It all began in 1967. The residents of the Santa Clarita Valley wanted a college to call their own, and on November 21 of that year they voted overwhelmingly to make it happen. Voters approved the creation of a junior college and elected a five-member board of trustees to shepherd its transformation from an idea into reality.
Optimism abounded for what lay ahead in this once-sleepy whistle-stop along Southern Pacific Railroad's Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line. With a population of fewer than 60,000, the community looked much different in the 1960s. In what we now call Saugus and Canyon Country, a growing assortment of tract homes was sprouting -- although vast expanses of vacant or agricultural land still separated the valley's distinct communities. Downtown Newhall was the established commercial center, featuring car dealerships, a supermarket, a bank and many other merchants that have since relocated.
During the summer of that pivotal year of 1967, the master-planned community of Valencia was born, luring young families from over the hill with homes priced at about $25,000. Valencia Town Center did not exist, of course. Neither did the Valencia Auto Mall. Magic Mountain, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and California Institute of the Arts were several years from appearing on the local landscape. There was no Stevenson Ranch, just a vast unadulterated plain accented by rugged foothills that have since been terraced and built upon. Old Orchard Shopping Center on Lyons Avenue and The Newhall Land & Farming Co.'s first golf course -- known today as Valencia Country Club -- were barely two years old. The Valencia Industrial Center was just beginning to be developed. The single-screen Plaza Theater in Newhall and the Mustang Drive-In off Soledad Canyon Road were the only local cinematic venues.
The emergence of the Santa Clarita Valley as a viable place to live, work and play was precipitated by several key developments, chief among them the country's post-war westward migration and California's exploding growth. But the two greatest obstacles to the valley's growth -- limited access and an insufficient water supply -- were in the process of being eliminated.
The old Highway 99 was steadily being circumvented by a major north-south freeway, Interstate 5, that would cut a vital swath through the Santa Clarita Valley on its way to becoming California's most important roadway, connecting north with south, border to border. And, following California voters' approval seven years earlier to bring state water south, plans were moving forward for a major new State Water Project reservoir in Castaic. This project, part of what would become the biggest water-delivery system in the world, finally ensured a reliable source of water.
All of these developments helped set the stage for the transformation of a dusty domain of cowboys and sodbusters to a rapidly growing suburbia, one that would need a public institution of higher learning. Thus was born the Santa Clarita Community College District and its campus, College of the Canyons, which would go on to become the fastest-growing community college in California.