Monthly Archives: November 2015

Lopez Adobe Preservation Effort in 1969

Forty-six years ago yesterday. on 24 November 1969, the Los Angeles Times ran an article about the drive to buy the Lopez Adobe from its heirs, William Millen and Louise Millen Penney, the children of Catalina Lopez de Millen, last of the Lopez family to occupy the 1883 adobe.

The piece by staff writer Kenneth J. Fanucchi noted that a 60-day option had been given by Millen and Penney to the San Fernando parlor of the Native Daughters of the Golden West.

Under the option, all the parlor had to do was come up with a $100 deposit, allowing it time to raise the $79,000 that the siblings were asking for the building.

The NDGW parlor and other San Fernando organizations were requested by the city council to create a steering committee and make recommendations on how to raise the funds needed to acquire the landmark.

24Nov69 Lopez purchase LA Times

This Los Angeles Times article from 24 July 1969 detailed a 60-day option obtained for the purchase of the Lopez Adobe by family heirs William Millen and Louise Millen Penney.

Meanwhile, Chief Administrative Officer Richard James indicated that the city would seek to get a matching grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development department through a historic preservation program offered by HUD.  He also stated that state and county sources of funding would be explored.  As for local fundraising, he pointed to the “lucrative fireworks sales during the annual 4th of July celebration.”

The article further noted that, since the mid-1950s, the house had been used for apartments and as a doctor’s office.  This latter was Dr. Virginia Pallais, a noted OB/GYN in the area who was profiled earlier this year on this blog.  Dr. Pallais, however, was relocating and the Millen heirs decided to market the house for sale.

As to the future of the adobe, it is significant that, while the article observed that the structure was desired for preservation because  it was “one of the primary reminders of the area’s Indian past” along with the Andres Pico Adobe and the Mission San Fernando, just exactly why this was went unexplained.

However, there were several contemplated uses for the Lopez, including

offices for the San Fernando Chamber of Commerce, a museum of local historical interest, a meeting hall for community service and youth groups and a repository of relics and gifts from San Fernando’s Sister City, Colima, Mexico.

As James indicated, the federal HUD program grant proved to be the key ingredient to the purchase of the building, which was then readied for opening in 1971.  The Sylmar earthquake of 9 February 1971, however, inflicted significant damage and it was several more years before the adobe was reopened to the public.

But, the efforts of the city, the NDGW, and other community organizations and key individuals appeared, by the time this 1969 Times article was published, to have engineered the momentum needed to preserve the historic Lopez Adobe.  Forty-six years later, with the landmark again open to the public, the fruits of that labor are worth remembering.

Categories: Lopez Adobe | Leave a comment

Was San Fernando’s Founder a Murdering Methodist Minister?

A couple of weeks ago, someone left a comment on the Lopez Adobe Facebook page (click here) simply saying “Charles Maclay the murderer,” in reference to the founder, in 1874, of San Fernando.

So, was Maclay a murderer?

Let’s go back first to his move west from his native Pennsylvania.  Maclay was born in 1822 in the central part of the state and his father left the Presbyterian Church for the Methodist Episcopal Church.  The intense interest the family manifested was such that all five sons became M.E. ministers, including Charles.  The young man started keeping a journal in 1845, shortly after he was ordained, and he was a circuit-rider and avid fund-raiser for M.E. colleges in his area.

In 1847, Maclay’s brother, Robert, became the pioneer Methodist missionary in Asia when he sailed for China.  There and in Japan over four decades, Robert became famed for his efforts.  With this in mind, probably, Charles dreamed of his own missionary endeavors

In his journal in February 1849, Maclay wrote of his idea “to go to California & get a large quantity of gold,” with which to endow a college in Pennsylvania.  The following year, in March 1850, he observed that “I am ready at the call of the church either for china or California.”

As 1851 dawned, Maclay learned he had been selected to go to the Pacific Coast to minister in the newest state of the Union, fully in the throes of the chaos and disorder of the Gold Rush.  He married Catherine Lloyd of nearby Williamsport and the newlyweds left New York on April Fools’ Day, arriving in San Francisco on 5 May.  From there, they were sent to Santa Clara to establish a church.  He worked to build the church with his own hands, forming adobe bricks for the walls, and bought and cultivated a farm, as well.

Maclay also employed his fund-raising interests in helping to found a new college called California Wesleyan, the first Protestant college in California when it opened its doors in 1852.  Later, it became the College (now University) of the Pacific, which relocated to Stockton.  Maclay remained on the Board of Trustees until 1873, when he relocated to the Los Angeles area.  Not surprisingly, one of his pet projects at San Fernando was to establish a theological seminary, which was covered in an earlier post on this blog.

Charles Maclay (1822-1890), founder of San Fernando.  From the California Historical Society Photograph Collection, University of Southern California Digital Library.

Charles Maclay (1822-1890), founder of San Fernando. From the California Historical Society Photograph Collection, University of Southern California Digital Library.

As to his ministering, Maclay enthusiastically pursued street preaching in San Francisco in August 1851 during the church’s Annual Conference.  One day, while he was working the crowd, a strange incident happened.  Here’s how Maclay explained matters in a journal entry of 14 August:

I preached on the Plaza at 4 1/2 [4:30 p.m.] to a multitude of men of every cast. Gamblers, etc.  When I was speaking of the death of the ungodly, how miserable they died, some poor wicked wretch cried out it is a lie & swore most profanely.  he was shot I guess under the fifth rib & could not stand it much longer.  They soon took him off, he had not one to back him.  I told him to hold on a little that I was about to change the picture & no doubt the christian’s death would fall more sweetly upon his ear & not [word is illegible] up the sympathy of his heart.  They showed him out of it.

It is said that Maclay then called for a collection to bury the man and raised $130.

Evidently, though, a granddaughter, not named, of Maclay stated that he had actually pulled out a pistol and shot the heckler.  Whether this came from family lore or was how this descendant interpreted the somewhat cryptic diary entry is not known.  On one hand, it seems fantastic that an ordained minister would, in broad daylight and before a large crowd, shoot a man amid the assemblage.  Then again, it was Gold Rush San Francisco.

Notably, that city had two periods of turmoil during the 1850s that brought about the formation of citizen-led vigilance committees.  The first was in 1851, the year Maclay arrived in the Bay Area and the other was five years later.  In this latter, some 7,000 men were said to have joined the committee and about 3/4 of them were identified from lists published in newspapers.

Number 1161, with his $2.50 in dues fully paid up, was the Reverend Charles Maclay, who used his pulpit at the Folsom Street Methodist Episcopal Church to preach twice on 25 May on the topic of “The Life and Death of James King of William” and “The Duty of Citizens.”  The grandiosely named King of William was a newspaper publisher whose murder was the flashpoint for the vigilante committee’s work.

A biographer, Charles Cole, wrote in 1996 that Maclay’s subsequent career in the California legislature showed that he was firmly allied with the Yankee merchant and professional class that was exerting its control in San Francisco and which embraced the new Republican Party when it was created in 1856.

One of Maclay’s allies was railroad tycoon and California governor and senator Leland Stanford.  Years later, it was Stanford who advanced the $60,000 Maclay needed to redeem a mortgage for the 56,000 acres of Rancho ex-Mission San Fernando that included the town of San Fernando along Stanford’s Southern Pacific railroad line from Los Angeles to the north.  The friendly relations continued even when Maclay switched his allegiance to the Democratic Party in the late 1860s, but remained an unabashed supporter of the railroad interests of the Southern Pacific.

A key reason for Maclay’s relocation to southern California was that his nephew, Robert Maclay Widney, who arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1860s, just in time for that small town’s first sustained growth period, was becoming a major player in the “City of Angels.”  Widney, who parlayed his efforts in real estate into a handsome fortune, also became enmeshed, it was said, in vigilantism.

In December 1870, French native Michel Lachenais, who had once left Los Angeles for San Diego in the early 1860s after killing a fellow Frenchman, and who killed at least one other person (and, perhaps, his wife, who died young under mysterious circumstances), got into a dispute with a neighbor over the boundaries of their properties and killed his adversary.  A mob of ciizens, enraged that Lachenais had again committed a homicide, stormed the jail where he was being held and hung him from the sturdy crossarm of a lumber yard gate.  Horace Bell, in his posthumous memoir On the Old West Coast, claimed the leaders of the lynch mob were the Rev. A.M. Hough of the St. Athanasius M.E. Church and the “real estate agent” [Bell had a habit of not naming prominent persons by name] who was a church member.  Merchant Harris Newmark stated it was a French barber, Felix Signoret, who was at the head of the mob that strung Lachenais up, but Widney’s reputation as vigilante continued.

Ironically, Widney became the District Court judge in 1871 just in time for the trials of men accused of lynching a man during the horrific Chinese Massacre that October.  In the 1880s, when he was in private practice, Widney’s past was brought up in court, which compelled him to draw his weapon to defend his honor!

As for Maclay, his past as a vigilante in San Francisco and, if true, his pistol packing proclivities as a preacher, did not seem to factor in the seventeen years he lived in San Fernando.  When he died at age 68 of eye cancer in 1890, there was no mention of these aspects of his life.

Categories: Lopez Adobe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lopez Adobe Historical Landmark Designation, 1945 and 1975

From the "Los Angeles Times" issue of 2 November 1945, from left to right, Elizabeth Curtis, Ethel Enos, and Kate Lopez Millen unveil the dedication plaque designating the Lopez Adobe as a historic landmark.  Enos was the state president of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, which organized the effort for the designation and Curtis was a local N.D.G.W. member.  Kate Millen, daughter of Gerónimo and Catalina López, owned the house from 1935 to 1961.

From the Los Angeles Times issue of 2 November 1945, from left to right, Elizabeth Curtis, Ethel Enos, and Kate Lopez Millen unveil the dedication plaque designating the Lopez Adobe as a historic landmark. Enos was the state president of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, which organized the effort for the designation and Curtis was a local N.D.G.W. member. Kate Millen, daughter of Gerónimo and Catalina López, owned the house from 1935 to 1961.

On this day seventy years ago, the Lopez Adobe was given its first designation as a historical landmark.  As reported in the 2 November 1945 edition of the Los Angeles Times, the event was marked by “a colorful ceremony against a background of old adobe and early California gowns.”

The San Fernando chapter of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, an organization that still exists today, worked on the designation and paid for a plaque set in the exterior walls of the home.  Isabel Fages, a Lopez family member who owned the Alvarado Adobe in Pomona for many years and was a historian of her family and the region, spoke to the crowd about the history of the Lopez Adobe.

Guests included the structure’s owner, Kate Lopez Millen, daughter of Gerónimo and Catalina Lopez, the long-time owners of the structure, and who resided in the adobe from 1935 to 1961; her brother-in-law, John T. Wilson (hsuband of Grace Lopez, who died in 1931) and his son Roland, then the city postmaster; the pastor at St. Ferdinand’s Church, which has long been across Maclay Avenue form the adobe; and officials from the N.D.G.W., including the state organization’s Grand President, Ethel Enos, who officially unveiled the plaque with Kate Millen and Elizabeth Curtis, another Native Daughters’ member, as shown in the accompanying photograph.  After the ceremony was concluded, the group headed over to the American Legion Home in town for tea.

The article described the structure as “Spanish California adobe”, observing that it was “the only remaining building of Old San Fernando,” presumably meaning of the 1870s and 1880s era of the town.

In March 1975, the N.D.G.W. rededicated the Lopez Adobe and replaced the 1945 plaque with a new one., listing important dates in the adobe's history.  The plaque is next to the front door of the historic landmark today.

In March 1975, the N.D.G.W. and the City of San Fernando rededicated the Lopez Adobe and replaced the 1945 plaque with a new one., listing important dates in the adobe’s history, including the fact that the building was restored after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and reopened at the time the plaque was installed. It is next to the front door of the historic landmark today.

In March 1975, nearly thirty years after the ceremony, a rededication was held and a new plaque installed, giving significant dates in the history of the Lopez Adobe.  By then, the building, threatened with destruction and replacement by a parking lot had been purchased by the city and citizens; restored just in time for the devastating Sylmar earthquake of 1971, which damaged the house; and then reopened again at the time the new plaque replaced the 1945 version.  The building has also been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, an important federal designation program.

Categories: Lopez Adobe | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.