David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
Alpine: History Of A Mountain Settlement. By Beatrice La Force. Privately published. Printed by Sunlight Press, Lakeside, Ca., 1971. Illustrations. Index. 519 pages. Paperback $4.95. Hard Cover $7.00.
Reviewed by Helen Ellsberg, free-lance writer, photographer and author of the recently published Mines of Julian and Los Coronados Islands. Her articles have appeared in a variety of magazines and journals. She holds an M.A. degree in English from San Diego State College and makes her home in Alpine.
Beatrice La Force signs the introduction to her book, Alpine: History Of A Mountain Settlement, “To Alpine with love.” It is an impressive volume indeed for a local history — more than 500 pages and over 500 photographs — but this quality of genuine affection for her subject shines through the book (without causing her to lose historical objectivity), and gives it a special charm.
In 1952, Mrs. La Force published fifty copies of a booklet titled Alpine History, A Brief Account of Early Days, to be sold for an Alpine Library Association 50th Anniversary benefit. They sold out almost before the print was dry, and there was an enthusiastic demand for more.
However, she decided that the community needed a more complete history. So in 1960 she taught herself photocopying and began quietly collecting a file of interviews, photographs, and tapes for her book. She thought it might take three or four years to finish. It took twelve. As a prize-winning playwright and author of short stories, articles, and a mystery novel, Mrs. La Force was no stranger to most writer’s problems. But she had not yet tangled with the time-consuming ones peculiar to the biography and the historian — the extracting of information from the coy, the cautious, and the cantankerously uncooperative; those to whom that old parcel of fly-specked letters and pictures which had been kicked around the storeroom for forty years suddenly became worth its weight in platinum when it was found to be of value to a historian — and not to be allowed out of sight.
In 1970, she decided that the history was as complete as it would ever be. Ten years was long enough to coax and cajole the reluctant ones. The word went out that the Alpine history would soon go to press. The community began to buzz with interest.
Suddenly, it seemed to dawn upon the balky ones that a history was about to be published from which they, by their own indifference were to be omitted. The La Force phone began to ring. Withheld material poured in until it was obvious that it would take months to reassemble the book. The original publication date was cancelled and work begun all over again.
Another whole year later it was once more ready for the printer. It appeared December, 1971, just in time for Christmas.
The History contains something for everyone from the historian to the statistician and the conservationist. “Vital Statistics” include population growth from 1875 to 1970, temperature averages, rainfall from 1850 to 1970 (ranging from 1877’s 0.00 to 1952’s 28.29 inches), the plants, animals, and natural phenomena of the area, and a proper boost for Alpine’s famous climate.
There is a fine chapter on the Alpine Indians, made especially enjoyable by the excellent photographic coverage of their colorful May Queen festival, as well as pictures of their tools, baskets, and pottery.
“The Farming Scene,” beginning with Alpine’s first money crop of honey, brings sighs of nostalgia to many San Diegans who remember driving to Alpine in the days of the community’s orchards and vineyards to buy honey, olives, peaches, pears, and plums, and to dine and relax at one of the famous resorts, The Alpine Tavern or The Willows.
Family histories, profusely illustrated, form the book’s backbone, and Alpine’s famous citizens are listed from “Mister Arnold,” Alpine’s benefactor, and Julian Eltinge, famous female impersonator of the ’20’s, to widely-known present day artists such as Justin Gruelle, and Wendell Smith, designer of the history’s cover.
The book is enlivened by anecdotes running like bright threads through the rough tweed of historical facts and figures. These often illustrate historical appraisals, such as that on the lowering of Alpine’s water table caused by the population increase, the drilling of too many wells and the squandering of water for domestic use. Said one old-timer contemptuously, “We never wasted gallons and gallons of good fresh water every day just taking baths and flushing toilets!”
The abundant photographs — the majority taken or copied by the author — add greatly to the book’s interest, historically and nostalgically. There are family portraits gleaned from a hundred sources (one of Edward Foss, head of that pioneer family, was rescued from the Foss henhouse), christenings, weddings, funerals, church picnics, parades, school class pictures, graduations, the old and the new in homes, stores, and churches, and a noteworthy collection of picturesque obsolete farm machinery.
But the lagniappe of this history is the inclusion of a baker’s dozen selections from a column, Intimate Glimpses, written by Mrs. La Force for an Alpine newspaper, The Alpine Echo, from 1959 to 1963. These are gently philosophical, keenly perceptive commentaries and observations, well spiked with humor, on Alpine’s nature and wildlife, and country living in general. “Our Old Lion” is a special gem.
In the reviewer’s opinion this delightful book — over 500 pages for a mere $5.00; less than a cent a page, with a hard cover edition at $7.00 — is the biggest bargain in the book stores.