Ask Me

Cabin’s rock foundation left by fall’s namesake

Clifford Corlieu, from the book “Exploring the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway,” by Roger & Loris Mitchell
Clifford Corlieu, from the book “Exploring the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway,” by Roger & Loris Mitchell Special to the Bee/Roger & Loris Mitchell

Question: On the Lewis Creek Trail above Oakhurst, on the Red Rock Falls side, there is a rock foundation of a house complete with the front stoop. I’m wondering about the history of the house that once stood there.

– Annette Adams, Fresno

Answer: The foundation was once a cabin belonging to Charles Clifford Corlieu, for whom Corlieu Falls on the Lewis Creek Trail are named.

According to a history of the area on the Sierra National Forest website, Corlieu was born in 1861 and came to California from Missouri in the early 1870s.

Corlieu was one of the first teachers at Lafayette School in Madera County, had a ranch in the Auberry Valley near Shaver Lake and ran a logging operation.

He later developed Corlieu Meadows, a stop-over for travelers that had a restaurant, store, post office and corral. Another source spells the meadow’s name as Corlew.

Years later, on a trip to Sugar Pine to visit one of his daughters, Corlieu liked the mineral warm springs on the Lewis Creek Trail. He filed mineral claims for nearby land and built a cabin overlooking the falls that now bear his name. Corlieu, who adopted the nickname Cliff Man, drilled out a bathtub in a boulder and piped in spring water to create a natural hot tub. The amenity attracted family and friends for frequent visits. President Theodore Roosevelt is said to have bathed in the hot tub on a visit.

“In his last years of peaceful retirement, Corlieu wrote a book of verse speaking of his love for God, his fellow man and the glories of nature,” according to Sierra National Forest information. The 140-page book, “Sierra Sanctum: Written Reveries of a Cliff Man,” can be found online. It was published in 1926.

Corlieu died in 1929. According to a 1967 Fresno Bee story, Corlieu’s grave overlooks the falls named for him.

In the 1930s, a resort was built at Corlieu Falls under a special use permit from the Forest Service. The resort was removed in the 1940s. According to the Sierra National Forest, Corlieu’s son-in-law, Samuel L. Mobley, staked mining claims in the area, but he sold some parcels as lots for cabins, which he was not entitled to do. Mobley also opened a restaurant and museum on a trailhead near Corlieu’s former resort. Mobley vacated the land in the 1960s, the restaurant and museum buildings were removed “and the area (was) allowed to return to its natural condition.”

As a side note, Lewis Creek is named for Jonathan Lewis, “who homesteaded and planted an orchard in what is now Cedar Valley,” according to The Bee. Lewis raised cattle, hogs, horses and donkeys on his land.

Q: Watching the television show “Car Crazy” recently, it said the only car to win the title of most beautiful roadster was owned by a Fresno man. What is the history of that car?

– Brian Hogg, Clovis

A: The customized 1929 Model A Ford pickup dubbed Ala Kart was built expressly to win the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster trophy at the Oakland Roadster Show, which it did in 1958 and 1959.

According to a lengthy and detailed history in Kustomrama Traditional Rod and Kustom Encyclopedia, the pickup was restyled by George Barris of Barris Kustoms for Richard Peters of Fresno. “Peters had raced his flatbed truck on the dirt roads around the central California farming community before he decided that it was time to make it faster and nicer,” the story said.

True to its name, the customized roadster was assembled from a menu of parts. According to the story, the back body section is from a 1927 Model T Ford Roadster. A 1958 Chevrolet Impala and a 1956 DeSoto donated parts for the taillights. Its quad lights came from a 1957 Imperial. The hood is made of aluminum but the rest of the body is made of 20-gauge cold-rolled steel.

The top is covered with black simulated leather. “The seats were done in white pearl (simulated leather) and black velvet with chrome beading between each pleat,” the story said. The roadster is carpeted in Mouton black fur.

“The Kart was finished off with 40 coats of white diamond dust mother-of-pearl with projection scallops in Kandy Cerise and gold leaf with pin striping, all hand rubbed to a high luster,” the story said.

While Barris was building the body and painting the roadster at his North Hollywood shop, Peters and Blackie Gejeian, a legendary racer and designer of hot rod and custom cars, built and chromed the chassis in Fresno.

Ala Kart had a close call on Dec. 7, 1957, when Barris’ shop caught fire. Fourteen cars were destroyed, but Ala Kart, which was in a separate room, survived.

The roadster was shown for the first time at the ninth annual National Roadster Show in late February 1958, where it won the 9-foot trophy as America’s Most Beautiful Roadster. It was the only vehicle to win the trophy twice, according to the award roster.

Peters sold Ala Kart in 1961. It was sold again in 1966 to a tire dealer who put his logo on the doors and displayed the pickup at his store. After the tire shop closed, Ala Kart disappeared. It later resurfaced and changed ownership several times. By 1973, the famous roadster had been disassembled and the body was stripped of paint. Ala Kart was sold in 1996 and in 2001, and both times its owners began restoration projects.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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