Another notable object in the Lopez Adobe collection of historic artifacts is a set of four plat map books, issued about 1964 by Brewster Maps, a Los Angeles company, showing the entirety of the San Fernando Valley.
Titled Plat Book, Legal Description of Property in the San Fernando Valley, each volume covered a portion of the valley and specified lot dimensions, metes and bounds, property cuts, house numbers and all tract and lot numbers.
The book that embraced the San Fernando city area was volume four and there were four pages in particular that took in the 2.374 square mile city, which then had a population of somewhere north of 16,000 people (today, it is nearer to 25,000.)
The plat maps are interesting for many reasons in addition to the technical specifications mentioned above. A key aspect deals with physical changes in the community. San Fernando, being a relatively small town in terms of area, was plotted and laid out very early on and most of its housing and commercial development had taken place. Still, there were some transformations.
For example, the Pacific Electric Railway streetcar line that ran down the middle of Brand Boulevard was still shown in the maps, even though service had been discontinued. Very shortly afterward, the right-of-way was converted into the landscaped median now being redone in some places along the street.
Another was the location of San Fernando High School, which a half-century ago was in its old location at Brand and 3rd Street. Later, the high school moved to its current site, just outside of city limits in Pacoima, and San Fernando Middle School occupies the old parcel.
Something else of note has to do with San Fernando’s boundaries, because the community is completely surrounded by the City of Los Angeles and such communities as Sylmar, Pacoima and Mission Hhills. One of the maps, for example, delineating the border with Los Angeles above 8th Street has a notation reading “City Boundary Line Established May 22 1915” and providing the two ordinance numbers that created the line.
Where today’s Home Depot and Sam’s Club are located along Foothill Boulevard next to Pacoima Wash, though, is an example of one of the few changes made later to San Fernando’s city limits. In that case, the old line running just north of 8th was vacated and a new city limit established to embrace what is now the shopping center. The applicable map notes that this was done as a “detachment” on 21 January 1950.
In some cases, street name changes are reflected. For example, Laurel Canyon Boulevard, running just west of city limits was called Webb Street prior to the change. San Fernando Mission Boulevard was called Stanford Street at one time–this original naming being for Southern Pacific railroad titan Leland Stanford, who fronted the money for Charles Maclay to buy the land that included San Fernando.
There was also a small section of the city detached from the rest of town to the west near San Fernando Mission that included three streets named for early notable figures in 1800s Los Angeles–Phineas Banning, father of Los Angeles Harbor; John S. Griffin, who owned much of what is now Lincoln Heights and Pasadena; and Isaias W. Hellman, a merchant who became one of western America’s wealthiest bankers. At some point, however, these streets and their adjacent lots were vacated and then turned over to the City of Los Angeles for an extension of Brand Park.
What the maps don’t show, obviously, are other far-reaching changes; namely, the demographic revolution that took place in San Fernando and elsewhere in the Los Angeles region starting at about the time these plat books were published.
Prior to about 1970, the San Fernando Valley and other outlying suburbs in the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County, as two examples, were largely composed of “white”citizens. Growing numbers of Latinos, blacks and, later, Asians, however, have transformed many of these areas as they left more centralized Los Angeles locations such as Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Chinatown and South and South-Central Los Angels for the suburbs. In the case of San Fernando, the city went from being overwhelmingly “white” to today’s estimate of 95% Latino.
A study by Pepperdine University in the early 2000s included a quote from politician Alex Padilla, whose family moved from a more centralized area of Los Angeles to Pacoima because “we could afford it and we could have a backyard.” The report noted that these motivations were basically the same as white migrants who left the city for the suburbs decades before.
So, while maps can be a very interesting and important way to see how places like San Fernando develop over time in a physical sense, what they can’t do is fill in the boxes showing lots with who was living and working there. Still, these 1960s plat maps show a San Fernando and its namesake valley in the middle of dramatic transformations, physically and demographically.