11 September 2010

Carbon Canyon and Rancho Santa Ana del Chino: Chino Land and Water Company

The 1890s was a tumultuous decade all around--war, depression, drought, labor unrest, Populism challenging the established social, political and economic order and it was certainly tough at the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino.  Richard Gird, whose grand ambitions for the ranch and the town of Chino proved to be too rich for even his substantial resources, mortgaged the ranch to the San Francisco Savings Union for $525,000 and then was unable to extricate himself from the demands of that debt.

Gird tried twice to find buyers for the ranch, using the San Francisco realty firm of Easton, Eldridge and Company as managers, that would allow him to pay off the mortgage and still enable him to reassert control over much of it.  The first effort was in November 1894 with Chauncey H. Phillips of San Luis Obispo and the resulting Chino Ranch Company.  Within two years, however, the Phillips maneuver proved fruitless, so a British consortium was concocted through Easton, Eldridge and Company and, in 1896, the California Beet Sugar Estate and Land Company, Limited, took root.  Once again, however, the effort failed, though not for lack of trying.

Drought was undoubtedly a major problem.  The last half of the 1890s saw far below average rainfall levels almost every year, which was devastating for the beet sugar industry on which Chino was heavily dependent and the expected British migrant settlers did not materialize.  Consequently, a new effort was put forth under new ownership.

This involved one of the most famous families of the era.  Phoebe Apperson Hearst was the wife of George Hearst, who came to California during the Gold Rush and became partner in one of America's largest mining companies.  He also was a state assemblyman and then U. S. Senator for five years and purchased the San Francisco Examiner newspaper along with other business interests.  In 1864, during a devastating drought, George Hearst bought the sprawling Rancho San Simeon for a fraction of its formal value and raised cattle on it.  He died in 1891 in San Francisco, leaving his widow and only child, William Randolph, a substantial estate.  The son took the Examiner newspaper in 1887 and created the mighty Hearst news syndicate that included over 30 newspapers nationwide, including the Los Angeles Examiner, later the Herald-Examiner.  William Randolph Hearst also took over management of the San Simeon ranch and, in the 1920s, built his staggering Hearst Castle, now a state park.

This California State Historic Landmark plaque, commemorating the site of the adobe home at Rancho Santa del Chino, is located at the fire training station next to Boys Republic in Chino

Meantime, Phoebe Hearst took to her own business and philanthropic interests.  Chief among the latter were educational interests, among which was her very significant support of the University of California at Berkeley, of which she was a regent for over thirty years.

The 5 May 1900 issue of the Press and Horticulturist newspaper published in Riverside in a review of the Chino rancho noted that Mrs. Hearst bought the Gird mortgage from the San Francisco Savings Union and satisfied the holder of the debenture bonds taken out on the ranch, which happened to be Easton, Eldridge and Company.  With Mrs. Hearst's actions, a new company, the Chino Land and Water Company was incorporated and she became its largest investor.  The Chino Estate Company, a subsidiary, was created to liquidate the assets of the ranch and then was to go out of business once its affairs in selling off ranch land was completed.

The Chino Land and Water Company was set up with $1.5 million in stock issued in 15,000 shares at $100 par value each.  In addition to 37,500 acres of ranch land and the townsite of Chino, the company inherited the $200,000 water system created by Richard Gird, which drew water locally and from San Antonio Canyon above Claremont.  The water system was expanded by the CLWC and included fifteen water wells and two pumping plants, one completed in 1901 and the other two years later.  The other main stockholders included Jacob B. Reinstein, a San Francisco attorney who was one of the first dozen graduates of the University of California in 1873 and was one of the select Committee of Fifty appointed to oversee the rebuilding of San Francisco after the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906. 

The CLWC made some significant efforts to develop the ranch, including leasing some of it for grain production and fencing in some 8,000 acres at the east end to the Euclid Avenue boundary.  Once again, however, ownership was short-lived, but not necessarily because of any failures on the part of the company.  Indeed, great success was had in 1904 when an enterprising new buyer and a group of investors purchased the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino.  This story comes next in the series.

The above photo, taken in late June, of the state historic landmark plaque for the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino adobe site is located in front of the training building and former fire station that sits outside the grounds of Boys Republic, where the adobe was actually located.

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