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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

The San Fernando Theater

San Fernando street in 1940s

Among the many great photographs found in the Lopez Adobe collection is this circa 1940s view of Brand Boulevard, which is recognizable mainly for the old Pacific Electric Railway streetcar right-of-way in the center of the thoroughfare.  The electric poles and tracks are still in place in this view–later a landscaped median was installed and this is still the case today.

The view is taken from near San Fernando Road and looks southwest.  In addition to the PE track, cars parked along the street, some of the roadside landscaping and snippets of structures, there is one standout building:  the San Fernando Theater.

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Here’s a view of the San Fernando Theater from the Van Nuys News, 3 September 1964, as its destruction was forecast for a “double-decked” parking lot.  The theater was showing “Peligros de Juventud [Youth Films]” as well as Los Apuros de Dos Gallos (The Troubles of Two Roosters), a comedy released in May 1963 in Mexico and which was about a pair of singers who wandered onto a ranch and encountered all kinds of hardships.

Located at 303 S. Brand, the site originally housed the Cody Theater, but it appears that the old building was demolished in favor of what became the “New San Fernando” in 1925, when an article in the 25 August issue of the Van Nuys News reported that George Drake and Son were awarded a contract for the construction of the new building.

The theater remained a going concern for about forty years, but as times changed and redevelopment was taking place in San Fernando, the future of the aging building was looking ominous.  For one thing, the single-screen theater was going the way of the dodo, being replaced by multiplexes.  Secondly, by the mid-1960s, the city was actively pursuing its San Fernando Mall concept, a postcard of which was recently posted on the Lopez Adobe Facebook page.  As San Fernando Road was narrowed to two lanes and street parking removed, nearby areas were being converted to city parking lots.

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Another News article, from 5 September 1965, discusses 17 parcels in San Fernando condemned for parking lots and walkways as the San Fernando Mall project was pursued.

In 1964-65, after a good deal of deliberation and planning, city officials decided to condemn seventeen properties for conversion into parking lots and walkways.  One of these was the San Fernando Theater property.  Yet, even though the Mall project proceeded and a number of city-owned parking lots were implemented, the theater somehow evaded destruction.  Well, for a while.

On 9 February 1971, the Sylmar earthquake, registering about 6.6 on the Richter scale, struck in the early morning hours, causing widespread destruction in and around San Fernando.  Among the many structural casualties was the San Fernando Theater, which had to be razed.

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The demolition of the San Fernando Theater is shown in this photo from the 5 March 1971 edition of the News.  Thought it wasn’t a double-decker, as planned several years earlier (and which may not have withstood the Sylmar quake), a parking lot was built here and still serves that use today.

Sure enough, in its place was built a parking lot, which still serves this function today.  It does appear that the structure next to the theater in the 1940s photo, which looked to have had some kind of Art Deco architectural feature projecting above the one-story roofline is still standing today, as can be seen in this Google Maps link here.

Categories: Brand Boulevard, Cody Theater, Lopez Adobe, San Fernando History, San Fernando Mall, San Fernando photographs, San Fernando streets, San Fernando Theater, San Fernando theaters | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Francisco López Gold Discovery Lecture

Yesterday at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, a very thorough and very interesting presentation was made on the Francisco López gold discovery by Alan Pollack, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

Pollack obviously spent considerable time trying to sort out fact from fiction and history from myth as he discussed early gold discoveries in California, those documented and asserted; the López family history and the very limited information known about Francisco; and then carefully covered several major sources of information about the discovery.

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The tunnel under Placerita Canyon Road leading to the alleged site of the López gold discovery has some murals, including this well-worn depiction of a broad swath of history from native Indians to gold miners to oil prospecting.

With respect to the first point, Pollack noted that, while the López discovery was the first major documented find, there was a very interesting document found that showed an 1838 deposit at the Philadelphia national mint of gold dust that was labeled as being from California.  He noted that there were accounts that claimed earlier instances of the location of gold.  Of course, who knows how many discoveries were made by the native Indians residing in what became California for thousands and thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans by 1770.

Pollack also discussed a bit of the López family genealogy to identify the Francisco was a cousin of Gerónimo and Catalina Lopez, the owners for decades of the López Adobe.  Their son, José Jesús, in a 1916 interview stated that Francisco was college-educated and studies mineralogy, so that this training was obviously essential in his find.  Francisco was also a part-owner of the massive Rancho San Francisco, encompassing today’s Santa Clarita Valley, which was the property of his sister and her husband, the del Valles.  Although Francisco would up being part-owner of other ranches, including Tujunga and Cahuenga, he seems to have died in some obscurity, as no record of his death or burial site have been found and he is missing from even the most basic of public records.

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This detail of another mural shows Francisco López (of whom there are no known images) triumphantly waving his gold-flecked wild onions under the Oak of the Golden Dream.  Conveniently, a piece of paper under the tree identifies the date “Marzo 1842.”

As to the main sources of information, Pollack shared an image of a New York newspaper article from October 1842 that briefly discussed the discovery.   He then spent some time going through later, more detailed sources, the earliest of these being a letter in 1867 by longtime Los Angeles merchant and land baron Abel Stearns and the last from 1930 surrounded the landmark status bestowed on the Placerita Canyon site said to have been the very spot on which López discovered the gold.

Stearns identified the find as from April 1842 and wrote that López and some ranch hands stopped in the canyon while searching for lost horses and, during a rest break, he dug up some wild onions on which were flakes of gold.  This set off a rush, mainly composed of hundreds of experienced gold miners coming up from the northern mining state of Sonora in Mexico proper.

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There it is–the alleged 500-year old Oak of the Golden Dream, where Francisco López is said to have found gold on 9 March 1842.

While Stearns noted that he sold gold dust to the mint in Philadelphia, there were others, too, that Pollack did not have time to discuss.  One was merchant Pliny F. Temple, who sent dust to a brother in Massachusetts to buy goods to send back to Mexican California–these are documented by surviving letters dating from 1842 to 1844.

A rather interesting tale from John Murray discussed a Mexican mineralogist who showed pebbles having gold  in them when he was visiting Santa Barbara and it was claimed that Francisco López was present when this took place, inspring his own search.  Murray, however, claimed that the gold discovery was actually in 1841, though not specified as to date.

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The tale of the Oak of the Golden Dream must be true because it is literally carved in stone (or brass set in stone) in this 1991 plaque by, curiously enough, the Santa Clarita Valley Association of Realtors.

James M. Guinn, an educator and historian of early Los Angeles and southern California, wrote a lengthy 1895 article in the San Francisco Call, analyzing the known accounts and declaring that there was no way to know the absolute truth of what happened with the discovery, though he did say it was likely early 1842 and that López was the discoverer.  Guinn also went on to state that while James Marshall, who found the gold in 1848 that launched the Gold Rush, received a small pension and a statue, López had been forgotten.

Interestingly, Isaac Given write a letter to Guinn, saying that he came to California from New Mexico at the end of 1841 with a group commonly known by two of its presumed leaders, Workman (the father-in-law of the above-mentioned Pliny Temple) and Rowland, and that he was shown gold dust from the discovery by Stearns.  Other accounts, including one by a man alleged to have been 115 years old, assigned dates of 1838 and 1840 for the find.

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Notably, the California state historic landmark plaque makes no mention of any dream, but rather matter-of-factly states that López found gold while gathering wild onions.  It does, however, declare that the find was six years before the Marshall discovery ushering in the Gold Rush.  Note the original registration was 1935, five years after the local dedication.  The plaque, however, dated from 1992 with the involvement of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society and E Clampus Vitus.

Perhaps the most persistent of the chroniclers was Francisca López de Bilderrain, a relative of Francisco, who claimed that Catalina López, of the López Adobe, told her that she was present, as a young girl of 12 or 13, when the first anniversary of the find was observed in 1843.  Based on this, Bilderrain, Catalina’s daughter Ramona López de Shaug, and Charles Prudhomme, a local history enthusiast, ventured into Placerita Canyon, where the tree said to have been the site of the discovery was pointed out based on Catalina’s recollection.  Prudhomme wrote a 1922 article in the annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California based on this version.  Five years later, Catholic priest and church historian Father Zephyrin Englehardt reproduced Catalina’s account in a book he wrote.

Finally, there was a dedication of the purported discovery site on 9 March 1930, said to have been the 88th anniversary of López’s find.  For that event, a couple of men prominent in the creation of the landmark status came up with a new wrinkle in the story, grandiosely called “The Oak of the Golden Dream,” in which Francisco was not only taking a break from hunting the roaming horses, but fell into a slumber, during which he had a dream of finding gold.  Lo and behold, the gold was found.

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. . . and, it’s got its own logo, too!

An affidavit was secured from Bilderrain, stating that the information she received from Catalina López was true and that this was relayed to her at a 1914 family reunion.  Meantime, local ranch owner Frank Walker donated the site of the tree for the dedication, which featured two plaques and speeches that went to great lengths to play up the importance of the discovery and to assure it a place in California history less overshadowed by the great Gold Rush of six years later.  Pollack’s reading of some of the speeches brought a bit of laughter for its overwrought language!

Bilderrain added to the earnest attempt to redress the wrong perpertrated on Francisco López by writing another version that was submitted to the California State Library in July 1930, including the alleged exclamation of Francisco when he discovered the gold:  something along the lines of “Gold!  I have found it!  Gold!!”  She also claimed there were numerous celebrations in Los Angeles when the word reached the little village of the find, that an emissary was dispatched to Mexico City to alert the federal government, and other embellishments.

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Whether it’s the actual tree or not, long may it stand to commemorate an important event in local and state history!

 

In 1959, Placerita Canyon Nature Center was dedicated and a reenactment of the discovery was presented.  In later years, the long-vanished original plaques were replaced by new ones, including a designation of the site as a California state historic landmark and another by a local organization.  The tree, purportedly 500 years old, still stands just a few feet north of Placerita Canyon Road.

As Pollack noted in his excellent telling, however, the “true history” of the discovery is really unknown, from the actual date, to the real location, and details associated with the event.  He summed up by noting that the only person who could have told the story accurately was Francisco López, but he, evidently, left no version behind.  Not surprisingly, as with many notable historical events, the story has become more embellished and expanded over time, but the “Oak of the Golden Dream” has moved into legend and will almost certainly remain there.

Categories: 1842 discovery of gold San Francisquito Canyon, California History, Catalina Lopez, Francisca López de Bilderrain, Francisco Lopez, Geronimo Lopez, Gold Rush, José Jesús López, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Oak of the Golden Dream, Placerita Canyon, Ramona Lopez de Shaug, Rancho San Francisco, San Fernando History, Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

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