01 October 2009

Tonner Canyon: Carbon Canyon's Neighbor

There are two adjoining major canyons to Carbon Canyon: Soquel, which is to the south and which has often been discussed in this blog and Tonner, which is to the north. Let's spend a little time getting to know the latter.

In early maps, including some shown on this blog, Tonner has been referred to as La Brea Canyon (at which periods, Brea Canyon was called Canon del Rodeo), but since at least the 1920s, Tonner has been the standard name. This canyon runs for about nine miles from its intersection with Brea Canyon at the 57 Freeway and Tonner Canyon Road in the City of Brea on the south to a point near the boundaries of Diamond Bar, Chino Hills, and Pomona on the north, near where today's Chino Hills Parkway and Chino Avenue intersect.

Historically, the canyon was not associated directly with any of the Spanish or Mexican-era ranchos, but was, rather, part of established public lands. These were set aside for ranchers to graze their animals in common areas. So, Ygnacio Palomares and Ricardo Vejar (later, Louis Phillps [hence, Phillips Ranch]) on Rancho San Jose in the Pomona area; Antonio María Lugo (later, Issac [Julian] Williams) on Rancho del Chino in the Chino/Chino Hills area; the Ybarra family on Rancho Nogales, now Walnut; and Bernardo Yorba of Rancho Cañon de Santa Ana, in the Yorba Linda/Placentia area, and perhaps others, would use the general Puente Hills area, including Tonner Canyon, for common grazing.

Eventually, however, the rancho system ended and smaller ranches were created from these public areas, including the Diamond Bar Ranch, which was sold in the 1950s and subdivided to create the city of that name. In the case of Tonner Canyon, much of the northern end became the 2,400-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch, sometime in the 1910s or 1920s.

Who were the "three brothers"? One was William Richard Rowland (1846-1926), whose father, John, was the co-owner of the massive Rancho La Puente spanning 49,000 acres of the eastern San Gabriel Valley from the San Gabriel River on the west to Diamond Bar, Pomona and Walnut on the east (near the 57 Freeway basically) and from north of the 10 Freeway on the north to the Puente Hills on the south. William Rowland was well-known in his early years as the youngest sheriff in Los Angeles County history, winning election to that office in 1871 when he was 25 years old. His most famous action as sheriff was the coordination of the capture of famed bandido, Tiburcio Vasquez, captured in present-day Hollywood in June 1874 and executed in San José the following spring. In 1885, Rowland, having found oil on his inherited share of Rancho La Puente in what is now the upper hills of Rowland Heights, formed the Puente Oil Company with William Lacy, a Los Angeles capitalist. For decades, this company was a successful mid-level player in the local oil industry and also had a presence in the Olinda field, as previously discussed in this blog.

The second of the tres hermanos was Tom Scott, an oilman of whom there is very little information available from my research (though, if someone knows something about him--and he is not the Tom Scott from Pennsylvania who sought to build a transcontinental road from Texas to San Diego in the 1870s--please let me know.)

The third of the "brothers" was Harry Chandler, whose claim to fame was serving as the immensely powerful publisher of the Los Angeles Times for decades until his death in 1944. The three men, it is said, bought the ranch for weekend hunting trips and parties, although Chandler, a strict Congregationalist, according to a descendant, was not a drinker.

The ranch remained in private hands until 1978 when the City of Industry acquired the land. Naturally, the property is non-contiguous, meaning it is not directly connected to the rest of the city and there has been criticism that the property was acquired with redevelopment funds, through the city's Urban Redevelopment Agency, even though the property was not designated a redevelopment area (usually reserved for blighted, as opposed to undeveloped, areas.)

This was followed, in 2001, with the City of Industry's acquisition of 2,350 acres south of Tres Hermanos, comprising two-thirds of the Firestone Boy Scout Reservation, a property long owned by the Los Angeles Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and known as Middle Tonner Canyon.

Notably, conservation groups offered the Scouts $1.5 million more for the land than Industry, but the Scouts took the latter's offer. An offer to purchase the land for $17.6 million had been tendered in Spring 2000 by The Wildlands Conservancy, in fact, followed by an $18 million offer from the Wildlife Corridor Conservation Authority, an entity dedicated specifically to preserving land in the Puente and Chino hills areas. There was speculation, however, that the agencies were not able to come up with the full amounts of their offers, whereas the City of Industry's final offer (in 1999 it offered $10 million) of $16.5 million was guaranteed.

To add to the controversy, tt was noted by many that Los Angeles Area Council board member John Semcken, a Majestic Realty VP now spearheading the evidently-successful drive to build a NFL football stadium in Industry, was the conduit between the Scouts and the City of Industry, which has a long history with Majestic.

Finally, in 2004, Industry bought 525 acres of Lower Tonner Canyon for $22.5 million from Tonner Canyon, LLC, formerly Brea Cañon Oil Company.

While the City of Industry's position has been that the approximately 5,500 acres it now owns in Tonner Canyon is to be considered open space, plans have been in the works for nearly thirty years to flood a significant portion of the canyon as a reservoir for Industry's benefit. Another much-discussed use for Tonner Canyon has been the realignment of Tonner Canyon Road as a commuter bypass into Orange County from points east (and north.)

More on that, the reservoir issue, and the interesting history of the canyon's namesake, Patrick C. Tonner, in upcoming posts!

The above two photos were taken during the Freeway Complex Fires (therefore the haze) on 16 November 2008 from Chino Hills looking across Middle Tonner Canyon towards Diamond Bar. The detail in the lower photo shows the remaining structures at Tres Hermanos Ranch.


Anonymous said...

Cool History, Thanks for posting this!

Paul said...

Hello Anonymous, thanks for checking the blog out and there'll be a little more on Tonner Canyon soon.

Craig said...

Hi there, I just stumbled onto this blog (pretty cool... thanks for the history). As a long time Carbon Canyon resident, I was wondering if you have indeed updated the blog with more information about the development of the area, and more specifically, plans for putting through Tonner Canyon Road (which I believe would bring relief to the overburdened "Carbon Canyon Road" Many thanks, Craig Sibley

Craig said...

Sorry, I forgot to check the email response button. Please comment here so it will notify me! Many thanks,

Paul said...

Hello Craig, thanks for your comments. Well, no, I haven't done anything more on Tonner, having been caught up in additional blog interests and outside projects, though I do have some material sitting around waiting to be incorporated into an entry. I'll try and put something together soon, but will say this now.

Ideally, Tonner Canyon would be left as open space as this commodity becomes more and more rare. Realistically, there may be some open space provision, but something is bound to happen there someday. City of Industry has had plans for a reservoir in the "middle" portion, while keeping its campsite and recreations facilities in the lower part.

While a bypass from the 60 to the 57 has long been studied, my feeling is that relying on an outdated and archaic model of building more roads for single-passenger vehicles is not an efficient solution for our transportation problems (whether it alleviates some traffic on Carbon Canyon Road or not.) Still, the pressure will be there.

Housing will probably also be on the table, too, more likely in the area near Grand Avenue, especially since Diamond Bar is a "builder-friendly" city.

So, don't be at all surprised if at least two of those three developable components happen: reservoir, road, and residences. Token open space for buffer zones (especially next to the high-end "The County" development in DB) and in higher elevations may be in the mix, too.

The "Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority", consisting of Diamond Bar and Chino Hills, with City of Industry as an ex-oficio member, will handle planning of the canyon area, so keep an eye on what the THCA is doing in the future.

Anonymous said...

I used to live in the area and would regularly see a white "security" truck parked on Tonner Canyon Rd when driving along Grand towards Diamond Bar. This was 1997-2000. It appears to be still around. I noticed the truck again in Google maps dated on 2011 when I was scouting the area for fun. I always felt it was strange to be guarding this large empty space so regularly.

prs said...

Hello anonymous, what you've been seeing is almost certainly a vehicle for the security company contracted by the City of Industry to patrol its large landholdings in Tonner Canyon. Thanks for visiting.

Anonymous said...

who can we contact to possibly hike and fish that little lake in the area?

prs said...

Hello anonymous, the property is owned by the City of Industry and is leased for cattle grazing, so there is no public access at all. Thanks for checking out the blog.