San Fernando buildings

López Adobe Movie Night: A Different Experience



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.


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.


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.


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.

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

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.

USC Examiner Collection sorting

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.


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

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

The Porter Hotel and “Mr. San Fernando”, J. Leo Flynn

A very cool ca. 1940s photo showing San Fernando Road at night was unearthed today from a box in a storage room housing artifacts associated with Lopez Adobe.

Among other elements, the image shows the two-story Porter Hotel building at the corner of San Fernando Road and Brand Boulevard and there is an interesting history associated with this century-old structure.  This was the second hotel to have that name in the area, as B. F. Porter’s Porter Land and Water Company built what was also called the “Mission Hotel” or “Boom Hotel” back in the 1880s.  This was the structure that briefly housed the George Junior Republic school for troubled boys covered in the last post on this blog.

A beautiful view of San Fernando at night, ca. 1930s, including, at left, the Porter Hotel, which operated for fifty years from 1913 to 1964.

A beautiful view of San Fernando at night, ca. 1930s, including, at left, the Porter Hotel, which operated for fifty years from 1913 to 1964.  From the Lopez Adobe Collection.

The building was completed in 1913 as a regional population and construction boom was underway and it contained stores, a bank, and the Porter Cafe on the ground floor and the hotel on the second level.

For many years, the property was controlled by the Flynn Estate, led by J. Leo Flynn and his brothers.  Note that, atop the building is a sign for the Flynn’s Grill, a business run by the family along with the hotel.

The Porter Hotel structure was the go-to location for meetings, dinners, parties and other events for service clubs, community groups, political fundraisers (usually for Republicans supported by Flynn) and others.  Among its retail tenants were furniture stores, drug stores (including Thrifty’s) and others.

A reproduction photo showing the Porter Hotel, circa 1920s.  From the Lopez Adobe Collection.

A reproduction photo showing the Porter Hotel, circa 1920s. From the Lopez Adobe Collection.

After a half-century, however, the building was suddenly the scene of a devastating fire that erupted on 21 July 1964.  The blaze seemed to have been the product of faulty wiring in the attic of the wood-frame building.  There were sixty-three occupants of the hotel, which was probably residential, who were forced to flee the structure and the hotel portion was completely gutted.  Meantime, the ground floor stores also suffered water and smoke damage, including Lee’s Furniture and Thrifty Drug.

For a time, Flynn contemplated razing the building and constructing something new, in keeping with his prominent role in promoting a reconfigured downtown that led, during this period, to the San Fernando Mall concept.  Like counterparts throughout the United States and locally in such places as Pomona, the outdoor mall was an attempt to remake aging downtowns.

A short article from the Fresno Bee-Republican, 21 July 1964, covering the fire that gutted the Porter Hotel.

A short article from the Fresno Bee-Republican, 21 July 1964, covering the fire that gutted the Porter Hotel.

Yet, when prominent Los Angeles architectural firm, A.C. Martin and Associates, was brought in to consult on what to do with the building, the company recommended a renovation keeping the basic frame of the structure while using a modern, aluminum-ribbed fascia as well as complete remodeling of the interior.

The result was what locals called “The Phoenix,” a building that rose from the ashes of the 1964 conflagration.  The building had survived its greatest threat after 51 years of existence and, exactly 51 years after the fire, the structure still stands today.

As for James Leo Flynn, he was born in 1897 at the base of Chavez Ravine to Irish immigrant parents.  His father, Henry, was a machinist and his mother Leo and his five siblings, including four brothers and a sister.  The family moved to San Fernando in 1901, where Henry Flynn opened a butcher shop.  Three doors down from the Flynn home in the 1910 census was Ramona Lopez Shaug, daughter of Geronimo and Catalina Lopez, and her family.

Flynn attended Morningside School, San Fernando High School and the University of California campuses at Berkeley and Davis.

An ad from the Van Nuys News, 19 December 1924 for a New Year's Eve party at the Porter Hotel Cafe.

An ad from the Van Nuys News, 19 December 1924 for a New Year’s Eve party at the Porter Hotel Cafe.

For a time, he assisted his father in raising cattle and operating the meat market.  When he registered for the draft during World War I, Flynn was working for the San Fernando Mercantile Company and, two years later, in the 1920 census, he was the foreman at a local dairy.  Married in the early 1920s, it was sometime during that decade that Flynn became manager of the Porter Hotel and it appears that he acquired the building in the early years of the Great Depression.  Eventually, he and his brothers comprised the Flynn Estate, the official entity that owned the building.

Flynn became a noted civic leader, serving on the San Fernando city council from 1932 to 1935 and then held the position of mayor from 1935 to 1940.  Active in the Republican Party, he was a member of the county central committee, was party chairman for the local Assembly district, and was a delegate to the party’s 1948 national convention.

The Valley News of 2 August 1964 featured this ad for a "fire sale" from Lee's Furniture, a tenant of the burned-out Porter Hotel.

The Valley News of 2 August 1964 featured this ad for a “fire sale” from Lee’s Furniture, a tenant of the burned-out Porter Hotel.

A longtime stalwart of the local chapter of the Kiwanis Club and its 1941 president, he was also active in Boy Scouts, the American Red Cross and the Community Chest.  A Roman Catholic, Flynn was active with Holy Cross Hospital in Mission Hills.  He was the board chairperson for the San Fernando branch of the San Fernando Valley Federal Savings and Loan Association, and president of the city’s chamber of commerce.  He was chair of the team that led the Downtown Shopping Center project and of the Economic Development Committee, which spearheaded the creation of the San Fernando Mall project.

In 1967, Flynn retired from the savings and loan, having also overseen the disposal of the Flynn Estate’s holdings, including the Porter Hotel building, after the death of his brothers who were involved in the business with him.  At a dinner honoring the man they called “Mr. San Fernando,” Flynn was honored with the Fernando Award, bestowed on the person, as reported in the Valley News edition of 10 December 1967, who “has done the most for the [San Fernando] Valley as a whole.”

Tribute was paid to J. Leo Flynn, "Mr. San Fernando" in this 18 August 1970 article from the Valley News.

Tribute was paid to J. Leo Flynn, “Mr. San Fernando” in this 18 August 1970 article from the Valley News.

In the 18 August 1970 issue of the Valley News, a tribute to “Mr. San Fernando” was offered, in which Flynn was lauded for his many activities in town as “first citizen” as well as being “a leading civic worker for the entire Valley.”  The piece concluded with the observation that J. Leo Flynn “was a man who stood tall among his fellow men.”

Categories: Architecture, Downtown San Fernando, Flynn Estate, J. Leo Flynn, Porter Hotel, San Fernando buildings, San Fernando History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lopez Adobe Historic Photo Collection Find #2

San Fernando ca 1880s

Earlier today local historian and Lopez Adobe docent Richard Arroyo and consultant Paul Spitzzeri were sorting through more great images from the Lopez Adobe collection, owned by the City of San Fernando.  This original cabinet card photograph, dating to the early 1880s, was among the items reviewed today.

At the left is the Porter House hotel, established by one of the main figures of the town, Benjamin K. Porter.  At the center right is the generically-identified Billiard Saloon, while at the right is the store of Maclay, Moffitt and Company.

The 1880 federal census, taken six years after the establishment of San Fernando by Charles Maclay, shows, among the first households listed, that household number three was that of Theodore M. Loop, a 47-year old Scottish hotel keeper, who may have been the manager of the Porter House.

Household number four was that of Henry L. Shaug, also 47 and from Virginia.  He was a saloon keeper, so it seems likely that he was the owner of the Billiard Saloon.  Incidentally, Shaug’s son, Charles, age 15 in 1880, married Ramona, one of the many daughters of Geronimo and Catalina Lopez.

A couple of households down, consisting of number 6, was that of town founder and co-owner of the store at the right, Charles Maclay, age 57, and his wife and three children.  There’ll be more on Maclay, who was shown as a farmer in the census, in a subsequent post.

Finally, at household number eight is A.B. Moffitt, co-owner of the store with Maclay.  We’ll have a post on him, too, but for now, we can note that he was a 37-year old native of Ohio, battle-heartened veteran of the Civil War, and a clerk for Wells Fargo in northern California.

In 1873, while living in Oakland, he married Arabella (Belle) Maclay, daughter of Charles, and followed his father-in-law south to the new town of San Fernando in 1875.  While he was a partner in the store, given that Maclay gave his profession as a farmer and Moffitt stated he was a merchant, it appears he actually ran the business.  Again, more on him later.

So, check back soon for more great photos and information on early San Fernando.

Categories: San Fernando buildings, San Fernando founders, San Fernando History, San Fernando people | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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