California History

López Adobe Movie Night: A Different Experience

 

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Andrea Brooks Rynders, a great-great-granddaughter of the Lopez Adobe’s long-time owners, Gerónimo and Catalina Lopez, gives a tour to visitors at last evening’s movie night.

Last night was another movie night presentation at the López Adobe, this time with the screening of the 1941 classic Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  The program was part of a series sponsored by the City of San Fernando’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The inflatable screen and projector were set up on the north end of the property near the storage and restroom building, while tours of the Adobe were offered for about two hours prior.

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The location of the screening of the 1941 classic film, Casablanca, in an open area on the north end of the López Adobe property.  The city’s parks and recreation department put on this great series and council member Jaime Soto introduced and discussed the movie with guests.

Visitors to the house had the great experience of touring the early 1880s landmark with Andrea Brooks Rynders, great-great-granddaughter of Gerónimo and Catalina Lopez, the home’s owners for nearly four decades.

It’s one thing to hear the story of a family and house, but another matter entirely to get that from a descendant.  It’s something that people don’t get to do all that often and Andrea is carrying on the knowledge of her family and the house passed on through her father, the late John Brooks, who, sadly, passed away just before the López Adobe’s reopening in March 2015.

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The López Adobe takes on different visual qualities when photographed at dusk with the lighting and the colors in the sky adding to the scene.

It was also another type of experience to be in the López Adobe at night, especially when the evening is cooler after a warm day, the building is lit up, and downtown San Fernando activity quieter.

As some of the photos here show, the Adobe takes on a really luminous quality when photographed at night (even from obviously amateur images like these!)  That’s why the movie night is such a great idea.  Not only do visitors get to see interesting films with commentary by city council member Jaime Soto, but they can see and experience the house in a different way.

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With palm, orange and pomegranate trees in silhouette and exterior lighting on the house, the López Adobe looks pretty awesome at night.

The next opportunity for vistors to see the Adobe won’t be at night, but come out and take a tour and learn about the interesting history of the López family, their long-time home and the area on Sunday, 23 October from 1 to 4 p.m.

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Categories: California History, Catalina Lopez, Downtown San Fernando, Geronimo Lopez, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, San Fernando buildings, San Fernando History, San Fernando photographs | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Movie Night at Lopez Adobe on 22 July!

The City of San Fernando is hosting a movie night at the Lopez Adobe a week from tomorrow, on Friday, 22 July.

The event includes free guided tours of the early 1880s adobe landmark at 6 p.m. with the film presentation of 1939’s Juarez, starring Oscar winners Paul Muni and Bette Davis in this tale based on the French occupation of México during the 1860s.

Muni played Benito Juarez, the Mexican president who was ousted by the French and established his exiled government on the American border at Ciudad Juarez.  Claude Rains, another great actor, played French emperor Napoleon III, Brian Aherne, a fine character actor, performed as the puppet Emperor Maximilian and Davis playing the Belgian-born Empress Carlota.

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The cast also includes the great John Garfield as Porfirio Diaz and such veteran performers as Donald Crisp, Gale Sondergaard, and the only Mexican among the main cast, Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso, a native of, ironically, Ciudad Juarez, who went by the stage name of Gilbert Roland and who was a silent star before he emerged later as an excellent character actor.

San Fernando City Council member Jaime Soto will discuss the film as part of the event, which is free, so plan on coming out to enjoy the Lopez Adobe and the movie.

For more information, call 818.898.1290.

Categories: California History, Downtown San Fernando, Lopez Adobe, San Fernando History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An 1866 Map from the Lopez Adobe Collection

It’s in pretty sorry shape overall, but a scrapbook repurposed to hold an atlas from Augustus Mitchell’s collection of maps from 1866 included one of California, a detail of which is reproduced here, is in the Lopez Adobe collection.

The map shows the Los Angeles region at a crucial time.  The Civil War had just ended and the area was poised to undergo its first boom, as migrants came in larger numbers than before.

It was an opportune time because heavy flooding in 1861-62 (El Niño) followed by two years of severe drought (La Niña–ring a bell?) ravaged the cattle industry and drove land prices down.

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The boom really took off in 1867, the year after the appearance of the map, and continued until 1875 when it went bust in a big way.  Of course, San Fernando was created at the end of that period as a railroad town along the line of the Southern Pacific being built north from Los Angeles.

Among the interesting features of the map, which was hand-colored in each printed copy, are that the local counties included Santa Barbara (blue), San Bernardino (pink), Los Angeles (yellow) and San Diego (blue).  Ventura, Riverside and Orange counties were off in the future.

Note, too, that the San Gabriel Mountains are referred to here as the San Bernardinos (now the chain east of Cajon Pass; the San Gabriels were often referred to in this era as the Sierra Madre range).

The dotted lines represent the two main roads in the region.  East from Los Angeles through San Gabriel and San Bernardino was the road leading out towards Arizona.  From the rudimentary harbor at San Pedro to Los Angeles was roughly today’s Interstate 110.  Then from Los Angeles north was San Fernando Road leading up to the San Fernando Mission and then up San Fernando (Newhall) Pas and towards Tejon Pass and the Central Valley.

It’s also interesting to see the San Gabriel River terminating at the Los Angeles River.  This is the channel of what is now the Rio Hondo.  In the winter of 1867-68, which featured torrential rainfall, the San Gabriel changed to its present course.

Most of the Channel Islands, the San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel missions, Elizabeth Lake and Thompson’s stage stop near it, Santa Susana Pass, Point Fermin and Point Dume, Cajon Pass, and two unfamiliar names to most–“Las Yerbas,” meaning the Yorba Ranch near modern Corona, and Las Flores, or where Camp Pendleton is now–are notable locales.

The Lopez Adobe collection has a great many interesting items and this map is one example!

Categories: California History, Lopez Adobe, Los Angeles maps, Mission San Fernando, Newhall Pass, San Fernando History, San Fernando Pass, San Fernando Road | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Porter Land and Water Association

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Cover of a circa 1889 promotional pamphlet for the Porter Land and Water Company, from the collection of the Lopez Adobe.

Another great recent find in the Lopez Adobe collection was an original circa 1889 pamphlet for the Porter Land and Water Company, which subdivided a 20,000-acre section of the former Rancho ex-Mission San Fernando that was formerly the ranch of George K. Porter.

In 1874, Robert Maclay created the townsite of San Fernando during the Los Angeles region’s first boom period, which began in the late 1860s and brought thousands of new residents to the area.  Other towns that sprung up during this period included Pasadena, Pomona, and Artesia, but, by 1876, the boom went bust and most of these communities stagnated for a decade.

But, with the arrival of a direct transcontinental railroad, the Santa Fe line, from the east in 1885, a new boom arose and this one was far larger than its predecessor.  As new arrivals poured in, more land was subdivided and placed on sale for steeply-rising prices.  George K. Porter jumped at the opportunity and launched the Porter Land and Water Company, capitalized at over $500,000.

 

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San Francisco Chronicle, 3 June 1887.

He took almost all of the stock, with a few partners investing $1,000 each for a single share.  These included Jesse Yarnell, a newpaper publisher; Dan McFarland, who invested heavily in the Boom of the 1880s; Lehman T. Garnsey, a new arrival in the area and an investor in what became Burbank; Edward A. Forrester,  a real estate developer and future county supervisor; and John B. Baskin, who became the sales agent for the new firm.

Baskin immediately began an aggressive marketing and promotional campaign for the subdivision of San Fernando-area land, doing so in a hyper-competitive environment in which almost every new project featured the finest soil, the balmiest climate, ample water and amenties galore.

One of the frequently-mentioned elements of the company’s holdings was the fact that the remains of Mission San Fernando were surrounded by the tract and the usual comparisons were made between the “days of old” represented by the crumbling walls of the mission and the progress represented in the Boom of the 1880s.

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Los Angeles Herald, 3 July 1887.

The first advertisements were published in local newspapers on 3 July and sales commenced two days later, including town lots as well as parcels ranging from 10 to 640 acres.  Baskin hired William Hammond Hall, California State Engineer and an expert on water, to develop a comprehensive irrigation plan for water derived from local creeks (such as Pacoima) and springs.  Hall also offered his opinion that Porter Land and Water controlled “really first-rate valley lands for cultivation, with soils not to be surpassed for fertility” as well as “in a neighborhood  whose climate is well-adapted to the best class of agricultural, horticultural and vineyard productions usual in this country.”

On 22 July, it was announced that the firm bought a lot in San Fernando from Martin Murnane for a hotel–this became the 70-room Porter Hotel, though it was originally the San Fernando Mission Hotel.  Two days later, Baskin published a “card” in the Los Angeles Herald with a statement from long-time local residents attesting to the fact that “the oranges produced on said ranch are as fine as any we have seen in the State, and we further swear that scale bugs do not, and never have existed on any trees on the ranch.”

The signatories included Porter’s ranching partner, Henry C. Hubbard; Benigno Pico, who was married to Edward Forrester’s sister in a rare inter-ethnic marriage of the time; Southern Pacific station agent, W.H. Griswold; John T. Wilson; and Wilson’s father-in-law, Gerónimo López.  Lopez’s 25 years of residency in the area (meaning his arrival was in 1861 or 1862) was by far the longest of the eight signatories, who swore their statement before San Fernando’s justice of the peace, T.S. Smith.

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Los Angeles Herald, 12 October 1887

In late August, the biggest sale registered by Porter Land and Water was 1,500 acres in the center of the tract to Theodore Wisendanger, a native of Switzerland, who came to Los Angeles in 1884, just before the boom erupted, for some $250,000.  Wisendanger, upon his arrival in the area, taught briefly at a little new and unknown Methodist college called U.S.C. and then dove headlong into real estate, developing some 3,000 acres and building hundreds of houses.  He also was a pioneer in building apartments, amassing a portfolio of some forty buildings, though he died poor and almost forgotten in 1919.

The Porter Land and Water Company even tried to sell stock on the new Los Angeles Stock Exchange, offering initially for the $1,000 per share price assigned in the company’s formation.  As the boom moved into 1888, the offered value rose to nearly $1,200, though it is unknown how many investors joined in.  The company did add two directors, enlarging its number to seven, that year.

As 1888 dawned, the company was offering its land for $50 an acre, with a 40-acre lot being the most commonly marketed and sold plot.  An upfront cash payment of 1/3 was expected, with the remainder due either in one or two years at 6% interest.  In February, it was announced that a little under 500 acres of the property was being planted to oranges to demonstrate the fertility of the soil, the absence of pests, and the abundance of water that would make cirtus raising a profitable endeavor on the firm’s lands.

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Los Angeles Herald, 23 March 1888.

Besides 58,000 orange trees, as claimed in a March advertisement, figs and olives were represented as flourishing on the Porter property.  In later years, the olive groves and production facilities at Sylmar would become widely-known.  In the ad, Baskin enlisted Eduard Germain, one of Los Angeles’ biggest fruit dealers, quoted as saying that the fruits of the company’s tract were “the prettiest and cleanest in the county” and that “this ranch is the coming fruit section of the county.”

On 6 April 1888, Porter Land and Water offered a “grand excursion” from Los Angeles to the tract with the subsidized train ride, tour and lunch only costing 75 cents.  The recently planted orange grove was touted as the largest in the world.  The Herald‘s coverage included the wording of a statement that many of the excursionists signed about the “excellent manner in which we were treated” as well as “the fine appearance of the country and the extensive improvements being made” which “prove that the land of the Company has not been praised near what it deserves.”

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The fold-out map of Porter Land and Water Company holdings from the 1889 pamphlet.

As the year wound towards a close, the boom began to fade and problems ensued within Porter Land and Water.  On the latter point, a bookkeeper, Thomas Gaskins, forged some company checks payable to himself and skipped town, leaving his teenaged wife and infant son behind.  He was captured in San Francisco and brought back to Los Angeles for criminal proceedings, though the outcome was not located.

Early in 1889, John B. Baskin was taken to court by the company.  Baskin, it was noted was paid $100 per month and given a 6% commission on all sales as part of his work as agent, but Porter Land and Water charged that Baskin engineered “pretended” sales and collected his commission on others that were never fully realized or perfected.  The company alleged that Baskin, who received some $15,000 in salary and fees in ten months (a very large sum), also had promissory notes against the firm for other work, charged the firm $2,000 to a personal account, and had property put in the name of his wife and then transferred to him.  The total of alleged false fees and other income was some $6,000.  The firm demanded that Baskin only receive the total of his salary and commission on actual, realized and perfected sales.  While the matter did proceed in court, no outcome was located, though it may be that there was an out-of-court settlement.

By 1889, the firm had a new agent, J.C. Byram, whose name appears on the pamphlet pictured here.  Byram, however, could do little to turn around sales, when the boom was bust, and the national and local economies were heading towards a depression, which broke out in 1893.  Additionally, much of the 1890s found the region in a severe drought.

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Los Angeles Herald, 23 June 1898.

An 1898 Herald article on another company lawsuit, this one against Porter, his company, and officers and directors in Porter Land and Water, was headlined “Relic of Boom Days.”  It was just a decade removed, but the glory days of the boom were already worthy of “relics” by the late Nineties.

The suit was brought by 26 “small stockholders” in the firm and they alleged that as “the years rolled by and the land did not sell,” Porter and associated borrowed $100,000 from a bank on the company’s credit, with Porter being paid some $45,650 out of the borrowed money for 734 acres that he transferred to the company.  The plaintiffs argued that the 734 acres had to be sold before Porter was paid.  The 26 stockholders won their case at the local Superior Court, but the judgment was reversed on appeal by the state Supreme Court.  The affair shows the low state of the company as the 1890s ended.

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Detail from the circa 1889 map from the Porter Land and Water Company pamphlet showing the townsite of San Fernando at right, the Mission San Fernando at the center, the location of the Andres Pico Adobe at lower center, and the Rinaldi orange grove towards the upper left.

Five years later, in 1903, Porter sold his firm and transferred remaining acreage in the San Fernando area to a new company, the San Fernando Mission Land Company, of which he was a minority owner, holding 10% of the stock.  Three years after that, in 1906, he died, without much of the property he owned and developed being sold, though it was not long afterward that a new rush of settlers came to the San Fernando Valley, which was the terminus, from 1913, of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

Categories: California History, Citrus history, George K. Porter, Geronimo Lopez, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Mission San Fernando, Porter Hotel, Porter Land and Water Company, San Fernando founders, San Fernando History | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Fernando Heights Lemon Association

While citrus fruits had been grown in the San Fernando Valley, along with field crops like wheat, for some time, the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913, bringing water from eastern California, revolutionized agriculture in the region.

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Covina Argus, 30 September 1911.

The Pacific Packing Company, which had a number of facilities throughout the southern California area, established a lemon packing plant just south of the Mission San Fernando about 1911.  One article from that year detailed how the firm was poised to deliver 3,000 railroad cars of oranges and lemons from its packing houses in Riverside, Ontario, Pomona, Glendora, Orange, Fullerton, San Diego and San Fernando, among others.

In 1915, however, it sold the facility to a new concern: the San Fernando Heights Lemon Association.  While the use of the word “heights” is a strange one, given the generally flat terrain of the location, the association soon became a successful endeavor.  Among the brand names for the fruit transferred from Pacific to the new firm were Silver Moon, Blue Moon, Evening Star, and Southern Cross.

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Van Nuys News, 12 June 1925.

In following years, times were good as a population surge and economic boom in the region fueled most industries, including citrus.  In 1922, a national engineering and contracting journal reported that a new building, of one story and a basement, was being erected for the association, measuring 80′ x 172′ and costing $24,000.

In June 1925, the Van Nuys News reported that what was believed to be a record price of over $14 a box was fetched for association lemons shipped to Cleveland.  Among the fortunate beneficiaries of this surge in prices were local growers M.C. Sutton and Dr. C.B. Canby, who had nearly 2,500 boxes from their grove in the association’s packing house during the shipment.

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Van Nuys News, 10 September 1926.

The good times continued the following year, with a September 1926 news article reporting that 450 train loads had been shipped during the season with 100 more on hand and some 60,000 boxes were to be picked that month.  Another 200 loads were expected through the end of the year. Unfortunately, abundant inventory also meant a steep decline in prices, as about $3 for an 84-pound box was expected.

While the Great Depression certainly affected business to a significant degree, the facility had an additional three-story packing structure built in 1936.  An interesting and novel idea instituted at the plant came in the same year, when management decided to use a wide palette of paint colors.  Orange-packing machinery was painted violet, grading tables became mustard yellow, conveyor belts sported a shade of peacock blue and the women who constituted a majority of plant workers wore two-tone tan uniforms with orange piping.  One newspaper article quoted an employee as saying, “We love it!” while another enthused “and we don’t get so tired.”

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Florence (South Carolina) Morning News. 2 July 1936.

The sprucing up of the plant with snappy new colors, though, seems to have had its limits on employee morale.  In a decade filled with labor strife through the West Coast and other parts of the United States, the association was the target of a strike in August 1938.  It was reported that some 1,000 picketers, many of them not plant employees, descended on the facility to ask for higher pay.

After World War II, however, matters changed.  Huge numbers of new residents to the greater Los Angeles region transformed suburban areas such as the San Fernando Valley.  In 1948, the San Fernando Lemon Association, a nearby facility, closed its doors in the face of declining acreage of lemon groves and the resulting effect on production.  Still, at the end of the year, a news report observed that the San Fernando Heights plant had 8o workers processing fruit picked by 100 field hands in the association’s fields.

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Amarillo (Texas) News, 21 April 1950.

Labor shortages in the postwar years led to increasing arrangements for Mexican nationals to work in the fields and packing houses.  Another creative way around the labor problem  was described in a 1950 article, in which the Association had, for a couple of years, contracted with Hollywood studions for filming at the plant.  When publicized, the plant was besieged with applicants hoping to get discovered while pakcing and wrapping fruit.

In 1956, it was reported that regional citrus acreage had declined from 11,000 to 6,000 acres in the previous decade and that the number of packing houses in operation fell from eight to five.  Herbert S. Sykes, who managed the plant for some three decades, noted that mechanization, plant consolidation and changes in grading and packing practices still allowed for solid profitability.  Notably, pickers were also packing, whereas there were historically separate crews for the work.  This was not only touted as beneficial for the association’s bottom line but as better for the worker, who had more continuous employment.  No one seems to have asked the laborers for their view of the situation, however.

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Women packing fruit at the San Fernando Heights Lemon Association Packing House, undated (perhaps 1930s).  From the Herald Examiner Collection, University of Southern Calfornia Special Collections.

A May 1961 piece in the Van Nuys Valley News reflected how much things had changed.  Observing that the importation of water from the Aqueduct in the 1910s brought citrus to the forefront, “the arrival of man in ever increasing numbers cracked the industry’s foundation by slowly but surely consuming the rich farm lands and orchards for residential and other uses.”  During the World War II years, the industry topped $25 million in sales, but it “has continually slipped and now is nearing its final days as a serious business in the area.”

Tract homes, retail centers and commercial properties continued to replace lemon and orange trees and the San Fernando Heights facility closed.  At least some of the structures, however, continue to stand and have been most recently used as storage facilities.

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Courtesy of Paul Spitzzeri.

As the mania for collectibles grew in the years after the plant’s closure, one of the ways in which citrus farming had a continuing visual presence was in the collectibility of packing crate labels.  Mounted on the two long ends of a wood crate which carried cirtus fruits, these labels became increasingly more colorful and romantic, taking advantage of the “mission” theme for both product names and imagery.

Included here is one example of a San Fernando Heights Lemon Association label, probably from the 1930s heyday of the industry, that is a surviving reminder of the days when citrus reigned supreme in the local and regional economy and was a symbol, along with Hollywood, to the rest of the United States and internationally of what southern California represented.

Categories: California History, Citrus history, Lemon industry, Lopez Adobe, Pacific Packing Company, San Fernando agriculture, San Fernando buildings, San Fernando farming, San Fernando Heights Lemon Association, San Fernando History | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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