History and Milestones
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.
In 1946, 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
To grow the town, 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
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
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.
In 1992, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange joined the Apple Valley hospital
team bringing with them 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
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?