Monday, October 15, 2012

Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo and Misión Vieja

The fourth and last of the ranchos that was associated with the Old Mission/Misión Vieja community was Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo.  This approximately one-half league, or 2,042-acre, ranch was granted by Governor Pío Pico to George (Jorge) Morillo and Teodoro Romero in April 1845.  Potrero de Felipe Lugo was also known as Rancho Dolores, though the origins of that name are not yet known.

The rancho's common name, however, relates to Felipe Lugo, whose father, Antonio María, was grantee of the Rancho San Antonio, a large land grant south and east of the pueblo of Los Angeles.  Felipe was likely allowed to graze some of his cattle from San Antonio in the meadows (which is what potrero means) owned by the Mission San Gabriel and west of the San Gabriel River.

Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo's boundaries run roughly in the following way:  the western boundary of the ranch follows a straight line from south of Santa Anita Avenue as it heads north from Durfee Avenue and then turns northeast very close to the old Lexington-Gallatin Road (an old thoroughfare that ran from today's Pico Rivera, where the townsite of Gallatin was once located, to El Monte, with Lexington being a name for a village in that area) and then just east of Mountain View Road through El Monte until that line hits Valley Boulevard. 

The northern line goes along Valley Boulevard very close to its intersection with Garvey Avenue at the Five Points area of El Monte until just about where Valley meets the 605 Freeway close to Mountain View High School. 

The east line then zigs and zags along the San Gabriel River and cuts within portions of the California Country Club in the City of Industry east of the river and the 605 Freeway.  The boundary then crosses the 605 and river just north of the 60 Freeway, moves over to Durfee Avenue and then moves south across the 60, crosses the San Gabriel River again and turns a corner within the Pico Rivera Bicentennial Park. 

The short southern line of the rancho then turns westward across the river for the last time, moves within the lower or southern section of the Whittier Narrows Nature Center and meets up with the western boundary at Durfee Avenue and Santa Anita Avenue.

As to the grantees, George Morrillo was married to Magdalena Vejar, whose brother Ricardo was, for many years, the owner of the southern or lower portion of Rancho San José, covering modern day Pomona and parts of neighboring areas.  Prior to marring Morrillo, Magdalena was the wife of José Joaquin Verdugo, of the family who received one of the first California land grants back in 1784, including the Glendale and surrounding areas.

A daughter of Magdalena Vejar and José Joaquin Verdugo was Juana María Verdugo and she was first married to Teodoro Romero.  So, when the 1845 grant was made by Governor Pico it was to father-in-law (Morrillo) and son-in-law (Romero.)  By 1850, however, Romero died, so Juana María married Refugio Zuñiga, who came to the marriage with one son and then the couple had several more children.  One of these, Manuel, who was born in 1854, was a long-time fixture in the Old Mission community.

With the conquest of Mexican California by the United States, the striking of a provision protecting Spanish and Mexican land grants from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the ensuing Gold Rush and struggles over land ownership, Congress enacted the land claims process with a March 1851 law that set up a commission and created a court structure to hear and decide land grant claims. 

On 1 November 1852,  a claim was put forward to the land commission in the name of George Morrillo and Juana María Verdugo de Romero.  The commission heard the case within a year and, on 18 October 1853, ruled in favor of the claimants. 

Because the federal government automatically appealed all successful commission decisions, the matter went to the local federal district court in Los Angeles and the case heard on 19 September 1855, where, once again, Morrillo and his step-daughter were successful.

Once again, though, the U. S. government appealed the court case, as was the strategy in all such matters, and the local federal district court heard the matter on 23 February 1857 and dismissed the government's appeal.

This is the first page of the December 1858 map of Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo by Los Angeles County Surveyor Henry Hancock, made for the land claim initiated by original grantee George Morrillo and his partner's widow, Maria Verdugo Romero, in 1852 and finally patented in 1871.  It shows the southwestern portion of the ranch and its borders with neighboring ranches La Merced, Potrero Grande, and San Bartolo.  Winding along as the eastern boundary at the right is the San Gabriel River.  The signature at the bottom from 15 June 1871 is by the federal General Land Office commissioner for the issuance of the patent that day.  Click on the image to open a larger version in a separate window.  This copy was provided by the El Monte Historical Society.

While this all seemed well for the Morrillo/Romero family and their ranch, there were enormous financial and personal costs in pursuing these claims.  Lawyer's fees, charges for having required official survey maps drawn, and other expenses could be onerous, especially as the local economy, which boomed in the beef cattle trade with northern mining areas during the Gold Rush earlier in the 1850s, was starting to experience a tightening as the Gold Rush waned.  In addition, there was a major national economic depression that broke out in 1857.

Given all of this, it is not surprising that Juana María Verdugo and her second husband, Refugio Zuñiga, sold their half-interest, or just over 1,000 acres to F. P. F. Temple on 7 January 1857 for $3,000, which was a substantial sum at the time. 

Temple, who came to the Old Mission community in 1851 after receiving half of the neighboring Rancho La Merced from his father-in-law, William Workman, owner of the Rancho La Puente (which bordered Potrero de Felipe Lugo on the east) was busy with Workman and the other owner of La Merced, Workman's former La Puente mayordomo (foreman), Juan Matias Sanchez, in acquiring as much land in the Old Mission ranchos, including Potrero Chico and Potrero Grande, as they could. 
For example, also in 1857, Sanchez took possession of Potrero Grande and gave half of it to Workman and Temple.  Six years later, in 1863, Workman and Temple acquired ownership of much of the tiny Potrero Chico grant.

Notably, though, the Verdugo/Zuñiga deed to Temple included all but one of the 20 lots comprising the ranch, which seems to indicate that the couple reserved lot 8 for themselves as part of the deed. 

Beyond this, Temple moved quickly over the next year to secure quit claims, which would avoid any later attempts to claim portions of the ranch.  For example, on 25 April 1857, a quit claim was filed in Temple's favor by Maria Tifania Romero, a daughter of Juana Maria Verdugo and Teodoro Romero, and her husband Jose Espinosa, as potential heirs of Tifania's mother's half of the rancho.  A couple of weeks later, Walter Shay, who had acquired a 160-acre section from the Verdugo/Zuñiga half of Potrero de Felipe Lugo, filed a quit claim to Temple.  In early 1858, Temple secured another quit claim from Juana Maria Verdugo through her children José and María's potential interest as heirs.

In May 1858, Temple made another purchase, acquiring the interest of Elmore and Louisa Squires in parts of 9 lots that included what was referred to as the "Old Mill."   This was followed up two years later, in April 1860, with the acquisition from Richard and Margaret Chapman of their interest in what was called the "Old Squires/Davis Mill."

What this referred to was a grist mill for grinding wheat, corn and other field crops and which was built by Elmore W. Squires and Edward Davis (or Davies.)  Squires (1826-1906) was a native of Kentucky who lived in Missouri, where he married his wife in 1848.  The couple then migrated on the famed wagon trail to Oregon, where their first child was born, but traveled south to Santa Clara, near San Jose, by 1852.  Then, the family came down to Los Angeles County and settled on Potrero de Felipe Lugo.  After selling out to Temple, Squires moved to the Rancho Sausal Redondo at what was commonly called "Halfway House," a stop on the main road from Los Angeles to the harbor at San Pedro.  Squires remained there for nearly twenty years, lost land in a foreclosure, and then moved to Orange, where he remained the rest of his life.

Edward Davis/Davies (1807-1859) was from Wales, as was his wife Margaret and apparently the two were Mormon converts (there was a significant conversion and migration of British subjects to the Mormon Church in the 1840s) because the two were married in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1850 and their first two children were married there.  A third child, Caleb, was born in San Bernardino in 1856 and that town had been established by Mormons sent to California by the church to establish a colony.  Somehow, Davis/Davies wound up at Potrero de Felipe Lugo and made the acquaintance of Squires and they established their mill, about 1856 or 1857, though why it was referred to as "old" is puzzling, unless it was built earlier by Morrillo and Romero.  In any case, Davis passed away in November 1859 at La Puente, just east of Potrero de Felipe Lugo, and his widow Margaret married Richard Chapman, an Englishman, but the couple then disposed of their property to Temple.

Temple continued to operate this grist mill for grinding wheat, corn and other field crops for some years and expanded his holdings on Potrero Lugo.  First, with his father-in-law Workman, the two obtained the remaining 1/2 interest in the ranch, or the other 1,000 acres, from Morrillo and Magdalena Vejar.  Then, Temple acquired another 160-acre section that had been owned by Cyrus Lyon, who later went on to operate a well-known stage stop at Lyon's Station near Newhall in the Santa Clarita area north of Los Angeles.

Then, in conjunction with his father-in-law Workman, Temple obtained a quit claim in February 1859 from Morrillo and Magdalena Vejar for their half of the ranch; that is, the remaining 1,000 acres.  Three years later, in October 1862, Workman quit claimed his interest in Potrero de Felipe Lugo to his daughter, Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple.  It was a common matter to place property in the hands of wives and daughters as a way to protect assets in case of financial issues or to merely provide something for grandchildren in the event of the untimely death of a husband or father.  In any case, for about thirteen years, the ownership of Potrero de Felipe Lugo, except for lot 8, was held by the Workman and Temple families.

The next major change came in the early 1870s, when the brothers George (1823-1896) and James Durfee (1840-1920) formally acquired just under 70 acres of the ranch from F. P. F. Temple.  The Durfees became prominent farmers and ranchers in the area and rented land from Temple before acquiring the property from him.  There will be a separate entry on this blog about the interesting background of the Durfees, but they were early walnut farmers on their ranch, of which 60 acres was west of Durfee Avenue near South El Monte High School and 9 acres on the east side of the road within the Whittier Narrows Nature Center.  While George later moved to Los Angeles, where he died, James remained at the ranch until his passing.  James was also a founder, with Temple, of the La Puente School District, which organized in 1863 and of which there will be a separate post.

Meantime, the land claim filed for Potrero de Felipe Lugo, as noted above, in 1852 and approved by both the land claims commission and federal district court, finally ended with the issuance of a patent by the federal government on 15 June 1871.  This long delay was common, as most claims were approved by 1860, but then the Civil War and its aftermath meant that most patents were unissued until much later.

In late 1875, the ownership of Potrero de Felipe Lugo changed dramatically when the Workman and Temple families were beset by financial problems through their Los Angeles bank of Temple and Workman, which had opened in late 1871, but had also been heavily invested in oil, railroad, real estate and other projects, as well as poorly managed.  When the state economy went into a tailspin in late Summer 1875, the bank suspended operations for a few months while seeking loans. 

Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin, a San Francisco mining magnate, who had purchased Rancho Santa Anita to the north, was looking for more property acquire and saw that Temple and Workman, the largest landowners in Los Angeles County, were in deep trouble.  He arranged a loan to float the bank and also made a separate acqusition at the same time, in December 1875, for 297 acres of Potrero de Felipe Lugo along its northern edge for $10,000.  The same day Baldwin had arranged to acquire from Workman, F. P. F. Temple and Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple another 203 acres from either Potrero de Felipe Lugo or Potrero Grande, its western neighbor, for $30 an acre, or just over $6,000, though it appears he selected that parcel from the latter rancho.

The remainder of the rancho, excepting the land held by the Durfees and the separate property of Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple that was not included in the 297-acre sale, was put down as collateral for the bank loan, which was also made in early December 1875.  Within six weeks, however, the bank failed, as depositors rushed in to close their accounts and left with Baldwin's borrowed money, and the loan was defaulted.  After three years, to allow the interest to accumulate far beyond repayment, Baldwin foreclosed and, in 1879, took possession of the lion's share of Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo.

Mrs. Temple, having retained her property, distributed her Potrero de Felipe Lugo holdings to some of her children, obviously in the hopes that they could do something to make a living in the aftermath of the devastating bank failure, which brought bankruptcy to the Temple family.  In November 1876, she deeded 100 acres to her son Thomas, who had been a cashier in the bank, and who had just married.  Thomas evidently tried farming for a period, but with a bad economy and a punishing drought that occurred in 1876-77, he could not pay his taxes and portions of the property was sold at a tax auction in March 1879.  Thomas eventually disposed of the remainder of his land and then moved to Mexico before returning in later years to Los Angeles.

An additional 400 acres of Mrs. Temple's was given to other children of hers, most notably John Harrison Temple, who had just returned from schooling in Massachusetts after the bank failure.  Only 21 years old, John took possession of land east of Durfee Avenue, comprising most of what is now the Whittier Narrows Nature Center, built himself a residence and planted over 130 acres to walnut trees.  Unlike his older brother Thomas, though, John was able to make his ranch profitable and remained on it for over a decade.  There was, though, a lawsuit against John filed in February 1887 by Lucky Baldwin, who claimed that Temple illegally occupied some of his land.  The case dragged on until March 1889, when the court ruled that Temple had a good, valid title and there was no infringement.  By then, however, Temple's second oldest brother, Francis, had died in 1888 at the Workman Homestead in La Puente, and John became its new owner.  He moved from the Potrero de Felipe Lugo ranch, but appears to have rented it until it was sold in 1892 to A. N. Davidson.

Mrs. Temple also placed 100 acres of land in the hands of her mother, Nicolasa Workman, and this property was rented out by tenant farmers, though there was also a tax payment lapse in 1882 for the parcel.  As is often the case, the term "land rich, cash poor" applies, because if a property could not be made profitable to cover expenses and taxes, it would often wind up sold at a tax sale, auction or private sale and the Temple and Workman holdings at Potrero de Felipe Lugo definitely apply, as they lost everything on the ranch by 1892.

This is page 2 of the 1858 Hancock survey for Potrero de Felipe Lugo, showing the northeastern section, including the northern boundary being the "Road from Los Angeles to San Bernardino" or today's Valley Boulevard, as well as neighboring lands of the ranchos La Puente and San Francisquito and the "Lands of the Mission San Gabriel."  Snaking along the right side of the ranch is the "San Gabriel or Azusa River."
Meantime, Lucky Baldwin, along with partner Richard Garvey, subdivided their 1,500 acres of Potrero de Felipe Lugo, for sale during the great land boom of the 1880s.  In a publication called the Illustrated Herald in August 1888, Baldwin's nephew and estate manager, Henry Unruh, published their offering of the land in ten-acre parcels.  The price was $175 to $250 an acre and the claim was that "this tract will produce anything which grows in Los Angeles county, with perhaps the exception of citrus fruit," although it was then stated that "oranges, indeed, will grow here . . . but these trees do their best on the mesa land." 

Still, it was observed that "The Felipe Lugo is what is known as moist land.  On this are grown to greatest perfection all leguminous crops, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and wheat and barley, as well as alfalfa.  They will produce a ctop of any of these without any artificial irrigation in our years of least rainfall.  In the more favorable years two crops can be raised on such lands in the twelve months.  The soil is free of stiff clay, and is most easily worked at all seasons."

The piece went on to note that "cereals and vegetables are not all that grow on such rich bottom lands as the Felipe Lugo.  Many of the finest vineyards in the county are found in just such localities.  These, at their best, could not be bought for $500 an acre, when in bearing.  These damp lands, too, are admirably adapted to the growth of the English walnut—one fo the most profitable crops of this section.  The orchards require the very minimum of care, and pay not less than $100 an acre, when at their best.  Then, here, is the choicest home of the apple, the pear, and many similar varieties of deciduous fruit."

And, there was more!  The Felipe Lugo was deemed perfect for dairies and alfalfa, the latter being the common feed for cattle, who could graze year-round in the mild climate of the area.  The bottom line, the sales pitch went, was "the thirfty and industrious farmer who enters on these pursuits, with intelligence, will be able to make for himself a very pleasant home in a lovely climate, and in time he will grow into affluent circumstances on such farms as are now offered so cheap as the Felipe Lugo."

Well, it was a boom time that was just about to go bust in 1888.  Four years later, in the same periodical, Unruh made another pitch, this time combining Potrero de Felipe Lugo with the La Merced and San Franciscquito ranches, also acquired by Baldwin by foreclosure from Temple, Workman and, the case of La Merced, Juan Matias Sanchez.

A total of 3,000 acres was subdivided and 800 had been sold by March 1892.  Terms were $150 to $200 an acre with a third down in cash, and the rest due in five years and 8% interest.  The lands were described as "soil is exceedingly rich black loam of great depth; always moist and producing enormous crops of corn, alfalfa, potatoes, etc., without irrigation; admirable for walnuts and deciduous fruits."

In 1893, however, came another national economic depression and there were six years of drought in the Los Angeles region, so it is likely that sales were lacking at Potrero de Felipe Lugo until after 1900.  In fact, after Baldwin's death in 1909 and with the disposition of his estate, much of his San Gabriel Valley land, including, presumably, Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, was sold off to farmers. 

After a series of floods, especially in 1914 and 1938, some of the southern part of the rancho was earmarked for flood control purposes held by the federal government and managed by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Some of that land is leased to the county for the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area and Whittier Narrows Nature Center.  The northern part, over time, became developed for housing and commercial uses in the cities of South El Monte and El Monte.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

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