Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Tonight I attended a function at the Soto-Sanchez Adobe in Montebello, sponsored by the Montebello Historical Society, which has managed the historic site for many years.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit the adobe many times over the years and always enjoy going out to what I consider a kindred site, with a great deal of shared history with that of the Homestead.
The adobe was built by widower Casilda Soto de [Villa]Lobo in 1845–she was one of the very few women to receive a land grant, hers being the Rancho La Merced, a 2,363-acre triangular shaped ranch that extended west to a point in Monterey Park and takes in most of Montebello as well as a good portion of the modern Whittier Narrows Dam and flood control area.
Señora Soto built one wing of the adobe, which overlooks the Whittier Narrows from a bluff, and resided in it with her family for several years, during which momentous changes took place in the region, including the Mexican-American War and the onset of the Gold Rush. By the end of the 1840s, she was in financial distress and borrowed $2,500 from neighboring rancher, William Workman, half-owner of Rancho La Puente. The collateral for the loan was the La Merced ranch and, when the loan could not be repaid, Workman foreclosed, taking the property as his.
In 1851, Workman issued half-shares in La Merced to his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, and to Juan Matias Sánchez. Temple, who married Workman’s daughter Antonia Margarita in 1845, took the northern and eastern portion of the ranch, and built an adobe house that spring at what is the southeast corner of Rosemead Boulevard and San Gabriel Boulevard/Durfee Avenue. Over time, the Temples stocked the ranch with cattle and horses and were also busily engaged in farming.
Sánchez, who was born in New Mexico in 1808, must’ve known the Workman family very well from their years living in Taos. By the mid-1840s, a few years after the Workmans migrated to the Los Angeles area, Sánchez came out via the Old Spanish Trail. Soon, he was working as the foreman for Workman at La Puente and appears to have retained the position until shortly after the grant was given to La Merced. In the California state census of mid-1852, Sánchez was listed as a “laborer” just after the Workman and Temple families’ listing.
Sánchez then occupied the Soto adobe and added wing to it, making the building into the present L-shaped configuration. He, too, raised cattle and horses on his half of La Merced and became a very successful rancher. He acquired the Rancho Potrero Grande, adjoining La Merced to the north and encompassing much of South El Monte and portions of El Monte. He also joined his compadres, Workman and Temple, in acquiring the tiny Rancho Potrero Chico, which was under 100 acres, and also bordered La Merced.
The term compadre is used for a specific reason–Sánchez, Workman and Temple not only had extensive landholdings together, but they were close friends, with Sánchez naming two of his sons, Julián and Francisco, apparently after Workman and Temple, who were baptized by those names. The latter two and their wives were also godparents to Sánchez children.
Along with his friends, he acquired significant wealth during the Gold Rush years and weathered (!) the difficult period of the first half of the 1860s when floods followed by drought devastated the cattle industry. By 1870, he self-declared real and personal property at $45,000 in value, a handsome sum for the time.
At that time, Los Angeles was in the early stages of its first development boom, with thousands of new immigrants, old ranch land opened up by foreclosure and sale for new farms and towns, businesses springing up, and Temple and Workman involved in banking, which was new to Los Angeles. By the mid-Seventies, the two owned a bank, called Temple and Workman, that was fully invested in the boom.
But, in late August 1875, the good times came abruptly to an end. The state’s economy collapsed around silver mining speculation at Virginia City, Nevada and a panic erupted spreading from San Francisco south to Los Angeles. Temple and Workman closed its doors to stave off failure and, for three months, sought a loan. Finally one was in the works with Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who cashed out of his Virginia City stock when prices were overhearted and helped precipitate the bust. He then came shopping for Los Angeles real estate, buying the Rancho Santa Anita, north of La Merced, in spring 1875. When he saw Temple and Workman, the county’s wealthiest men and biggest land-owners, in trouble, he smelled opportunity.
Baldwin, however, would not loan money to Temple and Workman unless Sánchez put up his half of La Merced as part of the collateral. Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark, who considered Sánchez a friend, as well as a customer, counseled him to refuse. Sánchez, however, as a compadre was under immense pressure and something of an obligation to help out his friends, even as he told Newmark, “no quiero a morir de hambre” (“I don’t want to die of hunger.”) Notably, however, the deed to La Merced from Workman to Temple and Sánchez was not recorded until after the Baldwin loan was in the works.
Sánchez did put up his portion of the ranch for the loan, which was finalized late in 1875. Within several weeks, the reopened bank was drained of Baldwin’s funds and the institution closed its doors for good early in 1876. Baldwin waited three years to foreclose and, when he did so, he allowed Sánchez to retain his home and 200 acres of land. Within several years, Sánchez was dead.
A few years before his passing, Sánchez married a young woman, Matilda Bojorquez, who bore him three children. In 1887, she sold half of the 200 acres to Frederick Hall and Charles H. Forbes and married the latter’s son Agustin two years later. However, in 1891 Matilda died giving birth to twins. Baldwin filed suit to recover the property which he claimed he’d given to Juan Matias during his lifetime and won a judgment, but, it was not until 1911, that the adobe was sold to Baldwin’s estate (he having died two years prior.)
Real estate developer Edwin G. Hart, who was known for his work in North Whittier (now Hacienda) Heights and La Habra Heights, owned the adobe briefly and subdivided the surrounding land. In 1914, oilman William B. Scott purchased the home. Scott, who was involved with Union Oil Company and other firms, also was one of the tres hermanos (three “brothers”) who owned the ranch of that name in what is now Diamond Bar and Chino Hills–his partners being Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler and former Los Angeles County sheriff and oilman, William R. Rowland (whose father was half-owner of Rancho La Puente with William Workman).
Scott owned the Soto-Sánchez Adobe until his death in 1920, after which it was retained by his widow and children for another half-century. In 1972, his daughter Josephine Crocker and son Keith Scott, donated the home to the City of Montebello. Forty-five years later, the historical society has added a new exhibit area to the adobe devoted to the 20th century and is planning an exhibit on women associated with the adobe, from Casilda Soto to Matilda Bojorquez. It is great to see this volunteer organization working hard to improve its public offerings.
Tours of the Soto-Sánchez Adobe are offered on Saturdays from Noon-4 p.m. For more information about this important local landmark, please click here for the historical society’s website.