March 9, 2014 — A standing-room-only crowd filled the Vasquez Rocks Interpretive Center to hear Jeff Asher reminisce and share photographs of
the area from his childhood in the 1930s and early 1940s.
The lecture was organized by Sarah Brewer Thompson, presented by the Vasquez Rocks Nature Center Associates and hosted by the Los Angeles County
Department of Parks and Recreation.
READ: Asher Ranch Life Revealed in Vasquez Rocks Program by Lillian Smith, 3-15-2014.
The story of the Asher family in Agua Dulce begins in the early 1930s with Jefferson Asher Sr., general manager of the highly popular Ocean Park Amusement Pier in Santa Monica (known after 1945 as Pacific Ocean Park). He was married to a lovely actress, Emily Pinter, who gave him two sons, Jeff Jr. and Tom.
After buying about 40 acres in 1934 in what is now the western portion of Vasquez Rocks County Park, Jeff Sr. became friends with George Shaefer, a Los Angeles County surveyor. Shaefer's family owned property to the south of Vasquez Rocks, near today's intersection of Agua Dulce Canyon Road and Soledad Canyon, at the modern 14 Freeway ramps.
Shaefer knew the land better than anyone and helped Jeff Sr. acquire more land, mainly through paying the back taxes owed on the properties. Eventually Jeff Sr.'s holdings expanded to roughly 300 acres.
The ranch was called the AAA Ranch (pronounced "Triple-A"), named for the three Asher males: Jefferson Sr., Thomas and Jefferson Jr. When the home was purchased, it was a small stone house built from rocks found on the property, and there is some dispute as to whether it had a connection to the Sterling Borax mine.
Jeff Sr. built additions to the house, also from rocks on the property. He developed the property into a fully functioning ranch and vacation home. The property had a multi-room main house, a garage with gas pump, an in-ground croquet court, a water tower, a caretaker's cabin, a swimming pool, a 12-acre alfalfa field, multiple chicken coops, a barn, corrals and holding pens. Jeff Jr. recalls having 40 head of cattle at one point, as well as several milk cows, 30 pigs, four horses, 25 turkeys and about 1,000 white leghorn chickens.
Jeff Jr., 88 years old in 2013 and living in Long Beach, is the only survivor among the family of four. He fondly remembers his time at the family ranch. He recalls wonderful weekends and summers spent there; looking back, he says it was a great place for a couple of little boys to explore and grow up.
There was a basement beneath the house with a wine cellar that held barrels full of zinfandel from Bisceglia Bros. Winery in Fresno, which the family and their friends enjoyed on the wrap-around porch, where they would sit and watch the sun set over Agua Dulce Canyon, with Saddleback Mountain as a backdrop.
Jeff Jr. also recalls how fun it was to have an in-ground swimming pool that the local kids could all come and swim in — despite the cold water, since the pool had no heater, and despite the fact that the pool was often green with algae, since there was no filter system.
Graduating high school in 1942 just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Jeff recalls that "100 percent" of his classmates joined the military. Jeff served four years in the U.S. Navy, a proud example of the brave servicemen and -women who have called Agua Dulce home.
Jeff's brother Tom followed suit; luckily both boys came home safely to continue the next phase in their lives.
Jeff studied business at UCLA and then received a master's degree from Harvard, while Tom earned bachelor's and master's degrees in bacteriology from UCLA and a Ph.D. from Oxford University.
After Jeff Sr.'s death in 1964 and the death of both Emily and her mother in 1965, the Asher boys were busy with families and careers of their own, and they found it more difficult to journey out to the family ranch.
The Ashers sold their property to the county of Los Angeles in 1970, hugely increasing the size of Vasquez Rocks County Park.
Their house sustained extensive damage in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. It was subsequently bulldozed, since it was thought to pose a danger to people wanting to climb around on its rubble.
Talking to Jeff, one can easily see the sparkle in his eye as he remembers the fond times spent at the AAA Ranch, full of love, family and adventure.
Jeff Sr. had a plaque made for his boys in 1936 that posed this sweet wish: "May you flourish and grow strong in this beautiful place." Poignant words for us all to embrace today, just as those curious, intelligent, adventurous Asher boys did so many years ago.
— Sarah Brewer Thompson 2013