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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