21 March 2016

The Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in the 1870s

The Rancho Santa Ana del Chino covering today's cities of Chino and Chino Hills and extending almost to Sleepy Hollow in Carbon Canyon, was granted in 1841 to Antonio María Lugo, who had his son-in-law, Pennsylvania-native Isaac Williams assume the management of the ranch and then assigned the property to him.  In 1856, Williams died and ownership passed to one of his daughters, whose husband, Robert Carlisle, took control.  Carlisle was killed in 1865 in one of the most famous gun battles in early Los Angeles and Jim Bridger became the manager of the Chino Ranch.

At the time, southern California was just emerging from a punishing drought, which following calamitous floods in 1861-62, had decimated the economic backbone of the region: the cattle industry.  But, as rainfall increased, so did the population as post-Civil War western migration brought thousands of new residents to the greater Los Angeles.

With the growth in people came new businesses, an expanding agricultural foundation for the economy, and a rise in land values for small farms and townsites.  Among these latter was Compton (established 1867) and then a spate of others by the mid-1870s, including Artesia, Pomona, Santa Ana, Orange and San Fernando.

With climbing real estate prices, investors were looking for remaining regional ranches to purchase with an eye for subdivision and sale at great profits.  One such enterpreneur was Isaias W. Hellman (1842-1920).  Born to a Jewish family in what later became Germany, Hellman migrated to America in the late 1850s as a teenager to join relatives in Los Angeles and worked in a cousin's store.

Los Angeles Herald, 9 April 1875.
By the middle Sixties, as the area emerged from the drought and was poised for growth, Hellman went on his own, opening his own store and quickly becoming a success.  He even began to transact an informal banking business (banking was actually illegal for a number of years in California) at the back of his store as a sideline and earned the business of many residents of the Los Angeles region.

In 1868, Hellman formalized his enterprise, taking on two partners in longtime San Gabriel Valley ranchers, William Workman (half-owner of Rancho La Puente) and Workman's son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple (co-owner of Rancho La Merced).  Hellman, Temple and Company was the second bank opened in Los Angeles, following ex-governor John Downey's Hayward and Company by a few months.

While business grew along with the regional economy, fundamental differences in management of the institution arose between Hellman and Temple, and Hellman dissolved the partnership in early 1871.  Downey closed up his bank, joined ranks with Hellman and the pair opened Farmers and Merchants Bank, which became a dominant financial institution in Los Angeles for decades to come.  Temple and Workman formed their own private bank of that name and the two institutions had something of a friendly rivalry as the only commercial banks in the growing city.

It was in 1875, as the local growth boom spiked, that Hellman expanded his growing portfolio of real estate holdings.  Four years before, he and partners bought Rancho Cucamonga, which had been owned by John Rains, another Isaac Williams son-in-law, and, after Rains' murder in 1862, managed for his widow, Merced.  Cucamonga was widely-known for its vineyards and wine and brandy production, which Hellman continued.

Los Angeles Herald, 5 May 1875.
In 1874, he partnered with John Lazzarovitch and William H. Workman (nephew of his former banking partner) in subdividing the Paredon Blanco (White Bluffs) property Workman's wife, Maria, inherited from her father, Andrew Boyle, naming the new subdivision on the east side of the Los Angeles River from downtown Los Angeles Boyle Heights.  Ironically, it was at Paredon Blanco that Americans who had been taken prisoner by Californios at Isaac Williams's house at Chino were kept under lock and key during the last stage of the American invasion and conquest in 1846-47.

On 9 April 1875, the Los Angeles Herald newspaper published a small article titled "The Chino Ranch" in which it was reported
The solid foundation of real estate in Los Angeles county is well demonstrated by the late purchase of a half interest in the above named ranch by Mr. I.W. Hellman . . . [who] on the eve of his departure for Europe he saw no better investment for $150,000 of his surplus capital than to put it in solid ground . . .
Hellman, who had become quite wealthy due to his business acumen, was preparing for his first trip to his homeland since he had left nearly twenty years before.  The Herald continued that
The entire ranch contains some 35,000 acres, beautifully situated in the Spadra valley, six miles East of Spadra and within three-quarters of a mile of the railroad.  Ten thousand acres of Mr. Hellman's purchase is moist land and capable of producing anything that grows in semi-tropical California.  The whole tract is well-watered by streams from the adjacent mountains and foot-hills, and besides has numberless springs flowing the year round.   Heretofore it has been devoted to pasturage, but it is capable of much better things, and we expect some day to see it divided into small farms and under the best state of cultivation.
The paper's geographical knowledge was a bit skewed.  The Southern Pacific railroad line, completed to Spadra in 1874 and to Colton a year or so later, was about five miles north.  Spadra was a community established by the excellently-named William W. Rubottom on a corner of Rancho San Jose and named for Rubottom's Arkansas hometown.  Later in 1875, the new town of Pomona was created on that same ranch and Spadra is now an almost-forgotten remnant of an industrial section of the city along Pomona Boulevard between the 71 and 57 freeways.  The Chino ranch is actually southeast of Spadra and constitutes its own Chino Valley.

Praising Hellman's wisdom in acquiring the Chino ranch, the paper claimed "we doubt not that it is well worth a half million dollars."  Well, at the time, the real estate boom in the Los Angeles area was such that the assigned value by the Herald might have seemed realistic.

Los Angeles Herald, 13 June 1875.
A month after the purchase announcement, photographer S.P. Smith of the short-lived Cottage Gallery in Los Angeles took a "photographic tour", covered by the Herald, of points east from the growing city, including San Gabriel, El Monte, Spadra, San Jose (what became Pomona) and the Chino Ranch.  There, Smith and his party met a Mr. Stewart, a native of Great Britain, who was leasing the ranch for sheep-raising, these animals having replaced cattle in many of the region's ranches.

Smith observed it was the last day of sheep shearing (say that ten times fast) and then took photographs of the ranch and the stock of animals for Stewart (it would be great if prints of these views were still around).  After spending the night at Chino, Smith and his party finished taking more photos, enjoyed "a bountiful breakfast," packed up and headed back for Los Angeles.  The article ended with the statement that
Should you ever visit the Chino Ranch you will find a pleasant place, a social and entertaining host, and have a good time generally.  Them's our sentiments.
By mid-June, however, a short notice appeared in the paper noting that
We learn from parties who profess to know that the Chino ranch will be cut up into small farms, and that a town will be laid off.  The surveying will be commenced this coming week.  This movement serves to confirm the report of the change of route of the Los Angeles and Independence R.R., published in the [San Bernardino] Argus a few days ago.
The Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, a project led by F.P.F. Temple and intended to tap the transportation of silver from mines near the Inyo county town of Independence, was in the process of construction, starting with a branch line from Los Angeles to the new resort town of Santa Monica.  The line opened later in 1875, but only lasted a little over a year before being absorbed by the Southern Pacific.

At around the same time, the Centinela ranch (near today's Los Angeles International Airport) and Lake Vineyard (modern Alhambra and San Marino) had been or were soon to be subdivided for sale, so Hellman and his unnamed partners were looking to cash in on the action while the real estate market was white hot.

A little over two months later, though, a deep chill descended on the economy--speaking metaphorically, as it was the dog days of a very warm August.  Silver mining speculation gone haywire in Virginia City, Nevada collapsed, sending shockwaves to San Francisco, which was the financial center of the silver frenzy.  The Bank of California, the state's largest, went belly up and the telegraph ticked the news southward to Los Angeles, where a panic erupted.  Both of the commercial banks, Temple and Workman and Farmers and Merchants, suspended business for a month to try to allay depositors' fears.

Los Angeles Herald, 4 November 1875.
Hellman was in Europe, but furiously cut short his trip when he learned what Downey had done when Temple and Workman asked for assistance in ordering the suspension of business.  Notably, that took place on 1 September 1875, the day of the county elections and F.P.F. Temple, president of his namesake bank, was elected Los Angeles County treasurer.  Rushing back home in what might have been a record time, Hellman borrowed money in New York from his financial connections there and, upon arrival in Los Angeles, reopened his bank with the new-found cash, thereby saving his bank.

As for Temple and Workman, there was no such luck.  Their reputation for loose management (which Hellman had experienced first hand when they were all partners) kept them from obtaining a loan, especially as the well-heeled in San Francisco sat on their surpluses.

But, another investor in southern California real estate, Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin, who bought the Rancho Santa Anita (modern Arcadia and nearby areas) in spring 1875, loaned Temple and Workman money, but at a devil's bargain, most revealed in the satanic details of the mortgages issued to cover the loan.  Temple and Workman's gamble failed and the bank collapsed in January 1876.  The boom was over and a bust was on.

Still, in early November 1875, the Herald published another long piece on the Chino Ranch, observing that
The largest tract of moist land in Southern California and unquestionably the finest body of farming land on the Pacific Coast, is comparatively uninhabited.  We refer to the Chino Ranch . . .
Describing the property as a "savanna . . . entire covered with waving grass," the paper went on to note that "a splendid road free from dust (owing to the moisture of the land) passes across the center of the ranch", this describing the Butterfield Stage road, now roughly the route of the 71 Freeway.

Then, the piece continued, "on either side as far as the eye can reach are seen vast herds of cattle feeding upon the rich grasses," with an estimate of some 10,000 cattle and horses given.  The animals were said to be kept hydrated by abundant cienegas (springs) found throughout the ranch.  In fact, this blogger's first Chino Hills home included access to one such spring--when a backyard plant died and was pulled out of the heavy clay soil, just below the hills adjoining Chino Hills State Park, water rose to the surface and did not stop for seven years afterward.

Los Angeles Herald, 10 November 1875.
Going on to describe the "sandy loam" of the soil and the abundant water, the article claimed that the little agriculture practiced at Chino yielded "fifty to sixty bushels of barley, seventy-five to one hundred bushels of corn, and fifteen to eighteen tons of alfalfa" and some forty to sixty bushels of wheat.

The platitudes just kept coming:
As a place of residence no part of California is superior to this valley, the climate being superb and the scenery excellent . . . the immigrants arriving now are directing their attention to the East of Los Angeles. and this large ranch, capable of supporting three or four thousand people, will soon be thickly settled.  Lovely villas will ere long dot the beautiful plain, and the hum of industry be heard on all sides.
If the estimate of four thousand people sounds ridiculously low, the Herald must have realized it, because a brief note in the paper on 10 November, stated that Chino "is capable of supporting a half million of people" but at the time "is now only a wild expanse on which graze sheep and cattle."  As for those villas, Payne Ranch, Oak Tree Downs and Vellano might be the closest examples today.  The "hum" is more likely our growing street traffic and the rumble of trucks in south Chino!

The article ended with the note that investors with Hellman in the Chino Ranch included his banking partner Downey, San Francisco capitalist Alexander Weill and Louis Phillips, owner of the southern portion of Rancho San Jose, namesake of the Phillips Ranch community of Pomona and whose home, the 1875 Phillips Mansion, is a Pomona historic landmark.

Sacramento Record-Union, 31 December 1880.
The 1875-76 economic disaster proved to be a decade-long depression locally.  Any plans to develop the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino were shelved.  The plans of Hellman and his partners for quick, immense profits vanished, but another investor showed up at the end of 1880.  Flush with cash from the sale of mines at Tombstone, Arizona, Richard Gird made a deal with Hellman and associates, as briefly reported in the Sacramento Record-Union of 31 December 1880:
I.W. Hellman, the banker, is said to have sold to Dick Gird, an Arizona millionaire, the Chino Ranch for $225,000.
Hellman's half share cost him $150,000, so there was something of a loss, but it didn't hurt the financier in the long run.  He went on to run the Nevada Bank and Wells Fargo and was one of the wealthiest people in western America until his death in 1920.

As for Gird, he was buying at a good time, when prices were still low.  Within five years, a transcontinental railroad built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe reached Los Angeles and ushered in a new population and land boom exponentially greater by far than that of the late 1860s and early 1870s.  Like Hellman, though, Gird did not do well on his investment in the Chino Ranch--no one would until E.J. Marshall, Texas oil tycoon, bought the largely-intact ranch and took advantage of good market conditions after 1907 to finally make a good profit on speculation in the Chino Valley.

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