All Over the Map: Auto Club Strip Map, Los Angeles to Turnbull Canyon, ca. late 1910s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The Automobile Club of Southern California formed in 1900 at the dawn of the age of what many called the “horseless carriage.”  One of its earliest services was providing directional signs on roadways, a program instituted six years after the club’s founding.  In 1909, it began offering maps to guide the growing number of motorists in the region.  In succeeding years, insurance, anti-theft, public safety and roadside emergency services followed.

The Club’s noted Spanish Colonial Revival headquarters opened on Figueroa Street near the University of Southern California in 1923 and services to members continued to expand over the decades.  Today, the Auto Club, which most people call “AAA” because of its affiliation with the Automobile Association of America, has over 6 million members in the region.

Today’s “All Over the Map” entry features an Auto Club-published “strip map,” which were printed on cards and oriented “landscape” style, it is said, so that they could be placed on the dashboard of a car for easier readability as users followed the routes to a desired destination.  On the reverse of many “strip maps” were lists of Club-approved garages, motels and restaurants along the route.

A number of these maps were oriented towards leisurely “Sunday drives” to the local mountains and canyons of the greater Los Angeles region.  One such example is the map highlighted here showing the route from Auto Club headquarters on Figueroa Street, just south of Pico, where the organization was located from 1914-1922.

In the 1880 federal census, Robert Turnbull, fifth from the top, was listed as residing on Charity Street (renamed Grand Avenue seven years later) in Los Angeles with the occupation of “wool grower,” through his sheep ranch on former public land in the Puente Hills.

Turnbull Canyon got its name from Scottish-born Robert Turnbull, who, in the 1870s,  bought former public land adjacent to the Rancho La Puente and ran sheep on his domain until he sold the property in mid-1887 during the famed Boom of the 1880s to the company that founded Whittier.  Turnbull did not enjoy his windfall for long, a story we’ll save for about another month on another post!

In any case, his name was attached to the canyon that ran up in the hills to the northeast of the new town, but little changed aside from some oil exploration until the early 1910s.

Over the hill, on a portion of the Rancho La Puente, once owned by William Workman, but which passed to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin by 1880 (more on that in January, too!), Baldwin’s death in 1909 and the settlement of his estate led to the sale and development of property in what became known as North Whittier Heights.

The main figure in the subdivision of North Whittier Heights was Edwin G. Hart, who with Jared S. Torrance (founder of the South Bay city of that name), purchased the land from the Baldwin estate in 1912.  Almost immediately a move was made to build a road through the hills that would connect the eastern San Gabriel Valley with the plain leading to the Pacific.

The 27 September 1912 edition of the Los Angeles Times featured this article on the early stages of building Turnbull Canyon Road, which was endorsed by, among others, the Auto Club.

This was hardly a new idea.  William Workman and John Rowland each had roads that bisected the Puente Hills leading south.  The map the two had drawn up when they formally divided Rancho La Puente in 1868 showed a couple such roads, as indicated in the detail above.

The section bordered in green shows the present-day Homestead, where Workman resided, as well as Rowland’s home a short distance to the southeast.  The area at the bottom with a blue border is Rowland’s road to Anaheim, founded by German winemakers in 1857.  This appears to be in the vicinity of the modern Hacienda Boulevard as it wends its way through the hills into La Habra.

To the left, or west, is Workman’s road to “Anaheim Landing,” which was where the San Gabriel River empties into the Pacific Ocean in modern Seal Beach.  Notably, the San Gabriel River changed course during the winter of 1867-68 as the map was being surveyed.

Anaheim Landing was a project developed by Anaheim business leaders to have a harbor in competition with San Pedro/Wilmington.  Workman was an investor in the Anaheim Landing project and undoubtedly did so thinking he could ship agricultural products from his share of La Puente to the new harbor cheaper than through the older, more established port.

Given that the direction to Anaheim Landing was south and a bit west of Workman’s home, it is possible that the road pushed through was over the general route of modern Colima Road as it traverses the hills into east Whittier.

The Times of 22 November 1914 covered the opening of Turnbull Canyon Road, touting “native trees and flowers” and “a complete view for twenty-five miles.”  Mention was also made of the road going from Whittier to the new “North Whittier Heights subdivision,” now Hacienda Heights.

As for Turnbull Canyon Road, it was promoted for its ability to access wildfires in the hills, as a cut-off from inland to coastal areas, and as a scenic drive with stunning views from the summit.  It didn’t hurt for local property owners that land values were bound to leap significantly, as well!

Talk, emanating largely from Whittier, of building the road began as early as 1911 before the project finally took shape a couple of years later.  In November 1914, the road, which was encouraged early in the planning phase by the Auto Club, was completed.  Probably not long thereafter, the map was created.

It shows the route leading from Los Angeles along 7th Street through Stephenson Avenue in Boyle Heights to Whittier Boulevard once East Los Angeles was passed (today it is Whittier Boulevard in both areas).  As a driver reached Whittier a left turn on Philadelphia Street and another left on Painter Avenue in downtown took the motorist to Beverly Boulevard, where a right turn led directly to Turnbull Canyon Road.

This Automobile Club of Southern California strip map, from the Homestead’s collection, dates to between 1914 and 1922 and shows a scenic route from downtown Los Angeles through Turnbull Canyon and back in a leisurely loop.

The scenic drive through the Puente Hills, with what had to be virtually a mandatory stop at the summit to take in the striking views, took the traveler down into North Whittier Heights and connected to what was called Tenth Street in the newly created Hillgrove Tract.

Motorists would pass, on the right, the Homestead, owned by Eugene Bassett and Thomas H. Pratt and leased as a slaughterhouse and food canning facility and then to a Japanese farmer until late 1917, when it was purchased by Walter P. and Laura Temple.  Once Valley Boulevard was reached, the long drive back to Los Angeles led through El Monte, Ramona Acres (soon renamed Monterey Park), Alhambra, Lincoln Heights and downtown Los Angeles before the place of origin was reached.

A close-up view of the Turnbull Canyon area.  The Homestead is located just below the 18.5 mile marker to the left of Puente.

Without any stops, the trip could easily have taken several hours and with a picnic lunch or a detour at a restaurant as well as the sightseeing in the canyon and at the summit, the Sunday drive might well have been an all-day affair.

Someone reading this might try driving the route today and let us know what kind of experience it is roughly a century after the road’s completion and the map’s creation!

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