Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
There were some three dozen ranchos created in the Spanish and Mexican eras in what became, in 1850, the county of Los Angeles. One of the more interesting and colorful maps in the Homestead’s collection is one called “The Old Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Los Angeles County” and published in 1929 by Title Insurance and Trust Company (also known as TICOR), which became a significant repository for land records in the region and issued several popular histories of the area, in addition to its core businesses of title searching, title insurance, real estate trusts and other services.
With its use of the vivid colors of red and yellow, along with a white contrast, the map certainly attracts the eye towards its depiction of the ranchos, public lands, local mountains, regional rivers, the two missions at San Gabriel and San Fernando, and El Camino Real (the Spanish-era “King’s Road” that ran the length of California from the Spanish period onward), among others.
As can easily be seen on the map, the size of the ranchos within the county varied significantly. The tiny Rancho Potrero Chico, much of which came into the possession of the Workman and Temple families and which was located near modern South El Monte just north of the Whittier Narrows, totaled under 100 acres. At the other end of the spectrum was the Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando, which spanned nearly 117,000 acres.
In the Mexican era, the maximum size of a rancho was set at 11 square leagues (a league is roughly just above 4,400 acres), so that the Rancho La Puente, which was 4 square leagues, or not quite 18,000 acres, when granted to John Rowland in 1842 (in fact, the preliminary grant was made on 9 March 1842–175 years ago yesterday) was then expanded three years later, with William Workman officially added as an owner, to the maximum. The official acreage of La Puente was 48,790.55 acres.
The only other rancho, beside the former San Fernando mission lands, that was comparable was San Pedro, at around 48,000 acres, though it was originally granted at some 75,000 acres. There had also been a staggering grant to Manuel Nieto in 1784 that encompassed about 300,000 acres, but the vast rancho was divided into five smaller ones, including Los Cerritos, Santa Gertrudes, Los Alamitos, Los Coyotes and Las Bolsas, which portions of the latter three falling into Orange County’s borders, when that county was created in 1889.
At the center of the map is the lands of the Pueblo of Los Angeles, which was four square leagues or just under 18,000 acres. By 1929, though, when the map was created, the City of Los Angeles, through vigorous annexation, had spread into most of the San Fernando Valley, up the Arroyo Seco towards Pasadena, out to East Los Angeles, west to the Pacific Ocean and south, through the infamous “shoestring” to incorporate the harbor at San Pedro and Wilmington.
Also of note are those areas that have “forward slash” lines through them, especially south of Los Angeles, in most of the Santa Monica Mountains, around the Mission San Gabriel, west of the Verdugo Mountains and south of Tujunga, around what is now Azusa and Glendora, and the Chino and Puente hills ranges.
These were public lands, most of which were set aside in the pre-American era to allow for common grazing lands for ranchers to use so they wouldn’t overgraze their own properties. The region around Azusa, however, as discussed in a recent post regarding a photo of María Guadalupe Zamorano de Dalton, became public land because the survey of the Azusa ranch lands of her husband Henry left him just a fraction of what he had claimed as his.
In addition to the half of Rancho La Puente that went to William Workman, most of which was lost in the 1876 failure of the Temple and Workman bank that has been often discussed in recent posts, the Workman and Temple families had involvement in many regional ranchos.
For example, near the San Gabriel River and Whittier Narrows area, they had ownership in the aforemention Potrero Chico and its neighboring La Merced, Potrero Grande and Potrero de Felipe Lugo. In Brea Canyon at the extreme east of the county, they had an interest in the Rincon de la Brea rancho. William Workman and F.P.F. Temple were part owners in the Rancho San Francisquito, part of which included Temple City, developed in the 1920s by Walter P. Temple, son of F.P.F. and grandson of Workman.
West of Los Angeles, William Workman obtained, during the drought years of the 1860s, a portion of Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, which he held onto until the end of the decade. He could not have imagined that this area would later include Beverly Hills and other tony areas of the “Westside.”
Further to the south, Workman and F.P.F. Temple also had interests in the Rancho Ciegnega o Paso de la Tijera, Rancho Aguaje de La Centinela, and Rancho Sausal Redondo. The Centinela subdivision, which opened for sale in 1875, came out of these interests, but the bank failure brought a quick end to that project. What became the Baldwin Hills, however, had been Temple and Workman land, but lost to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin because he held a mortgage on the property due to a loan he made to the bank. When Baldwin foreclosed in 1879, he took over those hills. Years later, his daughters Anita and Clara were the beneficiaries of oil found there, as was the case in the Montebello Hills on Rancho La Merced.
On a section of Rancho San Pedro, in 1865, F.P.F. Temple and El Monte farmer Fielding W. Gibson purchased about 4,600 acres at the northeast corner of the ranch and subdivided it. There were plans for a town called “Gibsonville” or “Centerville,” but William Morton and Griffith Compton bought most of the parcel and the town of Compton was developed there.
Finally, F.P.F. Temple picked up a considerable portion of the public lands south of Mission San Gabriel, lands which had been granted in 1846 by Governor Pío Pico to Hugo Reid and William Workman. While the land claim made by Workman and those who obtained Reid’s interest was approved by a commission and local federal courts, the United States Supreme Court ruled the grant invalid, freeing up these lands for private ownership. Temple’s land encompassed where Monterey Park is located today.
This great late 1920s map is a compelling and attractive document of the ranchos of Los Angeles County and the Homestead is certainly fortunate to have an original in excellent condition. Look for more examples from the museum’s map collection in future posts in this series.