02 December 2014

A Little English History in Chino Hills

This is not a post about the history of the British in Chino Hills (though that would probably be smashing), but, instead, a sketch of another interesting person associated with this area long before there was a Chino Hills.

One of the city's more picturesque parks is English Springs Park at the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and Chino Hills Parkway, with its pond and rolling hills tucked below the busy suburban activity around it.

A bit to the southeast is one of the few equestrian zones in Chino Hills, with its sole entry point off Peyton Drive being English Road.

In both cases, their namesake is a horse breeder of some renown in the years between 1910 and 1950 named Revel Lindsay English.  He epitomizes what made the Chino/Diamond Bar area a well-known center of horse (and other stock) breeding during the first few decades of the 20th century, the image of which is still maintained in the region.

The listing of the English family, including young Revel, at Kane, Illinois in the 1880 census.  From Ancestry.com.  Click on this or any image to see them in a separate window in an enlarged view.
English hailed from Kane, Illinois, a rural town north of St. Louis, and was born there in February 1877 to Wharton Kane, a farmer and auctioneer, and his second wife, Deborah Lindsay.  Despite his country upbringing, Revel turned out to be a fine musician and baritone singer and worked for a time as a baritone in  the Castle Square Opera Company, based in St. Louis.  In 1898, he was a member of the Illinois Lyric Quartette, which toured the United States.

In the 1900 census, English lived in Jerseyville, a town just south of Kane, and his occupation was listed as "Singer, Opera."  Soon after, he moved to New York to further his career in the competitive world of professional operatics.  However, in early 1904, he migrated west and landed in Pasadena, where he took up the business of teaching vocal music.  He worked for a time with the Fillmore School of Music and lived where the Pasadena Convention Center is now located.

Revel English's listing as "teacher vocal music" in the 1905 Pasadena city directory.  From Ancestry.com
English also became a popular performer at local parties, community functions and other events, singing to piano accompaniment of a young woman named Edith Ames, who Revel married in 1907.  At the same time, he began to become a fixture in Pasadena's equestrian community, which had strong ties to the Crown City's society crowd.  Moreover, in 1909 and 1910, English was a competitor in chariot races that constituted the actual "tournament" in the famed Tournament of Roses festivities that began in the 1890s before gladiators in another sport--that is, football--took the spotlight!

By 1910, English and his wife settled into a residence on Palmetto Street, just east of Orange Grove Avenue, the famed thoroughfare littered with the mansions of wealthy Eastern capitalists and local power brokers, though site of the English house sits in the path of the incomplete 710 Freeway.

Around this time, he also opened the Kentucky Riding Academy, which may have been named for the home state of his paternal grandparents and perhaps where the English family developed its interests in horse breeding, located near Fair Oaks and Del Mar in Pasadena, where there are now industrial and commercial buildings.  He appears to have operated the Academy until about the 1920s.

Meantime, his widowed father followed Revel to California and, by 1908, the two of them invested in some land in Chino (as well as in Victorville), where they created the 560-acre Sierra Vista Stock Farm, which was devoted to raising purebred saddle horses, draft and harness horses, poultry, cattle and hay farming, and a 1,240-acre tract in what is now Chino Hills and where the English Road area is located.  This may have been something they knew from Illinois, but, in any case, Revel devoted himself increasingly to horse breeding and left music as an avocation.

Ad for Revel English's Sierra Vista Stock Farm in Chino from the 1 May 1913 issue of The Breeder and Sportsman.
Sierra Vista was at the southwest corner of Chino Avenue and Pipeline Avenue, where today's Don Lugo High School is situated.  After a few years, however, Wharton English's declining health led him, as a veteran of the Civil War (he was discharged in 1863 because of battle wounds) to be hospitalized at the Soldiers' Home at Sawtelle, at what is now the Veterans Administration compound at West Los Angeles, and where he died in July 1915.

Perhaps because Pasadena was growing rapidly in the 1920s as the southern California real estate market mushroomed or because he simply wanted to devote more time to his operations in Chino, he moved out to the Sierra Vista Stock Farm.  As English developed his horse breeding operation, he became nationally known both for that and for his competition as an amateur in saddle horse events.

On the horse breeding side, he was widely known for the quality and pedigree of many animals, including one named for his wife, Edith Ames, and his horses were highly successful at events and shows throughout the country.  One prize-winning horse, Coquette, was purchased by film star Gloria Swanson in the early 1920s.  In addition, English became a very sought-after judge at equestrian events.  In the late 1910s, he was vice-president of the Pacific Coast Saddle Horse Association.

A San Bernardino Sun article on Revel English's 19 September 1926 triumph at Louisville, when his champion horse, Edna May's King, was the winner at the Kentucky State Fair, marking the first time an amateur owner won the event.
With regards to his participation in events, English, in 1926, took the saddle horse world by storm by becoming the first amateur to win the Watterson division of the Grand Championship stake for the five-gaited saddle-horses at the Kentucky State Fair  at Louisville, in the fabled center of horse breeding based in Kentucky.  This was a feat that was not repeated for over six decades until an amateur captured the prize again in 1988.  The 1926 victory was the second title for Edna May's King in three years, as she won the championship in 1924, as well..

The horse that won that competition, Edna May's King, was bought by English from a Kentucky breeder in 1923 for a then-record $12,000.  In 1930, as the Great Depression began to worsen, he commanded a new record when he sold her to a Beverly Hills businessman for $40,000.  In 1931, English sold, for an undisclosed amount, a string of 14 horses to F. C. Mars of the famed candy firm and announced that he was cutting his inventory of fine horses to just a few while continuing general management of his ranches.

In August 1940, English's Sierra Vista operation took a major turn for the worse when a fire erupted in the laundry room of his home and and burned down the two-story structure, destroying many of English's horse-breeding and competition trophies and honors and causing $10,000 in damage.  This was the third major fire at Sierra Vista in the space of five years.  In 1935, a large hay barn was burned and the following year its replacement was consumed by a conflagration destroying $10,000 worth of hay.

Although he rebuilt, the 63-year old English was never quite as active in the industry after the disaster as he was before.  In fact, in June 1941, English held an auction to sell sixty work horses, a dozen purebred colts, a few other animals, farm implements and tools.  This wasn't the first time he'd had a major auction of materials at the ranch, there was one in June 1927, but it seems clear that the fire's aftermath led English to scale down his activity and "downsized."  It appears that he mainly served as judges at shows and events and disassociated significantly, if not completely, from horse breeding.

Among his community activities was service on the Chino Rural Fire District, for which he was a founding trustee when the district was formed in 1935 and he also served as president of the organization for a time in the early 1940s.

As for his Chino Hills ranch, which terminated with the westerly line of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino and was, therefore, the eastern neighbor of the Tres Hermanos Ranch owned by Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler; Rancho La Puente scion, oilman and former Los Angeles County Sheriff William R. Rowland; and Olinda oil magnate Thomas B. Scott, English not only raised animals there but also, from about 1910, he leased the land out for prospective oil drilling.

A 3 September 1932 article from The San Bernardino Sun detailed plans to drill an oil well on land leased from Revel English on his 1,240-acre ranch in Chino Hills.  
In 1920, the International Petroleum Company drilled down 950 feet on a portion of the English ranch and it was said that there was some showing of oil about half way down the well, though the effort proved to be fruitless.

In 1932, a second well was drilled by the Great American Petroleum Company, subleasing from Si Rubens, who held the lease from English.  Rubens had acquired some 2,000 acres, including smaller leases from two owners adjacent to English and had permits from the state of California to drill three wells in a concentrated area.  Notably, this was a spot that had been the location of the first oil drilling effort in the Chino Hills, undertaken by a man named MacRae in the early 1890s--that attempt was curtailed because of excess water that filled the well and doomed the project.

Meantime, a portion of the Chino Hills ranch was dedicated to breeding horses and grazing stock, this being the area off today's English Road (known for years as English Ranch Road, which intersected with what was called Peyton Ranch Road.)

A San Bernardino Sun article from 13 April 1941 covering the sale of Revel English's Chino Hills ranch, comprising 1,240 acres, to Pasadena capitalist James N. Clapp and his wife.
In April 1941, however, English decided to sell his Chino Hills spread and found a buyer in Pasadena capitalist James N. Clapp and his wife.  While English continued to manage his reduced operation at Sierra Vista, the Clapps began an extensive renovation of the Chino Hills property.  They had only been owners of the property for a few years, however, when Clapp was killed while working with a tractor on the ranch.  His wife quickly sold the property, which was subdivided.  Among the later owners of a portion of the English Ranch were the Paynes, for whom the upscale Payne Ranch housing subdivision and adjacent shopping center are named--more on them later.

One other historical tidbit--in 1976, the San Bernardino County supervisors approved, after a long period of planning and deliberation, the extension of Grand Avenue from Diamond Bar eastward into the county.  Several routes were proposed, including two that would link Grand to Schaefer Avenue in Chino.  Another, however, was to extend Grand southeastward and connect it with English Road.  This latter route, however, was deemed to be too prejudicial to existing landowners, including the Payne family, and the current, more northerly route was selected.

Revel L. English, second from left, with other judges at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in a newspaper photo from 1948.
Meanwhile, within several years after the 1940 fire and subsequent auction, English relocated to San Marino and then Tujunga, between Pasadena and San Fernando, where he lived the last decade or so of his life, dying there in June 1953, at the age of 76.


Brandon said...

Nice. I love history.

prs said...

Hi Brandon, thanks for checking out the Chronicle and for your comment. There'll be more canyon history up soon, so check back.

Unknown said...

I think people would want to see a Facebook page of historic chino hills pictures.... first shops, first houses, etc...