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3-Hour Tour

Life in a Slower Lane : A visit to Newhall, with its landmark cafe and preserved mansion of a cowboy star, is a pleasant trip back in time.

September 03, 1993|REBECCA HOWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Rebecca Howard is a Newhall writer.

To pull the reigns and slow the pace of the fast lane, a trip to Newhall can offer some old-fashioned nostalgia, from a cafe laced with rusty memorabilia to the preserved mansion of a silent-screen cowboy. The William S. Hart Park and Museum, Heritage Junction Historic Park and other shops and restaurants can take a visitor back in time.

11 a.m.: Among the license plates and old tin advertisements for household items, cigarettes and Coca-Cola, a California plate reads THE KING. Whether Elvis was ever sighted at the Way Station Coffee Shop on San Fernando Road in Newhall is a mystery, but the hash browns--in this case maybe with some pork chops--are worthy of his visit.

A late breakfast at this Santa Clarita landmark is a good way to start a day of nostalgia. Parking is ample behind the restaurant and on area streets. Amid cozy booths or at the counter, you may get an earful of local gossip in a colorful setting that features glass cases full of antique tobacco tins and rusted cowboy spurs. Way Station customers bring in all the antiques and license plates, owner Jeri Bronstrup said of the decor.

The Way Station, open since 1971, does a hefty business, serving up more than 100 pounds of hash browns and about 400 eggs a day. On weekends, you may have a bit of a wait. The line sometimes seems intimidating, but Bronstrup said patrons rarely wait more than 15 minutes for a seat.

Or you could choose to start your tour in another cozy breakfast nook, the Egg Plantation on Walnut Street, which you can find by taking a left off San Fernando to 9th Street, then a right on Walnut Street. You can choose from a selection of 101 omelets, made up of everything from ham and creamed corn to peanut butter and jam. Breakfast and lunch are served amid enough poultry knickknacks to make you cluck.

11:30 a.m.: Walking north on Walnut Street toward Lyons Avenue, browse through a few shops at a Victorian shopping center, which stands out with its yellow and white dollhouse-style buildings. An Affair with Books is a quaint literary venue. Above the bookstore, Toy Attic features old-fashioned trains and toys. Beads & More showcases hundreds of beads and other items to make earrings, pins and necklaces.

11:45 a.m.: Take Walnut Street south to Newhall Avenue. Near the entrance of William S. Hart Park, you'll see underfoot a Western twist on Hollywood fame. The Western Walk of Stars inducts a new honoree each year, who becomes immortalized with a saddle motif plaque embedded in the sidewalk on Newhall Avenue merging into San Fernando Road. Among those that can be seen on your stroll are Denver Pyle, Hoyt Axton, Jane Russell, George Montgomery, Bruce Boxleitner and local country musician Cliffie Stone. The walk will lead you into the park.

Noon: William S. Hart Park is named after its late owner, the silent film star who began his acting career doing Shakespeare and wound up being known as Two Gun Bill, making nearly 70 silent cowboy films, including one of his better-known films, "Tumbleweeds," which came out in 1925. You may want to stop first at the Trading Post, the park's gift shop where you can purchase food for the park's domestic animals. Also for sale are videos of Hart's movies for $9.95, one of his books for $15 to $20, photos, postcards, cactus eggs, raccoon-skin caps, toy tom-toms, sterling silver horseshoe earrings and other jewelry. Or maybe you can just whet your whistler with a sarsaparilla from the store's tiny refrigerator.

12:15 p.m.: Wandering about the park, you'll notice a display of antique farm machinery and a small zoo that includes donkeys (don't be startled by an occasional burst of heehaws), ducks, chickens, rabbits, horses, pygmy goats and a deer. Hart's love of animals can be observed through the memorials he established, including the cobblestone gravestone for his horse, Fritz, in one corner of the park and a dog graveyard on a trail. Overall, the park is spacious, green and shrouded in shady trees with ample picnic tables and benches for resting.

12:45 p.m.: Hike up the trail to Hart mansion for a tour. You may glimpse the bison that roam the northern part of the park.

1 p.m.: At the top of a winding trail is Hart's Spanish Colonial-style mansion, La Loma de los Vientos (Hill of the Winds). Each half-hour, a guide emerges from the house to provide a tour. Built between 1925 and 1927, it was the retirement home for the silent-screen star. The tour starts in the dining room, where you'll see a portrait of Hart on Fritz by artist James Montgomery Flagg, who also painted Uncle Sam on the U.S. Army recruiting posters (Uncle Sam's face does seem to resemble Hart's).

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