13 February 2011

The Tonner Canyon and Carbon Canyon Connection, Part Two

About 1914, Walter F. Fundenberg, a Pittsburgh doctor with signifcant real estate investments in the southern California region, disposed of some 10,000 acres of land in and around the Tonner Canyon area.  Three-quarters, or 7,500 acres, was purchased by Frederick E. Lewis, who created the Diamond Bar Ranch.  The remaining quarter, about 2,500 acres (a little over 800 in Los Angeles County and the balance in San Bernardino County) were acquired by three powerful Los Angeles businessmen, who named their ranch "Tres Hermanos," or "Three Brothers."

El primero hermano, or the first of these "brothers," was Harry Chandler, who may have been the most dominant player in Los Angeles in his prime.  Chandler was born, however, in the hamlet of Landaff, New Hampshire, population now about 400, just west of the famed Franconia Notch within the White Mountains region of the north-central region of the state.  Chandler's father (and grandfather before him) was a farmer in Landaff and both later lived near Los Angeles, running an apiary or bee colony among other products on ranches at Cahuenga Pass and then at Roscoe, now Sun Valley at the east end of the San Fernando Valley.  When Harry completed high school in his mother's hometown of Lisborn, he entered Dartmouth College, but his studies were interrupted by illness.  This was brought on by a dare the freshman took: diving into a vat of freezing starch (sounds like hazing!), which caused a severe fever, cough and lung trouble.  Withdrawing from school, Chandler, like so many other "health seekers" from the Eastern states, headed to Los Angeles to recuperate.  He found a job on an apple ranch, made a few thousand dollars due to his industry, and went back home to reenter Dartmouth.  Within days, his lung problems returned and Chandler convinced his father, grandfather and others to join him on a return to Los Angeles, which was accomplished in 1885.

This was fortuitous for a number of reasons.  First, a direct transcontinental railroad link to Los Angeles was made that year by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and within a short time, a land boom and population explosion transformed the town into a notable city, even when the famed "Boom of the Eighties" collapsed by 1890.  Chandler also benefitted by finding the perfect employer, the relatively new Los Angeles Times newspaper, which started publication at the end of 1881 and was soon purchased by General Harrison Gray Otis, a titanic force of nature who became renowned (and despised, as well) for his use of the paper as a platform for conservative, anti-union, pro-business stances.  Chandler started off modestly, working as a clerk in the circulation department and picking up several delivery routes, which were privately handled then.  His management of these routes and their collections was so profitable that he was able to buy stock in the Times-Mirror Company, the parent of the Times.  Soon, he was catching the eye of  General Otis.  Chandler, who was married to Magdalena Schlador and then widowed with two daughters when Magdalena died in 1892 after childbirth, also caught the eye of Otis' daughter, Marian, whom he wed in 1894.  The couple had six children in their fifty year marriage.

Another view of Tres Hermanos Ranch from 16 September 1925, showing the reservoir (evidently the same known today as Arnold Reservoir), some grazing (and drinking) stock, and, on a hill at the left third of the image, the ranch house built by Chandler and his associates.  Courtesy: Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.

In 1898, Chandler was made Assistant General Manager and Vice-President of the Times and retained this position until the death of Otis in 1917, at which time Chandler became President and General Manager.  The reality, though, is that Chandler was far less interested than his father-in-law in journalism and far more in business, especially real estate and in major holdings with syndicates of investors.  In 1899, he was part of a group that eventually acquired a staggering 800,000 acres of land along the American and Mexican borders in California and Sonora.  The American portion became the California and Mexico Land Company and the Colorado River Land Company controlled the Mexican section.  In 1912, Chandler and others purchased the famed Rancho El Tejon in the Grapevine area between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, a holding of nearly 300,000 acres in Los Angeles and Kern counties.  Some 350,000 acres in New Mexico and Colorado were purchased solely by Chandler, this comprising the Vermejo Ranch.  In the first decade of the 1900s, Chandler, Moses Sherman and others bought 60,000 acres of the largely dry San Fernando Valley, with full knowledge that the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which opened in 1913, would bring water to the valley and send land prices skyward.  The $2.5 million investment eventually yielded some $17 million in sales over several years, a staggering profit in an age in which average Americans might make a couple thousand dollars per year.  Later, in the 1930s, he took part in acquisitons of land in the San Gabriel Valley (Rancho Santa Anita) and near Los Angeles International Airport (Rancho La Cienega), which were developed into residential tracts in the cities of Arcadia and San Gabriel and the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles.

He was involved in shipping, was a builder of the landmark Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, created an early radio station, KHJ, and was a promoter of aviation, forming Western Air Lines, ing the 1920s.  His enterprises were mind-boggling in their array and influence.

Chandler also devoted much time to developing tourism in the region, which, of course, was intimately tied to his newspaper and real estate interests.  He was a founder of the "All-Year Club of Southern California" anc actively participated in the creation of tourist "traps" like Olvera Street and Chinatown (originally called "China City" when the old Chinatown was demolished and its denizens relocated for the construction of Union Station in the 1930s.)

For such a well-connected and powerful individual, Chandler was particularly publicity averse, walked or drove himself to work, and avoided alcohol.  He died in September 1944 at age eighty having achieved a level of wealth and power with few equals in the history of Los Angeles.

Chandler also created in the 1910s, the Chandis (Chandler-Otis) Securities Company, which became the entity which controlled the vast real estate holdings of the family, including Tres Hermanos Ranch.  In future posts, there will be other references to Chandis, which eventually divested itself of much of its portfolio along with the Times, but still exists as a family holding company based in Pasadena.

Next, el segundo de los tres hermanos, or the second of the three brothers: William R. Rowland.

No comments: