28 September 2010

Carbon Canyon and Rancho Santa Ana del Chino: John S. Cravens

The final partner in the Chino Land and Company's second edition, created with the purchase of the 46,000-acre Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in 1904 and led by Edwin J. Marshall, was John S. Cravens, yet another bigwig in Los Angeles business circles.

Cravens was the youngest of the partners, born in the Westport area of Kansas City, Missouri in March 1871.  He was the son of well-to-do attorney and later judge, John K. Cravens (1838-1892) amd Frances Frame (1841-1905), both natives of Indiana who married there and produced their eldest son, James, in that state.  By 1870, the family had relocated to Kansas City where John S. and his sister were born.

After completing his studies at Kansas City High School in 1888, Cravens moved on to Yale University, where he was an athlete, musician and Glee Club member and completed his degree in Spring 1893.  While at New Haven, he met Illinois-born Mildred Myers, whose father was the co-founder in 1873 of the Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company and the two were married at the end of 1893.  The Liggett and Myers company's prime product was L&M plug tobacco for chewing and the firm became the largest maker of that item in the world.  The company, whose predecessor under the Liggett family had been involved in it, also moved into cigarette production during the 1880s.

Cravens entered the family business and, at a prodigal age, rose rapidly in its ranks.  After partner John Liggett died in 1897, an offer was tendered by James Duke (who endowed Duke University in North Carolina) and his American Tobacco Company to buy out the firm.  Cravens was directly involved in the negotiations which were completed two years later with a sale.  While Cravens took his profit from the sale and moved to Los Angeles in 1900, the death of his father-in-law a decade later led to a dissolution of the merger and Liggett and Myers was reconstituted.  The company became famous for its Chesterfield, L & M, and, in the 1970s, Eve women's brand of cigarettes.  Liggett, the fourth largest American tobacco firm, is a subsidiary of a larger company and is still based in North Carolina.

As for Cravens, his move to Los Angeles was brought about by his election as the second president of Southern California Edison, this at the age of 28.  After two years, he left the firm to assume the presidency of Southwestern National Bank of Los Angeles, which included E. J. Marshall as a director and which soon merged with two other banking firms, Los Angeles National and First National Bank of Los Angeles.  Cravens was for years the president of the new concern.  Among his other business interests was the presidency of the Asphalt Paper Pipe Company, a firm that developed an insulated conduit system for electrical wire and which merged with the American Fiber Conduit Company.  He was also a director of the Los Angeles Extension Company, which, in 1912, bought and developed 4,000 acres in the Westchester area of Los Angeles that included today's Los Angeles International Airport. He was also a director of Los Angeles Trust and Savings Bank.  Cravens was a developer of Jared Torrance's namesake town, as noted in an earlier post.  Finally, he remained a partner in the Chino Land and Water Company until at least the early 1920s.

Cravens also had the distinction of serving in Washington, D.C., as the Chief of Federal Agencies for the Counsel of National Defense, created during World War I and which office he held from October 1917 through April 1919.  He was also the chair of the Executive Committee of the Military Training Camp Association, which advised on the management of officer training schools.

In the philanthropic and club realms, Cravens was the president of Barlow Sanitarium, which also was well supported by fellow Chino ranch partners Torrance and Isaac Milbank, president of the Pasadena Horse Show Association, a trustee of the California Institute of Technology, and endowed the Cravens Cup at the Pasadena Country Club.  Notably, Cravens was also infamous in Pasadena for his proclivity for high-speed driving and his predilection for ignoring speeding tickets!

He and his wife (there were no children) moved to Pasadena upon arrival in the region and bought a large parcel at 1001 S. Orange Grove Avenue, at the southern end of the famed Millionaire's Row.  The English Tudor residence they purchased served as their home for a quarter-century, but was razed in favor of a massive 20,000 square foot French chateau mansion that cost a staggering $310,000 to build, with the home completed in 1927.  The Cravens may have been childless, but they had up to 32 servants, including a full contingent of gardening staff, at their lavish estate.  Mildred Myers Cravens died in 1943 and her husband followed three years later.

While some of the large estate grounds were sold off and subdivided, notably the frontage on Orange Grove, which now contains upscale condos, the house was purchased in 1962 to be the San Gabriel Valley chapter headquarters of the American Red Cross.  My wife and I were able to get corporate tickets, for the second time, to this year's Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts, an upscale home tour that benefits the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and other music-related programs.  We'd attended, in 1997, a tour of the home that was used in the Batman TV series in the 1960s.  This year, however, it was the Cravens house, which was, as per usual with this event, decked out in extravagant room makeovers by local designers of note.  For more on the home as the Showcase venue this year, see


The above photograph, taken in late June, shows the grounds of Boys Republic, the historic location of the Rancho Santa del Chino adobe house built by Antonio Maria Lugo.  You'd be hard pressed to find anywhere in this area that looks this frozen in time!

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