by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Today was quite a bookend. In the morning, I gave a talk (which I’ve given for over fifteen years now) on the history of Los Angeles-based art collectors from Henry Huntington to Eli Broad to participants in an Road Scholar/Elderhostel program at a downtown Los Angeles hotel. Then, tonight I presented the story of Valentine Peyton to the La Verne Historical Society.
“Who was Valentine Peyton?” you ask. Well . . .
I’ve been a resident of Chino Hills for twenty years and eventually it dawned on me that the only major thoroughfare in the city named for a person was Peyton Drive, along which are city hall, the police and fire departments, a high school, the city library, the community center, the largest shopping center and a few other key community institutions. So, I started to poke around. What I came up with wound up being a significant part of a presentation last October for the Chino Hills Historical Society and then the sole subject of tonight’s talk.
Peyton was born in 1845 in Danville, Illinois, a town along the Indiana border in the central part of the Land of Lincoln. In his early adult years, he spent time in his hometown, as well as in Kansas and Colorado, working as a merchant and cattle dealer during that period. In both examples, he followed his older brother Isaac, who was a state legislator, newspaper publisher and real estate promoter. Isaac, however, got into some hot water in Saguache, Colorado, near Pueblo, and laden with debts, skipped town with his wife after an arrest warrant was issued against him. When he got to St. Louis, Isaac then abandoned his spouse, took an alias and high-tailed it to Spokane in Washington Territory.
While he was eventually located by his wife, who then received a hefty cash settlement and a legal divorce, Isaac hit the jackpot when the LeRoi copper mine he and a syndicate bought in 1890 just over the Canadian border in British Columbia was sold to a British and Canadian consortium eight years later. The deal meant that a huge profit was realized. Isaac induced his brother Valentine to take a $25,000 stake in the Le Roi that translated to a $400,000 return–this was equivalent to about $12 million today.
The Peyton brothers were well-known in Spokane during those boom years, with interests in downtown real estate, a drug company and other endeavors.But, when Isaac purchased a winter home in Santa Barbara and Valentine came down to visit, he stopped in Los Angeles. When he got wind that the Mt. Lowe Railway, a scenic tourist destination in the San Gabriel Mountains above Pasadena, was in financial distress and for sale at fire-sale prices, he stepped in and bought the system.
The sale was consummated in 1899, though Peyton’s tenure as owner was short. Henry E. Huntington, transportation titan with the Pacific Electric Railway and real estate mogul with interests throughout greater Los Angeles, eyed the Mt. Lowe system and bought it from Peyton in 1901. Again, Peyton realized a handsome profit on the deal.
From there, Peyton began to amass an impressive portfolio in short order. He established several businesses, including a couple of maufacturing companies; purchased a downtown Los Angeles commercial building, developed a fig and almond concern in the Central Valley, and bought several citrus groves in Riverside, Highland (near San Bernardino) and the town of Lordsburg, now La Verne.
Peyton owned a fine home off Westlake Park, was a leader in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was involved in the Y.M.C.A. and homes for troubled boys, including serving a chairman or president for both the McKinley Home, now in Van Nuys, and George Junior Republic, which was a branch of a successful institution in New York and had a new California location in San Fernando before moving to Chino (now Chino Hills) where it was renamed Boys Republic. The institution has successfully helped troubled young men now for 110 years and Peyton Drive is just off the western edge of its campus.
In Lordsburg, Peyton bought a 170-acre citrus grove called the Evergreen Ranch, later called the Sierra Vista Rancho, in 1904 and implemented innovative systems for irrigation and pruning and turned the property into a model operation. He built a packing house in town and the building is still standing and is now being used by the University of La Verne. While his other groves in Riverside and Highland were later sold, he kept the Evergreen in operation for nearly thirty years.
Meanwhile, he acquired 900 acres of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino north of the Boys Republic campus by 1907 and the Peyton Ranch was used for cattle and horse raising. The ranch remained largely intact until it was sold in the early 1970s and later developed into housing tracts as the City of Chino Hills began development in a big way in the 1980s.
Valentine Peyton may not be a well-known name in regional history, but he was involved in a number of interesting endeavors from citrus growing to the ownership of Mt. Lowe to his work with institutions assisting troubled boys and it was certainly interesting to talk about his story with folks in La Verne, where Peyton died in 1932 at the ripe old age of 86.