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September 5, 1965 — Florence LaRue is crowned Miss Val Verde for 1965 and Bradley Polk is the winner of the Muscleman contest at Val Verde Park.
In 1965, LaRue was living in Los Angeles and studying music at L.A. City College. The following year, she joined up with Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis Jr., Lamonte McLemore and Ronald Townson to form The 5th Dimension, a pop-R&B singing group that achieved fame (and six Grammys) for their recordings of "Up, Up and Away," "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," "Wedding Bell Blues," "One Less Bell to Answer" and more.
Polk was the reigning (1965) Mr. Los Angeles, a bodybuilding competition staged by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).
Nestled in an isolated canyon in the faraway-but-not-too-far Santa Clarita Valley, Val Verde was a safe space for African American Angelenos prior to the Civil Rights reforms of the mid-1960s. Men and women from across Greater Los Angeles came to Val Verde for the annual Bathing Beauty (Miss Val Verde) and Muscleman (aka Physique) competition, so it wasn't unusual for a non-Val Verde resident to be named Miss (and Mr.) Val Verde. It was more often the case than not.
Held each summer beginning in the 1940s, the event was organized by a committee of the Val Verde Improvement Association and co-sponsored by the L.A. County Parks Department. It typically featured an exhibition by a dance school in Los Angeles and a water ballet directed by resident Mabel Suggs in the 150-foot-long Olympic pool.
The pool was a major source of pride for Val Verde and a tourist attraction at a time when African Americans couldn't swim in a public pool in Los Angeles whenever they wanted to. As such, the pool was a driver of the community's economy; patrons had a selection of diners, weekend rentals and new home sites to choose from. Actress Hattie McDaniel ("Gone With the Wind") attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the pool and bath house in 1939; once the facility opened in 1940, it even attracted out-of-state vacationers. In 1947, people from Portland to New York and points in between turned out for the Fourth of July festivities when a staggering 18,000 people camped in Val Verde Park, as counted in the clubhouse register. Fifteen hundred people took turns using the pool that day (The Signal, July 10, 1947).
Exactly when the Miss Val Verde contest started is unclear. According to a 1966 report by longtime community columnist Eddie Myers, it started in 1946 (The Signal, July 21, 1966). The 1965 report identifies it as the "19th annual" event, which places the first year in 1947; other years are consistent with this numbering system. The first write-up in The Signal, however, comes in 1949 when Val Verde resident Louise Videgain won the crown. Myers and other Val Verde columnists had been submitting monthly reports for years, so it's a bit unusual that no mention is made of the event prior to 1949, if it was indeed held earlier.
The bodybuilding competition (as "Mr. Muscles") was added to the event in 1951 (The Signal, August 16, 1951). The winner was Robert Shealy, who went on to win the Mr. California competition in 1952 and placed fifth for Mr. America in 1956. (Subsequent reports misconstrue the first year of Val Verde's Muscleman competition as 1957.)
The Miss (and Mr.) Val Verde event evolved with the changing social climate. Crowds that topped 1,000 in the 1950s fell to the hundreds in the 1960s. In 1966, organizers added a Miss Teenage Val Verde contest that was limited to Val Verde residents while the main events remained open to all. In 1967 there was a snafu, and two young women were announced as the winner. One was an African American from Los Angeles, the other a Latina from Val Verde. In 1969, none of the six female or six male contestants lived in Val Verde. In that year, the Muscleman prize went to the one Anglo entrant.
The final Miss Val Verde competition was held in 1979. One of the judges was James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader, "Star Wars," 1977), who reportedly owned a ranch and raised horses in Val Verde at one time (Stewart 1994).
The event was rekindled in the mid-1980s, after a fashion, when the Parks Department hosted an annual summertime festival that included a "Little Mr. and Miss Val Verde" contest for kids ages 1-7.
Val Verde Royalty Crowned.
The Signal | Thursday, September 9, 1965.
The 19th annual Val Verde Bathing Beauty and physique contest Sunday was great! There were 12 girls and seven men vying for the title of Miss Val Verde and Mr. Val Verde of 1965.
The new king and queen of Val Verde are Miss Florence LaRue and Bradley Polk.
Mrs. Mabel Warren, the mistress of ceremonies, excelled in her position with not a dull moment throughout the entire program. The judges were elated over so many attractive girls and muscular men. After much figuring, they finally came up with the winners.
Miss Toni King of Val Verde and Miss Brenda Jimmerson of Compton were runners-up to Miss Val Verde. Jeri Y. Haywood received the title of Miss Congenial.
Second place in the physique contest was Robert Lee Minor, and third place was Wayne Hilliard.
The queen received a trophy and a bouquet of roses, which she accepted with tears in her eyes. The other three girls also received trophies.
The three muscle men also received trophies. Polk received a second trophy for being the most muscular man in the contest.
Judges for Miss Val Verde were: Miss Emily Godden, a former Miss Val Verde and now a model and stenographer; Mrs. Eloise Jackson, community center director in Compton; Mrs. Doris A. Davis, Compton city clerk; Vivian Williams, professional model; and Iva D. Sidney, secretary and music teacher.
Mr. Val Verde judges were all former contestants in physique contests. They were Joel Stafford, Raymond D. Taylor Jr., Leon Burks, a former Mr. Val Verde, Edward L. Johnson and Obie Jackson.
This grand affair was sponsored by the Val Verde Improvement Association and the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation. Mrs. Leola Johnson was chairman, and Mrs. Helen Hathaway was co-chairman.