If you were an African American of any means at all living in Los Angeles in the 1930s, you went to or owned property in Val Verde, then known as “The Black Palm Springs.” Frank Godden, known as “Mr. Val Verde” because of his long involvement in the development of this once-Black resort town died Aug. 3 of cancer. He was 101.
Located in Santa Clarita Valley, Val Verde was originally a Spanish mining settlement, but in the 1920s a group of Black business people, including Norman O. Houston of Golden State Mutual Life Insurance; Charlotta and Joseph Bass, owners of the California Eagle newspaper; and entrepreneur Sidney P. Dones joined forces to buy the 30-acre tract of land and renamed it Eureka. They resold lots to African Americans, and in 1939 celebrated the opening of a swimming pool built with grants from the Works Progress Administration on an adjoining 50 acres.
According to an L.A. Times report, Godden came West the same year the pool was built after earning a bachelor’s degree in commercial industry at Tuskegee Institute. He was trying to get as far away from the segregation of the South as he could.
He created a series of muscle man and bathing beauty contests in Val Verde that helped establish the town as a place where Blacks could come play, swim and just have fun in a public setting at a time when this was virtually impossible elsewhere in the area.
Working as an assistant to a White real-estate developer, Godden told the L.A. Times he wanted to build a community Blacks could point to with pride and come and be free from the strictures of segregation and racism.
Born into a Live Oak, Fla., to a family of nine children on March 4, 1911, Godden attended secondary school at Tuskegee, where he would eventually lead tours of George Washington Carver’s famed laboratory and sit on the school’s board of trustees.
Returning to Los Angeles in 1946, after serving in World War II, Godden ran a number of businesses, including a funeral home and a company that built an apartment complex for low-income senior citizens in South Los Angeles.
In his later years, after Val Verde had ceased to exist as a Black resort, Godden created a museum–the Washington-Carver Museum of California with the multiple purposes of keeping the Val Verde history alive, commemorating the work of Carver, whom he served as a photographer for several years; and celebrating the Black history that had touched his life.
In February, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach bestowed its Heritage Award on Godden during its 10th annual African American Festival for his life-long community service contributions.
Godden was married and divorced twice and is survived by nieces and nephews.