Simi Valley’s summertime past at Douglas White Oaks Park

What happened to this Santa Susana recreational haven?


 

Photo courtesy of Simi Valley Historical Society 

A few crumbling stone foundations dotting a small canyon in northeastern Simi Valley barely hint at the recreational wonderland that once stood there.

Douglas White Oaks Park, developed by Los Angelesbased Douglas Aircraft Company in 1943, was a 355-acre ranch property nestled in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains. It was intended as an escape from the city for the company’s employees, their families and invited guests.

The expansive recreation area offered a bevy of amenities and activities, including oak-shaded picnic areas, a playground, horseshoe pitching, a softball field, trap and skeet shooting, horseback riding, a shallow wading pool for “the youngsters” as well as the popular 82-by-40-foot pool with two levels of diving platforms and an adjacent sand “beach.”

All that activity works up an appetite, so folks could grab a bite to eat at the canteen and then dance the night away in the spacious pavilion or gather around the rustic fireplace.

In 1948, the facility opened to the general public, and residents of Simi Valley gladly embraced the opportunity to enjoy their leisure time there. This photo, taken in 1950, attests to the enormous popularity of the swimming pool.

“It was the only public pool at the time, and we were always thrilled to take a dip during the scorching summers,” says 77-year-old Linda Varble Claire, a former Simi resident who learned to swim there, adding that bathing caps, like the ones seen in the photo, were required for women and girls.

Admission to the pool and picnic grounds in the 1950s was 65 cents for adults and 40 cents for children.

More than just swimming and recreation took place at “Douglas,” as it was known to Linda and her family. It was also a social hub. She remembers her dad cooking burgers for patrons during the summer of 1957 while high school teachers Don Latham and Lewis Sciarillo took food and drink orders, giving Linda an opportunity to become acquainted with them before joining their classes that fall.

For Linda’s older sister June, now 90, a dip in the Douglas pool became a date with destiny. Feeling very elegant in her new black satin bathing suit, June was spotted by Ted Greathouse, who had just opened a local chiropractic office.

“Ted looked at June and he was a goner!” says Linda. The couple celebrated nearly 70 happy years of marriage after that fateful meeting.

Sadly, Douglas White Oaks Park is no longer the scene of sundrenched flirty fun, relaxing outdoor recreation or exciting family adventures. The details of its demise are hazy, but it appears to have been abandoned by the 1980s.

Mount Sinai Memorial Park and Mortuaries eventually purchased the property for their Simi Valley location, opening in 1997.

Adventurous hikers can still explore the undeveloped back portion of the scenic site, perhaps spotting the few remaining ruins of what was once Douglas White Oaks Park, now the source only of stories and memories.

3/4/2022: An earlier version of this article stated that the facility opened to the public in 1949. It has since been corrected to 1948. 

22 responses to “Simi Valley’s summertime past at Douglas White Oaks Park”

  1. Pat Havens says:

    Very interesting, Erin. I learned a lot!

    I was away at college, in 1949 when it opened to the public, so it’s no wonder I didn’t know or remember much about it!

    Was this printed in The Acorn? I need a copy for our files!

    Thank you for doing such a thorough job!

    Pat

    • Erin Newman says:

      Hi Pat! I am honored by your comments and learning that I have taught you (of all people!) something new about local history! This article appeared in Beyond the Acorn magazine, which is digital only. However, it may also run in the Simi Acorn, in which case I’ll be sure to get a copy to the historical society!

  2. Linda Silva says:

    My late husband Rudy Silva as a kid lived on the Douglas Ranch property. He had a lot if fond memories of living there.

    • Erin Newman says:

      Linda, thank you for sharing that about your husband! I didn’t realize anyone lived on the property. Was he a caretaker’s son? Was this before it became a recreation area?

  3. Victoria Kalinoski says:

    Yes I do remember the Douglas Ranch as I knew it. Some of my school mates lived on the ranch, their families, were the ranch hands, that cared for the property. Out school bus would drive up to the locked gate, to let our school mates off for their long
    walk to their homes. We never knew where they live. I remember that a man who we knew only as Mr. Steve, drove a fancy
    woody car, I think he might have been the over seer of the ranch, he had a very nice house, I could see it from my home, where
    I lived across the barely field, that went up across Cochran Rd. and up the hill next to Mr. Steve’s house

    I only went to the Douglas Ranch one time, one of our elementary school teacher’s took us there on a field trip.
    We had a picnic lunch there, with the help of the room mother’s. The pool was empty and no one was allowed to go near the pool.

    During the summer we would see kids walking from the Knolls going to the pool later back home. My brother and I did not swim, so we did not go.

    • Erin Newman says:

      Victoria, thank you for sharing those memories! So interesting that families lived up there. I wonder who this Mr. Steve is! Too bad you didn’t get to swim in the beautiful pool. I spoke with many folks who recall learning to swim in that pool as children.

      • Jennifer Johnson Bolin says:

        The gentleman driving the car was my uncle, J.L. Stevenson who worked in administration for Douglas Aircraft at the Santa Monica plant. The car was a 1948 emerald Chrysler Town and Country convertible.

  4. June Varble Greathouse says:

    This has been such fun to read some of the remarks about Douglas. However, I feel that I need to correct the year that the pool was opened to the public. It was in 1948. I have saved an article in The East Wind – a tiny local newspaper – dated 5/4/48, that gave details about our upcoming graduation at Simi Valley High School. Interestingly enough, the following article was one that told about Dr. Ted Greathouse opening his new Chiropractic office in Simi. The week after my graduation, Dr. Greathouse and I saw one another at the pool in June, 1948. He found out where I lived and the rest is history – resulting in our marriage in 1950. I worked in the office with Ted from the beginning – for 41 years. We were married for almost 69 years. In the grand scheme of things it is not of vital importance to know the exact time the pool opened, but thought it would be good to have a personal experience that would pin it down more precisely .

    • Erin Newman says:

      Hi June –

      When I wrote the article, nobody, including the historical society, had nailed down an exact opening date, until you provided it here! We will alter the date in our digital version. Thank you for your input!

      I so enjoyed hearing your sister Linda tell me all about your experiences there including the magical day you met your future husband at the pool. 😉

  5. Regina Jorge says:

    I wonder if the pool had a history of segregation?

  6. Kathryn McClure says:

    Hi, this is si cool. My dad worked for Douglas aircraft when I was born in 1946. As a young child my family would tack the trip over Santa Susana Pass to go to the park. My dad chaired a couple of Douglas empoyee picnics. We went there often and made many memories there. I never knew it was opened to residents ever. It was sad that it closed it had a lot to do there. They rsised pheasants there and the big shot would come and hunt them. We used to cstch fish in the pond. Thanks for the memories. It closed when the Douglas plant was sold and became McDonell Douglas. My husband and zi worked there until 1969.

  7. Adam says:

    I am curious how, if at all, the opening of this pool was related to the segregation of pools in Southern CA. Public pools were officially segregated in LA from around 1925-1931, but some cities – like Pasadena – still had segregated pools until as late as 1947. In a 1949 issue of Enterprise, it’s said that the Douglas pool was only open to Douglas employees and Simi residents who had applied for a guest pass.

  8. Adam Blazej says:

    I wonder how, if at all, this history intersects with the history of segregation – specifically, at municipal pools – in Southern CA. Municipal pools in LA were segregated around 1925 and re-integrated in 1931 after organized opposition by Black leaders, among others. Some cities – like Pasadena – still maintained segregated pools into the 40s. So, I’m curious to what extent, if at all, this pool in Simi was meant “as an escape from the city” in the sense of being an escape from recently integrated pools. I’m also curious how accessible it really became to the public in 1949. According to an Enterprise article from then, the pool was only open to Douglas Aircraft employees and residents of Simi who had applied for a guest pass.

  9. Rosalie Lerch says:

    Back in the ’90’s I lived just off Yosemite on Desert Creek. I discovered the foot bridge across 118 to the land & couple of time a week husband & I would take the dogs for a run on that property , until I heard that 2 ladies on horses were attacked by a mountain lion near Moorpark College. As the crow flies Moorpark is not far from Yosemite, stopped the dog run immediately. Haven’t lived in Simi for 20 years, but I have great memories of how great it was.

  10. Larry Gregg says:

    This picture is a treasure to me. I too learned to swim in this pool in 1957-58. I was born in Dr. Jones’ office just behind Holbrooks in 1952. I just read a comment from Pat Havens whose family I believe owned Havens’ market just off L.A. Ave. at Tapo. That was where my family shopped for groceries. All my 6 foster sisters and I were raised there and graduated from Simi High. Nothing but fond memories of my life in Santa Susana.

  11. Jack Sieber says:

    My dad was a cafeteria manager for Douglas, and moonlighted at the ranch for annual picnics and other times. The picnics were so popular in the late 50s that they would run for two consecutive weekends. Fishing at the pond was not great, but there was a second pond! The playground was down a long ravine. Descending the ravine, there was a dirt road to the right that ran up over a hill to the other pond. I cannot figure its exact location from topographical maps, Does anybody else recall this second fishing spot? The pavilion had a jukebox that played old 78 RPM records. I recall patrons stacking beer cans in giant pyramids. Skeet shooting for adults, sack races and carnival booths for the kids. I LOVED the place. Summer of 1960 I frequently biked from the ranch to the three-par golf course at the opposite end of the valley (still there). Six miles each way with golf clubs on the handlebar. Simi Valley invented global warming. From what I’ve read, the land was originally purchased to establish a pig farm to supply the cafeteria system.

  12. Thomas Haigh says:

    I have a memory of seeing the pool as a young child. A vague memory of the Douglas pool. My family was later a member of Tapo country club pool, along with the Hamerlee, Hass, Coultas, Conley, Schilling, Schriber,Echels, Couch,Brooks,Gillebrands. Old school Simi Valley.

  13. Jennifer Johnson says:

    My brother Jeff and I lived on the ranch in the summer with my Uncle Steve and Aunt Berneyce Stevenson My uncle worked at the Douglas Aircraft Plant in Santa Monica. Don Douglas, Jr. and wife would visit often and stay at their weekend resident on the ranch by the airstrip. Summers were filled with lavish catered parties at my uncles home with movie stars, famous dignitaries and of course anyone looking to invest in any of the DC aircrafts.

    We lived in El Centro, Imperial Valley, California and spend all our summer there from the mid 50’s through mid 60’s. Mrs. Silvia we knew your husband Ruben and his brothers/sister as we go down and play with them. Their father Isac was head foreman on the ranch. Jerry Betts was in charge of the entire operation.

  14. Peggy McGrew says:

    I remember fondly going to the Douglas pool. My dad worked for Douglas from the early 1950’s until he retired about 40 years later. We lived in hot, un air conditioned Canoga Park when I was a small kid ( from 2-8 years) and a trip to the pool was a cool retreat!! We would drive over Santa Susana Pass with our parents pointing out an old movie fort where I think Rin Tin Tin was filmed. My mom couldn’t swim and I remember her being nervous watching us; also remember my dad motoring around the pool keeping a close eye on us. Also, having a big head, I absolutely hated wearing bathing caps!

  15. John Glassco says:

    Hi Erin,
    I was thrilled to read your article on White Oaks Park. My father worked for Douglas Aircraft as an engineer the Santa Monica Plant. We visited White Oaks Park many times in the late 50’s and early 60’s to take advantage of all that it had to offer. Like Peggy McGrew mentioned above, I, too, remember the drive over the Santa Suzanna pass from the San Fernando Valley and taking in the same movie-related sights. Do you recall Corriganville Movie Ranch? It was not far from there.
    I remember well how my sister and I enjoyed swimming in the Douglas pool. My Dad always joined us as he was an avid swimmer, always wearing his swim mask and cruising underwater for what seemed to me, at the time, to be almost “forever”. My Mom enjoyed watching all of us from under one of the fairly scarce metal (as I recall) umbrellas. We ate at the snack bar and enjoyed going to the Douglas-sponsored BBQ’s and softball games.
    Thanks again, Erin, for providing us with this wonderful memory “hook”!

    • Erin Newman says:

      John, thank you! I’m so glad my article triggered wonderful memories of White Oaks Park for so many people. And yes, I imagine you drove right past Corriganville coming into the area via the pass, since the freeway wasn’t put in yet.

      The movie ranch buildings burned down, but you can still see foundations and take a guided walk through the ranch, with informative signs by the cave, pool and oak forest describing their use in films.

  16. vernita laws says:

    60 years ago today august 5, 1962, a group of us from Douglas Santa Monica that had worked in England on the Thor Missle Project September 1958 to October 1960 went on a picnic at White Oaks Park
    . When we got there we were met with the news that Marylin Monroe had passed away.
    This was \the only time that our group went to the White Oaks Park.
    We then formed the Emily Club having many parties every 5 to 10 year or sooner whenerver we felt we needed to see each other.
    Our last reunion was our 50th October 2008 at the Costa Mesa Country Club, Costa Mesa, CA. Fran Thomas and my self Vernita Laws organized this Reunion. It was a happy, but sad event knowing that we would probably not see each other again.

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