23 September 2010

Carbon Canyon and Rancho Santa Ana del Chino: Isaac Milbank

Amongst the high-powered syndicate led by Edwin Jessop Marshall that purchased the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in 1905 and took over the Chino Land and Water Company was Isaac Milbank, another notable character with an interesting history.

Milbank was born in June 1864 in Fairfield, Connecticut, a city on the coast just northeast of New York City.  His father, Isaac, Sr. was a New York City-born merchant, who then followed that trade in Fairfield and also was a farmer and inventor.  In this latter capacity, he was responsible for the first version of a swinging block mechanism that provided more accuracy for the firing of rifles and for a zinc oxide manufacturing method that was used for breech loading firearms.  He also developed a type of gun cartridge, invented explosive compounds, and created a fertilizing and seeding machine.  The elder Milbank expanded his enterprises to include serving as a director of the Fire Insurance Company of New York.  Milbank's mother was Mary Nichols, whose father was a Fairfield-area farmer.

Milbank graduated from Yale Business College at New Haven and went to work for the New York Condensed Milk Company, which was founded by Gail Borden and Milbank's uncle, Jeremiah, younger brother of Issac, Sr. and with whom he had been in the mercantile business in New York.  Borden invented the condensed milk process in 1856 and struggled to develop a successful manufacturing model during the ensuing financial panic of 1857 when he met Jeremiah Milbank on a train, explained the process, and inspired the latter to take on a 50-50 partnership.  The two men formed the New York Condensed Milk Company and found, as so many manufacturers do, that war can be a financial boon.  In this case, condensed milk proved to be an important battlefield food item and boosted the company into immense prosperity.

When Issac Milbank, Jr, finished his studies at Yale and entered the business, he also married into the family as his wife Virginia Johnson was a Borden through her mother.  In addition, Isaac rose to be Vice-President and General Manager and, in 1899, helped in the renaming of the company to the Borden Condensed Milk Company.  As with so many other Easterners, whether through overwork, illness, or both, Milbank retired from the company and migrated to Los Angeles, almost immediately making business connections, including the one that led him into the Chino ranch syndicate.

Milbank was a director, with E. J. Marshall, of the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company; a director of California Delta Farms, Inc., which owned land near Stockton; a director of the German American Savings Bank, along with Edwin T. Earl, another Chino ranch partner; and a director of the Union Oil Company.  With the latter, Milbank's financial wherewithal led him to be recruited to beat back an effort by Dutch-owned Shell Oil to take over the firm with Milbank leading the charge by recruiting New York investors.  In March 1922, Milbank raised enough capital from investors to fend off the Shell challenge.  Finally, Milbank and his wife lost their elder son, Laurence, to tuberculosis not long after arriving in Los Angeles and endowed a building at the Barlow Sanitarium at Elysian Park, a facility with which Jared S. Torrance, a Chino Land and Water Company investor, was also involved.  The Milbanks also had a second son, Lee, and a daughter, Phila.

In addition to the 1905 investment at Chino, Milbank founded a syndicate that bought a little under 300 acres, some 220 owned by the Los Angeles Country Club and redeveloped the golf course into the Country Club Park subdivision, an exclusive residential community between Crenshaw Blvd., Western Ave., Olympic Blvd. and Pico Blvd., a few miles west of downtown Los Angeles.  In 1913, Milbank hired architect G. Lawrence Stimson, son of developer George W. Stimson, to build a palatial residence inspired by the home Stimson had designed for the Wrigley chewing gum magnates in Pasadena (now the Tournament of Roses headquarters on Orange Grove Avenue).  The Milbank residence was retained by the family until 1976 and still stands, often being used for film and television shoots.  Milbank also built, in 1911, a summer home at the edge of Santa Monica adjacent to Pacific Palisades that is a city landmark, renowned for its Craftsman architecture, and which is still in family hands.

Milbank's delicate health and the vigorous effort he put into saving the Union Oil Company from a hostile takeover appears to have led to his early death in August 1922 at the age of 58.

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