Setting up shop: Apple Valley's early business community

By Kate O’Rourke
APPLE VALLEY REVIEW

This article originally appeared in the book, “The History of Apple Valley,” by Kate O’Rourke, and is reprinted here with permission from the Lewis Center.

From around 1900 until Newton T. Bass arrived in 1945, Apple Valley residents were primarily employed in farming, mining, the railroad, cattle and guest ranches. The first retail building, a 30-by-40-foot one-story structure, Valley Building and Materials store, was erected in September 1946, much to the amazement of the few who actually drove out Highway 18 past Navajo Road.

Paul S. Johnson, the store’s proprietor, reflected in a 1948 Apple Valley News interview that “it really was funny the number of people who stopped and inquired in surprised tones just why we built a store out in the open sage brush country.” It was in anticipation of the new community to be built by Bass and Bud Westlund. Johnson soon added a warehouse for storing lumber, a mill for cabinet work and the making of cupboards and shelves. He also supplied customers with cement, sashes, doors, plumbing and electrical supplies.

Johnson would not be alone in the sage brush for long. Apple Valley saw 1947 as a banner year for business growth. At that time, if you bought a lot in Apple Valley you were required to begin construction within three months.

G.R. Torkelson began construction on Apple Valley Lumber in March 1947, where Barr Lumber later called home until it closed in April 2012. In August 1947, the Branding Iron steak house and cocktail lounge opened on the southwest corner of Central and Highway 18. The Branding Iron was the only gathering spot around and doubled as a nondenominational church on Sundays.

Crawford’s Corral, owned by Herman Waller, joined the growing neighborhood of businesses in October 1947. Ralph and Linda Edwards opened Frontier Furniture in November, followed by The Double R Tradin’ Post Market within a few months in December 1947 at the corner of Pawnee Road and Highway 18. Lazy Two Drugs opened in the same area in April 1948. Half Circle T Motel, owned by George and Bette Thorne opened west of the Village area in July 1948 at the corner of Highway 18 and Flathead Road. The motel has since been torn down.

El Wrighto Rancho Trailer Park, owned by Floyd Wright, opened in the Village area on the south side of the street, east of Navajo Road in February 1948. Today it’s the Apple Valley Mobile Home Lodge. McGinty’s, a western bar and restaurant, later home to the Bum Steer, and Ty’s restaurant, future home to Schwarzenbach’s Apple Valley Marine, both opened in 1949.

The El Pueblo Shopping Center was built in 1948 and would later be home to Messy Marvin’s Nix Nax Wax. The El Pueblo shops soon were occupied by The Lazy Two, Betsy Trotwood Shop, Rose’s Doughnut Shop, Marge Riley’s Western Wear, Children’s Round-Up, W. B. Juice Bar, Arthur Shields Insurance, Leigh’s Candy Shop, El Lariato Cafe and Trader Cain, all in 1948. The 49’ers Liquor, owned by Bert and Letha Bertalotti, opened there in 1949.

Chase Construction soon set up shop on the north side of Highway 18, just east of Navajo Road. Shirley Martin’s candy store and Steele Dentistry opened between 1950 and 1954 between Navajo and Central roads. An Apple Valley Ranchos publication, printed in 1966, boasted that the Village shopping area stocked everything from imported escargot to work boots.

Built by newcomers Zeke and Frances Cornia, the Black Horse Motel opened in 1948 just east of Pawnee Road and north of Highway 18. Being the horse-loving people they were, Zeke and Frances included horse stalls on the property so guests could bring their own horses up for riding in the clear High Desert air. LA Tienda’s Gift Shop, Restaurant and Cottages followed in 1953 at Navajo and Thunderbird roads.

The Bank of Apple Valley, the first bank in town, opened its doors in September 1953 at the corner of Highway 18 and today’s Dale Evans Parkway, according to Mike “Tex” Meeken, a longtime sales agent for the Apple Valley Ranchos. Later operated by Security Pacific National Bank, and then Union Bank, the building was torn down in 2010.

The Terri Lee Doll Company moved to Apple Valley from Lincoln, Neb. in 1952 after a fire destroyed the operation there. The main building was at Wakita Road and today’s Dale Evans Parkway. When the factory closed in 1960, the building became the Apple Valley Library. Violet Lee Grahwohl developed the dolls based on her daughters, Terri Lee and Lonnie Lynn. Her goal was to develop an indestructible doll with hair that could be washed and set, and had a complete wardrobe with costumes ranging from cowgirl to ice skater.

The dolls became the first with a lifetime guarantee. If a doll was damaged (or injured), the doll’s owner could send it back to the doll hospital in Apple Valley for repairs. The factory on Wakita Road made the Lee clothes, hand-painted the dolls’ eyes, curled the hair and did other finishing work. The molds for the dolls were made in a metal building on Central Road just south of Highway 18.

In 1955, the Cornias sold the Black Horse Motel and built the Buffalo Trading Post at Highway 18 and Rancherias Road. Douglas McFarland, of the famed Los Angeles architectural firm of McFarland-Bonsall, built the Southwest adobe and wood building, which sold Indian rugs, turquoise and silver jewelry and Indian artifacts. The distinctive building, with its buffalo sign and artful design has become an Apple Valley landmark.

The Apple Valley News reported in 1960 that the state and county had reached an agreement to construct a four-lane highway with curbed frontage roads through Apple Valley. The state paid $125,000 and the property owners between $50,000 and $70,000 through a special assessment district. In 1961, Highway 18 construction began. Seventy mercury-vapor lights were added in the spring of 1964.

Apple Bowl held groundbreaking ceremonies for its new 16-lane bowling center, complete with cocktail lounge and coffee shop, on July 19, 1962. Completion and opening of the first and only bowling alley in Apple Valley were held Feb. 21, 1963.

After Roy Rogers and Dale Evans moved to Apple Valley in 1966, the Apple Valley Inn was known as the Roy Rogers Apple Valley Inn. For a few years the Ranchos leased the facility to Rogers. In addition to the Inn, Rogers opened the Roy Rogers Museum in a building just across the street from the Inn, at the former bowling alley.

In 1976, the museum moved to Victorville, and shortly thereafter the building became the Apple Valley Bowl once again.

Bank of America broke ground in October 1964, just east of Navajo Road. The 6,895-square-foot structure was expected to cost in excess of $171,000.

The Lynn Building, in Desert Knolls, was built in 1955 at the northwest corner of Kasota Road and Highway 18. St. Mary Hospital, known today as St. Joseph Health, St. Mary, opened on Nov. 19, 1956, on land donated by Bass and Westlund. R. John Blesch, architect, designed the hospital and Jim Stockton Construction built it. The Newton building, the first two-story building in Apple Valley, was built in 1957 at the corner of Highway 18 and Apple Valley Road. Hartwick’s Market joined the Desert Knolls businesses in 1958. (Desert Knolls was named by the Apple Valley Ranchos for the knoll-shaped hills that form along the Mojave River at the west end of Apple Valley, at Highway 18 and Apple Valley Road.)