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Mexican Era Sites | love San Fernando Valley

4th Largest Unofficial City in America!

Mexican Era Sites

Visit Mexican-era sites

These locations give you a sense of how lands on the edges of the Valley were given to individuals, while the Valley itself remained a huge chunk of undivided, undeveloped barren land during Mexican times. They are organized by starting in the north at the Mission, then driving counter-clockwise around SFV.

 

Land Grants to Fernandeno Mission Indians

The native-born Californio Pico family was instrumental in leading the charge to break up the Spanish missions properties and the absolute power of the Catholic priests. The non-Indian population was growing through large families and immigration from Mexico, just as the Indian populations working the mission lands was declining. People wanted the land, period.  When secularization finally was pushed through, the Mexican government talked as if half the lands would be returned to the Indians who were then working them.

However, the Indians weren’t automatically freed from the system. First they had to apply to be emancipated — if they were told about the process. Rather convenient — if the native people didn’t know about this new rule that they had to apply to be freed and then had to apply for some land, the land was left “unclaimed.” Only those Indians who were judged to be capable farmers were given a plot of land — despite several generations of their families working the land under the tutelage of the priests. In 1843, 39 native men at the San Fernando Mission applied for land grants out of the hundreds working the plantation. Ultimately, 5 Indians would be given parcels along the edges of the former mission land in the vicinities of their home villages (rancherias). Today, one at Sikwanga is under the Van Norman Reservoir (where our drinking water is stored in the NW corner off Rinaldi Street). Another was up in the Santa Clara Valley north of the Mission’s granary at Castaic Junction — the former village of Chaguayanga. Of the other 3, one was on the western edge (Rancho El Escorpion), one on the south central edge (Rancho Los Encinos), and the other on the southeast edge of the Valley (Rancho Cahuenga).

Andres Pico Adobe/Romulo Pico Adobe/Ranchito Romulo (1834) N Central SFV

(LA Historic-Cultural Monument #7/CA Historical Landmark #362/US Register of Historic Places)

The oldest residence in SFV, and second oldest in Los Angeles, was built by Indian laborers from the mission in the middle of the orchards. Andres was one of the brothers of Governor Pio Pico. After the secularization (abandonment) of all the California missions, Pio Pico gave his brother Andres a nine-year lease on Mission San Fernando and its lands. Then in 1846, governor Pico turned around and sold the entire valley out from under his brother to the highest bidder to pay for the new war against American invaders. The new owner, Eulogio de Celis, named it Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando. It was the largest land grant ever made in California — 116, 858 acres or 26 square leagues. This helped raise war funds badly needed for the Mexican forces, which General Andres was leading against the U.S. Army.

In an interesting turn of events, the new owner of Rancho San Fernando later sold the southern half of the Valley back to Andres. (The dividing line between the two halves is today’s Roscoe Blvd.) Andres also retained ownership of the adobe and the mission. In fact, he lived in the mission as his home. In 1873, adopted son Romulo found the adobe in poor shape. He rehabbed it and kept it until the 1890s. Today it’s home to the San Fernando Valley Historical Society. It can be rented for private events.

10940 Sepulveda Blvd.

Mission Hills 91346

818.365.7810

Open Monday 10 am – 4 pm/3rd Sundays 1 pm – 4 pm/Daily private tours by appt.

www.sfvhs.com – San Fernando Valley Historical Society

 

Rancho Ex-San Fernando Mission

What Eulogio de Celis, a cattle hide trader married to a former governor’s daughter, got for $14,000 was the biggest land deal in California history! The entire San Fernando Valley. Think about that when you’re driving the 405, or the 5, or the 118, or the 101, or the 134. All his!

This is how it went down. In 1846, the Governor Pio Pico was authorized by Mexico City to borrow money to arm the patriots against the illegal invasion of American soldiers. There was no money in the public coffers for such an expense. The agreement was, if the government didn’t pay back in 8 months, then The Valley was de Celis’ collateral. Eight months later, with battles against American cannons and their superior military fighting tactics draining resources, it didn’t look like repayment was coming any time soon. So de Celis foreclosed.  The deal was supposed to be for 14 square leagues of land, but ended up being 26! From Rancho San Francisco (Santa Clarita) as the northern boundary, west to Simi Hills, east to Rancho Tujunga, and south to the Montanes de Portesuelo (Santa Monica Mts) — the whole shebang was his except those small holdings already given to Indian farmers around the edges. His heirs would hang onto parts of it for another 30 years or so, and then die an impoverished old age — as happened to many land-wealthy, cash-poor Mexican ranchers in the American economy of the 1870s.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rancho_Ex-Mission_San_Fernando#/media/File:San_Fernando_Valley_all_Hall_Map_1880.png

 

Rancho El Escorpion de las Salinas (1845) village Jucjauyngna  Central W SFV

This is one of the few Mexican land grants actually given to Native Americans in California. It’s rather stingy compared to what the Californio families racked up. Never-the-less, three members of one family were given a sliver of the far western valley on Bell Creek against the Simi Hills. Chumash chief Odon Eusebia, his son-in-law Urbano, and his grandson Manuel built adobes at the mouth of Bell Canyon (gone by the 1960s). The Fernandeno name was Escurpion — a mythical animal living in a cave up in the hills.

Historically this had been an important area to their people. Included in their half league (1,110 acres) they got the location of the Tongva/Kizh village Moomgna, as well as Chumash villages located around the canyons. Burros Flat Painted Cave and Escorpion (Castle) Peak remained sacred sites for the native people in spite of their conversion to Catholicism. Hu’wam had been a Chumash trading site below Escorpion Peak, a place of commerce used by the different tribes of the Valley. What would become Bell Canyon, Canoga Park, Woodland Hills, West Hills, and Calabasas made up Rancho El Escorpion.

Adjacent to the northern boundary of the land grant, Fernandeno Indian Joaquin Romero was given mission grazing lands. His father had been an overseer at the San Fernando Mission for four years, a position of authority within the system.  Romero was given only a 5/12 section which included the Chatsworth Reservoir area and the limekiln.

 

Leonis Adobe (1844) (LA Historic-Cultural Monument #1) SW SFV

The two-story adobe of Miguel Leonis is located on the southern end of Rancho El Escorpion. It was the first historical building put on LA’s Heritage List. Original buildings, artifacts, and period livestock depict life in the Old West.

Michael Leonis was born in the Basque border region between Spain and France. His family was wealthy. When he was convicted as a smuggler, his disgraced family sent him off as far away as possible — to California by ship. This wasn’t so unusual, as hundreds of young single Basque men had been migrating to South America and Mexico for some time. In order to keep their properties in the Old World intact, inheritance went to the oldest child. So younger sons had to seek their fortune elsewhere. Father Fermin Lasuen, who founded Mission San Fernando, was a Basque immigrant.

Michael was illiterate and only spoke Basque – which has nothing in common with any other language in the world. Still, when he jumped ship at Los Angeles, he was able to find a job as a sheepherder for Joaquin Romero out on Rancho El Escorpion. The sheep business was a common industry for uprooted Basque men. They didn’t have to speak the local language, lived a lonely rural life, and saved their money. They ate a lot of lamb stew. Leonis would stay on the ranch for the rest of his life.

But at this point of the story, Michael has been turned into Spanish “Miguel.” Leonis had worked his way up to ranch foreman, running sheep and cattle in the Calabasas area of the rancho. There’s a small adobe. Miguel’s an unmistakable figure among the Indians he works for at 6’4″ with piercing green eyes, white skin, great physical strength, and brash manner. He was nicknamed “el Vosque grande,” the big Basque.

23537 Calabasas Road

Calabasas 91302

818.222.511

leonisadobemuseum.org

Fri and Sun 1 pm – 4 pm/Sat 10 am – 4pm

 

Calabasas (1824) SW SFV

This is a good story. I hope it’s true. Back in 1824, a Basque rancher named Antonio Jaurequi was heading home to Oxnard with a wagonload of pumpkins. A rattlesnake startled the horse, who bolted, tipping over the wagon. There were smashed pumpkins everywhere! The next spring, all those seeds had sprouted into a huge pumpkin patch. Every year it grew bigger. Thus the name — Calabasas is pumpkin in Spanish. In the days of El Escorpion 20 years later, this must have been a fertile spot in October.

 

Rancho Los Encinos (1845) village Siutcangna  S Central SFV

Back at the rancho of Don Juan Francisco Reyes, this former mayor of Los Angeles faced charges of badly mistreating the native Indian workers who worked his land. So bad in fact that the Mexican Governor Pio Pico revoked Reyes’ grant! Considering the times and how brutally the Indians were sometimes treated at the missions (where whipping and stocks was a common form of punishment), this had to have been ugly. The governor turned around and re-granted the property to three of the Kizh/Tongva ranch hands! Native Americans Ramon, Francisco, and Roque raised cattle and corn on the land that had once been their ancestral home.

Reyes had a home in the pueblo as well as large land holdings in Lompoc, so he still had a place to go. During his soldier days, he had served at both San Luis Obispo and San Antonio de Padua. He had requested land in that area after the Church had taken his Mission Hills home to build Mission San Fernando Rey in 1795.

16756 Moorpark St.

Encino 91346

818.784.4849

Wed – Sun 10 am – 5 pm

los-encinos.org

losencinos@parks.ca.gov

 

Catalina Verdugo Adobe (CA Histrical Landmark #637) SE SFV

When Don Verdugo passed away, he split Rancho San Rafael between two of his many children, his only son and blind daughter Catalina. She never married, and thus she could own property. Her nephew Teodoro built this adobe and she lived here with his family. This oldest house in Glendale is now a furnished museum. The date of the building varies quite a bit. The city boasts a date of 1828, which makes it older than the Pico adobe — which is acknowledged as the oldest in the Valley. Teodoro’s daughter claimed her father built it in 1860.

2211 Bonita Dive

Glendale 91208

818.244.2841

Open by appt. only

 

82f3c69a484629cdfba12c8115bb4974The Oak of Peace (1847) SE SFV

The United States had declared war on Mexico in 1846 over the annexation of Texas in a significant land grab. Mexico ordered all citizens in Alta California to defend themselves against the American invaders. Americans deployed a battalion of mounted riflemen to southern CA. The Californios were treated as rebels. The combat moved from San Diego to Montebello. The pueblo Los Angeles bristled under imposed martial law.

In January 1847, two Pico brothers and their supporters met on the Verdugo property under this tree to discuss their dire situation. General Andres Pico was commander of the Mexican army. His brother Pio Pico was the Governor, under pressure from Mexico City to keep up the fight against the Americans. However, their brother Jesus Pico represented American Lieutenant Colonel John Fremont. In this war, Californio loyalties were on both sides of the matter. For the Picos, it was a family divided.

dona-bernarda-ruizAmong the Fremont delegation was the influential town matriarch from Santa Barbara, Bernarda Ruiz de Rodriquez. She had come up with a peaceful compromise to end the fighting. She’d presented it personally to Colonel Fremont, when he was staying at the hotel next to her house — and had helped himself to her herd of horses. He found it agreeable. While Fremont had ended the war in northern California, the southern families kept it going for months.

Although Commander Andres Pico had the home advantage, he didn’t have the troops or ammunition to hold out waiting for Mexico to win the war against the U.S. There was no war chest or standing army to lead. Most fighters were the Indians and Mexicans workers attached to ranchos and their owners. Jesus recommended that his brother Andres surrender to Fremont’s superior U.S. army and avoid bloodshed. The brothers worked out the terms of surrender here under the tree which stood 30 feet from the Verdugo adobe. Geronimo Lopez, 18, was sent as a go-between to Fremont.  The magnificent tree died in 1987. But you can stand next to the sign that commemorates it.

2211 Bonita Drive

Glendale 91208

 

Casa de Adobe/Campo de Cahuenga (LA Historic-Cultural Monument #29) SE SFV

In this old Verdugo adobe or storage house (built 1795*), history was made. This is where the treaty was signed by Andres Pico and Lt. Colonel John C. Fremont on January 13, 1847 after a year of combat. Around the table of men signing the treaty, one woman was there – Bernarda Ruiz. She had drafted The Articles of Capitulation — which became known as the Treaty of Cahuenga — which ended the Mexican-American war in Alta California. This is the only time in our history that the losing side got to draft the final document. Though Pico might not have been aware of its significance, his signature meant the mindset driving Americans to extend their country from coast to coast had just come true. The Americans achieved Manifest Destiny right before their eyes. It made Fremont a national hero. U.S. President James Polk had won his gamble to invade Mexico without a real reason to do so.

3919 Lankershim Blvd.

Studio City, CA 91604

818.762.3998

campodecahuenga.com

 *There are various dates given depending on the source you read. This comes from lahistoryarchive.org. Since old records do mention a satellite of the SFV Mission existing in this vicinity for cattleman, this date will do. When LA was digging up the street for some project, they found foundations of an adobe dating back to 1845. 

 

Rancho Cahuenga (1843) village Kaweengna (place of the hill) S SFV

Miguel Triunfo was born at San Fernando Mission in 1810. He was rewarded with 388 acres in the SE corner of the Valley in 1843 for his work at the mission. This was located at the base of the pass — the route between the pueblo de Los Angeles and SFV. The grant was in the middle of Rancho Providencia, right where the Big Tujunga empties into the Los Angeles River. (Today it’s where the Los Angeles Equestrian Center is in the Riverside neighborhood). This is not the adobe where the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed. But there was a battle here in 1831 — and another in 1845!

Battle of Cahuenga #1 (1831)

The Californios were beyond annoyed that Mexico City repeatedly installed governors who knew nothing about the province. They wanted one of their own. The current  Governor Manuel Victoria was the most unpopular yet. Things boiled over when he rejected their reform demands. Some wealthy landowners, galvanized by Pio Pico, made a concerted effort to remove him. They pulled together an army of 200 troops and Indian ranch hands.

But the Governor wasn’t about to submit to a rebel revolt. He mustered an army and led them down from the capital, Monterey. Neither side really wanted a civil war between “sons of the country.” Governor Victoria lined up his army at the base of Cahuenga Pass on December 5 and waited for the Los Angeles army to show up. They outnumbered him two to one. Captain Romualdo Pacheco (namesake Pacheco Pass below San Jose) advised the Governor to retreat to the mission and wait for reinforcements. But the Governor gave the order to fire anyway. His men fired above the heads of the rebels. They returned the volley over the governor’s men. And there they stood, not willing to shoot each other.

Somehow, Pacheco misunderstood the Governor’s order. He charged his horse out between the two armies with his lance drawn. When he saw he was alone, Pacheco stopped abruptly in the middle. From the rebel side, Jose Avila (former Mayor Los Angeles, Avila adobe on Olvera Street), charged out to challenge Pacheco. Both were skilled horseman, expert with lances. Their countrymen stood by watching as they charged back and forth like knights of old. Then Pacheco knocked Avila’s lance out his hand as he galloped by. When it hit the ground, Avila reacted before thinking. He whipped out his pistol and shot Pacheco dead off his horse. The audience of men stood in stunned silence. It wasn’t supposed to come to this.

Governor Victoria reacted just as badly. He shot Avila dead off his horse. This angered Captain Portilla of the rebels. He charged Victoria with his lance drawn, hitting him full in the face. The governor fell in pain, part of his face ripped off. The battle was over.

Governor Victoria eventually recovered, then resigned from Alta California. A former governor served in the interim until Pio Pico claimed the office. His term was short; a new governor was installed a year later. This didn’t end civil unrest. Don Pico increased pressure to abolish the mission system and make Los Angeles the capital.

The southern faction opposed another governor in 1837 and 270 troops, including former mission Indians, were amassed at Mission San Fernando. Governor Juan Batista Alvarado arrived in the southern end of the Valley from the King’s Highway. He was ready to attack the mission. He lined up troops in battle formation from Calabasas to Encino. Los Angeles Mayor Sepulveda called a truce. The sides wrangled about it for a few days, and eventually everyone went home.

Battle of Cahuenga #2 (1844)

Seven years later they were all back at it, destined to meet back in the Valley. It was the same caballeros promoting a rebellion against an even more unpopular Mexican governor. Government affairs down in Mexico City were falling apart. They were sending convicts to swell the California population. Americans moving into Texas were pressing their government to make the Tejanos part of the US (which Senator Abraham Lincoln opposed).

The southern Californios, especially the Picos, intended to take matters into their own hands. This time they spent weeks preparing for the showdown, gathering hundreds of horses and supplies. The ranks swelled to 500 men, including foreigners.

Governor Emmanuel Micheltorena conscripted 400 churos (convicts), 50 rifleman from Fort Sutter, hundreds of artillerymen, Indians with guns, bows and arrows, and some Yankees. He set up base camp at Rancho Los Encinos.

Both sides met again at Cahuenga (around Mariposa and Main Streets off Riverside Drive). The militias brought muskets and cannons. Again, promoting a civil war among kin was not what the battle was about. They all stayed just out of range of the cannons, which boomed for hours beginning at noon on February 20. Neither side had a lot of ammunition, so had to pick up fired cannonballs to lob back at the other side. Families really didn’t want to kill each other. The wives and children watched from the hillside (Forest Lawn area), holding up crosses while pleading to the saints for the menfolk. Yankees on both sides deserted, joining the women on the hill to get out of harm’s way. They had only signed up in hopes of getting grants of free land. When it got dark, everybody went home.

The fighting continued the next day up and down the Los Angeles River on Rancho La Providencia (in present day Burbank near Warner Brother Studios). Nothing decisive happened, except that a horse and burro got killed. Even so, Governor Micheltorena surrendered. The opposition was so determined and well-organized he decided to call it quits.

So, the “sons of the country” finally had their first Californio governor, Pio Pico. However, the euphoria of the Dons and ranchero autonomy would be very short-lived.

In a couple of years the U.S. would invade Mexico over a border dispute regarding Texas. Governor Pico would be pressured to defend Mexican sovereignty. Not everyone was against the U.S. aggression. There were many American men living among the rancheros, married to sisters, cousins, nieces, and mothers. The rhetoric as whether to support Mexico or the U.S. could heat into a real civil war. Pico pondered if it might be better to align with England or France to strengthen their province….

But none of that would matter when the U.S. invaded California.

 

Courtesy Lopez Adobe Collection

Sheep grazing in Studio City, Courtesy Lopez Adobe Collection

 Rancho Los Felis  SE corner SFV

This is present-day Griffith Park at the SE  edge of SFV. It was just north of the pueblo (the SFV is just 10 miles north of the original pueblo — but it was a day’s journey back then). The original 1830s adobe was used for years as a Ranger station. Soldier Jose Vicente Felis was granted the land in 1795 for his service as a soldier. He had come in 1775 with the de Anza land expedition. Tragically, he lost both his wife and new-born son on the journey, but later raised 8 children. He served as Mayor and judge in the pueblo do Los Angeles.
4730 Crystal Springs Drive
323.913.4688
Los Angeles 90027
1100 Pico St
San Fernando, CA 91340
Young Geronimo Lopez was the 18 year-old assistant to Andres Pico. He was at the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga. This house wasn’t actually built until later in the American Era, but the family lived in the Valley during the Mexican Era. The Lopez family operated a stagecoach stop servicing Beale’s Cut.

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Outside SFV (10 miles)

Oak of the Golden Dream (1842) CA Historical Landmark #168  NE outside of SFV

Rumors of gold finds had circulated in California. That’s not surprising, since creeks coming out of the Mother Lode near Sacramento were loaded with it. The Indians didn’t find it valuable, so didn’t collect it. Even though gold fever had driven Spanish exploration for 300 years, they never tramped inland to the flanks of Sierra Mountains where a fortune lay glittering in the sun. Not that they weren’t excited by this first official strike in 1842! It came in a most surprising way in the San Fernando Hills just 10 miles north of Mission San Fernando.

It was an ordinary workday when cattle rancher Jose Francisco de Garcia Lopez, the owner of Rancho Tujunga, headed off to round up wayward cattle with a companion. Lopez was the majordomo (overseer) of his niece’s Rancho San Francisco. It wasn’t too far from his own land across San Fernando Valley. His ranch was tucked in the furthest NE corner, and niece Jacoba Feliz deValle’s in the furthest NW corner. (She and her husband lived up in Santa Clarita Valley in the former SFV Mission granary — which stood near Magic Mountain.) The men rode over to Canon de Los Encinos (Live Oak Canyon), a pleasant grassland along an unusual creek. It had “white oil” oozing up. It’s the only place where black oil is naturally scrubbed so clean, that it comes out of the ground transparent.

Lopez probably dreamed about finding gold someday in the hills, as he had trained in mining at the University of Mexico. Undoubtedly he tramped the hills at the edge of his ranch, which backed up against the San Gabriel Mountains with creeks flowing through.

But on this particular day, Lopez took a break under an oak tree along the creek. After a little snooze, he woke up hungry. As he dug up some wild onions with his knife, Lopez noticed shiny flakes clinging to the roots. He dug up more gold from deposits along the creek. Lopez must have been pretty excited. As soon as he could, he rode down to the pueblo to see the most prominent businessman, former American Abel Sterns. Sterns sent 1800 ounces on the 200 day trip around the Horn of South America straight to the Philadelphia Mint to be assayed. The verdict came back later in the year that it was .926 fine. Meanwhile, Lopez attempted to register the first-ever gold claim with the governor — who never responded.

It wasn’t long before the locals poured into the little canyon, digging away with whatever utensils they brought from home. In a few months they were overun by 2000 miners from Sonora, Mexico. These guys were pros. They had adapted a winnowing technique from agriculture. Tossing the light dirt into the air allowed the heavier gold to fall back into the miner’s pan. It was a cheap method, if not efficient. One observer of the operations was none other than John Sutter, who had just gotten out of jail for backing the wrong candidate for governor. Yes, that John Sutter of Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento. Who could guess that in two years the major gold discovery that would permanently change the course of US and California history would be found on his property — and plunge him into financial ruin.

Over five years, it’s estimated miners pulled out 1,300 pounds gold from Placerita Creek, worth something like $80,000 dollars (placer is Spanish for gold that’s easy to pick up). It wasn’t a huge strike. But what a present for Lopez on his 40th birthday sitting under that oak — which is still there!

19152 Placerita Canyon Road

Newhall 91321