by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It sprawls through about 2,500 acres in Tonner Canyon, east of the Homestead and within the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, and has been owned by the City of Industry for forty years, but today a new phase in the history of Tres Hermanos Ranch began today with an agreement between the three cities for joint ownership and management of the property.
After thousands of years of use and perhaps settlement by native aboriginal Indians, the area comprising the ranch and much of the Chino Hills range broadly was set aside as public land by the Spanish and then continued this way in the Mexican period. A major reason for this status was to allow neighboring rancheros to have additional grazing land for cattle and other stock beyond their own ranchos.
After the onset of the American period, however, public lands like these were sold for private ownership. Los Angeles livery stable owners George R. Butler and Wilson Beach acquired large tracts of public land by the mid-1870s in the area in and around Tres Hermanos, including Rancho Los Nogales, about 1,000 acres granted in 1846 to Jose de la Luz Linares and later owned by the Vejar family, to the west. In June 1876, just months after the failure of the Temple and Workman bank and an economic depression hit greater Los Angeles, Spencer H. Wilson, Charles M. Wright and Beach bought out Butler’s half-interest in these properties.
Wilson’s interests were, after his death in 1877, acquired by Sedgwick Lynch of Santa Cruz, who ran a successful lumberyard in Los Angeles with John M. Griffith. Beach and Butler’s portions were also taken over by Lynch by foreclosure at about the same time, leaving just Wright in possession of a part-ownership. When Lynch passed on in 1881, Wright and Lynch’s widow Jane had joint ownership of Los Nogales and the public land that later encompassed Tres Hermanos.
In 1889, a Los Angeles County history noted that Rancho Los Nogales was 9,000 acres, again including the large tracts of public lands to the east, and was mainly devoted to sheep raising and wool production from some 5,000 head. Cattle, horses and hogs were also raised there, while alfalfa, fruit and grapes were grown, probably in the valley closer to modern Walnut.
Jane Lynch was an absentee owner in Santa Cruz, while Charles Wright was the resident proprietor, living in an adobe built by Ramon Vejar located on what for years was Lanterman State Hospital in Pomona’s southern limits. The pair also partnered in real estate investment in Los Angeles, including lucrative properties in the financial district on Spring Street. Lynch lived until 1910 and Wright followed her the next year with the two owning the expanded Los Nogales for some three decades.
The next owner of the area embraced by Tres Hermanos was Pittsburgh capitalist Walter F. Fundenberg, who acquired the Los Nogales property from Lynch and Wright in 1908. Fundenberg had large tracts of orange groves in Riverside and San Dimas and may have purchased the Los Nogales property for investment. He likely continued the stock raising and small farming operations for the decade that he owned roughly 10,000 acres under the Los Nogales name and then sold the parcel in two smaller chunks. Fundenberg spent his remaining decade in Covina and Pasadena, dying in the latter city in 1928.
One of the parcels sold by Fundenberg, comprising about 7,500 acres, was acquired by Frederick F. Lewis, who rechristened his holdings as the “Diamond Bar Ranch.” Later, this became the foundation for the City of Diamond Bar, developed initially by Transamerica Corporation by the late 1950s after the post-World War II suburban explosion reached the eastern limits of the San Gabriel Valley.
The remaining 2,500 acres, of course, was acquired in either 1914 or 1918, depending on the source, by those tres hermanos: Chandler, Rowland and Scott. The newly designated Tres Hermanos Ranch was operated much as the land had been for decades before, devoted mainly to raising cattle and horses, as well as rest and relaxation for its owners. The “brothers” built a ranch house on a knoll that rose behind a reservoir created at the time—the knoll is still there behind the Arnold Reservoir, but the ranch house was razed some years ago.
There were occasional mentions of the ranch in the Times, owned by Chandler. In June 1919, for example, a rotogravure section comprised mainly of high-quality photo had seven dedicated to “The Spring Rodeo on the Tres Hermanos Rancho.” These showed cattle herded during a roundup, cowboys involved in the operation, and separation, lassoing and branding of calves.
In October of that year, a short piece titled “Ranch Owners Entertain,” noted that a six-course dinner was provided for “a congenial group of guests . . . at Tres Hermanos Ranch,” which, it was added, was “owned by William Rowland, W.B. Scott, and Harry Chandler, and located in the beautiful Puente [Chino, actually] hills near Walnut. There was musical entertainment as well as the repast.
Rowland died at age 80 in 1926 and Scott, a much younger man, followed him not long afterward and their heirs sold the two men’s interests to Chandler. During the Great Depression, there were occasional articles in the Times about parties thrown by the Chandlers at Tres Hermanos, but no mention at all after 1938.
At any rate, the property appears to have been largely leased out for stock raising for the four decades following the last public notice of the ranch until it was sold by the Chandis Corporation, a Chandler holding company, to the City of Industry in 1978.
The Homestead has in its collection a few photographs of Tres Hermanos taken in 1925 during a visit by the Scott family and some friends. Josephine Scott (later Crocker) is on horseback on the dirt Tonner Canyon Road looking to the north and there is a close-up of the ranch house porch is also included. Her brother, Keith Scott, was a fine amateur painter and some of his works featuring scenes at Tres Hermanos hang in the lobby of the Industry City Hall.
There is an interesting side note to the Scott/Crocker connection with the Workman and Temple families. William Workman’s ranch foreman in the late 1840s was Juan Matias Sánchez, a native of New Mexico. When Workman foreclosed on a loan to María Casilda Soto de Lobo and took possession of her Rancho La Merced, west of Workman’s portion of La Puente (shared with William Rowland’s father, John), the ranch was given in 1851 to Sánchez and Workman’s daughter Antonia Margarita and her husband, F.P.F. Temple
While the Temples built an adobe home east of the old San Gabriel River (today’s Río Hondo), Sánchez occupied the Soto adobe sitting on the edge of a bluff along the Montebello Hills across the river and added a wing to it. While Temple and Sánchez developed the ranch, Workman retained the deed until 1875 when the crisis affecting the Temple and Workman bank led him to have it recorded by them as preparation for a loan to the stricken institution by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin.
The loan included a demand by Baldwin that Sánchez include his half of La Merced as collateral along with Temple’s portion and other Temple and Workman properties. When the bank went belly up, Baldwin foreclosed, though he deeded Sánchez his house and 200 acres around for his use during his lifetime.
Later, William B. Scott, one of tres hermanos, purchased the Soto-Sánchez Adobe and, after his early death, it was left to Josephine Crocker and Keith Scott. Years later, the two deeded the house and a small amount of land around it (a housing tract sprung up surrounding the historic adobe) to the City of Montebello as a historic landmark and park, which it continues to be today.