Chatsworth's Oldest Resident Dies at 96
Valeta Koller is the daughter of James P. Butler, one of our early ranchers who moved from Pasadena to Chatsworth in 1919. He had purchased the land in advance but was waiting for water to get to the valley to plant his citrus trees. He was well known for his expertise in Citrus ranch management, overseeing groves that he and others owned. The family included James, his wife Edith and their two children Margaret and James. They built a small wood framed board and batten house on Lassen Street near where Independence St is now. (The area near Lawrence Jr. High) Valeta noted that in a house built like that, the wind would come right through the walls. In 1920, another son, John was born and then on November 21, 1922, Valeta May Butler was born. Valeta tells the story that in 1927 when she was 5 years old, they built a new three-bedroom house at 21039 Lassen, with stucco walls “to keep the wind out”.
Before James Peterson Butler II moved his family to Chatsworth in 1919, he operated a Citrus Nursery in Lamanda Park, Pasadena. While in Pasadena, James Butler was known for his watermelons, referred to as the “Watermelon King”. Valeta says that he knew exactly when to pick them. When his first daughter Mildred was born on the 4th of July, the local newspaper ran the headline: “Watermelon King has a Firecracker”. Once in Chatsworth, while waiting about 5 years for his newly planted oranges, lemon and grapefruit trees to mature and bear fruit, he grew watermelon, alfalfa and grapes to provide an income. Valeta said that her father only planted groves of Valencia Oranges, not Navel Oranges. Once again, he perfected the best time for harvesting, bringing in the top dollar sending the oranges to the Sunkist Packing house on Canoga and the lemons and grapefruits to San Fernando packing houses. In addition to his own acreage that he continued to purchase, he also managed citrus groves for other landowners such as Mr. Frost, a wealthy Chatsworth
landowner and resident, who became a close family friend throughout the years. Mr. Frost owned the property that became Chatsworth High School.
Valeta lived in Chatsworth through 1935 attending Chatsworth Park Elementary School during the rebuilding of the school following the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, when the students attended classes in tents set up on the school grounds while the school was rebuilt. At that point, her mother and father divorced and Valeta and her sister moved to Hollywood with her mother Edith while she attended Bancroft Jr High and Fairfax high school. Edith traded her orange groves received in the divorce settlement for an apartment building in Hollywood. Edith continued to purchase and sell income property in the Hollywood area. She managed to make sure that the apartment building they lived in was directly across from the school the girls were attending at the time. After graduating from Fairfax High school in the winter of 1941, Valeta worked at Lockheed for a while and eventually decided to become an Airline Stewardess. Following the interview that she felt was more about what her legs looked like than her qualifications, she noticed an advertisement to join the Navy. The Navy recruiter told her to report back on July 4th and rebuffed her comment that it was a “Holiday” with the response that there are no Holidays during war time. So, she returned on July 4th and signed so many papers that she had ink all over the hand that she raised to be sworn in. The other women who had joined were all gathered, and they were informed that they would be taking a Troop Train to New York for boot camp. On the troop train, (used only to transport soldiers across country) they were all put to work cleaning and maintaining the train along the way. Boot Camp was held on the Hunter College campus in New York. Valeta was still in boot camp when the bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima to end the war on Aug 6, 1945. Everyone in boot camp was given liberty and Valeta joined her sister living in New York at Times Square to celebrate. It would still be another year before her term in the Navy was over, but she was fortunate to land a desk job in Washington, DC.
After the Navy, Valeta moved back to Hollywood. In the meantime, her father James in Chatsworth had remarried Dr. Olive Spaulding in 1942. Olive had seen a home built in 1927 on 10 acres in Chatsworth that she loved (on Topanga and San Jose), so James purchased it when it became available in hopes that Olive would marry him.
In 1947 Valeta married Jim Koller. Jim was still in the military, and they lived in Hollywood where Valeta attended City College on her GI bill studying photography since she liked art but knew photography would be more useful to get a job. They had two children, Clarlyne and Frederick. Jim and Valeta separated soon thereafter.
With the help of her father, a house was moved onto the earlier property the family lived on in 1919 on Lassen Street. While her children were going to school, Valeta attended Pierce College to finish her AA degree focusing on investment, finance and real estate courses. Note: Valeta mentioned that she could not attend her own graduation because her daughter was graduating the same time from Jr. High.
By 1960, Valeta’s father James continued to buy and sell Chatsworth citrus properties. One of his lots involved the construction of a shopping center on the northwest corner of Canoga and Devonshire -- The Hughes Market (now Ralph’s) and an adjacent drug store.
Valeta lived in the San Jose house in Chatsworth until her death May 10th, 2019.
She is survived by her 2 children Clarlyne and Frederick.
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