Press "Enter" to skip to content

Do not count Trona out we are still recovering

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer– 

“We haven’t counted Trona out,” says Volunteer Docent Marilyn Walker McKee at the Trona Guesthouse Museum. “We are putting money into the museum, the library has undergone improvements.” And now Esparza Family Restaurant has finally reopened.


Laura Quezada Photo
Volunteer Docent Marilyn Walker McKee at the Trona Guesthouse Museum shares her positive outlook about her hometown.

The earthquakes of 2019 did so much damage to this small town 25 miles from Ridgecrest. Most of the infrastructure of Trona is quite old and did not survive the tremors. Trona was officially established in 1913 as a self-contained company town operated by its resident mining company to house employees who were paid in company scrip instead of cash. The town went on to grow into almost idyllic small town in the 1950s and 1960s. American Potash and Chemical Corporation (AP&CC) took care of its employees with good pay, good benefits and you had a job for life. AP&CC sold in the late 1960s and the plant has been passed from corporation to corporation. 

Laura Quezada Photo
Priscilla Benadom, Program Coordinator at the Trona Community Senior Center is wrapping gifts for the Mystery Raffle on December 17

A few decades ago Kerr McGee started encouraging its employees to live in Ridgecrest. It appears that is why the grand Kerr McGee Center was built in Ridgecrest instead of restoring the Rec Hall built by AP&CC which was slated for demolition before the earthquakes. It was obvious that folks were being routed to Ridgecrest. The people in charge of orienting newcomers were told, “Don’t take the wives around Trona, take them to Ridgecrest. Show them Ridgecrest; encourage them to move to Ridgecrest and then bring them to the worst parts of Trona. 

“Now there’s all these empty houses and  now we have four counties sending welfare people here and we hear from the cops that half the people here in town are drug dealers.’ There are many issues that may not be obvious. “The teachers couldn’t even vote for the school board because they live in Ridgecrest. Different county, different voting districts and so you have this divide. People who work here who have interests here, can’t vote here, because of the fact they don’t live here.”

  McKee tells here’s a new Vice Principal lives in Trona. “She said, ‘You can’t be administered without living in the community.’  That was a real positive thing for us, we have someone who’s going to have their finger on the pulse.”

Yet the community-minded folks prevail. McKee was born and raised in Trona, left for 50 years and then retired and bought her forever home in West End. Yes, this town that maybe maxed out at a population of 5,000 in her glory days has suburbs, so to speak. Argus, South Trona, West End, Trona, Pioneer Point. McKee remembers, “The doctors, the dentist and plant managers lived shoulder to shoulder next door to the workers.”

   McKee and her husband, Bill, are beacons of light and a welcome place for visiting alumni. They are great hosts and McKee admits, “We see Trona through Rose Colored Glasses.” Pointing out that the kids today don’t have the sense of community that comes from being in kindergarten throughout high school with the same kids. Now kids see the world through their handheld phones. And when McKee was growing up, the town was filled with workers who lived and worked in Trona. 

Today Trona has the Searles Valley Historical Society museums, the Gem and Mineral Club, the Senior Center, the library, Trona Rural Health Clinic that is open on Tuesdays, the Elks Club, a thrift store, the Trona Unified School District, and a handful of churches: Christian Fellowship, the Assembly of God, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the First Baptist Church and St. Madeline’s Catholic Church which meets monthly. There is also a Fire Department and a Sheriff’s Department.

   There is hope in Trona through its old timers and, after redistricting, the newly elected Assemblyman Tom Lackey has shown interest in Trona. “He wants to be involved in the community and get to know to know our needs,” says Priscilla Benadom, Program Coordinator at the Trona Community Senior Center.  “He comes from a small town, Boron. So he understands that small town feel. Lackey will visit Trona or send a representative when the  Trona Community Service Council resumes their monthly meetings in January. The Council meetings draws representation from most of the organizations in town. Not everybody in town is a member, but someone will attend the meetings and inform their groups.

The Senior Center is open 8am until noon Monday through Thursday. They are hosting their annual event called “Under the Lights” from 5 to 7pm on December 17 on Searles Street in Pioneer Point. “ We serve hot chocolate and cookies for donations,” says Benadom. Part of the fun is a Mystery Raffle. There are 57 gifts that are wrapped and concealing their contents. The value of the gifts range from $10 to $300.

When asked what the reopening of Esparza Family Restaurant means to Trona, McKee says, “ It means everything. The community is up and running.  It means there’s a little puff of life back into the community and I love it. And I support it.” Benadom says, “I’m glad they reopened. It’s nice to have an option. We don’t eat out very often when we’re home. It  was hard when they weren’t open. You had basically two choices:  either fried chicken (at TIS General Store) or hamburgers (at the Trails Drive In). It’s nice to have that option.”

The iconic Fox Theatre was built in 1955 and it housed Esparza Family Restaurant for almost 10 years. It took a long time for the restaurant to reopen after their building was red tagged. According to McKee the San Bernardino County approval process continually delayed the process. Every time an inspector came, it was a new person who didn’t like what the precious inspector found. They kept adding to the work.

   Now the Esparza Family Restaurant is open in another iconic building; the site of Trona’s only hair salon for decades: the Kut & Kurl Beauty Salon which was owned and operated by Trona Treasure, Mel Gonzalez.