Antelope Valley Press - AV Living (Antelope Valley)
Pioneer community leader Bert ‘B.C.’ McMurray
Busy Bert Clifford “B.C.” McMurray (1872-1942) had quite an influence on the old Antelope Valley as a merchant, postmaster, chamber of commerce member, School Board trustee and a community leader who helped to bring the first true hospital to the A.V.
Born in Pennsylvania, he spent his early years in Santa Ana. While living there he enlisted in mid-1898 as an Army private in the 7th Regiment, Company D, California for the Spanish American War. He then briefly relocated to Tehachapi and soon after married Lillie Claudia (1877-1949).
After their marriage, the McMurrays returned to their hometown of Santa Ana and B.C. became a man’s clothing salesman, perhaps in the White House store owned by the Harris brothers. In 1911, the McMurrays moved to Lancaster where B.C. then worked at Leo Harris’s general store.
The next few years provided a wave of prosperity in the A.V. with new residents moving in following the construction of the L.A. Aqueduct. McMurray decided to take advantage of this booming period and soon opened his own general merchandise store (December 1914), on the southeast corner of Lancaster Boulevard and Beech Avenue. He bought, from Mrs. Jennie Merritt, the dry goods business in the two-story Mason building, which was constructed c. 1912.
Mrs. Mason lived on the second floor and the lower floor was home to McMurray’s store, which he enlarged to 25’x80’. Being located a distance from Los Angeles and Bakersfield, the mail order business in the A.V. was always busy.
To discourage buying from non-local companies, he continually offered “rock bottom prices” on his merchandise and also established a local delivery service to compete with the mail order businesses. Sometimes his store ads were very straightforward and simple: “B.C. McMurray Merchandise, That’s all” (1916).
Businesses like McMurray’s, during this period, were much more than just one-stop shops for their communities. They also became social hubs where people would gather to talk about local news, politics and events of the day.
One time a very loud, horrible argument between a newlywed couple occurred in front of the store, which resulted in the wife running away with their baby twins. Soon, scores of citizens gathered and the entire community was adding its comments on what had transpired and began taking sides (November 1915). The fighting couple eventually went to court but ended up kissing and all was forgiven.
This episode was quire different from the time when an argument later took place at Ted Knoll’s butcher store located a few stores east of McMurray’s. As this was during World War I, Ted became involved in an argument with a customer concerning Germany. The argument led to a skirmish with Ted eventually dumping his nemesis into the store’s pickle barrel. All Lancaster was
stirred up concerning this event.
Like in most pioneer towns, fires were a constant threat and on April 17, 1919, disaster struck when an exploding gasoline stove fire started in A. Calvert’s neighboring dwelling, which housed the office of the Justice of the Peace O.S Bulkley.
This fire destroyed McMurray’s emporium, the Lancaster Pharmacy conducted by Mrs. Bessie Burt and A. Janowicz’s barbershop on the first floor, as well as the Lancaster Hotel (30 rooms) on the second floor.
Sadly, only a short time before, George Webber, proprietor of the Western Hotel, had purchased this hotel to expand his business.
A volunteer bucket brigade bravely tried to put out the flames but failed. The building was completely destroyed and damage was placed at $50,000. Many years later, this site would eventually become the location of Lancaster Radio, today it is composed of several professional offices.
After the fire wiped out his mercantile store, McMurray
replaced William Redman as Lancaster’s postmaster in September 1922. The post office was located a few doors east of his former establishment. He retained this position for over two decades.
McMurray also participated in many other regional activities and groups. He was elected president of the popular South-Kern A.V. League in April 1917 and he was actively involved in the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce. In 1916, one goal was to thoroughly investigate the possibility of raising sugar beets in this valley, which had proven highly satisfactory at the time.
In addition, he was a member of the A.V. Oldtimers Advisory Board. The father of two children, McMurray also served as a Lancaster School Board trustee. Concerned about the residents’ health, he became member of the A.V. Hospital Association, which established a modern hospital that opened its doors to the public in October 1922 (Dr. Seth Savage).
Bert died in Los Angeles. He and his wife are buried in Santa Ana.