08 January 2017

Carbon Canyon in "The Old Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Orange County", 1952

Sixty-five years ago this month, in January 1952, the Title Insurance and Trust Company, which did a massive business in greater Los Angeles real estate for many decades, issued a pamphlet, "The Old Spanish and Mexican Rancho of Orange County,"

Ticor Title, as it is now known today, began life in 1894 due to the merger of two firms dealing with title abstracts (summary histories of real estate properties) and title insurance (established to cover issues with legal defects in a property).  The Los Angeles area had been through the massive Boom of the 1880s, in which tens of thousands of settlers flocked to the small city and many more in the region.  It was during that boom that William H. Bailey came to the area, purchased some former public land northeast of Anaheim and established the Olinda Ranch at the west end of the Carbon Canyon area.

In 1894, the local economy was in a downturn, drought was a frequent occurrence in the decade, and a national depression broke out the prior year.  Yet, the Los Angeles oil field was, two years before, brought into existence by Charles Canfield and Edward Doheny and Doheny soon explored on Bailey's ranch, five years before incorporated into the new County of Orange during the boom, and located a spot to explore for a new well.

In 1897, the first producing well at the Olinda (first called Fullerton, then Olinda or Brea-Olinda) field was brought in by Doheny, who partnered with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, which was converting its locomotives to oil, the new industry standard.  The history of northeast Orange County became intertwined with that of the new "black gold" followed by the rapid growth of citrus farming.

This is a partial detail of a large foldout map from a 1952 publication by Title Insurance and Trust Company (TICOR) of Los Angeles about the Spanish and Mexican era ranchos of Orange County.  Click on any image to see them expanded in a separate window.
The pamphlet was written by company executive William W. Robinson, who wrote a great many works of greater Los Angeles history, and what he noted was that,
as late as March 11, 1889, when Governor [Robert] Waterman signed the bill forming the new county of Orange out of the south=eastern part of Los Angeles County, the land was still largely "rancho."  Valleys and grazing plains, crossed by the Santa Ana River, and a number of creeks or streams, predominated—the sort of country that has been the first choice of rancheros in Spanish and Mexican days when cattle raising was California's chief industry.
Robinson pointed out that there was only one established settlement before the founding of the German colony of Anaheim in 1857, this being the mission town of San Juan Capistrano.  But, flood and drought catastrophically hit the region in the early to mid 1860s, destroying the cattle industry.  What followed was the foreclosure or sale and then subdivision of much of the land in the area, with small farms, vineyards and orchards predominating in many cases.

As the author noted, during the region's first growth boom, which extended from the late 1860s through the mid 1870s, a raft of new towns and settlements sprung up during that first boom, including Garden Grove, Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin and Westminster.  Though Robinson didn't mention it, the growth period spectacular came to an end in 1875-76, when a bust in San Francisco enveloped Los Angeles, and stagnation resulted for a decade.

Then, the 1885 arrival of the Santa Fe from the east bringing a direct transcontinental link to greater Los Angeles ushered in that great "Boom of the Eighties."  Robinson lists new boom towns like Buena Park, El Modena [now part of Orange], Fullerton, and Olive [also in Orange].

Yet, what he left out was the fact that huge swaths of land in the southern part of the county remained open ranching and farming areas under the ownership of the family of James Irvine, who hit the jackpot when he bought former ranchos in the mid-1860s during the worst days of that decade's drought.

By 1952, the Irvine Company was still in possession of most of these holdings and most of that was still agricultural.  Those days, however, were soon to come to an end.  The early 1950s was the onset of another great boom in the region, as post-World War II Orange County became suburbia on steroids.  Tract houses, shopping centers, schools, a network of streets and freeways, and other elements totally transformed the county, though most of that was in concept and planning when the pamphlet was published.

There were some twenty Spanish and Mexican era ranchos that were fully or partially in Orange County.  This blog has mentioned many times before that the Carbon Canyon area was actually part of public lands set aside (wisely) under Spanish rule to provide common livestock grazing areas, so that ranchers would not overgraze their dominions.

Another detail takes in the northeastern reaches of Orange County to the borders with Riverside and San Bernardino counties.  Carbon Canyon and nearby areas are at the top, just left of center.  The white area there represented public land, held in common use for the neighboring ranches for additional livestock grazing land.
A large color foldout map pasted to the inside back cover of the pamphlet provides the location of the neighboring ranchos overlaid onto the grid of streets, rail lines and other elements that existed in 1946, just as the war ended and on the verge of the boom that would follow.  It is a particularly interesting and valuable map to show the convergence of history and "modern" development waiting to happen.

As to the relevant ranchos in the general Carbon Canyon area, there was, to the west, "San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana," which the pamphlet stated
extends from the northwest bank of the Santa Ana River to Ranchos La Habra and Los Coyotes on the north and west.  The cities of Anaheim, Fullerton, Placentia, and Brea have arisen on this rancho.
San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana was granted in 1837 by Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado to Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and totaled just under 36,000 acres.

To the south was the "Cañon de Santa Ana", described as
this rancho of rolling foothills and small canyons lies near the boundary line between Orange and San Bernardino counties and along and north of the curving Santa Ana River.  The town of Yorba is within this rancho, also a portion of Yorba Linda [both were combined very shortly after publication].
The ranch was granted by Governor José Figueroa to Bernardo Yorba in 1834 and totaled just a shade over 13,300 acres.  Yorba was a remarkable figure and also obtained the ranchos Sierra and Rincon in what is now Riverside County adjoining the Santa Ana River and inherited part of the Santiago de Santa Ana ranch from his father.  As Robinson observed, this allowed Yorba "to run his herds of cattle from the Riverside area to Newport Bay."

A tiny sliver of a ranch, in comparison, to the northwest of Carbon Canyon was "Rincon de la Brea."  Naturally, the name of the area came from brea, or tar, deposits of which were found in the canyon named for the material used to cover house roofs and for other purposes.  It also indicated part of where future deposits of oil were to be located in a belt running from modern Montebello into Brea.

Robinson recorded that the ranch, a little less than 4,500 acres, was granted in early 1841 by Governor Alvarado to Gil Ybarra, a well-known Los Angeles resident and office holder.  Most of Rincon de la Brea falls within Los Angeles County, with just the southern tip extending through Brea Canyon into Orange County just north of the City of Brea.

Honing in on the Carbon Canyon area, this detail shows it, as well as Soquel and Telepgraph canyons moving east from the Olinda oil town towards the county line with San Bernardino.  "La Vida Hot Springs," technically "La Vida Mineral Springs" is shown, as well.
The first detail of the map shown here gives a perspective from Seal Beach, Santa Ana, and Tustin on the south to the northern border of Orange County and from the San Gabriel River area on the west to the eastern reachers of Santa Ana Canyon on the east.

The three aforementioned ranches are in blue, green and pink, respectively, while the public lands adjacent and available to those properties are in white with a narrow strip rising from the Santa Ana River in what is now Anaheim, Placentia, Brea and Yorba Linda up to the widened area that principally includes what is now Chino Hills State Park, Carbon Canyon, the Chino Hills above the canyon.

A second detail shows more of the eastern reaches of the map, including where the county lines of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino meet and where the canyons of Telegraph, Soquel, and Carbon extend towards Chino.

Finally, the last detail takes in those three canyons, the oil town of Olinda, the short-lived boomtown of Carlton on the southern portion of the Olinda Ranch, and the streets as laid out in 1946.  Note Valencia Avenue extended north from Imperial Highway and then curved east (right) into Carbon Canyon Road--the old asphalt path still exists in an oil field east of modern Valencia and south of today's Carbon Canyon.  Lambert Road was a ways off into the future and Brea-Olinda Boulevard was later renamed Birch Street (for Brea Canyon oil magnate A. Otis Birch, who grew up in Santa Ana.)

The thick black line near the center coming up through the old Carlton area was the spur railroad line of the Santa Fe emanating from Atwood (Placentia) to take shipments of crude from the Olinda fields out to refining.  The only marked entity within Carbon Canyon was the La Vida Hot [actually, Mineral} Springs resort, a few decaying ruins of which still exist on the Brea side of the canyon.  It is also worth pointing that the historic Brea Canyon, as shown on this map and many others, is actually today's Tonner Canyon!

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