by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Since the announcement last year of a newly created a conservation authority composed of the cities of Chino Hills, Diamond Bar and Industry to manage the future of the 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch, I have given a few talks to local organizations on the history of the property, 70% of which is located in Chino Hills and the remainder in Diamond Bar.
Tonight, I presented that history to about 70 people at a meeting of the La Verne Historical Society at the large auditorium at the Hillcrest Retirement Community. As discussed in previous posts here, Tres Hermanos was the property of oilman William B. Scott, Los Angeles Times publisher and capitalist Harry Chandler; and former Los Angeles County Sheriff and oilman William R. Rowland.
The area was part of public lands set aside as common grazing areas for nearby ranchos like Santa Ana del Chino (Chino and Chino Hills), La Puente, and San José (Pomona and surrounding areas). After the American seizure of Mexican California, these public lands were gradually privatized and Ricardo Vejar and his family, who owned and then lost the southern half of San José, obtained the Tres Hermanos area.
Vejar also became a part-owner of the adjacent Rancho Los Nogales, which started off as about 2,500 acres granted to the Ybarra family. Vejar, after losing his San José ranch property, moved to an adobe on Los Nogales now in what became its namesake city of Walnut. With the acquisition of the public land to the east, however, the Los Nogales ranch eventually expanded to some 9,000 acres.
As Los Angeles underwent its first period of sustained growth following the Civil War and lasting through the mid-1870s, changes of ownership ensued and several Americans became invested in Los Nogales. These included livery stable owners George R. Butler, who was also a Los Angeles city treasurer, and Wilson Beach, stagecoach operator Charles M. Wright, and Spencer H. Wilson.
After the regional economy went into a nosedive in the last half of the decade, following such events as the failure of the bank of Temple and Workman, all lost their interests in the ranch except Wright, who became owner with Santa Cruz lumberman Sedgwick Lynch, who co-owned a Los Angeles lumberyard and, after Lynch’s death in 1881, his widow Jane.
For years, Wright and Jane Lynch co-owned the ranch, which was dedicated to farming and stock raising with little change as the 19th century gave way to the 20th. In 1907, Pittsburgh dentist and real estate investor Walter F. Fundenburg, who’d come to California and invested in a Riverside orange grove, bought Los Nogales from Jane Lynch for a quarter million dollars.
Because of growing oil development in the Puente Hills, Brea Canyon and Olinda in modern Brea, Fundenburg was convinced that there was oil at Los Nogales, as well. He spent the next decade trying to bring in a well on the ranch, but the endeavor proved fruitless. By 1918, he decided to sell off the ranch in two large parcels. The larger, to the west, was sold to an East Coast tire magnate, Frederick E. Lewis, who called his new domain the Diamond Bar Ranch. The smaller section was sold to Chandler, Rowland and Scott, who were partners in an oil company, and christened Tres Hermanos.
The ownership of the ranch by the entire trio was very short-lived. Scott died in 1920 and Rowland followed six years later. For over a half-century, Tres Hermanos was the property of Chandler’s heirs, much of that period under a holding company called Chandis (Chandler + Otis). It was sold in 1978 to the City of Industry after a Pomona-area water company pursued the possibility of a reservoir on the ranch, which had a Metropolitan Water District feeder line installed through Tres Hermanos in 1965 to a treatment plant in Yorba Linda that supplied water for much of Orange County.
Industry, which also briefly floated plans for housing on part of the ranch, later gave up the idea of a reservoir, though in recent years a solar farm was pitched for the place. This raised the strong opposition of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar while planning for the farm was undertaken. After a change in leadership in Industry, however, the solar farm idea was scotched and a meeting between the city managers of Chino Hills and Industry led to the changes mentioned at the beginning of this post.
Because he was such a well-known figure and also famous associated with the Rancho La Puente, this post provides more detail about William Richard Rowland. He was the youngest child of John Rowland and María Encarnación Martinez and their only child born in California, the remainder hailing from Taos, New Mexico, from where the Rowlands emigrated to this area in the early 1840s.
Born on 11 November 1846, William received his early education at the private school in Los Angeles of William Wolfskill, a close friend of John Rowland (and of William Workman). He then attended what would be considered a preparatory school at Santa Clara College in the town of that name adjacent to San Jose in Northern California.
Returning home to La Puente, William helped his father manage the massive portion of La Puente that John Rowland operated and remained in his father’s household as late as the 1870 census. The following year, however, William secured a distinction that may never be achieved again: he became the youngest sheriff of Los Angeles County at age 25 when he won election to that office.
This was just after the horrific Chinese Massacre, which took place in late October of that year and, despite the rough-and-tumble nature of the city and county, William distinguished himself during his term. He was most renowned for leading the effort to capture the notorious bandido Tiburcio Vásquez, whose long career was brought to an end in spring 1874 in a house in modern West Hollywood by a posse organized and directed by Sheriff Rowland. Rowland, to lull Vásquez into a state of security, remained in Los Angeles while having his subordinates stage a surprise siege of the bandit’s hiding place leading to the capture.
Rowland concluded his two terms and went back to farming at La Puente, on a tract left to him when his father died in 1873. In 1874, he married Manuelita Williams, a daughter of Maria de Jesús Villanueva and Rancho Santa Ana del Chino owner Isaac Williams. The two had a son, George, and daughters Helen and Nina. Undoubtedly missing the thrill of being the top law enforcement official in the county, Rowland won another two-year term as sheriff in 1880. After completing his second go-round, he again went back to his ranch and then teamed up with William Lacy of Los Angeles to drill for oil on a section on the southern end of his land at the peak of the Puente Hills.
By 1885, with Los Angeles poised to enter its most dramatic growth period, known generally as the Boom of the Eighties, Rowland’s Puente Oil Company became a stunning success. It preceded the Los Angeles Oil Field, discovered by Charles Canfield and Edward Doheny, by several years, as well as later nearby fields like Olinda, Brea Canyon and Whittier.
Within a few years of finding oil on his ranch, Rowland built a refinery in a new town east of his oil wells called Chino. It seems certain that the pipeline went through the Rancho Los Nogales and the land that later became Tres Hermanos on it way to the Chino refinery. Puente Oil also had interests in the Olinda field bordering Tres Hermanos on the south. Rowland was grooming his son for an oil industry career and installed him as manager of the refinery at Chino, but young George, who was only 21, died of typhoid fever in 1896.
In the late 1900s, Rowland, Scott and Chandler merged several companies in which they were interested, including Puente Oil, into a new firm, Columbia, which was the name of Scott’s long-standing oil company. Flush with wealth due to his oil endeavors, Rowland moved from his Puente ranch, where he lived in the 1870s home formerly owned by his sister, Nieves, and her husband John Reed, to a home in a fashionable neighborhood by Westlake (now MacArthur) Park in Los Angeles.
Rowland continued involvement in his oil and ranching interests until health problems sidelined him by the early 1920s. He died of a heart attack at age 79 at his Los Angeles residence. As noted above, with Scott having predeceased Rowland by several years, Chandler was the remaining hermano and he and his descendants continued to own the ranch for more than fifty years after Rowland died.
There will be at least one more opportunity to hear the history of Tres Hermanos Ranch as this talk will be presented to the Covina Valley Historical Society during a dinner meeting on Thursday the 23rd from 6-9 p.m. at the Covina Women’s Club building at 128 S. San Jose Avenue. Another presentation at the Brea Historical Museum is awaiting confirmation.