Monthly Archives: August 2015

San Fernando’s Morningside School

Morningside School San Fernando 1888

Just in time for the return of San Fernando-area students to school for the new year, here is a great cabinet card photograph from the Lopez Adobe collection showing students at Morningside School in 1888.

It appears the school was brand new, looking at the clarity and cleanliness of the bricks in the background and the 15 May 1887 edition of the Los Angeles Herald newspaper had a short notice that:

The San Fernando Land and Water Company are now engaged in laying one hundred miles of water pipe.  Part of this work is for the new colony on the south side, or ‘Morningside,’ of the Pacoima and part of the old colony, or north side.

This strangely-worded statement indicated that the south side of Pacoima Wash was designated as the Morningside colony, while the area to the north was the townsite of San Fernando, created in 1874.  It is worth noting here that 1887 was the midst of a significant period of population growth and economic expansion in the Los Angeles region, known later as the “Boom of the Eighties.”  This boom revived many towns, established during the smaller “boomlet” of the early 1870s that spawned such towns as Artesia, Pomona, Alhambra, and, of course, San Fernando, all of which stagnated after an economic crisis erupted in 1875-76.

In any case, the Morningside colony was part of the larger San Fernando township, an administrative entity much larger than the town itself and which included a post office, a justice of the peace, and a couple of constables among its formal structure.

Morningside School was originally located at the northeast corner of Fifth and Hagar streets, northeast of the townsite, and, when San Fernando High School was established in 1896, the elementary school occupied the second floor of the structure, while the high school operated out of the first level.  In 1906, the high school relocated to a new campus and less than a decade later, in 1915, Morningside also found a new home–its current location at the southwest corner of Fifth and Maclay.

In fact, the main building at the new site had the distinction of being co-designed by architect John C. Austin, who later went on to design such regional landmarks as Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles City Hall, and Griffith Observatory, among many other structures, many still standing.

Speaking of still standing, the Morningside main structure has another distinction:  according to the Los Angeles Unified School District, it is the oldest operated building in the massive district that is still functioning with its original purpose.  Obviously, this building is celebrating its centennial this year.

The old school site was purchased in 1916 by the Webster-Lewis Art Company and remodeled for use “as an up-to-date lithographing and calendar manufacturing plant,” according to Geyer’s Stationer, a trade publication.  Today, the location is the home of St. Simon’s Episcopal Church.

As to the current Morningside School campus, it has recently been the feature of a couple “celebrity” events.  In 1996, the foundation established by legendary actor Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne to create playgrounds for pre-K children dedicated one at Morningside named for the couple.  Both were on hand for the ceremony and Douglas was reported in the press as having spent quite a bit of time talking to the young children.

Five years later, just after the controversial election that ushered George W. Bush into the presidency, First Lady Laura Bush, a former elementary school teacher, California governor Gray Davis (two years removed from his recall) and Mexican president Vicente Fox paid a visit to Morningside and gave it some special exposure and publicity.

At almost 130 years old, Morningside is one of the oldest continously operating schools in the region, much less in the local area.

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George K. Porter and San Fernando

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The purchase of a huge swath of the San Fernando Valley from Eulogio de Celis, Jr. in 1874 was undertaken by Charles Maclay, the founder of San Fernando, and his partner, George K. Porter.  The above photo, of which an original cabinet card taken in San Francisco, is in the Lopez Adobe collection, is of Porter.

Porter was born in 1831 in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, and it was said that he hailed from ancestors who were on the “Mayflower.”  Still in his teens, the young man joined the hordes of “Argonauts” who ventured to California in the pivotal year of 1849.  After living for a time in San Francisco, he went south to Santa Cruz County and the town of Soquel.  He worked as a tanner of leather goods and then into the boot and shoe business.  He acquired several ranches near Watsonville as he built something of a real estate empire in the area.

Later, he sold his properties and opened a shoe factory in San Francisco called Porter, Schlessinger and Company, which included his cousin Benjamin F. Porter, and operated this in tandem with his tannery.  From 1861-1863 he served in the state senate as a Republican representing Santa Cruz County.

With substantial wealth earned from his business endeavors, Porter joined Charles Maclay in purchasing the northern half of Rancho ex-Mission San Fernando, encompassing 56,000 acres.  Soon after, Benjamin Porter bought shares in the property from his cousin and Maclay and then took the western section, where the community of Porter Ranch is located.  George concentrated his activites on 19,000 acres in the central and eastern sections near San Fernando.

Porter raised wheat, barley, hogs, horses and cattle on this San Fernando-area holdings and, in 1883, sold most of the property to a company he formed called the Porter Land and Water Company, capitalized at $521,000 with Porter owning three-fourths of the shares.  He kept 2,000 acres to his own name as the “Mission Ranch,” on which he built a three-story, sixty-room hotel, the “Mission Hotel,” at a cost of $40,000.  He had a well-known 250-acre orange grove, as well.

In 1903, Porter sold most of the Porter and Land Water Company holdings, some 16,000 acres to the San Fernando Mission Land Company, which was capitalized at about $1 million, with Porter owning a tenth of the firm.  He died three years later, in 1906, at the age of 75, in San Fernando.

Porter married Kate Caystile, a native of Placerville in the Sierra Nevada Mountains gold fields, whose brother Thomas, was a founder of the Los Angeles Mirror newspaper, which took over the fledling Los Angeles Times just before Thomas’s death in 1884.  Porter and Kate Caystile had two sons, George K., Jr. and Benjamin, and a daughter, Estelle,

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John T. Wilson and the López Family

JT Wilson Mountains

Here’s a great ca. 1890s cabinet card photograph from the Lopez Adobe Collection showing John T. Wilson near a roaring stream (let’s hope we see something like this again soon!) in the San Gabriel Mountains above San Fernando.

Wilson was born in 1861 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, not far south of Erie in the northwest corner of the state.  A decade later, his parents Christopher and Jane Estep migrated west and set down roots at a ranch at what became known as Wilson Canyon in Sylmar.

Today, there is a City of Los Angeles park in the canyon.  To learn more, check out: http://www.lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=67.

Another notable part of the history of the Wilson ranch was that Olive View Sanitarium was established there in 1920.  There was a period in which sanitariums were found all over the foothill regions and elsewhere in southern California because of the need for tuberculosis patients to find warm, dry climates to aid in their breathing.

Olive View transitioned to an acute care facility some fifty years later, but soon closed after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake caused much of the structure to collapse.  The facility was torn down a couple of years later, but Olive View UCLA Medical Center opened on the site in 1987: https://dhs.lacounty.gov/wps/portal/dhs/oliveview.

Wilson’s father was a lawyer and practiced in southern California for four decades.  It was said that he had a special interest in assisting native American tribes in legal matters, based on youthful work as a surveyor in Crow country in Minnesota.

John’s education was in Los Angeles city schools and then he went to work as a printer for the Los Angeles Express newspaper.  He then worked in construction with the Southern Pacific railroad company for three years.  In 1882, George K. Porter, one of the early developers of the San Fernando area, hired Wilson to be foreman of his ranch.  Wilson retained this position even when the Porter Land and Water Company was sold to the Mision Land Company and specifically managed the development of natural gas resources on the property for some thirty years.

Wilson used his experience in the natural gas area to obtain the franchise for operating electricity and gas supplies for the city of San Fernando, buying current from Southern California Edison. As a sideline, he sold General Electric supplies in town for some fifteen years and he was active in the town’s Board of Trade.  Later, he was a vice-president and director of the Federal Land Bank of Berkeley, based in the university town near Oakland and with branches in four states, and this became his primary field of interest after World War I.

In 1888, Wilson married Grace López, daughter of Gerónimo and Catalina, owners of the López Adobe.  John and Grace had two sons, John and Theodore.  The couple made their home at the corner of San Fernando Mission Boulevard and Celis Street, just a hop, skip and a jump from her parents.  After over forty years of marriage, Grace López Wilson died in 1931.  John, who was a Democrat, served as a justice of the peace for the San Fernando township for eight years and was a member of the fraternal organizations, the Odd Fellows and the Elks.  He and his wife were congregants in the Episcopal Church.

Wilson lived to be 90, dying in April 1947, having been a major figure in San Fernando and the eastern San Fernando Valley for some six decades.

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