Mission San Fernando

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.

DSCN6970

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!

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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

Porter Land and Water pamphlet

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.

 

San_Francisco_Chronicle_Fri__Jun_3__1887_

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.

Los_Angeles_Herald_Sun__Jul_3__1887_

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.

Los_Angeles_Herald_Wed__Oct_12__1887_

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.

Los_Angeles_Herald_Fri__Mar_23__1888_

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.”

Porter Land and Water map 2

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.

1898 Herald article

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.

Porter Land and Water map detail

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

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 SCVHistory.com, elsmerecanyon.com, the Bureau of Land Management’s Needles field office pamphlet on Beale at: http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/ca/pdf/pdfs/needles_pdfs/brochures.Par.79254.File.dat/Beale.pdf.

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

The José Jesús López Interviews by Frank Latta, Part Two

In Frank Latta’s Saga of Rancho El Tejón, his extensive interviews with José Jesús López, son of López Adobe owners Geronimo and Catarina López, from 1916 and 1939 provide a wealth of information about the family.  In the opening sections of the first chapter, J. J. (as he was commonly known) gives his understanding of the family’s origins in Asturias, Spain and observed that there was French and Arabian [Moorish] blood in the family’s history, as well.  J. J. also addressed the mystery of when the progenitor of the family in Alta California, Ygnacio, along with his sons Juan and Juan Francisco, came to the Spanish territory, noting that, while there were claims that the clan was with Portola in the 1769 land-based exploration that was the first by Europeans in the region, “for this I cannot vouch, but some of them were here soon after that time, for one of them helped found San Gabriel Mission in 1771.”

In any case, J. J. stated that, because they helped quell a rebellion in Michoacán, México, two of the López family, Juan and Claudio, “were given charge of the Indians building two of the missions, Claudio those at San Gabriel, and Juan those at San Fernando.”  These institutions were built about a quarter century apart (1771 for San Gabriel and 1797 for San Fernando), but J. J. also noted that “Juan’s son, Pedro, followed his father as Majordomo over the Indians at San Fernando.  This Pedro was my mother’s father.”  Meantime, Claudio was J. J.’s great-grandfather through his father Geronimo and it was observed that Claudio and his wife, Luisa Cota, were buried under the church at San Gabriel, a practice continued until the very early 1850s.

José Jesús López and William Rose, ca. 1885.

José Jesús López and William Rose, ca. 1885.

Intriguingly, J. J. made reference to Spanish “heirlooms and records” that belonged to the Spanish López ancestors and which were carried by patriarch Ygnacio to Alta California, but that these were destroyed sometime around 1820 “during a revolt of the Indians,” apparently at San Gabriel, as it was stated that these objects included “the records Claudio had made at San Diego and San Gabriel Missions.”  Another interesting tidbit had to do with Rancho Santa Anita, most famous for its ownership by “Lucky” Baldwin from 1875 to 1909, but which, J. J. dictated, was given to Claudio López because of his many years as majordomo at San Gabriel, which counted Santa Anita as one of its ranches until secularization shuttered the California missions in the 1830s.  According to J. J., it was Claudio who named the ranch and did so as “Rancho Anita,” after Anita Cota, whom he hoped to marry.  This didn’t happen so he married her cousin, Luisa.  J. J. continued that Claudio retired to his “Rancho Anita” about 1820, but only stayed a couple of years before turning the property over to some sons and going to Los Angeles, where he was alcalde (roughly, mayor) in 1826.

Although he stated that the López family in Spain were among the Castilian aristocracy, a not uncommon claim among the Californios, he did note that his ancestors were freighters in Alta California, carrying material on oxen-drawn carretas (carts), driven by Indians, while the López family members supervised on horseback.  Moreover, Esteban Lopez, father of Geronimo and grandfather of J. J., was said to have been the main hauler of brea [tar] from the Rancho La Brea pits to the pueblo of Los Angeles for covering the roofs of adobe houses there and J. J. also stated that “in later years my father, Jerónimo López, hauled it.”  The brea was used, moreover, to grease the wheels of the carretas that the López family used for their teamster work. A humorous story involving Geronimo also emerged (pardon the pun) from his experiences with the tar pits at La Brea.  Namely, when he was informed that there were “elephant” bones in the brea, Geronimo scornfully replied that “those are the bones of a span of my oxen that bogged down out there.”  When shown “an elephant leg bone that weighted as much as one of this oxen, he was so made he just snorted.”

Also not surprisingly, J. J. claimed that “I can remember my father [Geronimo] saying that he and his father-in-law, Pedro López, did more hard work than any Indian that ever worked for them.”  As for his mother, Catarina, he offered that, “my own mother probably was the most ambitious socially of any of the old generation that I knew.  But, at the same time, she was the best business manager of her generation.”  Another tidbit about Geronimo’s early work experience related by his son was that “my father . . . was in the business of burning lime and charcoal . . . for lime,” which was a main ingredient of the white plaster which covered the area’s adobe houses.

Next, José Jesús López and his recollections of the family’s years at Paredon Blanco [White Bluffs], later the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.

 

Categories: California History, Catarina Lopez, Claudio Lopez, Esteban Lopez, Geronimo Lopez, José Jesús López, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Mission San Fernando, Pedro Lopez, Rancho El Tejón, San Fernando History, Ygnacio Lopez | Leave a comment

Mission San Fernando and the López Family

This detail of the first published view of the Mission San Fernando is from an 1853 drawing that appeared in a report for planning of a transcontinental railroad (which was finally completed in 1869.)

This detail of the first published view of the Mission San Fernando is from an 1853 drawing that appeared in a report for planning of a transcontinental railroad (which was finally completed in 1869.)

Founded in 1797, the Mission San Fernando was the first major European settlement in the San Fernando Valley, though the emphasis should be on “European,” because the indigenous native peoples, now known as the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and based in the City of San Fernando, had, of course, lived in the Valley for many thousands of years prior. A direct connection between the López family and the mission came at the end of its existence, when, about 1834 (some sources say 1837 after succeeding Antonio del Valle in the position,) Pedro López, father of Catarina of the López Adobe, was appointed civil administrator of the mission. This came just as the process of secularization of the mission was underway.  This controversial process, initiated by the Mexican government led to either the complete closure of the mission church or its conversion to a parish church and the shuttering of the mission’s activities.  Its far-flung lands, covering virtually the entire valley, which were theoretically supposed to revert to Christianized and “civilized” natives, who were to be “retrained” as farmers and livestock raisers, was instead, made available for private ownership as ranchos.

It is not clear how long Pedro (1805-1859) remained the administrator at San Fernando and there is not too much information about his tenure there.  In the 1950s, however, W. W. Robinson, who wrote many articles and books on regional history, penned a piece in the Southern California Quarterly titled “The Rancho Story of San Fernando.”  In it, he noted that there were “several first-hand descriptions of life in the San Fernando Valley in the years that followed the Mission’s secularization in 1834.”  One of these is a reminiscence provided by Catarina López, as told to her grandson Theodore R. Wilson (Gerónimo and Catarina’s daughter Grace married John T. Wilson, a Southern Pacific Railroad employee who later managed the George K. Porter landholdings that included the San Fernando area.)

While Robinson promoted her statement as one that was “indicating that secularization was not as harsh at San Fernando as at some of the other missions and that it did not end the ancient glories,” he followed this by cautiously adding, “perhaps her story is a mixture of her own memories and of what had been told her as a child for she seems to be describing the life of an earlier period.”  Catarina was born in 1831 and so would have either been three or six years old when her father assumed his adminstrative duties and it seems highly unlikely that her recollections could have been as pronounced and knowledgeable as the details of her short statement indicate.  More likely, the version related hews closer to Robinson’s second (and contradictory to the first) statement and may have been far less of direct memory and much more of a second-hand retelling of what others told her.

Robinson then prefaced her statement with the offhand remark of “At any rate . . .” and provided her commentary, reproduced here:

She (Catalina) first saw the San Fernando Mission in all its glory, with beautiful orchards and gardens surrounding it, and the wide plains in front of it covered with cattle and sheep.  San Fernando was far famed for its immense riches, being accredited the most prosperous of all the missions.  At this time there were over a thousand Indians living at the Mission, besides several tribes living in the hills and mountains.  San Fernando was widely famous for its fiestas, which were many, but the greatest of the year was on May 30th, San Fernando or Saint Fernandino Day.  People from all Southern California gathered at San Fernando on this day to taste the first fruits of the year.  The day was begun by attending mass.  All attended, from the majordomo to the lowliest Indian.  Following the mass was a great feast or banquet.  The table was spread between two long rows of pomegranate trees in the orchard at the rear of the old church.  In the afternoon such sports as horse racing were enjoyed, but the main event was a bull fight held in the plaza in front of the old church.  In the evening, sons and dancing ended the gay fiesta.

While other missions were accounted as “the most prosperous of all,” with nearby San Gabriel, for example, acclaimed as “The Queen of the Missions,” this statement also stands out for its mention of attendance at the main San Fernando fiesta from the mission foreman to “the lowliest Indian,” though if persons from throughout the region came, couldn’t some of them have been “the lowliest Californio” or “the lowliest Mexican”?

Little information has survived, evidently,  that comes directly from Catarina López, so this “recollection,” whether an accurate remembrance of the Mission San Fernando, pre- or post-secularization, or not, is a rare example of something connected to her.  A footnote in the Robinson article attributed her comment from The Valley of San Fernando, a work published in 1924 by the valley chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Categories: California History, Catarina Lopez, Lopez History, Mission San Fernando, San Fernando History | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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