High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
80's and 90's
During this era the growth of Ridgecrest was governed by the continuing needs of the high tech industries coupled to the Naval Stations programs for testing arms and guidance systems. There was much ado about the space systems for defensive purposes.
Antenna farms sprung up in some of the strangest places. The actual purpose for the base changed a bit and now there was the excitement of raw research and development.
I lived in Ridgecrest from 1983 to 1994. Since you are looking for stories, here is some of what I remember... ______________________________
1983 - When I first moved to Ridgecrest, there was only one stop light in the whole town. The theater wasn't built, so it was either the drive-in or the base theater (where we all had to stand for the national anthem before a movie).
There wasn't a Walmart or Mervyns
either. The "big" shopping was done at the miniature sized JC Penney store on Ridgecrest and China Lake, the Sears Catalog store, which they later closed, or the KMart up on Norma Avenue.
There was a 5-and-dime next to JCP (Spritz or something) that I frequented alot. (See the text entry just after the completion of this entry for a specific correction to the name of the store) I remember how fascinated my kids always were with the dust devils that would blow and twirl in the corner of that shopping center. ___________________________________________
1984 - I lived in Ridgecrest Heights (also called "Rocket town" because, as legend had it, some of the first homes there were built
out of the crates they shipped rocket parts in to the base) in the early to mid 80's, when the water was provided by the "Wilbur Stark water company". The pressure was so bad that it couldn't even support fire hydrants, so there was a building moratorium on the whole area for at least 10 years. One summer, when I was 8 months pregnant, I had to climb up onto my roof and poor buckets of water into the swamp cooler to keep the house from spontaneously combusting.
Remember the great "50-year" flood, when it rained 6" in one day and night? I worked at Bank of America then, and to my knowledge, that was the only time they ever closed the bank early.
A co-worker of mine put a bunch of us into her 4-wheel drive truck to take us home. One woman lived in the southwest part of town
(towards County Line Road)...we couldn't drive any closer than 3 blocks away from her home. When she jumped out of the truck, the water was up to her knees. She said later that she had walked as far as she could but when the water got to her waist, she turned around and went back. I never could get home that day and had to stay in town with friends. Later, when the water drained, we had to drive
around whole chunks of asphalt that had come apart from the streets, which had literally washed away! ___________________________________________
1985 - There were some really great little restaurants that came and went in Ridgecrest. I worked as a waitress at the Golden Frog supper club, which was really nice at the time (it later became a Sizzler). I also remember when Farris' had their restaurant down on Ridgecrest Blvd and then China Lake Blvd - I used to love to go to breakfast there. ___________________________________________
1986 - I remember that, until Clancy's and the White Star Mining Company came (and went), the only real place to go in Ridgecrest
was JD's. Everyone was a "regular" there. One of the most popular bands to play there had a lead guitarist who was also one of the local UPS drivers - that's a small town for you! Afterwards, we'd all tramp over to Dennys for a 2 a.m. breakfast. Their Ultimate Omelettes never tasted so good!
Maturango Junction Days was my favorite festival. We'd go down to "Rocket Park" (we called it that since they had a rocket-like
ladder/slide there) in time to start with the pancake breakfast. We'd browse through all the arts and craft booths, pay to have the
"sheriff" put a few people into "jail", then start in on the chili cook-off samples.
now of Dayton, Ohio
Bentham's Corner is now Bank of America
. . . . and then in 1983 a change
Photos submitted by Russ Parker
Along North China Lake Blvd circa 1988
I came to the Inyokern/Ridgecrest area in 1981 from a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri after graduating college to join my fiance' who was working for Vought Areospace at China Lake. I immediately became employed at the "sawmill in the desert" Louisiana-Pacific and was there for 4 1/2 terrific years until I had to return home to Kansas City due to my mother's illness.
You can imagine what a change of environment it was for me being a "city" girl and landing in the high desert. I can honestly say that the native residents right along with the sawmill workers made me feel totally at home. I still fondly remember the gas station/grocery store in Inyokern with the old wooden floors, Two Sisters restaurant (I did not cook much so this was truly a favorite spot), the feed supply store of which I still use the cat coffee mug I bought there, and line dance lessons at the local tavern (a real experience coming from the disco era!). The beautiful sunrises and sunsets, prickly pear cactus blooms and yes, even the sandstorms are cherished memories. My beloved companion "Outlaw", a big, beautiful, black cat that I got from a nice woman there as a kitten traveled many miles with me and only three years ago passed away here at my residence in Florida. I remember many times Outlaw bringing me gifts of baby rattlers (still alive) and calling the snake society to pick them up. It amazed me that he was never bitten!
I am thankful that I am still in contact with my friend Teri Bell and still get news from Ridgcrest and Inyokern. Living in Florida now, I don't really have occasion to get to the West Coast but would someday like to visit again.
Thank you for your efforts in pulling this site together. I cannot tell you how many memories it brings back and what a treat it is!!
Tamara (Blauvelt) Pendleton
Wow, what a trip. I'm sure that's not the first time you've heard that. One of my best friends from my days in Ridgecrest, Andy McMullen, sent me the link, and I've been having a nostalgia party all by myself all morning. I'm particular pleased to see a shot of Hobo Joes, something I don't have despite that strange little restaurant (just ask anyone who worked there!) being the business
where I did 80% of my "time" in R/c--either as a customer or employee. What memories. I still haven't gotten it!
I had a love/hate relationship with Ridgecrest growing up. I was born in Trona in 1960 because my parents didn't trust the medical care in town (now THAT'S saying something--choosing Trona over R/c), but I recognize now, as I did then, that R/c was a very safe place to grow up, and I appreciate it for that. But as the great Florence Green, a town elder for so many years, once said to me, Ridgecrest was a "little town that loved to hate itself." Twenty-two bars and twenty-one churches then; there was always a struggle just under the surface to maintain some sort of balance between the two mindsets. There was a sort of dark, Blue Velvet-like (referring to the David Lynch movie) underside to the city and its people, an ongoing fight between good and evil, right and
wrong, light and dark. Hard to explain, but the people there know what I mean by it.
Me, I couldn't wait to get out. I don't recall a time where I didn't feel constrained in some way--it was hard living in a place where everyone knew your business. On the other hand, everyone knew your name, too, and if you found yourself in trouble you didn't have to look hard for friend to help you out. The pluses and minuses of small town life.
I left R/c in 1981 and never looked back. My folks are still there, caught in the economic downturn the one or two times they thought about leaving. Hard to believe they've been there 50 years. I don't see much of the town anymore on the rare visit back--I hear things are looking up again, economically, and it's very strange to me that there's now a building (Home Depot) in the patch
of desert along China Lake Blvd. that remained empty for decades, which true old-timers will reemember as the place the Desert Empire Fair used to set up in the '60s.
Strangely enough, I have a picture of Cathy Connelly, who has a couple of posts on your site that I've read this morning, on my wall from her days as an actress with the legendary BHS Drama Club. I directed her in a children's theater production of Tom Sawyer in 1978! She was one of the people we tried to find four years ago when some of us executed a very successful drama club reunion
out at the fair grounds--about 100 people who played and performed under Alan Kubik met up to party once more. A fun night.
My mom and I moved to Ridgecrest from Oregon right before my fourth birthday in 1983. My first memory is of the flood. I was at a babysitter's house and we were supposed to go to McDonald's that day. I remember staring out the sliding glass window waiting for the rain to stop so we could go. My mom came to get me, worried about getting home. I didn't understand what the big deal was then, but now that I'm older I realize that being a single mom with a four year old in an old Fiot with water coming up to the doors had to be frightening. I remember hearing her urging the car to make it through the water. We made it home but I still didn't understand why we couldn't go to McDonald's!
In 1985 we lived on Church street right across from James Monroe Jr. High. I remember thinking those kids were so old and waving to all of them as they walked home from school. Mrs. Dial was my kindegarten teacher at Las Flores that year. I remember my mom driving me to school one morning and saying, "Oh no - it's snowing." I had never heard of snow but I thought it was the neatest thing. Our school Christmas Program was cancelled that night and the next day was speant using socks for mittens and making snow angels.
I saw Ghostbusters at the drive in theater. I was scared to put my feet down passed the seat because I thought there were ghosts there. I know my mom took me to other movies there but I don't remember much more then having to move a few times to find a speaker that worked correctly. I think I usually slept through the movies.
I didn't mind the heat at that age. I thought it was cool that I could melt cheese on mom's car - although she didn't enjoy it quite as much. I also made decorative mud pies with glitter and baked them in the sun.
I used to take my allowance each week and ride my bike to the Neighborhood Market, which was owned by my great grandmother, Lois Peterson. Is that little store still there?
My mom worked at John's Pizza and the owner used to give me free rice crispy treats, stickers and put real vanilla into my coke after school.
I learned to ride my bike in the parking lot of Penny Pool. I learned to skate in the old Laundry Mat.
We used to go out to Black Mountain (as we called it) and bring chalk to write on the inside of the tunnel that went under the railroad tracks. There is still writing there from when I was a little girl. We used to write on the tracks too. We'd write "bird poop" with an arrow next to white splotches on the tracks. A few times we rescued tortoises who had tried to make it over the tracks and landed on their backs. I was sad to see the tracks are gone now.
As I got older I began hating the days when I awoke to see the clouds hanging over the mountains because I knew it would be windy all day.
In fifth grade we had a read-a-thon in Mrs. Beason's class at Las Flores. We brought pillows and blankets to school and some worried parent called the cops thinking we were running away. I suppose the person meant well, but who runs away to school?
My best friend and I were the first people to sign the inside of the Dare van in 6th grade. I still can't remember why we got to go first...
I used to love to go to the Rocket Park with friends and write my name in the very top of the rocket - or at least read who had been there recently.
When I was 12 we moved to Inyokern. My sisters and I would burry cans into the ground to see what we could catch. We caught lots of stink bugs and lizards, along with the occasional scorpian that would make us all run squealing into the house.
As a teenager, I sang with the Seeds of God - the youth choir made up of the youth from all the churches in town that sang each Sunday at a different church.
I was determined to escape that little town. I moved to Texas a few days after I turned 18. But, looking back, Ridgecrest wasn't so bad. Many of the people in my kindergarten class were right next to me on graduation day...and there is something comforting knowing someone everywhere you go and having memories everywhere. Living in a big city now, many of my friends here think that is amazing and can't relate.
Now, when I go back to visit my family, I love the fact that I can get across town in 10 minutes - I get through traffic lights on the first green light and people actually STOP when the light turns red (unlike Houstonian's who seem to think that it is perfectly acceptable to run a red light three seconds after it has turned red....) I miss laying out on lawn chairs all night staring at the stars - and the summer breeze at night in August. I miss being able to walk anywhere I wanted to go and actually having bike lanes to rollerblade in. (Texan's apparently don't believe in sidewalks or bike lanes) Most of all, I miss the lazy summers with my best friend when we'd play pool in her backyard on the crooked pool table or sing ourselves silly at night. She passed away a few years ago from cancer, and now my visits there don't seem as meaningful. However, it is always refreshing to be surround by mountains again when I make it out tha! t far West.
There is something addictive about that little town, and no matter how far away I am or how long I'm gone, I'll always get excited when I see commercials or parts of movies that have been filmed out there and it will be the only place I ever refer to as "home."
The first thing I remember about R/C was my first day at BHS as a Junior, just moving into a "big high school" from small town Oregon, was that it was HOT!
August of 81. I was taken back by boys wearing pink Izod shirts and leg warmers. We didn't dress like that in Oregon. As time went by, I got used to it and even wore a pink shirt or two.
John's Pizza is a highlight in my memory, the remodel of the building into what it is today and the square cut pizza. Lot's of good memories there, not only from the 80's. My children love to bribe grampa into taking them there. Course he puts up a good front, he loves it too.
Had a great time in the flood of 84. Ran around in dad's truck and pulled people out of ditches and generally went puddle hoppin'.
Went to Cerro Coso for a couple of years, and then joined the military in September of 85. Moved back in 90 for about 3 years, working on the base for the Boeing Company. Moved out in late 93, and have been in Colorado since, and love the moderate temps... We visit often, probably always will, it's who we are... Thank you for the memories...
My name is Sarah (last name was Dunn when I was in Ridgecrest, now it is Dickey since I have married) and I grew up in Ridgecrest and Inyokern. I have been absolutely absorbed in this website for days.
Moving there in the 8th grade (Spring of '91 or '92, can't remember) I was totally enraptured by the desert from the beginning. That is where I claim when people ask me where I am from, because that is where I grew up and it is the place I think of as home.
I was raised by a single mom who moved to Inyokern to be closer to my grandpa - a Navy retiree known as Barney. Due to her drug problems, I started living on my own just after my 14th birthday. Leo Spanner of Financial Business Management - along with other anonymous business owners in the area - pooled their money to be sure I wasn't going hungry and stayed in school. I got a job and the community took me in. I had more mothers than any teenager at Burroughs! It still brings tears to my eyes just to think of it. If more towns were like Ridgecrest, social services could be out of a job! Talk about worthy government cut-backs!
In 1996, at the age of 17, I was coronated as the Ridgecrest Roundup Rodeo Queen. Because of the generosity and support of the community, I was able to continue my 'horsey habit' and even remain competitive. I was totally honored to represent my hometown. I just read on this site that 1997 was the last RRA sanctioned PRCA rodeo. I coronated the last Ridgecrest Rodeo Queen that year.
My grandpa and mom still live there (she has finally had a major life change by the grace of God and has been clean for several years now) and I come into town to visit every so often. I never want to leave.
I see Cathy Schmeer is a contributor to this site. She is such a doll, I remember her from the Rodeo Association and all our horsey activities. She lives just down the road from my grandpa. When we move back to the states, I WILL be buying more horses, and we have talked about the possibility of him finding a residency or setting up practice in Ridgecrest.
Funny - I now live on a Caribbean island while my husband goes to medical school here. Even though I live in what others call 'Paradise', I would trade it for the desert any day of the week.
I believe you are referring to "Sprouse Reitz"wich is pronounced Sprouse "Rites" and commonly mispronounced as Sprouse "Ritz". In 1991, the company tried to revive itself by renaming stores Sprouse!. Sprouse-Reitz decided to liquidate and close its final 84 stores after failing to find a buyer in late 1993. I actually worked at this store during the early 1980s. Does anyone know what became of ths store?
Just noticed that you have a picture (large drab white building) shown under "80's & 90's" on your website (about in the middle of the page); with the caption: "Along North China Lake Blvd. circa 1988". Picture comes just after the comments by Shane Smith.
In the late 1940's, this was the "Beaver's Market"; George Beaver was the owner. I worked there as a box boy, stock clerk, etc.; about 1949. The market was very popular, especially during the 1950's.
George's wife ran the first "Check Cashing Unit"; that was inside the market (open only on friday afternoons). It allowed people leaving the base for the weekend, to stop and cash their checks. Good business; boating enthusiasts, campers, fishermen, hunters, etc. were happy.
Later, the building became Arrowsmith Manufacturing Corp. Manager was my good friend Chuck Hill. Arrowsmith was a sub-contractor to the Mich. Lab. Machine Shop (Eng. Dep't., Code 554). For awhile,
I worked there; as an Inspector of Machined Parts. I was hired by NOTS; working at Arrowsmith on special temporary intervals as needed. The building required an extensive modification for Arrowsmith's machine shop; the floor was a heavy duty reinforced concrete slab to allow for
heavy duty manufacturing equipment. As I recall, there was also some special hardwood block inserts (anti-vibration stuff). Work was "secret".
This was during the late 60's and early 70's. Many great employees.
Roy Gerard 08/03/08
A new historic note just added by Roy Gerard states what that white building was used for and why its so blank. Seems to me I remember also that Read's Dept. store was in this area somewhere.