Louisa Lopez de McAlohan

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

Gerónimo and Catarina López and the 1900 through 1920 Federal Censuses

This photo shows Gerónimo and Catarina López surrounded by their family at the 1911 celebration of their 60th wedding anniversary

This photo shows Gerónimo and Catarina López surrounded by their family at the 1911 celebration of their 60th wedding anniversary.

After the López family moved, in 1883, to their new home in San Fernando, dramatic changes to the Los Angeles region and their town ensued.  Two years later, a direct transcontinental railroad line came to the area and this helped spark a real estate and population boom that dwarfed the one that took place in the late 1860s and early 1870s.  This larger “Boom the Eighties” mainly occurred in 1887 and 1888 and brought tens of thousands of new arrivals to the county, some of whom came to San Fernando, which had, like many towns, struggled before that.

As booms do, they turned into a bust, as the over speculation in real estate caused the market to collapse.  By 1890, a contraction in population took place and the economic situation worsened with the onset of a national depression in 1893.  Furthering the problem was a prolonged period of drought in southern California through the decade.  With the coming of the new century, though, the situation improved and a new growth spurt ensued.  There was another severe economic downturn in 1907, but, once again, a turnaround occurred by 1910 and a new period of growth came in for the first several years of the following decade.

With the entry of the United States into World War I and the resulting victory for the allies in 1918, the following years saw a renewed period of growth that outstripped most of those before.  The 1920s was an era of huge growth in population and economic strength for the Los Angeles region, just as Catarina (1918) and Gerónimo (1921) came to the end of their long lives.

In regard to the census, the 1890 enumeration was lost in a fire in Washington, D. C.  There are, however, a few other sources that give some indication of what the Lopez family was doing during the period from 1880 to 1900.  One is to look at voter registration listings.  For example, the listing for 1884, made on the last day of April and which is very shortly after the Lopez family moved into their San Fernando adobe house, shows Gerónimo, characteristically misspelled as “Jeronimo,” as age 56 (he was actually 54), and working as a horticulturist.  While horticulture could involve the raising of non-food plants, it seems obvious that Gerónimo was involved in intensive agriculture of vegetables and/or fruits, probably the latter.  It isn’t specified, but he might well have been raising oranges or lemons, which were becoming the dominant agricultural crops in the region.

The next voter registration listing is for September 1890.  Here, the 59-year old Gerónimo (this time his name was spelled correctly) was noted as a butcher, a change in occupation from that he had six years before and perhaps a reflection of the rapid changes taking place in San Fernando during the aforementioned land boom.  Perhaps, as San Fernando grew rapidly in that 1887-88 boom, Gerónimo decided to open a meat market.

In fact, the next registration entry is for 1892 and more information was provided, including physical characteristics.  So, Gerónimo, age 61, is listed as 5’6″ in height and with a dark complextion, brown eyes and black hair.  His occupation is shown as farmer, a change obviously from the 1890 registration, though his 21-year old son Stephen is registered as a butcher, so perhaps the business was passed on from father to son or done in conjunction with Catarina’s brother (and builder of the López Adobe), Valentine, who at age 47, was also listed as a butcher, indicating that there was a broader family business.

In 1896, Gerónimo was shown as age 65 and, naturally, had the same physical features and the same occupation as farmer.  His brother-in-law Valentine was still a butcher, but Stephen was not shown on that year’s register.

The 1900 federal census was taken in late June and enumerator Francis M. Wright visited the López Adobe.   Again, the head of the household was listed as “Jeronimo” and, curiously, with this census being the only one that captured the birth month and year, his was given as October 1830, though his birth is usually noted as being October 1829.  The 69-year old had the occupation as farmer.  Catarina, shown as born in November 1831, was also listed, another new feature of this census, has having had 12 children, of which 11 were still living (this is actually an unusually high number of surviving children for the era).  The sole deceased child was Celeste, who died in 1891 at the age of twenty-six.  Also in the household were daughters Sarah, age 25 and Erlinda, 23, as well as a servant, Frank Acuna, who was 14, and two female boarders.  Also of note were two neighbors, the brothers Joseph W. and Samuel T. Alexander, ages 30 and 28, respectively, who will be discussed in a later post.

A decade later, on 4 May 1910, William T. Burr visited the family to conduct the thirteenth federal census.  Notably, while there was no address number given, the street was “Pacoima Avenue.”  Moreover, the head of the household, for the first time, was not the 78-year old Gerónimo (now spelled as “Jeromio”), but his son Stephen, age 36, and whose occupation was “confectionary salesman,” meaning that he sold candy.  Catarina, age 76, was now listed as the mother of nine living children, with daughter Ruby (1877-1903) and son Miguel (1867-1906) having died during the preceding decade.  The other member of the household was Edward Dunne, who was the son of Gerónimo and Catarina’s daughter Luisa.   Listed as age 17, though actually in his early 1920s, Dunne was shown as an “odd jobs laborer” and died the following year, 1911.

The final census to cover here is that of 1920.  In the previous decade, Gerónimo and Catarina had celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, this taking place in 1911, and there are photographs to document the occasion.  Seven years later, however, on 21 April 1918, Catarina, age 87, passed away.  When the next census came along, on 6 February 1920, enumeraor Ivan A. Swarthout visited the López Adobe, which had the address of 415 S. Maclay.  Today it is 1100 Pico Street, which did have a listing in that census for another family.  In any case, the head of the household was still Stephen, for whom, curiously, the age box was left blank, though he was almost 49 years old.  His occupation was given as “real estate and insurance.”  Gerónimo was shown as age 91 and, of course, a widower.  Also in the household was the Villegas family, consisting of 57-year old Inocencio, 16-year old Isabel, 13-year old Joseph and 53-year old Maria, the latter being the daughter of Gerónimo and Catarina.   Incidentally, the next household counted was that of another López daughter, Catarina, listed as Kate, Millen, age 46 and her 19-year old daughter Louise.  Later, Kate would be the last member of the family to live and her daughter to be the last to own the house.  The Millens lived at 459 Mission Road (now San Fernando Mission Boulevard) between Coronel and Hollister streets, a short distance from the adobe.

A little over a year later, on 27 April 1921, just over three years after the death of Catarina, Gerónimo López passed away at the age of 91.  The two were born when Los Angeles and its surrounding area was a sparsely-populated and remote frontier region of northern Mexico.  In their teens when California seized California, the couple married during the Gold Rush boom period of the early 1850s and bore a dozen children, who were raised at López Station and the younger ones at the López Adobe.  During their long lifetimes, the telegraph, the railroad, the telephone, electricity, movies, automobiles, airplanes and many other technological products came into being.  The population of the area went from a few thousand to many millions and San Fernando developed from a fledgling railroad town to a thriving community.  They lived through the Mexican-American, Civil, Spanish-American and First World wars and a series of economic booms and depressions.

What they didn’t know, of course, is that their home of over thirty-five years would become a historic landmark, where San Fernando residents and visitors can, once again and soon, learn about their lives and the era in which they and their children lived.

Categories: California History, Catarina Lopez, Geronimo Lopez, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Louisa Lopez de McAlohan, San Fernando History | 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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