When Newton T. Bass traveled Route 66 north through the Cajon Pass in 1943, imagine his delight with the landscape’s beauty. Here was the Victor Valley thriving next to a gently babbling Mojave River. It must have been an elixir too potent to reject. A kaleidoscope of shades and colors, a land ripe for harvest steeped in history and quaintness—attributes that had long been forgotten in the city where he lived.
When Bass turned on Highway 18 to make his ascent through the Mojave Narrows, he must have marveled at the handsome rock formations; he must have chuckled at the sight of tangerine and lemon-colored leaves. It was here, as he descended the Narrows to the vast valley opening at his feet, that Bass witnessed a jubilant sun drenching the desert floor with its warm embrace.
Was he ready to return to his life as an oil baron in suburban Long Beach, or would he shed that hectic pace and become hungry to embrace the peaceful and enchanting beauty that lay before him? His feelings were not unusual. This land had intoxicated several before him.
It was in 1946 that Bass moved his family to the area permanently. After opening a real estate company with his partner, B. J. ‘Bud’ Westlund, the pair bought more than 22,000 acres of land and began to carefully construct a town. They aimed to offer city slickers the opportunity to return to a forgotten time, to discover an elusive panacea called relaxation.
It didn’t take long for these forward-thinking developers to create an ideal environment for the rich and famous. Built in Old West style, their Apple Valley Inn attracted scores of Hollywood stars. By the mid-1950s, they had fashioned a niche so enticing that Roy Rogers and Dale Evans called the area “home” and the Apple Valley Inn their “personal playground.”
To grow the city, Bass and Westlund donated land to the library and local schools. But it wasn’t long before the pair realized that providing a state-of-the-art medical facility near their subdivision would be a very good selling point.
A few miles to the west in Victorville, builder Clyde Tatum had the same idea. Tatum was making a fortune providing quality, affordable housing to post-war military personnel stationed at George Air Force Base. He constructed scores of homes, attracting thousands of people to the High Desert.
Even though early community interest in having a hospital was high, High Desert locals were skeptical, afraid their little town couldn’t afford it. Hearty persuasion from civic leaders ultimately won them over, and soon, offers to donate land for the hospital’s construction came from the Bass/Westlund team and from Tatum, both camps desirous for the facility to be built near their own subdivisions.
Bass and close friend Monsignor William Van Garsse had a vision for a Catholic hospital and school. The pair saw their dream realized when the Apple Valley land offer was accepted. The Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary led by Rev. Mother Regina, Mother General, agreed to assume management and full, permanent responsibility for the facility.
Ironically, just a few short years later, growth in the High Desert was so intense that the community elected to build yet another hospital, this time on a Victorville hillside property donated by the Kemper Campbell Ranch. It was to be built by Clyde Tatum.
St. Mary Desert Valley Hospital in Apple Valley, a 29-bed acute and maternity care facility, was dedicated on November 19, 1956. Appropriately, the hospital’s first patient was in active labor, very happy her baby had decided to wait until the hospital’s doors were open. Staffed by the Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Mary Desert Valley Hospital flourished.
On nearby Seventh Street in Victorville, patrons of area businesses bustled between Ivey’s Furniture Store, Joe’s Chicken Kitchen and the Green Spot Motel and Restaurant. It was a time when smoking was fashionable and thick glass ashtrays decorated every tabletop. Big shiny cars lined the streets, and electric wires were strung methodically between downtown buildings.
While Tatum was making a healthy living expanding the Victorville area south on Seventh Street toward the Cajon Summit, Bass and Westlund were doing the same in Apple Valley.
Advertising material boasting the cleanliness and purity of High Desert life was circulated in the Los Angeles Times. Home after home continued to be built, boosting progress. The Apple Valley Bank was opened on Aztec Road alongside a large corner commercial building that housed the Bass-Westlund empire.
In the late 1950s, St. Mary Desert Valley Hospital grew as well. An expansion project added the hospital’s south wing, a new lobby, medical library, and additional dining and laundry facilities.
Years passed and the High Desert’s growth persisted. Modernization continued at St. Mary Desert Valley Hospital in order to meet the region’s growing needs. By 1968, an emergency department was in place, along with surgery, physical therapy, X-ray and laboratory diagnostic facilities. Bass and Westlund proudly advertised the hospital to newcomers, saying it was as “modern as tomorrow.”
In 1969, hospital sponsorship transferred from the Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary to the Brothers of St. John of God. During the Brothers’ leadership, the hospital expanded yet again.
For developers, the name of the game was real estate. During the ‘70s and ‘80s Apple Valley and Hesperia entrepreneurs led the region in new homes built. Many homeowners were retirees from the Los Angeles and San Bernardino basins. And by 1984, St. Mary Desert Valley Hospital was a 109-bed, top-of-the-line medical treatment facility serving more than 175,000 High Desert residents. Dedicated to preserving the lifestyle Bass and Westlund created, the Town of Apple Valley was formed in 1988.
n 1992, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange joined the Apple Valley hospital team bringing with them the St. Joseph Health and yet another successful era of High Desert health care. Although the region experienced a painful dip in its economy due in part to the closure of George Air Force Base that year, the hospital continued to thrive. An open-heart surgery program, skilled nursing facility, neonatal intensive care unit and a chest pain center were all opened.
In 1996, yet another large-scale expansion project was completed. Then, in 2001, residents of the High Desert were able to breathe a sigh of relief as the region’s economy began to bounce back.
Even though Newton T. Bass and B. J. ‘Bud’ Westlund have passed away, their memories and donations remain alive and well.
Thanks to yet another donation, a new county branch library has been built on Aztec Road, today called Dale Evans Parkway, right behind former Bass-Westlund office facilities. The town’s civic center is only a stone’s throw away.
St. Mary Medical Center, once a small rectangular building perched behind a grassy knoll on an Apple Valley hill, now sits majestically above a bustling highway. Amidst a kaleidoscope of shades and colors on the ground and the hills, Apple Valley is still a place where three-dimensional skyscapes strike awe in the hearts of residents and visitors. It is still a place of dreams and vision and inspiration.
Isn’t it tempting to imagine what it must have been like for Newton T. Bass the day he made his discovery?