Posts Tagged With: Mission San Fernando

An 1866 Map from the Lopez Adobe Collection

It’s in pretty sorry shape overall, but a scrapbook repurposed to hold an atlas from Augustus Mitchell’s collection of maps from 1866 included one of California, a detail of which is reproduced here, is in the Lopez Adobe collection.

The map shows the Los Angeles region at a crucial time.  The Civil War had just ended and the area was poised to undergo its first boom, as migrants came in larger numbers than before.

It was an opportune time because heavy flooding in 1861-62 (El Niño) followed by two years of severe drought (La Niña–ring a bell?) ravaged the cattle industry and drove land prices down.


The boom really took off in 1867, the year after the appearance of the map, and continued until 1875 when it went bust in a big way.  Of course, San Fernando was created at the end of that period as a railroad town along the line of the Southern Pacific being built north from Los Angeles.

Among the interesting features of the map, which was hand-colored in each printed copy, are that the local counties included Santa Barbara (blue), San Bernardino (pink), Los Angeles (yellow) and San Diego (blue).  Ventura, Riverside and Orange counties were off in the future.

Note, too, that the San Gabriel Mountains are referred to here as the San Bernardinos (now the chain east of Cajon Pass; the San Gabriels were often referred to in this era as the Sierra Madre range).

The dotted lines represent the two main roads in the region.  East from Los Angeles through San Gabriel and San Bernardino was the road leading out towards Arizona.  From the rudimentary harbor at San Pedro to Los Angeles was roughly today’s Interstate 110.  Then from Los Angeles north was San Fernando Road leading up to the San Fernando Mission and then up San Fernando (Newhall) Pas and towards Tejon Pass and the Central Valley.

It’s also interesting to see the San Gabriel River terminating at the Los Angeles River.  This is the channel of what is now the Rio Hondo.  In the winter of 1867-68, which featured torrential rainfall, the San Gabriel changed to its present course.

Most of the Channel Islands, the San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel missions, Elizabeth Lake and Thompson’s stage stop near it, Santa Susana Pass, Point Fermin and Point Dume, Cajon Pass, and two unfamiliar names to most–“Las Yerbas,” meaning the Yorba Ranch near modern Corona, and Las Flores, or where Camp Pendleton is now–are notable locales.

The Lopez Adobe collection has a great many interesting items and this map is one example!

Categories: California History, Lopez Adobe, Los Angeles maps, Mission San Fernando, Newhall Pass, San Fernando History, San Fernando Pass, San Fernando Road | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Porter Land and Water Association

Porter Land and Water pamphlet

Cover of a circa 1889 promotional pamphlet for the Porter Land and Water Company, from the collection of the Lopez Adobe.

Another great recent find in the Lopez Adobe collection was an original circa 1889 pamphlet for the Porter Land and Water Company, which subdivided a 20,000-acre section of the former Rancho ex-Mission San Fernando that was formerly the ranch of George K. Porter.

In 1874, Robert Maclay created the townsite of San Fernando during the Los Angeles region’s first boom period, which began in the late 1860s and brought thousands of new residents to the area.  Other towns that sprung up during this period included Pasadena, Pomona, and Artesia, but, by 1876, the boom went bust and most of these communities stagnated for a decade.

But, with the arrival of a direct transcontinental railroad, the Santa Fe line, from the east in 1885, a new boom arose and this one was far larger than its predecessor.  As new arrivals poured in, more land was subdivided and placed on sale for steeply-rising prices.  George K. Porter jumped at the opportunity and launched the Porter Land and Water Company, capitalized at over $500,000.



San Francisco Chronicle, 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, 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, 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, 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

The San Fernando Area in November 1853

From at least the early 1830s, the idea of building a railroad across the North American continent appealed to dreamers, visionaries and pragmatists alike.  With the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, the first imperialistic war embarked upon by the United States, and the stunning discovery of gold in the newly-conquered possession of California, the movement to build a transcontinental railroad was pushed further.

Congress responded in the early 1850s by funding a series of explorations and surveys conducted by the Department of War, led by Jefferson Davis (later president of the Confederate States of America), for routes from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.  Twelve volumes of reports with the ungainly title of Explorations and Surveys to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean were published by the federal government between 1853 and 1861.  These not only outlined the several proposed routes along degrees of latitude, but also contained much information on the flora, fauna and animals found in the explored regions. In fact, this latter made immense contributions to the natural sciences and their understanding of the still-largely unsettled regions of the vast American West.

Charles Koppel's late 1853 drawing of the Mission San Fernando and surrounding area for a transcontinental railroad survey is one of the earliest views of the region.

Charles Koppel’s late 1853 drawing of the Mission San Fernando and surrounding area for a transcontinental railroad survey is one of the earliest views of the region.

The fifth volume of the series, published in 1857, included explorations and surveys for railroad routes proposed for the Los Angeles region, including the San Fernando area.  In a subsection composed and submitted by William P. Blake, there is an interesting description of what the surveying party saw when the arrived in the eastern San Fernando Valley in Fall 1853.

Soon after leaving our camp [near San Fernando or Newhall Pass] under the fig trees, we found that we had entered a widely extended valley with a nearly level surface, without trees of verdure, and bounded on all sides by distant ranges of mountains.  On turning the point of a hill, we came suddenly in sight of the Mission buildings, which, with the surrounding gardens, stood isolated in the seemingly desert plain, and produced a most beautiful effect [an accompanying view is of the mission on the facing page]  The gardens were enclosed by walls, but the graceful palm rose above them, and groves of olive, lemon, and orange trees could be seen within.  Outside of the walls the surface was barren and gravelly, and the fertility within is the result of irrigation.

The building presents an imposing appearance, having a long portico formed by a colonnade, with twenty arches, built of brick, or adobe, and plastered and whitewashed.  The floor is paved with tiles, and a pleasant promenade in front of the edifice is thus afforded.  The remains of a large fountain, with a circular basin ten feet or more in diameter, was directly in front of the main entrance, and gave an indication of the splendor of the establishment in former days.  I was surprised to find the palm growing so far north, and surrounded also by such a variety of tropical fruits.

The grape is cultivated here, and we purchased a quantity of a very pleasant red wine, similar to claret.  Several men were employed in filling a large still with the fermented pulp and skins of grapes, from which the juice has been pressed, with the intention of distilling brandy (agua diente) from it.

Herds of cattle were seen on parts of the broad plain, feeding on dried grass or the burrs of the California clover, which covers the ground in the latter part of summer when all the grass has disappeared.  This plain doubtless presents a beautifully green surface in the winter and early summer when watered by the rains.  From the Mission, we passed directly across the plain towards a low range of hills which forms the boundary between it and the plain on which Los Angeles is built.  The distance across the plain is about ten miles, and the road was bordered in some places by a low growth of shrubbery and cactaceae [cacti], which gave a peculiar aspect to the country, and reminded some of the part of Mexican landscapes.  The distant ranges of mountains had a peculiar barren look, and in color were of various shades of brown, blue, and purple.  When we reached the base of the hills, we crossed a running stream, bordered by grass, which we afterwards found to be the Los Angeles river, and then the ascent of the hills immediately commenced.

Separately, Blake wrote of the exotic experience of eating a prickly pear, though not without being very careful to warn of the dangers of trying to get at one of the delectable fruits because of the sharp needles from the cactus.  In fact, he was sure to note that the prickly pear “is very refreshing to the traveler if suffering from thirst.”

After leaving the valley, the crew ascended the Santa Monica Mountains, taking time to admire the fine view of the Los Angeles plain and the Pacific before moving on to the small town of the “City of the Angels.”  Artist Charles Koppel, who drew the above view of the Mission San Fernando and surrounding area also rendered Los Angeles and, the publication of that image in 1857 proved to be the earliest published view of the town.

Despite the fact that a 35th parallel road directly to the Los Angeles area and terminating at the rough harbor at San Pedro was said to have been the most direct, easiest to build and, therefore, cost-effective, American sectional politics came to the fore.  Jefferson Davis, as a Southerner, championed the routes that would go through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before terminating in California.  Northeners, however, wanted a route that went to northern California or higher.

As the last of the reports was being published in 1861, the Civil War erupted.  With the Confederates seceding and being presided over by Davis, the northern states in the Union pushed through legislation and funding to build the transcontinental railroad to the San Francisco Bay area, terminating in Oakland.

A western portion, led by the Central Pacific Railroad and its Big Four (Crocker, Hopkins, Huntington, and Stanford), was built through the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains and the desolate deserts of the Great Basin in Nevada and Utah.  The eastern route, built by the Union Pacific, had a longer, if somewhat easier route (excepting the Rockies).  The two met at Promontory, Utah in 1869, completing one of the engineering wonders of the world.  The same year, the little Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad was built from the harbor to the growing little city.

In July 1876, a railroad line was completed from Oakland to Los Angeles, with the route running through the eastern San Fernando Valley and the new town of San Fernando, specifically sited with the line.  An economic downturn from 1875, however, stunted growth in the area, even with the new rail line completed.  It was not until 1885 that a direct transcontinental railroad line came to the region from the east.  When it did, the region experienced the famed “Boom of the Eighties” and towns like San Fernando experienced a revival.

Categories: Lopez Adobe | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Mission San Fernando and the López Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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