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Albert Ben Arena

2008-07-02

Alturas, California, USA

Albert "Al" Arena of Alturas was always proud of his Basque heritage. His parents, Mary Barnetche of Suhuskune, Lower Navarre, and Urbano Pedroarena (later named Peter Arena when he arrived in the US) of Aria, Navarre, raised him in the family businesses in Alturas, from the time Al was eight. The skills Al learned, shaped his life.

Albert Ben Arena passed away on May 11, 2008, at the age of 82 in Alturas, CA, but left his lasting mark throughout Modoc County as the owner of Arena Blacksmithing, the original building which stands across from Alturas City Hall. There is no sign on the 1909 building made of hand-hewn, soft stone quarried locally, which the Arena family purchased in 1939 and where Al learned the blacksmith and welding trade from his father.

Al was born in Minden, NV on November 22, 1926, where the family had a restaurant and his mother served Basque style meals. The Arenas moved to Susanville in 1927, then hearing about the Pickering Mill that was being built in Alturas, and considered to be the largest milling plant of its kind in the world, the family moved to Alturas in 1928, as the lumber industry was turning Alturas into a boomtown.

The family and a partner purchased the property on West Fourth Street to build the Buena Vista Hotel within a few months, to serve as rooms and boarding for mill workers for the Pickering Co. Al's father helped construct the building made with salvaged materials from two old Madeline Hotels and completed it May 24, 1929. In 1932, the lumber company went down with the Depression and the mill never had its machinery installed. The mill was unused for 12 years and then leased by the White Pine Lumber Co.

For a few years during the Great Depression, the Buena Vista had to close, so Al's father went back to his trade of Blacksmithing. When the hotel opened again after the Great Depression, Mary catered mostly to the Basque workers.

In 1942, the government housed approximately 30 Air Cadets at the Buena Vista, which it leased from Mary and Pete. The Cadets were there for the duration of the war, using the Alturas Airport as their training location and just out the back door of the hotel.

Al graduated from Modoc High School and entered the Army June 28, 1945 at Camp Beale, CA. He earned the WWII Victory Medal and was honorably discharged Dec. 27, 1946 as a Technician fifth grade. He returned to Alturas and the family businesses.

When WWII ended, Mary began catering to private parties and banquets, serving Basque style food. She became known throughout the West Coast for her meals, and Al learned his cooking skills from his mother and his bartending skills working side by side with his father for the banquets. Al knew everyone. Mary's was the place to be and be seen and attracted a number of celebrities, among them, Governors. The Buena Vista name was later changed to Mary's, after their partnerships were dissolved and after World War II. But, the business was always run as a family business with the Arenas.

In 1948, Al played a major role in rebuilding the rope tow at Cedar Pass Ski Hill. All the work was done in the Arena Blacksmith Shop and Al would run the tow on weekends. He knew the machines inside and out.

Al's mother had a stroke in 1958, which took her life that same year. In 1960, Al qualified for the Olympic National Ski Patrol in the Squaw Valley Winter Games and then was appointed as the Northeast Section Chief of National Ski Patrol. Al turned the local hill over to Glen Jobe, but Al stayed active at Cedar Pass Ski Hill for several more years. After Al married Shirley (Ausman) Rosendahl on September 1, 1963 in Alturas, the couple operated the Bar in the hotel on a part time bases after their normal working day, until the hotel could be sold in 1965. In July 2004, after vandals started a fire, the building was razed for safety concerns.

Al was a lifetime member of the Alturas Elks Lodge 1756 and volunteer for the Alturas Fire Department for years. He loved being outdoors hunting and fishing, and he enjoyed his blacksmithing work and skiing. Al's Basque bread making was always appreciated when he shared loaves with family and friends. His welding and blacksmith work was known for its quality and durability. He continued his trade, never fully retiring. Al was a kind person who always shared a smile. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

He is survived by his wife Shirley of Alturas; his sister Alvida Hafford of Reno, NV; his children Jan (Rosendahl) and Rodney Barnes and David Rosendahl of Cedarville, CA; five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren; niece Annette and Carlos Campos, Reno; nephew Arnold Hafford, Sacramento; daughter-in-law Denice and husband Laurence Crabtree of Bieber, CA; daughter-in-law Sandy Eaton of Alturas, CA; and brother-in-law Jim Ausman of Chico, CA.

(Excerpt from the Modoc County Record, submitted by Marguerite Wilson, and reproduced by the Reno Zazpiak Bat Basque Club newsletter)

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