Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Goodbye to Greensberg

Choice Valley, San Luis Obispo County, California
November 22, 2001 and December 22, 2007

You will not find Greensberg, California on a map. You will not find it on the Internet.  You will not find it on the land. A few of us may remember it if we traveled through Palo Prieto Pass in the far eastern slice of San Luis Obispo County. What we remember is the Greensberg General Store: a desolate building with a mysterious past, a building once part of the land, a building now just a memory.

I traveled through Cholame dozens and dozens of times I drove between Kettleman City and Paso Robles. This route is the fastest way from Lompoc to the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Nevada beyond it. My first time was in April 1981 on my way to Fresno to explore my soon-to-be university. I traveled through Cholame many more times on my visits back to Lompoc from Fresno and then Mariposa and Truckee.

There's not much to slow you down in this part of San Luis Obispo County along Highway 41, but in all my travels through Cholame, I did stop a few times to sample what Cholame had to offer. There was that time I had to stretch my legs, a couple of times to check out the Japanese memorial to James Dean who died in an auto accident only a few miles away, and the time I had the most delicious coconut cream pie at Jack Ranch Cafe. There was, however, one offering near Cholame that I did not avail myself. It would entice me every time I passed it – Bitterwater Road.

Bitterwater Road heads southeast from Highway 41 around a mile west of Cholame, and eventually with a few turns on other roads, the road will connect with Highway 166 in the Cuyama Valley that will lead you back to US 101. This road was always an enticing offer for me because I knew it would lead me to attractions of interest to this geographer: the San Andreas Fault and the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

I was driving to my hometown on Thanksgiving Day, and, by the time I came upon Bitterwater Road, Thanksgiving festivities had already passed. I was not expected in Lompoc until evening. Since it seemed I had the roads to myself and my arrival in Lompoc would be delayed by only a couple of hours, I finally  decided to turn left and take a look down Bitterwater Road and explore what it had to offer.

Every time I drove by Cholame I drove over the San Andreas Fault. However, I was traveling east-west and the fault travels more north-south, and I never really got a close look at the fault from Highway 41. By turning south on Bitterwater Road, I got the opportunity to follow the San Andreas Fault. After driving a mile, I was in Palo Prieto Canyon, and I could see evidence of the fault because the fault parallels the road. For several miles the fault forms the east side of the canyon, and after the canyon empties into the Choice Valley, it forms the east side of the valley. Every time I looked to my left along this stretch of the road, I would try to decipher the geomorphology of this seismic landscape.

The Choice Valley sits within the Temblor Range, but it does not take up much room. At most it is 10 miles in length and a mile at its widest, and I am being generous with those dimensions. The valley is desolate ranch land at the extremes of San Luis Obispo and Kern counties. You will find only a few ranch and farm buildings and a couple of homes for the pioneer families that use the land for agriculture and ranching like their forebears.

The Greensberg General Store, November 22, 2001
There was one building that stood out here in the Choice Valley. The sign on the roof said Greensberg General Store, and it sat at the crossroads of Bitterwater Road and Annette Road. A quick look around did not uncover anything else near the building, not even a clue if there was something else here in years past. As I drove away, I started asking myself many questions—Was there a town of Greensberg? Who came to this store? How long has the store been there? When did it close?—but of course I had no answers.

Six years later I took another detour down Bitterwater Road. The Greensberg General Store aged during my absence with the store sign losing the middle of its letters. I spent a few minutes walking around the store, and I was soon back on the road headed south through the Carrizo Plain and then on to New Cuyama. I thought I would visit Greensberg again as I continued to travel back and forth to Lompoc, but my life took me further and further away from Greensberg. I did not get to see Greensberg again.

The Greensberg General Store, December 22, 2007

My eight year absence from this spot on the map got me wondering about the past and present of this little part of the world I refer to as Greensberg. A timeline of the past to bring us to the present tells us the following about the area around Greensberg:

  • Although not settled by Native Americans, the valley was visited by surrounding tribes: the Chumash from the coast, the Salinian from the north, and the Yokuts from  the San Joaquin Valley.
  • Americans began settling in the area in the late 19th century. John W. Grant and Margaret Nish moved to the Choice Valley around 1881, and their descendants still reside here.
  • A Carters Ranch was mentioned for this part of the valley in the 1910 USGS Bulletin 406, Preliminary Report on McKittrick-Sunset Oil Region, California. On early 20th century USGS topographical maps, the quarter section to the southwest of the Greensberg intersection was labeled on the maps as Carters Ranch, and Annette Road leading to the east and Kern County was named Carters Grade.
  • The Greensberg intersection made an easy place to measure elevation, and the USGS placed a benchmark just north of the intersection with an elevation of 1,982 feet above sea level (although some map benchmarks say 1,984 feet).
  • An accessory building 500 feet south of the intersection is shown on USGS maps from the 1910s to the 1970s. That building is no longer there.
  • A 156-acre parcel encompassing Greensberg and the land to the south and west was created in 1983. That parcel and Greensberg is now owned by the Twisselmans, a pioneer family of the Carrizo Plain.

What about the Greensberg General Store? What is it's story? Well, it will have to be a story since there are no definitive facts available to long distance inquirers. You will probably need to talk to the descendants of the Grants and Twisselmans to hear its history. But here's what I know.

  • The building has been there since at least 1999.
  • It has not been used as a store or occupied since 2001.
  • The windows were boarded up, and the building was kept in a state of arrested decay.
  • Then the elements started to overcome the building, and it deteriorated, most noticeably the store sign.
  • Around 2010 the building collapsed and only the roof stayed above the ground.
  • By 2015 the property owner removed all remnants of the store, and only the ground remains.

Here's the story. The Choice Valley is popular to motorcycle riders, bicycle riders, birders, and geocachers, and these folks have tales to tell. Most of the tales say this was never a general store and there never was a Greensberg. It was a set, a prop, for movies, television, and commercials that needed a picturesque country vista with a country store. It has been used for Pepsi and Budweiser commercial, a few movies, and a few television shows. However, it mostly just sat there not being used. One geocacher said the building and property were under contract, the movie studio refused to use it, and the land owner got paid $20,000 a year to let it sit and fade away. It has faded away.

The remains of the Greensberg General Store, April, 2012
Google Street View (©2016 Google Street View), November 2015

Greensberg was never shown on a map. There are a few portraits of the store, floating around a few websites, proving that it once existed. A few folks who drove by the Greensberg General Store may recognize it when they see an old movie or television show. Like myself, a few folks may talk about it when they reminisce about the time they stopped to ponder the picturesque store in the middle of nowhere.

The last photograph of Greensberg General Store has been taken, and it is now just a memory. It was only the store itself that said, "This is Greensberg!", and without that store, Greensberg has disappeared. Goodbye Greensberg.

No comments:

Post a Comment