13 August 2010

Carbon Canyon and Rancho Santa Ana del Chino: Chino Ranch Company

As the Depression of 1893 ushered in years of economic malaise, Richard Gird, who invested so much in developing the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, including the founding of the town of Chino, the development of the sugar beet industry, the local Chino Valley Railroad and other enterprises, was forced to sell his vast holdings in November 1894 for about $1.5 million.

The buyer was Chauncey H. Phillips and a group of associates who formed the Chino Ranch Company the following March.  Phillips and company aggressively marketed and promoted the company's subdivided land, such as in a large advertisement in the July 1895 issue of noted journal The Overland Monthly, founded by famed California poet Bret Harte in 1868. 

The ad observed that the Chino Ranch Company had capital stock of $3 million for the management of just over 41,000 acres of land, half of which was earmarked for beet culture, 10,000 acres of loamy soil for citrus, and another 11,000 acres of "delightfully located Dairy Land, well watered."  Indeed, the dairy industry still maintains (though not for long) a prominent presence in the area today.  Especially promoted, however, were beets and the company trumpeted the fact that, according to the 1893 federal internal revenue report, Chino was close to the northern community of Watsonville, near Monterey, in claiming the title of the largest producer of sugar beets in the United States, in terms of tons harvested and sugar yielded.  In fact, Chino had the best yield in tons per acre and in sugar per ton in the world, crowed the company.  It was noted that there were over 4,000 acres of beets raised there, yielding nearly 50,000 tons of the vegetable and 15,000,000 million pounds of sugar. The Chino Ranch Company maintained offices in Chino and on Broadway and 4th, the heart of the financial district, in downtown Los Angeles.

In October 1895, W. H. Holabird, a Chino Ranch Company manager, announced in the San Francisco Call newspaper that 4,000 acres of Chino was put under irrigation to entice buyers of land for farms and settlement.

As active as the new concern was in trying to promote and develop the ranch, the economy was almost certainly too downtrodden to make the effort sustainable and, within a short time, the Chino Ranch Company defaulted on the terms of sale and the 41,000 acres reverted back to Gird, albeit with he still saddled with the debt that could only be ameliorated by selling the ranch!

Who were the short-term owners of the Chino Ranch Company?  Chauncey H. Phillips was born in July 1837 in Medina County, Ohio, just south of Cleveland.  In his youth, his family moved to Eldorado, Wisconsin, just west of Lake Winnebago and northwest of Milwaukee.  Sometime during the 1850s, young Phillips joined the mass migration to Gold Rush California and lived in Sacramento and in Napa.  At the latter, he studied law, was deputy county clerk, and also appears to have been a comptroller or treasurer there.  While in Napa or afterwards when he moved to San Jose, he married Jane Woods, who was three doors down from him in the 1850 census in Eldorado, Wisconsin.  While in San Jose, Phillips served as a deputy collector for the Internal Revenue Service.

In 1871, Phillips and family relocated to San Luis Obispo, where he became a community leader in real estate and banking.  He was one of a syndicate that opened the first bank in that county, the Bank of San Luis Obispo.  He served as managing cashier and, during a major statewide panic in 1875, was credited for keeping the bank solvent with calmness and deliberation in dealing with anxious depositors. 

Three years later, he left the bank and opened a real estate partnership with P.H. Dallidet, Jr. (whose adobe is a SLO state historical landmark.)  Their first major project was the purchase of over 8,000 acres along the coast to the north, which became the town of Cayucos.  After the arrival in 1886 of the Southern Pacific Railroad line through the area, Phillips formed the West Coast Land Company and created the town of Templeton, near Atascadero, and built his home there.  He also was the developer of the Santa Clara County towns of Morgan Hill and San Martin, between San Jose and Gilroy.

Undoubtedly, the unsuccessful endeavor with Chino and other land deals during the Nineties affected Phillips' financial position significantly.  He settled in San Jose once more and was an orchardist and died sometime after 1900.

Phillips' son, Chauncey, Jr., was a partner in the Chino Ranch Company and was given the title of Vice-President of it and the Chino Valley Railroad at the tender age of 23.  After the failure of the CRC, young Phillips returned to school and was a bank bookkeeper in Tonopah, Nevada and lived later in Redwood, a town in Santa Clara County that became Redwood City (near Palo Alto), working as a farmer and real estate manager.  Chauncey, Jr. died in 1954, at 82.

The secretary and treasurer of the CRC was Carroll W. Gates, who was from New York.  By age 20, however, Gates was living in Redwood, California, the same town Chauncey Phillips, Jr. lived in later and Gates' widowed mother ran a hotel there.  Soon, however, he landed the position of secretary to the powerful Monterey capitalist, David Jacks, who had his hand in just about every major economic endeavor in that historic Spanish and Mexican-era capital of California.

Within a few years, Gates migrated to Los Angeles and was there when the completion of a direct transcontinental railroad line by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe came in 1885, ushering in a frenzied land boom known as the "Boom of the Eighties," peaking in 1886 and 1887.  There, Gates established a real estate firm with Abram Ehle Pomeroy, of whom more subsequently.  Gates and Pomeroy were quite successful for a few years.

By 1889, Gates made the acquaintance of Walter L. Vail, owner of a famous ranch south of Tucson, Arizona Territory, called the Empire, and acquired a half-interest.  Under the Vail and Gates partnership, the Empire Ranch grew to some 1,800 square miles.  The two leased the well-known Warner's Ranch, totaling 47,000 acres, from former California governor and Los Angeles banker, John G. Downey (also founder of his namesake town) and later owned that property.  Not far away, the two men partnered with such kingpins as rail and real estate mogul Henry E. Huntington (whose San Marino Ranch became the renowned Huntington Library, Art Gallery and Botanical Gardens) to dam the San Luis Rey River near Oceanside and create a power plant.

Even though the Chino Ranch endeavor failed, Vail and Gates went on to acquire over 87,000 acres near Temecula, which they termed the Pauba Ranch.  The ranch, later called the Vail, was bought in the 1960s by steel magnate Henry J. Kaiser and his Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation, which subdivided Rancho California, along State Highway 79, from it.

Gates also partnered with Los Angeles capitalist Stoddard Jess and owned much land near Corcoran in the San Joaquin Valley, on the east shore of Tulare Lake, which then had water and which was drained dry to irrigate early farming in the area.  He was president of the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, which ran through the rich agricultural region from Betteravia, east of Santa Maria, to Guadalupe, to the west and which was funded by Los Angeles capitalists.  He was also an investor in early Los Angeles automobile manufacturing, including a firm called the White Road Manufacturing Company, organized by a Chino man named Theodore F. White.  In the 1910s, Gates entered the hotel business in Los Angeles, as well.

Finally, Gates was a director of the First National Bank of Los Angeles, which included among its directors, Motley Flint (later developer of much of today's La Cañada-Flintridge), Jess, and two men who figured heavily in a later Chino Ranch period: John S. Cravens and Edward J. Marshall.  Meantime, another bank with which Gates was involved, the Union Trust and Savings Bank in Pasadena, included as a fellow investor/director, George W. Stimson, a former real estate partner of Abram Ehle Pomeroy (you get the idea that rich capitalists operate in common circles!)  Incidentally, Gates' younger brother, Egbert, was also involved with the Chino Ranch Company and the railroad.

As to Walter Vail, he was a native of Nova Scotia, Canada, where he was born in May 1852.  By the age of six, however, his family relocatd to New Jersey, where Vail remained until his early twenties.  With a silver mining boom raging in Virginia City, Nevada, Vail migrated west and worked in a mining company, but the same panic of 1875 mentioned above led him to head to Los Angeles.  There, he had an uncle, Nathan Vail, who made a fortune building the first streetcar rail lines in London and who encouraged his ambitious nephew to try cattle ranching in territorial Arizona.  Hence, the purchase of 160 acres in 1876, followed by the acquiring of another section (160 acres=a section of land) that became the genesis of the Empire Ranch that Carroll Gates bought into more than a decade later.

However, prior to the association with Gates, Vail and his brother, Edward, who was then a partner, were the lucky beneficiaries of a discovery by one of their ranch hands of silver on the ranch.  From 1883 to 1887, some $500,000 of the ore was found until the pocket went dry.  Vail was involved in Arizonal territorial politics, serving in the legislature and the Pima County Board of Supervisors.  In 1896, however, he moved to Los Angeles, where he and Gates enlarged their empire, though one deal the latter declined to join in with Vail was the latter's purchase of Santa Rosa Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of California.

Vail was a fabulously wealthy man in the prime of business life when, riding a streetcar in downtown Los Angeles in May 1906, he disembarked for the car right into the path of another car going the opposite direction.  He was crushed between the two and died shortly afterward.  Gates managed the Empire Ranch in his partner's stead until Vail's estate was settled in 1908.

Finally, there is Abram Ehle Pomeroy, born in October 1838 in Athens, Michigan, south of Kalamazoo and Battle Creek (the latter home to General Mills.)  By his teen years, Abram moved with his family to Mishiwaka, Indiana, just outside South Bend, where his father was a furnace man.  The Gold Rush led the Pomeroy family to migrate to California and they arrived early in 1853, settling in San Jose, future home of Chauncey H. Phillips.  Pomeroy entered the University of the Pacific, then at San Jose, now in Stockton, and received two degrees, completing his education in 1864.  He was then appointed deputy county clerk (which Phillips had been in Napa) and then county clerk, serving in these positions for eight years.

Pomeroy's father, Charles, was a moulder, following the same general line he had in Indiana, but soon became a prominent citizen of San Jose, serving on the city council.  A community in southeast San Jose bore the family name and there is a street there today named for them, as well.  By the 1870s, Abram was a merchant with a wife and adopted child, but found San Jose to be too limited.  Like Carroll Gates, Pomeroy ventured south early in 1880s and settled in Los Angeles.  Among his earliest partners in the booming real estate business was, of course, Gates, but, prior to that, he worked in association with George W. Stimson.  Together Pomeroy and Stimson were investors in Pismo Beach, near San Luis Obispo (Phillips' stomping grounds) and developed the railroad town of Puente, not far west of Chino, now the city of La Puente.  As noted above, Stimson, who went on to significance in his own real estate and banking endeavors, became a fellow director with Gates in a Pasadena bank.

Pomeroy's real estate activities included work in Long Beach; Temecula (again, the Gates connection with Vail); San Jacinto, near Hemet, Alhambra; Gardena; Glendale (specifically, the Rancho Providencia, near today's Griffith Park); Burbank and others.  In 1900, Pomeroy, who held much of the Rancho Sausal Redondo along the coast southwest of Los Angeles, sold 1,500 acres at $35 each to Moses Sherman (of Sherman Oaks and West Hollywood fame) and his brother-in-law, Eli Clark.  This led to the founding of the town of Hermosa Beach.

Pomeroy was also, from 1890 to 1899, trustee of the Los Angeles Normal School, a state-chartered teacher training university that occupied the lot that is now the Los Angeles Central Public Library.  The Normal School was the forerunner of University of California, Los Angeles.  He was also Chairman of the Los Angeles City Board of Education frm 1889 to 1892; was a trustee and board secretary of the University of Southern California; a trustee of his alma mater, the University of the Pacific; and was vice president of the State Mutual Building and Loan Association.  Finally, he was a charter member of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.  He died sometime after 1920 having lived on South Hill Street near Bunker Hill and then Adams Street in south Los Angeles for many years.

The two images here are from the Los Angeles-based journal, The Land of Sunshine, which had its offices in the Stimson Building, owned by Abram Pomeroy's real estate partner, George W. Stimson.  The larger of the images is from the October 1895 issue, while the smaller comes from the June 1895 number.

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