February 10, 2005
[I've edited this entry to make the photos more accessible - Ron's Log, Nov. 23, 2009]
After the formation of the Salton Sea, the resulting scrap railroad ties and telegraph poles were free for the taking. Valerie Jean's was built using these materials.
On old Route 86 as it passes through Thermal, California, you will find the now-closed location of Valerie Jean's at Avenue 66. Valerie Jean's opened in 1928 as the first place to retail dates directly from the growers to the consumers. They are responsible for creating all the trappings of date retailing with which we are all familiar: the date rolled in coconut, the almond-stuffed date, gift boxes of fancy dates, the mail order catalog, and [drumroll please] the date shake! This was Route 99 at the time, which bore all of the traffic through the area. Valerie Jean's was hugely successful and became one of the must-see California tourist attractions.
When this original building was constructed, they used railroad ties and telegraph poles left from the disaster that formed the Salton Sea. These were free for the taking.
Traffic passing this site declined over time due to the construction of I-10, Route 111 and the new Route 86S. That, coupled with declining demand for dates, brought Valerie Jean's to the sad state we now see. It is listed as a historical landmark — which I am fairly sure provides it no protection at all. Someone does seem to be living on the property.
I would work in Mecca and Thermal during the grape picking season during the summers. It was always so very hot and often at the end of a day's works my dad would take me to Valerie Jeans' to get a date shake. I lived in the San Joaquin Valley so dates were a treat since we didn't grow them where I live. When I came home from the US Army and my tour in Vietnam I made the 220 mile drive from home to Valerie Jeans to sit under the shade of Solomon the date tree and enjoy a date shake. Valerie Jeans represented a time in space in which life was less complicated and all it took was a date shake to make the day right. I often stop by there on my way to Phoenix AZ and remember the importance of a place like Valerie Jeans to touch people in ways they would never expect. Even in its current condition I can still remember all the people gathered their to by dates and all the other delicious goods they sold.
Posted by: David at Feb 8, 2017 9:39:22 AM
Yes, i am so sad, it has closed down, i grew up in Imperial & El Centro, Ca,
and we often traveled to San Jose, Ca, always stopped to have the famous Valarie Jean date milkshake, always...
Part of my old neighborhood.
i live in San Jose, i am 63.
Posted by: elena ponciano at Feb 2, 2016 2:47:46 PM
As a family we traveled from Imperial Valley to San Bernardino every summer to visit relatives and never missed stopping at Valerie Jeans Date Shop.
Posted by: Ginny Jorgenson at Mar 23, 2015 2:15:15 PM
My grandmother brought me a special box of the dates from Valerie Jean one year. I loved them & the special box they came in with my name on it. I remember thinking that I would save that pretty box forever. I was probably age 7 or 8 at the time. I never got the story that I was named after a date shop but am wondering now as my father was a traveling salesman at the time. I do remember my mom saying that she did Not reveal my name for a week or so as she thought family members would not like it. I have always loved my name & thought it was interesting as in my high school graduating class there were three Valerie Jeans.
Posted by: Valerie. Jean Buell at Feb 8, 2014 9:56:55 AM
well, been a while since 2- 08 but am reposting a remembrance about the smeads' and wondering about jean kelly and her time in the valley in those years 50's 60's I had to leave to santa barbara 210 miles north on the coast. No dates production there...finished @ san marcos high. worked for the sb news press8 yrs. till 78 then into bussiness ...doing repair and construction... just wondering about john webb, now in texas??...saw his mention on this blog and recently visited with the lyles from 100 palms...used to play many a game with them and the burrages... and smeads and angels and many friends just passing through that farming community and 100 palms... wondering if anybody is out there wants to chat g.w. shaulis 1-2014 55 yrs gone by in a blink...
Posted by: grant shaulis at Jan 18, 2014 12:15:18 PM
I'm working on a heritage scrapbook of my family and just discovered this site. I too was named after Valerie Jean's. My parents couldn't decide what to name me when they came upon the shop during a trip in the summer of 1948. It was decided!
Posted by: Valerie Jean Crowe at Aug 4, 2013 3:50:07 PM
My wife and I drove by Valerie Jeans on July 25, 2011. As you know it is all boarded up and in very poor condition.
My late grandfather Charles Bangle was acquainted with Russ Nicoll. He stopped there often for a date shake. He also wrote a short note titled "Romance of the Date" that Nicoll displayed at the 1942 Date Festival in Indio. After that, you could see it on the wall at Valerie Jeans along with the other displayed memorabilia. While I was in the area, I talked to the owner of the gas station across the street who said the place was striped, nothing left inside. I had hoped it might still be inside.
I have been trying to locate a copy of my grandfather's short piece to use in his biography. Does anyone remember seeing it? How about information about who might have the items from the old store?
Posted by: Rod at Aug 7, 2011 6:30:15 PM
I was partly name after this Date Shop. The story goes my dad was working I the area and called home every night to check on my expecting mother. He said in one of his calls that " I have a name picked out if the baby is a girl, Valerie Jean " My mom liked the name except for the Jean since there was too many Jeans in the family already. So name me Valerie Dale Darapiza . So when any talks about who they are name after. I proudly say "I was named after a Date Shop in 1954 "
Posted by: Valerie Darapiza at Jan 19, 2011 10:02:22 AM
By the urging of my Aunt Lea in North Dakota to look up Valerie Jean I came across this site. I too was named in part at least after this town. I was born and raised in Garden Grove, CA. My dad was in the Navy and spent time out in the area. He loved the dates here and also met the original owners and their daughter. So when he met my mom in 1965 and a month later proposed he told her that if they ever had a daughter he would like to name her Valerie Jean. In about 1996 while spending the day at Crystal Cove i met an artist named Valerie Jean who was also named after this historic town. Thank You Aunt Lea for urging me to look into my history.
Posted by: Valerie Jean Miears Barraza at Nov 7, 2010 5:25:56 AM
Here is the web address for the artwork I mentioned in my previous post:
OR go to www.ArtistLA.com
Posted by: A. Hale at Nov 2, 2010 7:55:54 PM
My husband Melvin Hale is an award-winning artist and postcard archivist who is collected worldwide for his vinage digital paintings of Palm Springs, Southern California and beyond. One of his most precious works is called "The Big Red Arrow at Valerie Jean Dates" c1945. It is based on an old black and white vintage postcard in his collection. I've included the link for those of you who love this place as much as we do. We did get a chance to visit the building, although long closed, but really loved the groves surrounding the place. Hope you enjoy the art, and it is available in limited edition.
Posted by: A. Hale at Nov 2, 2010 7:54:39 PM
When I was a kid growing up in Imperial Valley in the 50's-60's, we passed through Valerie Jean several times a year visiting relatives in San Bernardino. Our car didn't have a/c either, and it was brutal in the summer crossing that dessert! We always begged to stop to cool off (yeah that was a good excuse..ha) at the Purple Onion drive-in in Indio, and at Valerie Jean's for dessert. I loved VJ's dates stuffed with an almond then rolled in coconut (my kids love them now too)..but my favorite thing to order was not the date shake..but rather a cactus shake, and a date filled cookie. My mouth is watering just thinking about them! To the person who said they hate dates: I won't eat a plain ol' date, but I finally figured out that what I didn't like was the skin itself. But peeled and piped into the center of that chewy cookie they made..umm ummm!
Posted by: Paula McCollum at Sep 26, 2010 11:28:30 AM
Well, imagine this -- I was named after this place too! My name is Valerie Jean (no spelling changes, just the real thing). My parents also visted the date shop while "dating". I was born on June 9th, 1961. I have purchased two postcards, on eBay, of the Valerie Jean Date Garden and BOTH were postmarked 1961 !! I also have a brochure that reads "How about a date ... with Valerie Jean?" too cool :)
Posted by: Valerie Jean at Aug 11, 2010 11:30:13 PM
My family lived in the Wind Sand and Stars trailer park next door from 1951 to about 1953. Walked to the date shop many times. and passed there every day on the school bus. wish I could go back in time now live in Utah.
Posted by: Bill Plumhof at Aug 4, 2010 5:12:53 PM
Hello all. We are on the verge of opening the Salton Sea History Museum in the renovated North Shore Yacht Club which will of course include such notable places as Valerie Jean Date Shop. Check our website at SaltonSeaMuseum.org for information, historic and renovation pictures. Soon we'll announce the grand opening date.
The Salton Sea History Museum and Salton Sea Visitor Center have been made possible by the County of Riverside by providing the space in this historic building. Our late Supervisor Roy Wilson was instrumental in getting this historic building renovated and also making sure that the East Valley Historical Society had space for the museum.
Supervisor John Benoit has also been very supportive and has provided some funding to help with our initial costs of opening the museum.
However, we are still far short of the necessary funding needed. We are actively looking for new museum members (see our website for info) and also grants and tax-deductible donations. If you can help, please get in touch with us through the museum website.
Posted by: Jennie Kelly at Feb 20, 2010 12:10:25 PM
I was also named after Valerie Jean's, except my parents changed the ie to ia. I have a picture of this place from a magazine they gave me. I am now 70, born in Riverside,CA and wish I had been able to see the place for myself. I have met only one other person with the same spelling as mine.
Posted by: Valeria Vinson at Jan 21, 2010 9:47:14 PM
what became of king solomon,the date tree ? planted at valerie jeans
Posted by: ROBERT at Dec 18, 2009 1:08:54 PM
Try cream cheese in those stuffed dates (along with the walnuts)....and forget about the powdered sugar! My Mom used to make them this way (the one and only original Valerie Jean!). Not sure if they made them like this in the shop though.
Funny to see that my brother found this site a couple of years ago and failed to mention it to me....I'll have to chastise him!
I found it a bit ago....and was looking again trying to find some of the old recipes myself. So if anybody knows where I can find them let me know!
Posted by: Julie Schubert at Nov 23, 2009 9:44:07 PM
I was also named after this place! It's neat to see how many of us are out there carrying a bit of history in our names! I'm 42 now and grew up in CA.
Posted by: Valerie Jean In Texas at Nov 3, 2009 12:13:10 AM
used to stop on the way back to l.a. after annual dove hunt around holtville and later yuma az. loved the shakes and especialy the date cookies, of which i have never seen another. still pass on the way home, sorry its closed.
Posted by: ROBERT at Oct 23, 2009 2:24:35 PM
I rembermer this shop well used to live in the wind sand and stars trailer park just up the road, in the eearly 50s went to thermal school and cv high. worked for get in the area and stopped in often , but it closed. wish i could go back
Posted by: bill plumhof at Sep 22, 2009 1:23:08 PM
When I was a child in the 60's my family often stopped there on our way from LA to Brawley where my grandparents had been high school teachers from 1928 to ~1950 (the Michels). My grandfather knew the owner well. Best date shakes ever. Too bad they didn't just move to a better location.
Posted by: John at Jul 27, 2009 11:25:13 AM
Was working at the shop after school and lived right down(then) Highway 99 from there close to 100 Palms,circa:1964. Years later,recalling pleasure moments sampling the wares, I spotted a prickly pear cactus with ripe,red cactus apples on it and put them (after peeling them with great care)in a blender with a bit of milk and haagen-dasz ice cream(!)It was nice to approximate the original "cactus shake".That and this website brought it back momentarily. Thanks for it(AND the comments). MUCH AFFINITY, John Webb; Singer\Songwriter (and still playing harmonica!)working in Texas 100% drug-free by preference and highly(naturally) recommend it! (Leave message @ )
Posted by: john webb at May 24, 2009 8:05:30 PM
My brother and I hunted doves and mostly quail in the Coachella Valley with our father, for about 40 years, starting in the early '50's. We always stopped by Valerie Jean's after a hot morning of hunting, to get date shakes and packages of dates to take home.
Bill & I were just reminiscing about the old days in the Valley, the desert sunrises, the texture of the old seabed sand-soil and the smell of the brush. Our stops at Valerie Jean's were always a highlight of our trips, not just due to our being tired, hot & thirsty, but also to the charm of the shop and its grounds. These discussions and an old photo of Valerie Jean's that he emailed me brought back a flood of good memories.
We used to tramp the desert islands of mesquite clumps, chasing quail. Much of this activity was in the area of La Quinta, which sadly is now all shops and parking lots. I will never forget the views of the rocky hills and mountains across miles of ancient seabed desert terrain.
I saw on a CA.gov website that VJ's does have historical site status, but couldn't find any further info on its status.
I would love to keep in the loop on historical preservation in the Coachella Valley.
Posted by: Bob Peitzke at Feb 21, 2009 12:41:20 PM
I grew up next door, about half a mile from Valerie Jean's in the 70's and 80's at 100 Palms Resort. I also attended Coachella Valley High School, home of the Arabs, the school mascot. My brother and I would stop by at VJ's once in a while to grab a nice, cold, date shake. Sad to see they shut it down. It was a historical landmark.
Posted by: Sergio Aceves at Jan 6, 2009 11:39:33 PM