Cornell Gravitates North (ca. 1925 – 1958)
What is currently the Old Place was once Hanks Country Store and Cornell Post Office. Cornell has been seen all over the world on the silver screen in many films; most notably in the 1931 classic Frankenstein, with the famous scene shot at Malibou Lake. Cornell became a popular destination for locals and tourists to enjoy nature and attractions such as Lake Enchanto (now Peter Strauss Ranch) and Seminole Hot Springs. Long before Agoura existed, the Cornell township hummed along in the Santa Monica Mountains. Many expected Cornell to become a bustling boom town, but without the discovery of oil, this did not happen. Even with two popular recreation destinations (Lake Enchanto & Seminole Hot Springs), Cornell remained a quiet gem, hidden away from the hustle of the city. Though isolated, it maintained a small business community; serving the Los Angeles-Ventura Highway in an area called “Cornell Corners” (where Cornell Road meets the 101 Freeway today).
Early Cornell, situated in La Sierra Canyon, was limited in terms of development by steep topography and a limited water supply. That it was controlled by just a few owners also may have been significant in this regard. In any event, by about 1925, with the completion of Cornell Road, and the marketing of subdivided parcels of Rancho Las Virgenes land by Machado’s successors in interest, a move to nearby Triunfo Canyon – with its less rugged terrain and better ground-water supply – was logical. This left the Cornell School, the Mojonnier store and gas station, and Seminole Hot Springs Spa in – if not exactly splendid – at least comfortable semi-private isolation.
The seminal event that made further residential development possible was the establishment of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD) in 1958. The LVMWD assured an adequate domestic water supply, and it was followed by construction of the Tapia Water Treatment facility in 1965, which eliminated the necessity of local cesspools and/or septic systems. According to the LVMWD web site, in July of 1965 “… the first drop of water was pumped to the Agoura Fire Station on Cornell Road.” That, together with a joint powers agreement with the Tapia Sanitation District, served to increase the values of local properties significantly.
Seminole Springs Spa Days (ca. 1917 – ca. 1945)
William Simes was the first private owner of the SW/4 of Section 5 and hence all of the land of the present Seminole Springs Mobile Home Park (SSMHP); including the site of the wildcat oil prospect. Apparently, the northern boundary of the Park (Navaho Drive) coincides with the common boundary of the SW/4 and the NW/4 of Section 5. More of moment, some exchange of title, as yet unclear, must have passed from Simes to Ward, or Simes to Baldwin and Ward, and finally to Ward, presumably as sole owner of the entire SW/4 of Section 5. It was most likely Ward who first installed hot tubs and built cabins – an enterprise that by 1921 had developed into a “… full-blown spa pulling over 1,000 people on an average busy weekend…” In addition, it was around this time that the Malibou Lake Mountain Club was being formed, and the Crags Club farther downstream in what is now Malibu Creek State Park – was also very active.
The popularity of Seminole Hot Springs Spa was enough motivation for Ward to construct a dam as part of the Spa’s facilities. According to Rooney (op. cit., p. 100), the Spa’s hot water was stored in a 100,000-gallon underground storage tank. Most likely, the dam was intended to collect stream water to supplement a potable supply for the Spa. Aside from the wildcat oil prospect, there were two other wells on the Spa property. The location of one, now abandoned, is in the community garden and RV parking lot, opposite the Park’s main entrance where the upper edge of an 8-inch diameter steel casing is exposed. The location of the other well is undetermined. It may have been somewhere along what is now Apache Drive – close to what originally was the Spa’s main drag. Production from the Spa’s water wells apparently was stored in a 5,000-gallon corrugated metal tank. That tank remains today, empty and kind of forlorn, perched on the slope below Elephant Rock on its northern side, as indicated in Photo 2-1.
The Seminole Hot Spring Spa facility still existed in 1959, although then it probably was not operative. More relevant to development of the Park, however, is the fact that it shows extensive clearing of the slope where the Park now is located had been accomplished by August of that year. This suggests that by then the Ward interests had sold – probably to the developer believed to have been a consortium that included the Seminole Development Company and the Northwestern National Life Insurance Company. Assuming this is the case, actual grading for the Park may have begun as early as 1960.
Blessed by the LVMWD and Tapia facilities, older Cornell in La Sierra Canyon, and newer Cornell in Triunfo Canyon culled from Rancho Las Virgenes lands, have emerged, chrysalis-like from the rudeness of their past, as an upscale residential community. Protected from commercial encroachment on all sides by dedicated public lands as well as steep topography, the La Sierra Canyon – Cornell area has taken on the ambience of a retreat. For character, it has the Rock Store and The Old Place with their recognized historical character, now transformed to something approaching boutique equivalents, together with Troutdale, the local school house/ Rustic Canyon Store & Grill, and remnants of the Lake Enchanto facility, lesser lights perhaps, but still with their antecedent place in the local history. And most recently, as complement to the treasured rusticity of the Old Place, there is the Cornell Winery Tasting Room and Charme D’Antan – an establishment specializing in antique landscaping decor – entrepreneurial late-comers to be sure – but each with dedicated single-minded excellence that seems quite fitting with the independent character of historic Cornell. In addition, nearby, mountainsides once supporting only dense chaparral now present vast orderly rows of grapevines – a sophisticated transformation indeed. With recent drought conditions, the number of permitted wineries is under close watch by local government. All in all, Cornell seems to have achieved a mature stability safe from any radical future development. With unique communities of Malibou Lake, Seminole Springs, homes along Mulholland Hwy, and Cornell Road, it is clear that Cornell is a special place. In addition, surrounding landmarks like Paramount Ranch, Malibu Creek State Park, the Rock Store, Ballard Mountain and local wineries add to its character and charm.
Seminole Springs Spa Days (ca. 1917 – ca. 1945)