Monthly Archives: September 2015

An Excursion to San Fernando, 1876

In its edition of 2 May 1876, the Los Angeles Herald featured a lengthy article on an excursion to San Fernando and points northward as the Southern Pacific railroad line from Los Angeles to the Bay Area was nearing its completion.

The piece began with the interesting report that, “in response to the invitation offered, about three hundred persons, many of them ladies, embarked on the train for San Fernando Sunday morning.”  The trip took place on the last day of April and it must have been a prototypical southern California day because the Herald rhapsodized that, “a more beautiful day nor more balmy air could have been desired” as the train pulled out of the depot in Los Angeles at 9:30 “ushered out by enlivening strains of music.”

The article went on to lionize the organizers of the trip and the Southern Pacific for all of the hospitality extended on the ride into the San Fernando Valley, where “a cool breeze prevailed” and the scene presented “a continuous bouquet, flowers of every variety blooming on either side of the road,” while grain fields were in full view of the train.

After noting that guests were enjoying “music, mirth, and an occasional indulgence in a game of cards and friendly gossip,” the paper observed that those who did not know the valley “were surprised to perceive the fertility of the soil, and the peculiar facilities of the region for agricultural purposes” these being evidenced by “waving fields of wheat and barley as well as fine vegetable gardens.”

The 2 May 1876 edition of the "Los Angeles Herald" covered a 30 April railroad excursion to San Fernando and points north along the Southern Pacific line, which was completed and dedicated on 4 July, the nation's centennial.

The 2 May 1876 edition of the “Los Angeles Herald” covered a 30 April railroad excursion to San Fernando and points north along the Southern Pacific line, which was completed and dedicated on 4 July, the nation’s centennial.

The piece continued by praising the climate and predicting, “the day is not far off when this territory will be populated by a community of thifty farmers.”  To that end, the village of San Fernando, then just about two years old, was hailed as “an agricultural settlement which bids fair to increase its development before long,” especially with its access to the Southern Pacific line.

When the train pulled into the San Fernando station, “ex-Senator Charles Maclay met the excursionists at the landing . . . and gave to many enquirers all the information possible in regard to the present and future prospects of the region.”  Moreover, continued the piece, “he is sanguine in his opinions, and a glance will convince one that his notions are not visionary.”

Caught up in its own excitement, the paper concluded, “here nature speaks for itself, and when the railroad opens the door to development, we shall have a result that will exceed the fondest expectations of even the most sanguine, unless we are most emphatically mistaken.”

After leaving San Fernando, the trip continued north to where the Newhall tunnel was being completed as the line was coming to its conclusion.  While the 4 July 1876 celebration of the completion of the line complemented the nation’s centennial, the economic downturn that started the previous year continued on for nearly a decade more.  Not until the transcontinental link by the Santa Fe line directly to Los Angeles was brought about in 1885 did a new boom erupt and usher San Fernando and the Los Angeles region generally into a new growth spurt.

Then, San Fernando moved beyond a struggling village into an established and generally growing and thriving town.

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San Fernando’s First Census, 1880

Six years after its founding by Chales Maclay as a townsite along the new Southern Pacific railroad line north from Los Angeles toward San Francisco, San Fernando had its first census taken, conducted on the 1 June 1880.

The town was still very small, mainly because within a year-and-a-half after the first town lots were sold (see the previous post on this blog about that), the local and state economy collapsed due to silver mine stock speculation in Virginia City, Nevada, which brought down, in late August 1875. the state’s largest bank, the Bank of California, and then sped down telegraph wires to Los Angeles, instigating a panic.

The two commercial banks in Los Angeles, Farmers and Merchants and Temple and Workman, faced hordes of desperate depositors clamoring to withdraw their funds.  Although both agreed to suspend business for thirty days and Farmers and Merchants was able to reopen by the end of September with no trouble, this was not the case with Temple and Workman.  That bank struggled to secure a loan to stay afloat, though finally found one from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin in early December.  The last-ditch effort for survival failed, however, and in mid-January 1876, Temple and Workman became the region’s first bank failure.

The first page of the 1880 federal census for "San Fernando Village."

The first page of the 1880 federal census for “San Fernando Village.”

The effects of that disaster and the lingering residue of the economic woes of the state and nationally, following the 1873 depression, continued for years.  By the time Albert B. Moffitt made his rounds as census enumerator, San Fernando had only 174 residents after six years of struggle.

The census takes in three and a quarter sheets labeled “San Fernando Village,” though an additional twenty-one sheets covered the “San Fernando Township,” a huge area embracing most of the San Fernando Valley.  This post focuses on the townsite.

The first census sheet began appropriately with the counting of the household of W.H. Griswold, the station agent for the Southern Pacific, and his wife.  Maybe Moffitt decided a little break was in order, because the second stop was at the saloon of Irish-born Martin Murnane!  Kidding aside, the census taker then counted the household of the proprietor of one of San Fernando’s two hotels (yes, for a town of its size!), Theodore M. Loop, including the first children enumerated in the census, Loop’s two sons, Arnot (age 10) and John (2 years).

The second sheet of the 1880 census, conducted for San Fernando by enumerator Albert B. Moffitt

The second sheet of the 1880 census, conducted for San Fernando by enumerator Albert B. Moffitt

Then it was on to the next saloon–after all, a town of just over 100 really needed more than one! This was owned by Henry Shaug and his household included his wife, and three sons.  By the way, you can often tell when families moved to a new place by noting the birthplaces of the children. In this case, the first two boys were born in Iowa and the last in California.  There was a five-year age difference between the second and third, so precision isn’t as notable here as in other examples, but the Shaugs did come to California somewhere between 1871 and 1876 and were, evidently, in San Fernando from near its beginnings.  One son, Charles, the eldest at fifteen, later married Ramona Lopez, a daughter of Geronimo and Catarina Lopez, future owners of the Lopez Adobe.

The sixth household counted was that of San Fernando’s founder, Charles Maclay, his wife Kate Widney, and their three children, ages 15 to 22.  Maclay’s occupation was listed simply as “Farmer,” though, of course, he was a little more than that.

Moffitt, the census taker, counted himself and his family as the eighth household.  He was co-owner of a store with his father-in-law, Maclay, and his wife Belle, and two children were the other members of the family.

Page three of the census includes a mix of San Fernando residents from California, Mexico, Idaho, Ohio, Virginia, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Maine, Indiana, and Saxony (Germany).

Page three of the census includes a mix of San Fernando residents from California, Mexico, Idaho, Ohio, Virginia, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Maine, Indiana, and Saxony (Germany).

Also on the first page was another Irish-born hotel keeper, John Glinn, and his wife and five children.  All of the latter, but the youngest two were born in Nevada, and the age difference between the last born there and the first in California is two years, so the family came to this state right around 1870.

Another interesting occupation noted was that of Charles Bridges, just arrived from Massachusetts (determined by the fact that his year-old son was born there) and working in his new home as a bee keeper.  In fact, the apiary industry was really buzzing (sorry) in the Los Angeles region during the 1870s and 1880s.

it is notable that all 50 persons counted on that first page, in what was clearly the “center” of the tiny town, were Americans or Europeans.  On the remaining three sheets for the “village”, though, there were a significant number of Spanish-speaking residents, either from Mexico or California, totaling 58 persons.

The final page of the San Fernando count during the census shows several Latino gold miners at the end, as well as enumerator Moffitt's statement that "This ends the Village of San Fernando."

The final page of the San Fernando count during the census shows several Latino gold miners at the end, as well as enumerator Moffitt’s statement that “This ends the Village of San Fernando.”

This included Valentine Lopez, builder of the Lopez Adobe within a couple of years of the census.  Valentine was the brother of Catarina and the cousin of Geronimo and he was working as a “Farm Laborer” and supporting his seven children, ages 1 to 14, as a single parent.  He also had a teenage boarder, 17-year old Charles Dohs, living with him.

Other Latino households included that of teamster Ramon Garcia, his wife Guadalupe and their eight children; farm laborer Vicente Tirado and his family of five; farm laborer Bernardo Contreras and his extended household of three other families, including, interestingly, gold miner Frank Arevalo; and farm laborers Jose Marica, a single man, and Jose Panteleon, whose wife and daughter lived in the household.

There was also a household of five young single Latino men, ages 17 to 29, at the very end of the census who were all gold miners.  Where they were working in the search for the precious metal is not known, but it seems possible they were up in Tujunga Canyon.

A rare occurrence of intermarriage is reflected, too, in the household of Benigno Pico and his wife Anna Marie Forrester.  Pico was a native of Monterey in northern California, and Anna Marie was from Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  A cousin of Andres Pico, longtime owner of part of Rancho ex-Mission San Fernando, and of former California governor Pio Pico, Benigno had lived in the San Luis Obispo area for years and was in Cambria with Anna Marie and the family before migrating down to San Fernando with their five children.  Benigno’s brother, Jose, also resided in the household.

Of the 174 residents tallied by Moffitt in the census, 116, or exactly 2/3 were American or European and the remaining one-third (58) were Spanish-surnamed residents from Mexico or California.  Males constituted 61% of the population, reflecting the occupations of farm laborers, railroad workers and miners.  Thirty-five persons, or 20%, of the town’s residents were foreign-born.

In June 1880, Geronimo and Catarina Lopez were still residing at Lopez Station, just northwest of town where the Van Norman reservoir is located, and Geronimo’s occupation was “hotel keeper.”  Within two years, though, the couple and their large family left their longtime home and moved to town, occupying the adobe house built by her brother (and his second cousin) Valentin.

Finally, after a transcontinental railroad line was directly opened to Los Angeles from the east in 1885, the floodgates of development opened, ushering in the so-called “Boom of the Eighties.”  San Fernando, which straggled along for more than a decade after its founding, finally reaped the benefit of migration and economic growth, at least until the boom went bust.  The 1890 federal census was destroyed by a fire years ago, so it is tough to know how San Fernando fared in the boom/bust cycle, but, by 1900, the town had grown significantly.  That will be the subject of a future post.

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The First Sale of Lots at San Fernando, July 1874

This 2 July 1874 Los Angeles Herald article previews the first sale of lots in the new townsite of San Fernando.

This 2 July 1874 Los Angeles Herald article previews the first sale of lots in the new townsite of San Fernando.

Here is a 2 July 1874 article in the Los Angeles Herald newspaper discussing the sale, the next day, of the first lots available in the new town of San Fernando.

The piece noted that founder Charles Maclay was determined to head off speculation and only sell to “actual settlers” and that small farm tracts, “suitable for orange groves and vineyards” were available, as well. Maclay was to be present at the sale, “ready and willing to answer all questions put to him.”

Notably, compared to today’s scarcities, abundant water, enough to irrigate Maclay’s more than 50,000 acre holdings, were brought by pipes into the town, which was said to have 30 structures, including the Southern Pacific Railroad depot. The source of water for San Fernando would have been wells and creeks fed from runoff leading from the San Gabriel Mountains through conduits like Pacoima Creek (Wash) and the larger Tujunga Wash system.

As the piece noted, the town was then the terminus of the SP line heading north from Los Angeles and intended to meet up with an SP line coming down from the San Francisco area.  Not surprisingly, the money Maclay used to purchase the 56,000-acre portion of the Rancho ex-Mission San Fernando was loaned to him by Leland Stanford, one of the Big Four (along with Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington) who controlled the Southern Pacific.  In fact, San Fernando Mission Boulevard was originally called Stanford Avenue.

There was a land and population boom underway in the Los Angeles region, so the article noted that San Fernando “will become the center of a rich and prosperous region.”  Moreover, the piece claimed that every bit of the Maclay ranch was “rich land, capable of producing everything grown” in the Los Angeles area.  This is the kind of language that could be found in any similar promotional scheme for real estate, including the towns of Artesia, Downey, Pomona and Centinela (near today’s Inglewood), which were being developed at the same general period as San Fernando.

E.W. Noyes and Charles A. Durfee were auctioneers who were kept very busy during the boom years and beyond–in fact, within a few months the duo was working to sell lots at Downey, a town developed on lands held by former California governor, John G. Downey.  The two, of course, were offering terms “sufficiently easy to accommodate almost any one.”

Within a year-and-a-half, however, the local economy cratered as a national depression, a collapse of silver mining stock in Nevada, and a local bank failure ended the boom. San Fernando did not recover for another dozen years–the subject of the next post.

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The Maclay College of Theology of the University of Southern California

Charles Maclay, the founder of the town of San Fernando, came from a family with a notable devotion to the Methodist Episcopal Church.  His brother, Robert, was a minister and a missionary who spent forty years in China, Japan and Korea between 1847 and 1887.  Two of Maclay’s nephews, Robert M. Widney, a real estate agent, lawyer and judge, and Dr. Joseph P. Widney, sons of Charles’s sister, Arabella, became prominent Methodists in Los Angeles upon their arrival in the late 1860s.  Charles was also a former minister in the church.

So, it was not suprising that Maclay decided to create the Maclay College of Theology at San Fernando in the 1885.  The project was financed with $150,000 of scrip from the San Fernando Land and Water Company through Maclay. From the beginning the school had a direct link as a branch college of the University of Southern California, a Methodist-affiliated college that counted Maclay’s nephew Robert Maclay Widney, a real estate developer and judge, as its prime mover when it was created in 1880.  In fact, Widney went on to promote the idea of establishing other branch colleges at West Los Angeles, Hesperia, Tulare, Escondido and Ontario, this latter an agricultural school now known as Chaffey College.

In June 1886, when the annual meeting of USC was held and Robert elected president (his brother Dr. Joseph P. Widney had been the second president of the fledgling school), reports were given from the various departments of the university.  As reported in the 23 June 1886 issue of the Los Angeles Herald, Widney, acting in the stead of Charles Maclay, reported that Maclay “had made a donation of $150,000, and a deed had been given for a college campus.”  Widney went on to report that “the foundation is being laid, and the plans are drawn for a large building, 40′ x 90′, 2 stories and an attic.”  Moreover, the article continued, “the corner stone is to be laid July 5th, and it is probable that the College of Theology will open at San Fernando next fall.”

An original 1887 cabinet photograph from the Lopez Adobe collection of the nearly-completed Maclay College of Theology of the University of Southern California.  After ninety years, in 1957, the college moved east and is now the Claremont School of Theology, an affiliate of the Claremont Colleges.

An original 1887 cabinet photograph from the Lopez Adobe collection of the nearly-completed Maclay College of Theology of the University of Southern California. After ninety years, in 1957, the college moved east and is now the Claremont School of Theology, an affiliate of the Claremont Colleges.

The architects were Kysor and Morgan and their design was said to be “a modern mingled style of architecture,” meaning that there were elements evoking Romanesque, Gothic and French Second Empire styles, with “large, airy, well-lighted rooms.”  The structure “stands on a commanding elevation on the banks of the Pacoima [Creek] and commands a view of the whole valley of San Fernando.”  Plans included a separate library building to cost $20,000.

Ezra F. Kysor is often considered the first trained architect to practice in Los Angeles, having arrived at the end of the 1860s.  He designed the three-story Pico House hotel and the adjacent Merced Theatre, which still stand at the Plaza across from Olvera Street, as well as St. Vibiana’s Cathedral, which is still at the corner of Main and 2nd streets.  Octavius Morgan joined Kysor by the mid-1870s and, after Kysor retired, formed the firm of Morgan and Walls, later Morgan, Clements and Walls, which designed many downtown Los Angeles buildings, as well as others in suburban locations.

In November 1886, Maclay officially deeded over the ten-acre property to the trustees of the school, including himself, his Widney nephews, the Reverend A.M. Hough, H.W. Griswold (for whom Griswold Street in San Fernando is named), Bishop C. H. Fowler, and Reverend M.M. Bovard, the university’s first president.  The official wording in the transaction referred to the school as the “Maclay College of Theology of the University of Southern California.”

The cornerstone laying was delayed until January 1887, when the Herald reported on 12 January about the ceremony.  Bishop Fowler stated that he “considered the San Fernando College a manufactory of ideas that would remodel and purify the character of the people of the State and assist in the regeneration of the world.”  When asked to speak, Charles Maclay demurred, claiming that “he was too full of happiness on the occasion to make a speech.”

In reply to this, Fowler spoke of “the royal gift of Senator Maclay who was rounding out a long and useful life by his munificent benefaction to the cause of education and religion” before lavishing praise on Robert Widney for his exertions in creating USC and its six branches.  The piece noted that “the foundation of the great building is already laid and the bricks are on the ground for the erection of the fine edifice.”

The article concluded by prophesying that

The events of yesterday will give an impetus to the growth and beautifying of San Fernando, and with its unrivalled supply of pure water and salubrious location[,] will make it the home of health and pleasure seekers from all parts of the world.

It can easily be seen that the Los Angeles region was in the throes of a development fever by the way this article concluded its discussion about a theological seminary by promoting growth!  In fact, the so-called “Boom of the Eighties” was launched with the completion of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe transcontinental link to Los Angeles in 1885.

Sure enough, in April, Griswold and two associates, A. Phillips and R.P. Waite, announced a subdivision between the Southern Pacific Railroad line and the Maclay College, including plans for a church and $20,000 library for the townsite of San Fernando.  In June, the Herald reported that plans for an observatory, intended first for Mount Wilson above Pasadena, were being reconsidered and a mountain location called “Pine Top”, five miles north of San Fernando was in the running.  The paper assumed that, “the great landowners of San Fernando would gladly contribute $100,000 for the purpose of having this valuable institution placed in so favorable a position.”  The facility was eventually sited at Mount Wilson and opened there in 1904.

By 1887, when the boom was riding its highest wave, the value of the land the school was on was said to have been $400,000.  The boom went bust, however, by 1890, the year Charles Maclay died.

The first dean of the school was Robert W.C. Farnsworth, who came to Los Angeles in 1880 and was the presiding elder of the Los Angeles District of the M.E. Church.  In early 1888, just weeks before his 44th birthday, however, Farnsworth passed away.

When Robert Maclay decided to retire after his decades of missionary work in Asia, he agreed to become the new dean of his brother’s school and began his work on 1 July 1888, around which time the college officially began operations.  Within six years he retired and was replaced by George Cochran, who had been doing missionary work in Japan.

The school lingered on for ten years in a depressed economy hampered further in the Los Angeles region by persistent drought.  In 1900, it was decided to move the school to the campus at U.S.C., which later shed its official affiliation with the Methodist Episcopal Church and became an independent private university.

In 1957, another move took place east to Claremont, where the institution became the Claremont School of Theology, an affiliate member of the Claremont Colleges, specifically sharing faculty, a library and other elements with the Claremont Graduate University.

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