, Art Evans," and challenged him to a duel of words at high noon in front of the Valley Federal building, located at the strategic intersection of San Fernando Road and Railroad Avenue, the traditional entrance to downtown Newhall.

It was the week before Christmas, exactly 30 years ago. Scott and the Signal staff were stunned to see that stores and shopping had apparently been abandoned for the event. Sheriff's deputies were posted here and there around the curbs, apparently not believing that a duel would be limited to words.

Traffic was rerouted to Railroad and Newhall Avenues. Prominent in the front row of spectators was Sheriff Peter Pitchess. And standing alone in the middle of the street was Scott. The last thing he said before walking out was, "If the S.O.B. turns up full of cheer and dressed like Santa Claus, I'm beaten."

Art didn't show up. The Sentinel faded away. Not long afterward Scott invited Art to a private dinner, at which they found they agreed on nearly everything except whose paper should survive.

Art Evans died a few short years later. Scott delivered the eulogy at his memorial services.


For more from the same author, pick up a copy of Ruth Waldo Newhall's A California Legend: The Newhall Land and Farming Company at your local bookstore.


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