11 October 2011

Chino Hills State Park Camp Out (and a little tangential history)

Last weekend, the Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association, which works to assist the state parks system in developing interpretive and preservation programs for our great local park held a program about owls on Saturday night at the Rolling M Ranch complex and a Camp Out for those who wanted to stay overnight at the nearby group camp.

This blogger and his two kids signed up for the Camp Out and went out late Saturday afternoon.  After setting up camp and making a quick dinner on the camp stove, we joined the others for the walk to Rolling M for the owl program, conducted by a representative from the Starr Ranch, an Audubon Society facility in Trabuco Canyon near Rancho Santa Margarita and Coto de Caza.  The Ranch does an impressive amount of research, preservation, and education work, of which more can be learned here.  The PowerPoint illustrated program might have been a little over the heads of some of the younger children, but, overall, was quite interesting and had great photos of the types of owls encountered in this area (including quite a few out here in Sleepy Hollow.)  The presenter also told some good stories about his thirty-plus years of studying and observing owls, both in his native Connecticut and here at Starr Ranch.

Unfortunately, about 5:30 a.m., a little health issue arose with one of my kids, so we gradually packed up early and left before being able to take a hike in Bane Canyon, which was really going to be a highlight of the visit.  I've had the good fortune to be able to hike most of the park, mainly before the kids came along, and have only been in the park once or twice since the 2008 fires.  With a 9-year old dying to get out and do some hiking, this was an opportunity to get some quality time in at the park, but that will have to wait for some other time.

Meantime, this blog's numerous posts about the history of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino were supposed to include some reference to the history of land within the park that was once owned by the Chino Land and Water Company, proprietors of the ranch from the 1890s.  So, here's an opportunity to cover some of that background.  First, some research was gleaned from the February 1999 Chino Hills State Park General Plan, as well as some good content from a blog called Los Angeles Revisited, maintained by Betty Uyeda, a staff member at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

While much of the area contained within the state park appears to have been used almost exclusively for grazing cattle and sheep when the area was public land under Spanish and Mexican rule (neighboring ranchers at Santa Ana del Chino, the Yorba ranches in north Orange County, the owners of San José in present Pomona, etc., would have common grazing rights to public land set aside for that purpose), little seems to have changed until the later 1800s. 

Fenton Slaughter, who, in 1868, bought a Yorba family adobe that is now a San Bernardino County Museum historic site (see here for more on this interesting site on Pomona-Rincon Road in Chino) used the eastern part of the park for grazing his stock.  By the middle 1890s, the Chino Land and Water Company took over most of the area.  According to the Chino Hills State Park General Plan, a 1902 United States Geological Survey map showed only three structures and one wagon road through the park vicinity.  On the other hand, there were indications that a road through Telegraph Canyon, stretching from Brea for several miles to the east may have been in use from at least 1860.  Still, the use of the park site seems to have been limited and not well documented.

That is, until 1921 when the Chino Land and Water Company sold a significant amount of the state park area to Frank Pellissier.  Pellissier was born in Taix, in the Haute Alps region of France that was the homeland of many French Basques who settled such areas as East Los Angeles, La Puente, Fullerton, and Chino, among others.  In fact, Pellissier's uncle, Germain, migrated from the Basque country of France to Los Angeles in 1867, became a wool grower, and acquired land at Seventh and Olive, where he built a home and a business building and 200 acres to the west of the city.  Later, the latter was developed by his grandson, Henry de Roulet, into Pellissier Square and, in 1931, at the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue, de Roulet completed a notable Art Deco structure called the Pellissier Building.  Today, the landmark is best known as the home of the Wiltern Theater.

As for Frank, he migrated to the United States about 1888, and became within a decade a proprietor of the Highland Union Diary in Los Angeles.  In 1900, Pellissier was in Big Pine, a town in Inyo County, where he lived with his wife Marie Valla and their four children.  Pellissier retained interests in animal grazing in that area and out in Mono County, where he tried at one time to build a railroad.  But, by 1905, he had relocated his family to Los Angeles County, specifically Rancho La Puente, where he bought a large tract from Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin, one of the more colorful figures in California during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Pellissier built a home on Workman Mill Road between Whittier and La Puente and gradually he and his namesake son, Frank, amassed over 3,200 acres, on which they ran 2,800 head of cattle.

For years, the Pellissiers operated their enterprise by working to sell raw milk to a Los Angeles dairy, but, in 1930, the younger Frank created the Pellissier Dairy Farms.  After his father's death in 1941, Frank, Jr. expanded and enlarged the family enterprise.  He was a co-founder of the American Dairy Association of Los Angeles, was a director of the Holstein-Friesian Association of America.  The Pellissier name received national publicity in 1952 when Time magazine ran a feature on Hazel, a record-setting milk producer, said to have routinely averaged an astounding 37 quarts of raw milk a day.

The post-World War II era, however, saw suburbanization impeding upon the Pellissier ranch at Whittier.  By 1948, the family developed some houses on their land.  Later, the California Country Club, now owned by City of Industry, was opened on the ranch.  Rio Hondo College was created in 1963 on 115 acres of Pellissier Ranch property that included the old family home, long razed.  Rose Hills Cemetery also expanded by acquiring family land and, by 1970, the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts took over a huge chunk of Pellissier land to open the Puente Hills Landfill, a facility slated to close in fall 2013.  Faced with all of these major transformations, the Pellissier Dairy shut down in 1971.  Frank L. Pellissier, meantime, died in 1969 at his home in San Marino.

As for their holdings at Chino, the Pellissiers ran cattle, built a ranch house, and kept their operation going there for almost three decades.  In 1948, however, the family sold the 1720-acre property to the Mollin Investment Company, hence the new name for the ranch, the Rolling M [cute pun!]  The Mollin Investment Company was headed by Christopher Hendra (1900-1985.)  Hendra had family roots in Cornwall, England, where his grandfather, a minister with the Primitive Methodist Church of America, was born, but the family migrated to America in the late 1840s and settled at Mineral Point, Wisconsin, southwest of the state capital in Madison, where Hendra was born.  His father, John, was a dry goods merchant in Mineral Point.

Hendra was a 1923 graduate of the University of Wisconsin and became a banker, working for a time in Chicago and marrying there.  In 1933, however, he picked up stakes and moved to California.  Hendra eventually became president of the Mollin Investment Company, based in San Marino, and had at least two major development projects of note.  One was in Searchlight, Nevada, the hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, where Mollin had an early investment in mining activities.  Another was the 1940 purchase of a project that Mollin Investment called Palm Village and which is now the city of Palm Desert near Palm Springs.

From the 1948 acquisition of the Pellissier holdings until the creation of Chino Hills State Park in the early 1980s, the Rolling M was owned by Mollin Investment Company and run as a cattle ranch.  The existing corrals were expanded and modernized and the ranch house was renovated and enlarged.  The complex included seven structures, four windmills, corrals, stock ponds, water troughs, fencing and other material.

Not long after the sale of the ranch to the state parks department, Hendra, a resident of San Gabriel and Ludington, Michigan (a resort town on the shores of Lake Michigan in the northwest part of the state), died in 1985 at age 85.  He had been a president of the San Gabriel Country Club, a Mason, and director of the Cornish Choir at Huntington Park, and was still president and co-owner of Mollin Investment Company at his death.

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