Gerónimo and Catarina Lopez in their later years.
As noted in a previous post, Gerónimo López was born in Los Angeles in 1828. HIs father, Esteban, received land in what later became the Boyle Heights neighborhood east of the Los Angeles River and Gerónimo may have lived in this area briefly. While there is not a great deal known about his youth, Gerónimo was sent to the Mission San Fernando to live in 1837, when his uncle Pedro was the majordomo (foreman) there. Included in Pedro’s family was his six-year old daughter Catarina. He also attended a private school established by Tomás Feliz, owner of the Casa de Cahuenga across from today’s Universal City.
Gerónimo was involved in a pivotal event in the transition from Mexican to American control of California. The invasion of American troops in late Summer 1846 led to the conquest of the pueblo of Los Angeles, but the native Californios revolted and recaptured the town and reasserted authority. Several months later, a second American force marched north from San Diego and engaged Californio forces at the San Gabriel River in modern-day Montebello before fighting a last battle against their adversaries at Los Angeles on 9 January 1847. While the battle ended with the Californios yielding, but, in the meantime, another force of Americans led by Lt. Col. John C. Frémont was marching towards Los Angeles from the north and, on 10 January, was camped at Castaic. Pico, looking to end hostilities with Frémont instead of Commodore Robert Stockton, who had taken Los Angeles, sent the 18-year old Gerónimo, who was his scout, to Frémont with the offer of surrender and the signing of a treaty. This document was signed by the two parties at Feliz’ Casa de Cahuenga on the 13th and Gerónimo was present at the event that marked the official conclusion of the war in California.
That same year, Catarina, then aged sixteen, left the San Fernando area and went to Los Angeles to attend school. She seems to have remained at the pueblo for a few years. In the meantime, her father, Pedro, acquired a tract of land from Andrés Pico a couple of miles north of the mission and constructed an adobe house there. He planted vineyards and fruit trees on the property and enjoyed the use of a spring for his domestic and agricultural needs. While Gerónimo had received some property on the future Boyle Heights tract from his father and built an adobe house on it, his marriage to his second cousin on 9 September 1851 (the first anniversary of California statehood) led to the newlyweds moving in with her father at his ranch.
The couple remained with Pedro for ten years until his death in 1861, at which time the ranch was left to them. Gerónimo, however, had acquired a forty-acre parcel in present Sylmar which had been part of a 200-acre ranch granted to a San Fernando Mission Indian named Samuel in 1845. The 20% section Gerónimo acquired had been held by Maria de los Angeles Burrows and was purchased for $4.00 an acre during a time of economic depression. Water, however, from San Fernando Creek was sufficient for the property’s needs, even if the few years following the López purchase were marked first by a flood in the winter of 1861-62 and then two years of horrendous drought that virtually destroyed the cattle industry, the region’s economic backbone.
The adobe house built by Gerónimo López on his 40-acre parcel was situated on a road that became part of the transcontinental Butterfield Stage line in the late 1850s and, even though that line was soon terminated, the road remained a busy stagecoach route through the area. Adding a stage stop and store to his compound, Gerónimo called his domain López Station and there was a post office and school eventually included by him there, as well. By the late 1860s, 40-mule teams hauling silver ore from eastern California mines stopped off there as they made their way to Los Angeles.
A population and land boom that broke out in the late 1860s and was carried through to the mid-1870s brought three real estate speculators to the eastern San Fernando Valley, Charles Maclay, George Porter and Benjamin Porter purchased some land and established the town of San Fernando in September 1874 on 1000 acres. By then, the Southern Pacific Railroad was engaged in constructing a line that would link northern California with Los Angeles and which would pass through the new town. Gerónimo López quickly realized the importance of the new endeavor and constructed the first building in town, an adobe at the corner of Celis and Maclay streets that was used as an office for Maclay and George Porter. Today, the city’s post office is located on the property, just a short distance from the López Adobe.
In fact, it wasn’t long until Gerónimo and Catarina decided to pull up stakes from López Station, which lost business to the railroad, and move to San Fernando. The adobe was razed and the property later, in 1913, became the site of what is now the Van Norman Reservoir, west of Interstate 5 in today’s Granada Hills. As to the move to San Fernando, that will be featured in a later post!