One of the leading citizens of Los Alamitos in the first decades of this century Karl Vucassovich Bennis had a long history with the Los Alamitos Sugar Factory.

Born in Maine in 1875, Bennis came to California in 1897, and settled in Orange County a few years later. Before coming to Los Alamitos he had picked up “sugar boiling” in Ogden, Utah.  He was at Los Alamitos as early as 1903 as an “extra man,” and over the next four years he progressed to a sugar boiler,  a chemist and a shift foreman. Somewhere during this time he married Nina Watts, daughter of store-owner George Watts.  Nina’s sister, Una (sometimes Eunice) married another long-time Sugar Factory officer, Gus Strodthof whose career with the Sugar Factory and the Clarks paralleled Bemis.  In 1913 Bemis was an assistant superintendent, and by 1921 he was the superintendent while his brother-in-law Gus was the Sales manager.

Bennis was obviously a born tinkerer and man of many interests.  In 1907 he successfully won a lawsuit over a patent on a shock absorber he had invented (He filed for an improved shock absorber in Jan. 17, 1914).[ref] The Horseless age: Volume 35; Page 8; Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents, 1914 [/ref]  But, according to his nephew Don Watts, Bennis also had some strange idea about physics— he worked on an article trying to prove the flaws in a car transmission — that a gear sprocket could not shift gears while it was moving.  “He also put black tape over the top half of his car headlights. When he was pulled over by a cop, he explained it ws to keep the lights from shooting high. He never understood the idea behind the parabolic reflector.” [ref] phone conversation, Don Watts, Dec. 9, 2012[/ref].

In 1910 he became one of the first motorist to visit the Anza-Borrego Desert, traveling in a Jackson automobile by way of Grapevine Canyon, Yaqui Well and the Narrows into Borrego Valley.   Where others had come as cattlemen, prospectors, and homesteaders, Bennis came as a tourist to explore and enjoy the desert vastness and the beauty of that area that he would promote and protect for much of the rest of his life. Around 1910, Bennis made his first trip to the Anza-Borrego, returning year after year to explore the desert on foot, on horseback, and even by automobile in a rickety 1901 Autocar. He also enjoyed joining local cattlemen on their desert drives.

By one report, in  the mid-1920s, there was an accident at the sugar factory, and Bennis  had to rescue another worker out a room filled with caustic gas. His  lungs were permanently damaged. Now the desert’s dry climate also  became an attraction for his more frequent visits and he soon moved out there.[ref]Phil Brigandi, Anza-Borrego website[/ref]  Prior to this move though, his wife, Nina had become one of the founding owners of the Glide’er Inn across from Crawford Field, the Seal Beach airport.  (She opened it with Seal Beach businessman/character Jim Arnerich.)  It was originally at the corner of Bay (Seal Beach) Blvd and PCH, but when the Navy bought the property to build a weapons and net station, Nina Bennis later moved it to PCH and 14th — where Mahe is now located.  Bennis and Arnerich built a small house behind the restaurant where they lived together for until his death in the who would become one of the partners in the Airport Club, the quonset hut gambling palace of Seal Beach Poker King William L. Robertson).

Around 1930, Bennis left Orange County for Temecula, which became the new base for his excursions.
There, he met the son of the local Santa Fe agent, Horace Parker, who started accompanying Bennis to the desert. Parker was soon hooked, and in 1957 completed the first guidebook to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Bennis can be seen in many of the photographs.

Throughout the 1950s, Bennis spent much of every winter on the desert. Lester Reed enjoyed joining him as they explored the old trails together. But as Bennis reached his 80s, the years began to catch up with him, and his trips became fewer.

“The old desert has been a good friend to me,” he wrote in 1958, “it has helped me to make the contacts that make me happy. By Golly, people really rave about the desert lure, but how many of them are fortunate enough to have the desert lure come and get them….”

Karl Bennis died in 1968, at the age of 92. By sharing his love of the Anza-Borrego Desert with others, he built a legacy that endures to this day. Bennis Bowl, in the mountains above Borrego Palm Canyon, is named in his honor.




Our historic desert: the story of the Anza-Borrego Desert, the … Lindsay– 1973 – 144 pages – Snippet view

One of the first to do so was Karl Bennis who in 1910 drove a Jackson automobile by way of Grapevine Canyon, Yaqui Well and the Narrows into Borrego Valley. After 1910 Howard Bailey and Alfred Armstrong Beaty introduced people to the

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