San Fernando founders

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.

 

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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

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

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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