11 October 2014

A Little History of Gordon Ranch in Chino Hills

Just to the north and east of Carbon Canyon is a section of Chino Hills called Gordon Ranch.  Recently, a short news article from 1964 was located about a birthday party held at the ranch for its owner, Huntley Lennox Gordon.  This started a search for more information about him and the ranch property.

Gordon was born in September 1882 in Minneapolis to Hanford Lennox Gordon and Mary Louise Carpenter.  Hanford, a native of New York, was the organizer of the First Minnesota Volunteer regiment during the Civil War, which fought auspiciously at the Battle of Round Top, and later fought in campaigns against the Sioux Indians in Minnesota, being appointed a Brigadier General by President Ulysses S. Grant.

A biography of Hanford Gordon claimed he was made an honorary member of the Sioux, however, and he went on to be a poet and author, writing what were referred to as "Indian poems" in the volume, "Indian Legends and other Poems," a collection called "Laconics," and the novels "The Feast of the Virgins" and "Pauline."  Hanford's first wife, by whom he had a daughter, died in 1877 and he married Mary Carpenter late the following year (in a double wedding including his daughter, no less!)

Hanford Gordon became a lawyer in Ithaca, New York and then practiced in Minneapolis and made his fortune representing James J. Hill, one of the most powerful men in America during much of the late 1800s as president of the Great Northern Railway and who was known as "The Empire Builder."

He also did very well in the lumber business and was a mover and shaker in the Minnesota Republican Party (which was then generally more liberal than the Democrats) and served in Congress.  With his financial situation more than lucrative, Hanford moved his family to California, starting in San Jose, although he divorced Mary and relocated to Los Angeles, and married a much younger woman, Nellie Kennedy, whom he also divorced in 1906.

The elder Gordon also bought some prime property in the years after the Los Angeles region went through its first major land boom and then bust and built a commercial structure, The Gordon Building, at Second and Broadway.  He also owned a lot at Fourth and Hill that became the Hotel Clark, the structure built in 1914 is just now reopening as a renovated hotel, as well as several ranches in the southwest sections of the growing city.  He was also president of the Manhattan Mining and Oil Company.

On his death in 1920, Hanford Gordon had unusually detailed instructions about his burial, specifying that he be buried in his cheapest suit in a simple redwood coffin of exact dimensions.  He wanted no more than $100 spent on his funeral, noting that "I desire the cheapest funeral possible without the service of any priest or clergyman."

Moreover, he instructed a son, William, and another estate executor to place his body facing north at the west end of the Gordon family plot at Rosedale Cemetery.  He also ordered that only his descendants and those of his children be interred in the plot and pointedly excluded a son-in-law and his two ex-wives from burial there.  His $50,000 estate was to be divided into amounts from $100-1500 to family members, as well as to pay inheritance taxes.

Just prior to the elder Gordon's death, his son Huntley, who lived with his mother and brother in San Jose and then was a manager of a bathing resort in Los Angeles, acquired property in what was then the Artesia Township as a dairy.  This was in 1917 as the southeastern portions of Los Angeles County was increasingly being devoted to the dairy industry, including places like Cerritos, Paramount, Lakewood, Bellflower and nearby locales--areas that, when suburban housing took root by the 1950s, saw its dairy farmers move out to Chino and Ontario.  Now, the dairies are relocating elsewhere in the American West.

Huntley Gordon's dairy was on Del Amo Boulevard, just east of the San Gabriel River, and west of what is now Interstate 605 in a corner of Lakewood.  In addition to the business, he raised beef cattle in the Mojave Desert and on a 3,500 acre spread on what was once the west end of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino and which simply became known as "Gordon Ranch."  In 1944, as the dairies of southeastern Los Angeles County were starting to be phased out, he sold the business, though one of his sons continued to reside at the site.  Today, the Gordon Dairy area includes a strip mall, gas station and a housing tract, with two of its streets named Gordon Drive and Gordon Place.

This "village monument sign" denoting Gordon Ranch is on the northeast corner of Chino Hills Parkway and Eucalyptus Avenue.  The former "village" is between Carbon Canyon Road and a bit south of Founders Drive on either side of Chino Hills Parkway.
From that point onward, Gordon made his ranch his home and soon dabbled in raising horses, including quarter horses.  One of his partners was Frank Vessels, a construction company owner and member of the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame, who is best known for establishing a horse-breeding operation on his 435-acre ranch and then opened, in 1951, the Los Alamitos Race Course, owned by the Vessels family until 1990.

Huntley Gordon was first married to Olive Roelling and had a son and twin daughters with her.  After a divorce in 1915, he married Margaret Gleason and they had a son, Robert.  She died in 1945 and Gordon married his last wife, Edna Myers, who had been a well-known designer in New York.  Gordon remained a resident of his Chino ranch for over twenty years, passing away there on the last day of 1967 at the age of 85.

Huntley also had a serious hobby:  car racing.  In 1914 and 1915, he participated in six races, driving a Mercer, with the American Championship Car Racing circuit in the Los Angeles area, including one of the early popular tracks out at Santa Monica.  His best finish was a fifth place showing at a race in Corona. It is also said he raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The tradition continued with his son's son Robert, Jr., also known as "Baja Bob," a well-known off-road racer in the Baja California and local circuits.  His wife, Marlene, has also done some racing and the sport was continued by several of their children, including daughters Beccy (who also played softball for the American national team at the inaugural of female softball in the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992) and Robyn, the only woman to win the Baja 1000 race.

The most famous of the Gordon racing clan is Robby, brother to Beccy and Robyn, and who has been unusual in that he has competed in NASCAR, IndyCar, various off-road events and the Paris to Dakar race, in which he ended third in 2000.  A 1999 fourth-place finished at the Indy 500, Robby Gordon is a 3-time winner of the Baja 1000 and has taken the Baja 500 crown four times (most recently in 2013) and recently captured a bronze medal at the Summer X games at Austin, Texas.  He has been involved in a number of controversies in a sport that has more than a few of these.

After portions of the ranch were sold off over the years after Huntley Gordon's death at the end of 1967, the Gordon Ranch became part of an 1100-acre master planned community under the Chino Hills General Plan laid out by San Bernardino County in the late 1970s and early 1980s,

Thousands of people live in the Gordon Ranch neighborhood (Chino Hills' original "village" concept has now been abandoned), shop at the Gordon Ranch shopping center at Chino Hills Parkway and Eucalyptus Avenue, play at what is now Veterans (formerly Crossroads) Park, and drive along Chino Hills Parkway past some of the "Gordon Ranch" monument signs.

The history of the ranch and its namesake family deserves to be remembered as part of the city's history, especially because there seems to be an assumption that, because Chino Hills only goes back to 1991 (its 25th anniversary isn't far off), there is no history in it.  This is far from the case and the next post deals with another interesting family, the Labands.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this -- I've always wondered about the Gordon Ranch monikers on various developments! We love your website!

prs said...

Hi anoynmous, glad you found this interesting. I'll be posting one on Laband here pretty soon. Thanks for your interest!

Anonymous said...

"... First Minnesota Volunteer regiment during the Civil War, which fought auspiciously at the Battle of Round Top..."

The First Minnesota was part of the Second Corps and was not on Little Round Top the second day of Gettysburg. The First Minnesota was posted in reserve near the center of the Union lines.

Rather on the second day the First Minnesota was ordered to charge against a Confederate Brigade that was moving through the gap in the Union lines left by Sickles' advance. This charge decimated the regiment, but gave the Union time to plug the hole.

This charge was as vital to the Union cause that day as the efforts on Little Round Top.

This regiment also played a role in repelling Picket's charge the next day.

prs said...

Hello anonymous of 14 October and thanks for the additional details of the First Minnesota's role in the Battle of Little Round Top.

Elyse said...

Hi I know this is an old post but I wanted to commend your excellent research on my great-great grandfather and his son, Huntley Gordon, as I remember him sitting on the porch of the ranch house he and who I called "Aunt Edna". My mother and brothers would drive out there a few times a year, and I recall being allowed to drive a golf cart they used to get around the ranch at the time.

I distinctly remember the stables within walking distance from the house, a modest wooden structure and what seemed to be endless rolling green hills in every direction.

Although I am familiar with many biographical details about Hanford Lennox Gordon, there is much I wasn't aware of, especially Nellie Kennedy. I suppose that is understandable, owing to my great-great grandmother being Mary Louise Carpenter.

Thanks again for a great post!

prs said...

Hi Elyse, thanks for checking out the Chronicle and for your comment. This came about because our city has these markers from when it was using a "village" concept, including "Gordon Ranch" and I was curious where that came from. I did find a little more about Huntley Gordon after I did that post, so, if you want to leave an email address I can send you what I found.