With the one-year anniversary of the Courtney Fire three days ago (Sept. 14), let’s take a walk back in history to the beginning of Bass Lake Heights.
It all started at the end of WWII when Chief Warrant Officer Louis Balsamo Sr. visited an old Navy buddy at Hidden Valley Meadows. Dan Johnson had built a cabin retreat and encouraged Lou to come, relax and fish in Bass Lake.
Newly married and working hard in his Dutch Boy painting contracting businesses in Ventura and Oxnard, Lou asked longtime friend, Marino Colucci, to go with him to check out Bass Lake. Lou and Marino fell in love with the area.
Reading a newspaper, Lou found 97 acres of land for sale on Road 426 at a bargain price, a mile up the hill from the lake. He loved the views of the Sierras to the east and the sunset views to the west.
By 1950, Lou decided to buy the land and call it “Bass Lake Heights.”
Having been a Seabee in the Navy, Lou was no stranger to developing big land projects.
He built a small cabin for his family to stay in when they came up for the summer. He bought a bulldozer, plowed the horseshoe street for the first subdivision, and built a small sales office.
The original printed brochures enticed the buyer to “own a cabin in the pines close to beautiful Bass Lake.” Lots were priced as low as $600 and were billed as “12,500 or more square feet with plenty of privacy and elbow room with piped water to each lot and graded surfaced streets.”
In 1957, Lou moved his family from Ventura to Bass Lake Heights. He decided to build a bigger home on the site of the first cabin. The cabin had a granite fireplace, so he decided to leave the fireplace and move the cabin to one of his lots and sell it.
That original cabin and small sales office are still standing. They are the second structures on the left side of Balsam Drive as you head down the hill.
Lou completed the family home in 1959. It was an open concept home with a kitchen, four bedrooms, two baths, living and family room, basement, two offices and a service porch.
He double-faced the fireplace with pink rock from Mariposa quarries. His favorite addition to the new house was a wraparound porch, where one could sit and listen to the breeze through the pines, watch the beautiful sunsets, and sometimes, he would play his accordion.
Lou and his wife, Ann, were very involved in both the Bass Lake and Oakhurst communities. He built Village Builders Supply in 1961 - a paint, hardware and household gift store. He also built a laundromat right across the street from the Village Builders Supply. He had just moved in merchandise and was waiting for the insurance broker to come insure the contents, when the Harlow Fire of 1961 broke out.
The fire was moving so fast, Lou didn’t know what to do – save the house or save the store. The house was insured so he built a fire break in front of the house with his bulldozer, then loaned the dozer to Forest Ranger George Thomas, and asked him to do his best to keep the house and others in the Heights from burning.
The family was evacuated and Lou stayed in the store, protecting his new business with garden hoses. Fortunately, the Harlow fire changed directions and the house and Bass Lake Heights and the house and business were spared.
Bass lake Heights consists of three different subdivions. The last one Lou developed was perpendicular to the family home, hence the name of Balsam Drive. He had enough land to develop a fourth time, but was tiring of new county rules and regulations, so sold off the final parcel.
He had wanted to build a 12-unit motel next to the family home, and call it “Sunset View Lodge” but the retaining wall fell twice so he gave up the idea and bought the Holiday Village Inn (where Rite Aid currently stands).
With all of his children (Luann, Lynnette and Louis Jr.) moving away from the area, Lou decided to sell the family home.
Sid Sidman bought it in 1973 and lived in it until the tragic Courtney Fire of Sept. 14, 2014.
Having visited the aftermath of the fire, it is so hard to believe that the Balsamo home no longer stands. All of the beautiful trees in the grove in the front and back of the house are gone. The fire was so hot it literally melted a lot of the concrete holding the fireplace together.
As Sid stated when he was interviewed last year, “you can rebuild the house, but it will never be the same again” …. and that is so very true. It was a one of a kind, custom built home.
The landscape of Bass Lake Heights and the devastation from this fire to the first and second subdivisions has changed the Heights forever.
For additional photos, see sierrastar.com