Monthly Archives: December 2015

1960s San Fernando Plat Maps

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.

Plat SFDO Mision Fox OMelveny SF Rd

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.

Plat Maclay Lazard Truman 5th

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.

Plat Maclay 5th Truman SE

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.

Plat SFDO Mission NW Truman Amboy

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.

Plat Maclay Arroyo 7th Foothill

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.

Plat Maclay Orange Grove Seventh City Limit

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.

Categories: Downtown San Fernando, Lopez Adobe, San Fernando buildings, San Fernando demographics, San Fernando History, San Fernando maps, San Fernando people | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beale’s Cut and the Lopez Family

Today’s many thousands of commuters race (well, sometimes) up and down the Newhall Pass where Interstate 5 and State Route 14 intersect and almost all of them are probably unaware of one of the simple and primitive ancestors of their commuting routes.

Beale’s Cut was, for decades, the main access point to and from the San Fernando Valley up through “The Grapevine” and the Central Valley.  Though long abandoned as a transportation route and hidden from view, the cut, declared a California historic landmark in the early 1990s, sits on private property.

In the mid-1850s as the Gold Rush was beginning to peter out, efforts to improve transportation to and from Los Angeles to the north through what was called San Fernando, or Fremont, Pass included an 1854 contract between the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and William T.B. Sanford and George Carson to build a new road near the existing and difficult to navigate one.  Carson, who married into the Dominguez family and is memorialized by the South Bay city named for him, and Sanford evidently built the first version of the cut.

In late 1854, the Southern Californian newspaper, published in Los Angeles, stated that there was a cut in the mountain of thirty-feet depth for the new road.  Sanford’s brother-in-law, Phineas Banning, a new arrival in the Los Angeles area and who was building his freighting and transportation business, ran a stagecoach through the cut at that time.

But, travel through the cut required the use of a windlass, a device that employed pullies and ropes to lift animals, wagons and other material through difficult-to-navigate places like the pass.  Some sources indicate the windlass was built by Henry C. Wiley, who was the manager of the Mission San Fernando for a few years in the late 1850s and early 1860s, and for whom Wiley Canyon near the pass is named.  Harris Newmark, a Los Angeles merchant from 1853 onward, recalled the device in his 1913 memoir, but there is scant evidence about Wiley’s project.  Jacob Kuhrts, who penned a short memoir in the 1890s, recalled using the windlass, however, in 1857 when traveling to Los Angeles from San Francisco.

When the famed Butterfield Stage came through in 1858, it appears further work had been done to the cut and published accounts of that first trip by the stage gave some details about the difficulty of the passage, even with whatever work had been done to make travel easier.

Another effort to improve the cut came in 1861 when the California legislature issued a franchise to Andrés Pico, long-time owner of Mission San Fernando and surrounding lands, Assembly member James R. Vineyard (the idea of conflict of interest not being a problem in those days), and Charles H. Brinley to bring the cut down to 50 feet as well as provide for a 20-year franchise to collect tolls.

By the end of the year, however, an unprecedented storm system (the El Niño that we are anticipating this winter) struck California and wreaked havoc throughout the state and at the cut.  The 25 January 1862 edition of the Los Angeles Star reported that the road was washed out, as so many were.

In March, the same paper noted that military personnel from Fort Tejon were repairing the road and published a portion of the commanding officer’s report on the project.  Mention was made of the cut in the article.  It was not, evidently, until late May that the road was fully reopened again.

It was at this time that Edward F. Beale took over the Pico/Vineyard/Brinley franchise and actively initiated work to improve the road and the cut.  Beale, a native of Washington, D.C., came to California as a Navy midhsipman with the invading American forces during the Mexican-American War.  He traveled several times to and from California and the east and was said to have brought the first proof of gold back east in 1848.

Beale's Cut ca 1890s

This cabinet card photograph, probably dating to the 1890s, shows Beale’s Cut in what was then known as San Fernando, or Fremont, Pass and is now part of today’s Newhall Pass.  The cut survives, though partially filled in, on private property and is a state historic landmark.  The photo is from the Lopez Adobe Collection.

After he left the Navy in 1851, Beale stayed in California and became an advocate for a military installation in the Grapevine area, which led to the creation of Fort Tejon a few years later.  This proved to be of assistance to Beale’s work as a federal Indian agent, where he established a reservation in the area.

In 1857, Beale was appointed by President Fillmore to conduct a wagon-road survey from New Mexico to the Colorado River at the border of California and what became Arizona and his introduction of camels on that survey gave him his first notoriety.  Four years later, Abraham Lincoln appointed Beale the California surveyor-general.

During this period and continuing through the mid-1860s, Beale carefully assembled a massive landholding from several Mexican-era ranchos to develop what became the famed Tejon Ranch, which is largely intact today.  With his partner, Robert S. Baker, Beale expanded his real estate empire to include a large portion of Rancho La Puente in the eastern San Gabriel Valley and ocean-front property west of Los Angeles that the two first developed as Truxtun (named for Beale’s father-in-law), but later became Santa Monica.

After Beale assumed the franchise for the toll road, he utilized crews, said to have largely been composed of Chinese workers, to deepen the cut.  The 4 April 1863 issue of the Star noted that, while Beale’s efforts to date satisfed the terms of the state charter, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors wanted more improvements.  So, a deal was struck between the two parties for further work to the tune of some $17,000.

Still, the county, then mired in a horrible drought following the deluge of 1861-62 and in dire straits economically, pursued even more work at the cut, as reported by the Star at the end of 1863.  In return, Beale would receive a greater cut in the revenue from collected tolls.

Finally, the Star‘s edition of 5 March 1864 reported on the completion of the work at the cut and the acceptance of the project by the supervisors–it also listed the toll rates to be collected.

The franchise, however, only proved to be effective for about a decade or so.  By the mid-1870s, the coming of the Southern Pacific railroad from the Bay Area to Los Angeles heralded the end of Beale’s Cut as a viable transportation route.

Still, the cut remained in use and photographs from the early 1870s onward, including the one shown here from the Lopez Adobe collection and looking to be from the 1890s, document its appearance in its declining years. In 1902, the first automobile traversed the cut, but it wasn’t long before better roads, designed for the auto age, were being built.

As noted at the beginning of this post, Beale’s Cut is still in existence, though it has been partially filled in by such events as the Northridge earthquake of 1994, and on private property.  Its future, even with state historic landmark status, is still uncertain.

As to a Lopez family connection, this is documented through the reminiscences of J.J. Lopez, son of Gerónimo and Catalina, long-time owners of the Lopez Adobe, but whose Lopez Station stop on the road leading to the pass was situated where today’s Van Norman Reservoir is located.  Lopez worked at Tejon Ranch for Beale, who died in 1893, and following owners for many years and recalled:

Understand, the cut was made by hand labor with pick and shovel and the use of powder.  Even after the cut was made, it was a steep grade to climb with teams and loaded wagons.  My father used to keep two span of oxen and a driver there to help pull rigs and wagons and the stages over it . . . teamsters would telegraph my father when they would be at the cut, and he would have double yokes of oxen there to help them make the pull.

Sources primarily include,, the Bureau of Land Management’s Needles field office pamphlet on Beale at:

Categories: Andres Pico, Beale's Cut, Edward F. Beale, Geronimo Lopez, José Jesús López, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Lopez Station, Mexican-American War, Mission San Fernando, Newhall Pass, Rancho El Tejón, San Fernando founders, San Fernando History, San Fernando Pass, San Fernando people, San Fernando Road | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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