Monthly Archives: December 2012

Find of the Week: A Chickering Square Grand Piano

A late 1870s Chickering square grand piano representing leisure time and decoration in the Lopez Adobe.

A late 1870s Chickering square grand piano representing leisure time and decoration in the Lopez Adobe.

Though placed in a corner of the living room of the López Adobe, the size and decorative attractiveness of a Chickering square grand piano commands and demands attention.  Though not an object that was original to the López family, being donated when the Adobe was being refashioned into a historic house museum within the last few decades, the instrument has an important role to play in any future tours of the house.

This is because the piano not only represents a way that a family used their leisure time to enjoy live music, especially at a time when more people tended to be able to perform on an instrument before recorded music became available, but it also serves as a beautiful piece of furniture.  In its glory years, this piano would represent the aspirations and achievement of a well-to-do family and its elegantly carved mahogany case would be the centerpiece of whatever room (a parlor, probably) it inhabited.

The instrument has seen better days, both in terms of the case’s exterior and with respect to the strings, sound board and other interior parts.  It would take thousands of dollars to refinish the former and restore the piano to playable condition, although square grand pianos can be notoriously difficult to keep in tune.  Even with its “shabby chic” condition, though, the Chickering is a beauty.  It is also worth noting that, in its time, this piano was a top-of-the-line instrument comparable to a Steinway in its quality of sound as well as appearance.

As to the age of the piano, this can be found by looking up its serial number, which, in this case, is located in the center front, nearest the keyboard, of the sound board.  While some investigating needs to be done to get the exact age, the serial number of 48889 places the instrument somewhere in the last half of the 1870s.  Another interesting tidbit is that sometimes on older instruments, a piano tuner might leave a record of when he did the work, often with initials and a date.  These inscriptions could be on the soundboard near the hammers or on the inside of one of the keys.  In the case of this piano, there are pencil inscriptions to be found on the right side (naturally the only of the two sides that is visible) of the first of the keys in the bass clef.  Unfortunately, the writing is so faint that it is unreadable.  An initial examination did not reveal any further inscriptions (which is not to say there aren’t any.)

As a dominant presence in the living room of the López Adobe, the late 1870s Chickering square grand piano will be an integral part of interpreting the leisure hours of the family, as well as its place as a prominent decorative element to the room.  The instrument also has the distinction of being one of the oldest artifacts in the house and the public should be able to enjoy it in the soon-to-be-reopened home soon.

Categories: Chickering piano, Find of the Week, Leisure, Lopez Adobe | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Don Gerónimo López: A Pioneer of San Fernando”

The first page of a three-page article in the 1932 annual Historical Society of Southern California publication on Gerónimo López and his recollections of the Treaty of Caheunga ending the Mexican-American War in California on 13 January 1947.

The first page of a three-page article in the 1932 annual Historical Society of Southern California publication on Gerónimo López and his recollections of the Treaty of Caheunga ending the Mexican-American War in California on 13 January 1947.

On 14 March 1921, just over a month before his death atr the age of 91, Gerónimo López gave a statement to Charles J. Prudhomme that was published over a decade later in the 1932 annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California. While the title of the published article is that in the title of this post, a short summary identified the narrower subject: “Reminiscences of old days during the Mexican War of 1846-47 as related by Don Geronimo Lopez, who at that date is still in fairly vigorous condition.”

The short piecestarted by giving his birth date of 30 September 1828 at Los Angeles, adding that he was educated at the Felíz family private school at their Casa de Cahuenga with instruction given by his relative, Francisco López, Jr. The narrative then went into López’ recollections of principal figures in the battle for Alta California, including General José María Flores, commander of local forces, but who, however, left the area prior to the last battle at Los Angeles in early 1847 and Captain Juan Bautista Moreno was placed in charge of the Californios arrayed against the Americans under the command of General Stephen Watts Kearney.

On 8 January 1847, the two sides met on the west side of the San Gabriel River (which became the Rio Hondo after flooding in 1867 created a “New San Gabriel River” to the east which emptied into the Pacific where Seal Beach and Long Beach meet–whereas the old channel emptied into the Los Angeles River) and what López referred to as El Paso de Bartolo, which seems to refer to someone named Bartolo, though exactly who this was is unknown, and which later was the name of a ranch owned by Pío Pico, who was the govenor of Alta California at the time of the American invasion, but who had left for Mexico, ostensibly to seek help from the embattled central government losing ground rapidly to Americans marching towards the capital.  López also referred to this locale as Paso de Corruga, which would mean a “crimped pass,” referring to the narrowed opening of the San Gabriel River through the Montebello Hills to the west and the Puente Hills eastward.

In this battle at the San Gabriel River, for which there is a small monument within the City of Montebello today, four Americans and two Californios were killed, but the Americans forced the retreat of the Californios toward what López referred to as El Aliso Alto, a tall sycamore tree on the Rancho San Antonio, the property of Antonio María Lugo and which was still standing in 1921 three miles from Los Angeles.  On the 9th, the Californios made a stand there and clashed in what the narrative called “a guerrilla skirmish,” implying that the defenders did not engage in a conventional battlefield formation but tried surprise attacks.  The ranch owner, Lugo, joined with Captain Moreno in organizing this action, but, again, the local forces had to retreat, with some suggestion that they moved into what is now Boyle Heights, on land partially owned by López family members, including Gerónimo.  Kearney and his forces then marched into and took possession of the pueblo of Los Angeles.

Two days later, on the 11th, López recalled, General Andrés Pico, who as related in the last post, led a smashing defeat of the Americans by mounted Californios near San Diego, sent for the 18-year old López and said to him, “Here are these special letters.  Go , and deliver them in person to Captain Ugenio Montenegro,” this officer being in command of one hundred troops at Mission San Fernando.  After the young messenger arrived, Montenegro received him, reviewed the docuements, and replied, “This letter is for me and this other letter is for Lt.-Colonel John C. Frémont.”  Frémont [it might be remarked here that while Frémont’s name had the accent in the text of the 1932 article, there were no accents on any of the names of the Californios mentioned in the article, these being added for this post] was marching down from northern California with a cadre of troops.

As related by López, Montenegro then ordered fifteen mounted soldiers to appear to deliver the letter from Pico to Frémont and “Young Gerónimo López was appointed to carry the ‘Flag of Truce’.”  The detachment went north and “down on the slope near Newhall they came in sight of Lt.-Colonel Frémont’s camp.”  Montenegro then delivered the letter and received a reply from the American commander, which “he in turn gave it to young Gerónimo López . . . then young López proceeded to the headquarters of General Andrés Pico and delivered him the message.”

On the 12th, Frémont and his soldiers proceeded to Mission San Fernando, which Montenegro had abandoned and, the following day, marched to the Casa de Cahuenga, the same adobe house that López had received his education, and met Pico there.  Negotiations ensued about creating a document of capitulation by which Pico would surrender Alta California to Frémont, rather than to Kearney, who was his superior in rank and command, with Pico evidently being concerned for his life in dealing with the general.

In any case, on the 13th, the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed at the site which exists as a landmark across from Universal Studios and López witnessed the historic occasion.  Moreover, he recalled to Prudhomme that “While Lt.-Col. Frémont and his soldiers were marching to the Pueblo, I, Gerónimo López, was sent to San Gabriel Mission with a message for the people giving them the information that the Treaty had been signed.”  Afterwards, the messenger rode on to Los Angeles and he recalled that the Californios gave a grand ball (baile) at the house of Alexander Bell and the southeast corner of Aliso and Los Angeles Streets (now directly under the 101 Freeway), where Frémont established his headquarters.  According to López, the event was in honor of Frémont, Kearney and Commodore Robert Stockton, who had led the initial conquest of Los Angeles in fall 1846 and, after which, the Californios had repulsed the garrison left behind and recaptured their town.

As remebered by López, “I was present and Lt.-Colonel  Frémont knew me as being the one who had carried the ‘Flag of Truce.’  He came and shook hands with me.”  As an aside, the narrative ended with the statement that, “Don Gerónimo López adds that Lt.-Colonel Frémont was known among the inhabitants as El Coronel Fla-mont, same being the sound in the Spanish language for Frémont.

The document was then signed by López and witnesses J. C. Villegas and Mrs. John Wilson.  López’ daughter María had married Inocencio Villegas and another daughter Grace was the wife of John T. Wilson.

Categories: Andres Pico, California History, Geronimo Lopez, John C. Fremont, Lopez History, Mexican-American War, Treaty of Cahuenga | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gerónimo López and The Treaty of Cahuenga

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Andres Pico, who was a commanding general for Californio forces defending their homeland agains the American invasion of 1846-47 was also acting governor when he signed, with John C. Fremont, the Treaty of Cahuenga ending hostilities for the Mexican-American War in Californa. 18-year old Gerónimo López was sent by Pico to deliver a message with the offer of a treaty to Fremont and was present at the signing at the Casa de Cahuenga adjacent to Universal Studios.

Gerónimo López, born in Los Angeles in 1828, spent much of his early years on property granted to his father Esteban across the Los Angeles River from the pueblo, in what later became the Boyle Heights neighborhood.  The López family, however, had an important connection to the San Fernando Valley, specifically the Mission San Fernando, which once controlled the valley with agricultural and cattle-raising endeavors.  Gerónimo’s relation (and the father of his wife, Catarina), Pedro López, was appointed the majordomo, or administrator, of the mission in 1834, as the process of secularization enacted by the Mexican Congress effectively shuttered the missions and redistributed the land for private grants.

Out of this came the Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando and, in 1845, Governor Pío Pico assigned his brother, Andrés, a nine-year lease to the enormous ranch, which spanned an incredible 117,000 acres. The Picos were, like the Lopez family, early settlers of Spanish Alta California.  While Pío was known for his political prowess, Andrés gained attention for his military acumen.  More of the story of the former lands of the Mission San Fernando will be featured in a subsequent post, but the establishment of Andrés Pico’s lease came at about the time that young Gerónimo López became a valued and trusted scout and assistant to the general.

In the summer of 1846, war was waged by the United States against México on the very flimsy pretense that the latter had fired upon the former’s forces in a dispute over the newly-established Republic of Texas.  American forces quickly descended upon the sparsely-settled, lightly-defended Alta California and a conquest of Los Angeles was soon made.  The Californios, however, mounted a spirited defense and retook the town.  Later in the year, at San Pasqual near San Diego, Andrés Pico’s California Lancers met an American force and inflicted a stunning defeat on the disorganized and poorly positioned enemy.  The surprising outcome made Pico a hero to the Californios and he was regarded with respect by Americans in Los Angeles for years afterward.

Eventually, however, superior force and armaments brought the Americans to a second conquest of Los Angeles, which was taken on 9 January 1847.  Pico, who became acting governor of Alta California after his brother went to Mexico to seek assistance, decided to seek terms with Lt. Col. John C. Frémont, who was actually marching south from the northern California area, rather than with Commodore Robert Stockton, who led the victorious force at the Battle of Los Angeles, citing a concern that he might be captured and executed by Stockton.

Needing to send word of his decision to sign a treaty, Pico sent the 18-year old Gerónimo López as his messenger, López riding quickly by horseback to meet Frémont somewhere near Castaic Lake in the mountains north of San Fernando.  Once Frémont agreed to Pico’s offer, López was sent with the message to the latter’s headquarters at the Rancho San Pascual in present-day Pasadena.  Pico then headed west to the Mission San Fernando compound, where the  was drafted, and the signing of the document that officially ended hostilities of the Mexican-American War in California took place on 13 January at the Casa de Cahuenga of Tomás Felíz adjacent to today’s Universal Studios.  Gerónimo was present at the signing of the treaty and was, therefore, a witness to one of the most important events in California history.

Categories: Andres Pico, California History, Catarina Lopez, Geronimo Lopez, John C. Fremont, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Mexican-American War, San Fernando History, Treaty of Cahuenga | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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