Catarina Lopez de Millen

The Pioneer Society of San Fernando

In April 1913, just shy of forty years since San Fernando’s founding, a group of citizens in the recently incorporated city (1911) gathered to create The Pioneer Society of San Fernando.

A scrapbook in the Lopez Adobe collection contains the handwritten constitution and meeting minutes for the organization, which seems to have existed in the 1930s, but only met infrequently, if the book is the only record of its meetings.

SF Pioneer Society Constitution 1

As was the case with so many of these historical societies that sprung up with increasing frequency in the United States, especially after the American centennial was celebrated in 1876, the object of the Pioneer Society was typical:

to cement the bonds of friendship among the older and former residents of this Valley, to enable them to renew acquaintanceship and to promote that fraternal spirit which should permeate those who have long resided in the same community.

Unlike other similar organizations, however, there was no mention of specific activities or projects, such as saving or marking historic landmarks (although the town was less than four decades old), having regular meetings, publishing historical material, presenting lectures, or having events.

Perhaps this is why the existing record of meetings is spotty!

SF Pioneer Society 1st Mtg Minutes 26Apr13

Among the surnames of those mentioned in the early days of the society were Hubbard, Jenifer, Wright, Maclay, Van Winkle, Webster, and Barclay–all representatives of early families of prominent merchants, farmers and others in town.

Quite a few early members came from the large López family, especially the many daughters of Gerónimo and Catarina.  These include their son-in-law, John T. Wilson, who married Grace López and who was chairperson of the first annual meeting of the society, held at his home on what, funnily enough, was dated as “Sept. 31, 1913.”  Also included were Catarina Millen and her husband William; Ramona Shaug and her husband Charles; Erlinda Alexander and her husband Joseph; and J.C. Villegas, a grandson through the Lopez’s daughter María.

There was a meeting on 30 October 1913 with little business of note conducted and then not again until the end of September 1914, which was equally uneventful.   A gathering of 10 October 1914, though, did feature the election of Catarina López as honorary president of the society and her son-in-law Wilson as 1st vice-president.  Again, though, the agenda was on the light side.

SF Pioneer Society Annual Mtg 31Sep13

The first evidence of an event held by the organization came at the May 1915 meeting, at which a picnic to be held at “Griffith’s park” on 12 June was discussed and committees appointed for “conveyances”, food and refreshments, and a “programme” of toasts and speakers, among other elements.

At the end of September 1916, the next gathering was held, at which the honorary president, presumably Catarina López, was retained, as were the officers.  There was some vague business about tin cups, with no explanation of what they were for, but a “cooperative dinner” was scheduled for late October.

SFPS 10Oct14

Then, it was a few years before any new activity arose, when a meeting of 17 April 1920  was held to arrange for the annual picnic, with committees formed and members appointed, and the date, a holiday preferred, to be selected subsequently.

The organization, as noted above, continued into the 1930s, but with not much happening.  There was a list compiled, sometime in 1930, of society members with names and, in many cases, the date when persons settled in town.  Among the early residents listed were:

Mary Proctor, 1870

John T. Wilson, April 1871

J.C. Maclay, April 1874

C.J. Shaug, July 1874

H.C. Hubbard, March 1875

F.M. Wright, September 1875

SFPS signatures 3Aug30

Of course, Gerónimo and Catarina López were on the list (noted as deceased, having passed away in 1921 and 1918, respectively), but no date of their arrival was given.  The newly married couple did settle at Mission San Fernando, though, in the early 1850s and later established Lopez Station, where today’s Van Norman Reservoir is located.

One of the later pages of the book is dated 3 August 1930 and contains several dozen signatures, perhaps those attending a society picnic.  Names include the Lopez-affiliated John and Grace Wilson; Luisa López McAlohan, who extensively remodeled the López Adobe in the mid-1920s; Catarina (Kate) and William Millen, whose wife Catarina must’ve been there, as she was the last López to live in the adobe up until 1961; Ramona Shaug; and the Brookses, descended through the Villegas line; as well as such surnames as Maclay, Hubbard, Fraisher, Webster, Wright, Van Winkle, Folger and more.

SFPS member list ca 1930 2

The organization eventually died off, as so many do, but a later group, the Friends of the López Adobe, emerged a few decades later, in the 1960s, to save the historic structure and which is still around today, keeping up the spirit of its predecessor.


Categories: Catarina Lopez, Catarina Lopez de Millen, Geronimo Lopez, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Louisa Lopez de McAlohan, Pioneer Society of San Fernando, Ramona Lopez de Shaug, San Fernando founders, San Fernando History, San Fernando people | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Find of the Week: Lopez Family China Hutch

This 1949 photograph of a San Fernando civic organizaiton event at the López Adobe shows two daughters of Gerónimo and Catarina López, Ramona Shaug (seated at the far right) and Catarina Millen (seated at the middle and who lived in the house from 1935 to 1961) with some guests in the Adobe's dining room.  At the back left is a china cabinet that is still in the Adobe collection and which will be displayed when the historic house reopens this year.

This 1949 photograph of a San Fernando civic organizaiton event at the López Adobe shows two daughters of Gerónimo and Catarina López, Ramona Shaug (seated at the far right) and Catarina Millen (seated at the middle and who lived in the house from 1935 to 1961) with some guests in the Adobe’s dining room. At the back left is a china cabinet that is still in the Adobe collection and which will be displayed when the historic house reopens this year.

One of the fun aspects of the Lopez Adobe project has been discovering those few items in the collection of furnishings and artifacts that belonged to the family and were in the house in earlier eras. When reviewing for the project some photographs of the house, it was noticed that one of them showed a piece of furniture that is still in the collection.

The photo was dated 1949 and showed two of the surviving children of Gerónimo and Catarina López, Ramona Lopez de Shaug and Catarina Lopez de Millen, dressed in early California costume with some other San Fernando women and sitting at a dining room table set for tea as part of a civic organization event. In the background is a china cabinet that, it so happens, remains with the Adobe today.

On its own, the cabinet doesn’t appear to have a great deal of inherent interest. It is not a high-end piece of furniture, does not have a manufacturer’s label on it, and lacks a compelling story to relate, other than its rather routine function storing and displaying china, glass and other pieces by its owner. If anything, it is one of other furniture and furnishing items that show a middle-class status for those who possessed it and can be looked at that way in context with other pieces in the same room and others in the building. It is true that the Lopez family were not particularly wealthy and would likely best be considered middle class for their time, although their long history in the Los Angeles region generally and the San Fernando area specifically is where the main interest lies.

However, while it is not known how old this piece of furniture is or whether it was brought to the house by one of the daughters, perhaps Kate Millen, who lived in the house from 1935 and 1961, as opposed to being there when Gerónimo and Catarina resided there, it is still great to have something linked to the family and its occupancy of the house. To show the 1949 photo in the dining room and have the cabinet in the same location it occupied more than six decades ago (and, presumably, for much longer before that) is a way to engage the visitor in discussing the Adobe as a not just a museum, but as a family home for over some 80 years. That may be where its place as part of a broader story is best viewed.

Categories: Catarina Lopez de Millen, Find of the Week, Lopez Adobe, Ramona Lopez de Shaug, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing the Lopez Adobe

This late 1800s photo shows the two-story portion of the Lopez Adobe, with family members on the second-floor balcony and a detached one-story section occupied while the large area was under construction. Among the later renovations of the house was the joining of these two sections.


A City of San Fernando historic landmark, the Lopez Adobe was built in 1882-83 for Geronimo and Catarina Lopez, members of an early Californio family that had important roles in the management of the missions of San Fernando and San Gabriel, the settlement of what became the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, and the first discovery of gold in California in 1842 (six years before the great Gold Rush in northern California.)

The couple, married in 1851, had settled in an adobe house that was known commonly as Lopez Station along the main road north from Los Angeles.  Several years after Charles Maclay and partners established the townsite of San Fernando in 1874, during an economic boom (which went bust two years later), the Lopez family decided to make the move to the new town.

Through the economic depression of the late 1870s and early 1880s, to a much large Boom of the Eighties in 1886-88, through more financial hard times and extended drought in the 1890s, and the further ups and downs of life, Geronimo and Catarina Lopez remained in their adobe until her death in 1918 and his three years later.

They were succeeded by some of their children, with one daughter Luisa Lopez de McAlohan overseeing major renovations to the house in the 1920s and another, Catarina (Kate) Lopez de Millen, residing in the house from 1935 to 1961, during which time the building had more additions, changes and subdivisions into commercial and multi-dwelling uses.

After Mrs. Millen left the house in 1961 shortly before her passing, her children retained ownership, though there were plans to raze the house in favor of commercial development.  Community activity and a commitment by the City of San Fernando to save the structure led to the city’s purchase of the property in 1971.  Though the major Sylmar earthquake of that year did major damage, the house underwent restoration and stabilization work and, in 1975, opened to the public as a historic site.

With city ownership and administration by the Friends of the Lopez Adobe organization, the house was open for visitation for several decades, though later earthquakes compromised the building’s integrity.  Consequently, the structure closed in 2007 while the city sought grant funding from federal and state sources and began more renovations.  Now, a refurnishing and reinterpretation project is underway with the rebirth and reopening of the Lopez Adobe soon to come!

Keep an eye on this blog for more news of this exciting project and to learn more of the history of the adobe, the Lopez family, and San Fernando.  We hope to see you back again soon!

Categories: Catarina Lopez, Catarina Lopez de Millen, Geronimo Lopez, Lopez Adobe, Louisa Lopez de McAlohan, San Fernando History | 1 Comment

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