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 am taking a visual journaling class and we were encouraged to research our names. I, like Valleri Jean (see another post) was named after Valerie Jean Date shop and am now 57 years old. My parents also changed the spelling of my name. Imagine my surprise to find a bit of my history on this site!
Posted by: valorie jean at Oct 29, 2008 8:47:48 PM
My parents passing through, saw the name of the date
shop and decided to name me after it. My Mom just
had to be different and spell it in a way that no one
ever gets, oh well! By the way, no offense, but I
hate dates! Kind of ironic.
I am now almost 57 and live in Bend, Oregon.
Posted by: Valleri Jean Douglas at Oct 9, 2008 4:27:53 PM
My father, Bob Tatsch, used to be an inspector for the Ca. Dept. of Agriculture in the l940's. He had much of Southern California to cover and was friends with Valerie Jean. When I was born in the late 40's, he named me after her, but I was not given a middle name. He told me years later that it would have been Jean. Dad used to deer hunt over much of the same country that he inspected, and he taught me to love the mountains and desert. Soon, I will have an opportunity to visit this area for the first time and learn about the local history.( Better late than never!) Where would be a good place to start? Where are the old palms?
Posted by: Valerie (Tatsch) Jordan at Sep 18, 2008 10:45:18 PM
I just saw the post by Grant Shaulis (Feb. 2, '08) about the old timers near Valerie Jean's. I was very good friends with Paul and Beryl Smead. They were both such dear friends. We used to have so much fun at their ranch (just around the corner from Valerie Jean's) on May Day when they would throw a big pit bar-b-que party. It was really Paul's birthday party but a lot of people didn't know that. Sadly, they have both passed away but their daughter still lives on the old ranch on Middleton.
It's equally sad that I hadn't been bitten by the historical preservation bug before they passed. I truly regret not being able to chat with them about the wonderful history with the Nicholl's, Hilton and all the famous people that used to hang around there. Last fall I made a trip to visit with Kathy Hilton, John's daughter and a very talented plein air artist like her dad. I didn't have nearly enough time with her, but there was one great story I really loved. She recounted how Howard Hughes used to fly in with his entourage. They would land on Avenue 66 and taxi into the back of the rock shop where he parked the plane. Apparently he made regular trips to visit the Hilton's. On one such trip he brought live lobster to share with them. Little Kathy was so fond of it, and Hughes was so fond of her, that he had lobster flown in for her birthday every year after that.
Russ Nicholl, who owned Valerie Jean's, was friends with Hilton. Nicholl offered to lend Hilton some land across the road for a curio shop if he agreed not to sell dates or date products. Eventually Hilton paid for the land where he had built his curio shop (Hilton's Art & Gem Shop) and home.
There is a lot of interest in making that corner a historic district. Other historic sites in the East Coachella Valley include Rancho Dos Palmas, the North Shore Yacht Club, Eiler's Date Palm Beach and Ed Ainsworth's little settlement of homes-all in North Shore. The new East Valley Historical Society is dedicated to identifying and attempting save these and other sites in the area. Please feel free to email me if you'd like to stay up to date on our efforts via periodic emailed newsletters.
Posted by: Jennie Kelly at Apr 11, 2008 9:45:36 PM
I've been transcribing my mother-in-law's diary from 1944-45 when she was accompanying her husband to different Navy bases during WWII. Just read her entry from March 9, 1945 where she wrote "sent dates home from Valerie Jean date shop." Home for her and my father-in-law was North Carolina. My father-in-law reported for duty the next day in El Centro after spending the night at the Barbara Worth Hotel. I try to look up landmark references in her diary on the internet and found this website looking for any information about Valerie Jean's date shop! Very interesting reading from all the postings!
Posted by: Edie at Apr 4, 2008 12:29:51 PM
Posted by: Ron's Log at Mar 18, 2008 9:38:02 AM
I finally bought one of those double lighted flat bed scanners ... for film negatives, positives, and slides. Family stuff ! This photo was taken by my parents before getting married. Valerie Jean Dates, 1953. The 1940 or '41 Chevrolet belonged to my father.
To view, click on 'Philip Arthur'
Posted by: Philip Arthur at Mar 18, 2008 8:35:18 AM
Oh, and Jean is my middle name, not last name.
Posted by: Valerie Jean at Mar 11, 2008 10:24:38 PM
I grew up around Hacienda Heights, Corona and Newport Beach. After moving to Montana I saw a map with "Valerie Jean" which looked like it was listed as a "town". Never saw it again so I just googled in my spare (ha, ha) time and came up with this site. WOW!
I wonder if I was named after this shop???
Posted by: Valerie Jean at Mar 11, 2008 10:22:02 PM
Valerie Jean's was our favorite stop on the way to visit family when I was a kid. There was nothing better than stopping for an icy cold date shake after driving for miles in the hot desert. Back in the 60's we never had air conditioning so all of the windows would be wide open and us kids in the back seat would be sunburned and wind blasted by the time we got there. I can still remember us joyfully bounding out of the car, whooping and running around the parking lot with pure childish joy.
Year around we had different kinds of stuffed dates, every summer we had date shakes and every Christmas we had yummy date cake. Someone else has already said you can never find them that taste as good as VJ's and I heartily concur. I'm not sure if the flavors were so wonderful because they were enhanced by the good times back then, I just know that I will never forget Valerie Jean's.
Posted by: Crystal at Feb 17, 2008 10:42:25 AM
Hey, anybody down there I still know, Smeads , Lyles, Burrages, Spates, Reeds , Angels,Cossey,Rooks, Applegarths , Vargus, Lawsons, Mizels,Stacys,
Posted by: Grant Shaulis at Feb 2, 2008 6:37:12 PM
When I passed by Valerie Jeans a couple of weeks ago I noticed that all the windows had been boarded up, so no more photos of the interior.
Posted by: Ron's Log at Jan 25, 2008 9:04:14 PM
I use to work there at valerie jean's date shop in 1981, I really enjoyed it. Please send me all the recipes you have from there I would really appreciate it. Thanks.
Posted by: celia at Jan 25, 2008 7:38:49 PM
WHEN I WAS LITTLE MY MOM AND DAD WOULD STOP AND PICK UP DATE SHAKES AND DATE COOKIES THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE VALERIE JEAN'S. I MOVED OUT OF CALIFORNIA IN 1989 AND I DIDN'T KNOW UNTIL NOW THAT THEY CLOSED.THIS PLACE WILL BE MISSED BY MANY.
Posted by: adlina at Dec 12, 2007 12:23:40 PM
Sure we'd love to get a look at any original recipe that you'd like to share. If it's a scanned image, you can email it to me at RonsLog@rbgilbert.com
Posted by: Ron's Log at Oct 18, 2007 9:39:05 AM
I came accross this site and enjoyed reading the many comments about the Valerie Jean Date Shop. I thought I'd pass along some information to those that may be interested. My mother, Valerie Jean, was the namesake for the shop and yes I'm named after my grandfather. Valerie had been living in Tucson, AZ until her death several years ago. We may have some of the original recipes for those of you interested. I can remember date shakes and date crunchies as being my favorites. Oh, there was also the date "butter" which I loved. It is sad that the shop has fallen into decline, but then it left our family following a law suit after Russell's passing.
Posted by: Russell Schubert at Oct 18, 2007 8:03:50 AM
Hey, Spencer Block, if you can make it to the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival in Indio, you can try the stuffed dates from different orchards and maybe find one you like.
Posted by: Ron's Log at Sep 30, 2007 5:02:14 PM
Stopped by years ago after having eaten the walnut stuffed mejhools for years. It was closed. Sorry about the closing and the historic significance, etc. ... But whatever happened to those stuffed dates. Nobody has ever made them so good since. I think they were rolled in some sort of powdered sugar and maybe had something inside besides the walnuts. Lordy they were something else. Made the holiday season for me. I have checked around, and no one does it exactly that way any more. Maybe someone remembers exactly how they were made, and will tell me so I can make my own. I'd love to have my grandchildren taste 'em.// sb //
Posted by: Spencer Block at Sep 30, 2007 3:51:41 PM
You'll be glad to hear that historic places located in this end of the Coachella Valley like Valerie Jean's now have a good chance of surviving. The process has been started to form an East Valley Historical Society to tackle the problem of loss of cultural treasures such as Valerie Jean's, Hilton's Art & Gem Shop, Rancho Dos Palmas etc. I initially started a battle with BLM when I found out they were going to demolish Rancho Dos Palmas in North Shore. The old ranch house has been continuously occupied since the late twenties or early thirties. The bunkhouse still stands and was also on the chopping block. That battle is ongoing. Because John Hilton, famous landscape artist/gemologist/biologist/botanist/author etc. worked at Dos Palmas, I was led to his "Hilton's Art & Gem Shop" across from Valerie Jean's. The day I visited I found posted code violations. The house in the rear had an auto-sized hole in it and was ordered to be demolished. The rock buildings that were his shop and early home ('30s/early '40s) are still standing. After meeting with the owners, Planning Dept. and Code Enforcement, it is now going to be preserved and restored. All of this is what made me decide to start the Historical Society. My hope is to use the Art & Gem Shop for a museum of Hilton memorabilia and HQ for our fledgling Historical Society. I send out an update in the form of a Friends of Dos Palmas newsletter (which will now become East Valley Historical Society newsletter). I have been in contact with Hilton's daughter who has offered to donate all her father's photos, manuscripts, etc. to the new Society. She was born in the Shop in 1939 and of course is thrilled that it will be preserved and restored. Anyone interested in getting on my newsletter list to keep up with the preservation efforts, let me know. I've found that tidbits of information have made a huge impact on the preservation efforts.
Posted by: Jennie Kelly at Sep 27, 2007 10:21:43 PM
Yummy date shakes VJ made now the only thing that draws me back is Delia's Grinders Riverside thank god they are still operating in origanl location.
Posted by: Mindy at Sep 27, 2007 2:06:22 PM
Lived next door (almost) to VJ at 100 Palms. Spent my high school years there and graduated in 1941. An eventful year! Anyone have any info on 100 Palms? We had date milkshakes also.
Posted by: Bill Reeder at Apr 6, 2007 12:08:28 PM
Valerie Jean's does have a county historic landmark status, but don't let that fool you. No one is monitoring it, and I think I may be the only one who knows about it now, and that's only because I was hunting through some old files at the County's Park District one day. There is no one on staff to review these things properly, and the "archives" are hidden away in a large warehouse.
Hopefully someone in the area is keeping a watch on it - the County sure isn't! I'll write an article about it for my journal, the "Inland Chronicler" and hopefully that will bring some attention to it.
Posted by: Steve at Jan 24, 2007 4:31:09 AM
Valerie Jean's does have a landmark status with Riverside County, but no one knows it, and no one cares. I stumbled across it while going through some old files at the County's Park District. However, since no one is on staff to monitor it, and no one in a position to do anything about it there cares, I'm afraid that for all intents and purposes it's landmark status is moot, unfortunately. I'm hoping that someone in the Coachella Valley Historical Society will at least monitor it to see what happens.
Sometime this year (2007) I'll put an article about VJ in my journal "The Inland Chronicler," which is about the history of Riverside and SB Counties. I hope to bring it to the attention of many more people.
Posted by: Steve at Jan 24, 2007 4:04:23 AM
They went out of business. When they opened, highway 86 was the only road there was. With the construction of 111, I-10 and finally 86S, old highway 86 has become just a local road. Also, date sales continue to decline every year. Dates were at their peak during WW2 when they could be a substitute for rationed sugar. People who lived during WW2 are slowly dying away.
And now that I look more closely, I see that I already explained this in my original posting. So did you just not read that far, or do you mean something else by "What happened to it?"
Posted by: Ron's Log at Nov 8, 2005 8:11:25 AM
I used to get dates from Valerie Jeans date shop for years. What happened to it? Any other good places to order dates????
Posted by: Dwight Easterly at Nov 8, 2005 5:23:27 AM