Wo/Men at Work: Hewes Packing House, El Modena, Orange, ca. early 1920s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been noted here before, the agricultural productivity of greater Los Angeles was among the highest in the United States and the world for many years.  The massive growth in population and development in the region, especially since World War II transformed our landscape so that most our farmland is long gone.  Through historic artifacts, such as the photograph highlighted in this latest entry in the “Wo/Men at Work” series, we can remember just how important the agriculture industry was to our local economy.

In the last few decades of the 19th century, the citrus industry became a dominant one in the area with transport aided by the 1885 opening of a direct transcontinental railroad line to Los Angeles built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.  When Edwin T. Earl invented the refrigerated box car in 1890, the situation improved dramatically.

The prior year, a new county was carved out of the southeastern portion of Los Angeles County and was, appropriately named Orange, because of its main economic product.  Among the most prominent orange and lemon growers was David Hewes, whose packing house in El Modena, a neighborhood in the city of Orange and its employees are the subject of the image.

Hewes packing house El Modena 1910s
This photograph from the Homestead’s collection shows about 125 employees of the Hewes packing house in the El Modena area of Orange, where oranges and lemons were packed from David Hewes’ Anapauma Ranch.

First, as to the photograph, it is not dated, but appears to be from around the early 1920s, judging by the hairstyles of the women.  As to the demographics of those in the image, the bosses are clearly the two gents at the upper right near the water faucet (which looks like it could have been a type of outdoor shower, but perhaps was used to fill large barrels or other vessels) wearing the three-piece suits.

Otherwise, there are about 125 other persons in the photo and 80 or so of them are women.  Previous posts here discussed the fact that, in packing houses throughout the region, whether for citrus, walnuts or other agricultural products, women were employed to do much of the sorting, grading and packing of the items.  Moreover, while a few look to be in the forties or older, the vast majority of the women are young, particularly in their teens and twenties.

As for the men, most wear work clothes, aprons, overalls and the like, though one fellow sports a tie, but doesn’t have a jacket, so he might have been an office worker, such as a clerk.  It is also notable that under half the males wear hats, though whether this reflects that they did outdoor work or just liked to sport headgear isn’t known.

Behind the group are two buildings, the one on the left looks to be an office building, if the presence of a fireplace and chimney are any indication, while the much bigger structure at the right is undoubtedly the packing house, where most of the employees worked.  Note the quartet of skylights on one of the roof gables (another four were likely on the other side of the building) to provide natural light for workers inside.

David Hewes portrait 1854
An 1854 portrait by William S. Jewett, said to be the first professional portrait artist in San Francisco, of David Hewes is in the collection of the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana.

Concerning Hewes, he was born three months after F.P.F. Temple, William Workman’s son-in-law, in 1822 in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, which is just a few miles east of Temple’s hometown of Reading.  Like Temple, Hewes, who went to school in Reading and then to what is now the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy before studying at Yale University, came out to California as a young man, but did so later as part of the mass migrations of the Gold Rush.  Interestingly, Hewes invested in a scheme to send material to build iron buildings to San Francisco, which was in desperate need of structures for its burgeoning population.  He left Boston and arrived in California at the end of 1849, but with the intention of staying just long enough the attend to the iron buildings and then return to the east.

Hewes, however, decided to remain in California, and, after a short stay at San Francisco, he went to Sacramento in February 1850 and opened a store.  In November 1852, a massive fire swept through the town, destroying most of it, including the store of William Workman’s brother, David.  This was followed in the ensuing winter by a flood, in the aftermath of which Hewes decided to leave.

After giving some thought to moving to the Los Angeles area because he knew large ranches were available for lease, Hewes, instead, returned to San Francisco and became a contractor specializing in the leveling and grading of hilly locales and then the filling in of the areas next to the bay that became the rapidly growing city’s commercial corridor.  He also graded the city hall area of 17 acres and acquired, he later wrote, the title “The Maker of San Francisco.”

From his days in Sacramento Hewes was friendly with a quartet of merchants in town, namely Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker.  These men, later known as “The Big Four” or “The Octopus” [get it? 4 men times 2 arms?] who owned the Central Pacific Railroad, which built the western half of the transcontinental line completed in 1869, and its subsidiary the Southern Pacific.

Hewes golden spike
The original golden spike driven to mark the completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah in 1869 was commissioned by Hewes and donated by him to what is now the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.

In fact, Hewes provided the famed golden spike, inscribed with the names of the Central Pacific’s directors and officers and Hewes’ name as presenter, that was driven in at Promontory, Utah to mark the completion of the wonder of its time.  The spike was removed and Hewes donated it, along with with part of his art collection and other material, to the museum (now the Cantor Arts Center) at the university Leland Stanford, the railroad’s president, founded in memory of his deceased teenage son.

While Hewes’ business was highly successful, he also was heavily invested in San Francisco real estate (one of his buildings at 6th and Market, destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906 was rebuilt by Hewes and survives, though much altered), so he sold his contracting company in the early 1870s.  In 1877, he moved to Oakland with his first wife, Matilda, and her daughter from a prior marriage and enjoyed retirement to the extent that in the 1880 census he gave his occupation as “No Business.”  Hewes did serve a single term on the city council, an experience he did not enjoy.

The climate in the Bay Area, even in warmer Oakland was not beneficial to the health of his wife and it was decided to move south in summer 1881.  Hewes rented and then built a home in Tustin (the latter home still stands) and acquired over 800 acres of what had been a sheep ranch near the recently founded town of Orange.

The household of Hewes at his ranch in the 1910 census, consisting of the 87-year old, his niece, a Chinese household worker and thirteen farmhands.

Hewes planted most of the ranch, which he called “Anapauma” [based on the Greek for “resting place”] to grapevines along with apricots, prunes and pears, but a disease wiped out most of the region’s grapevines later in the decade.  He then planted the ranch to oranges, lemons, olives and walnuts–all major products in greater Los Angeles in subsequent years–with hay and grain also being raised for his livestock.  The packing house shown in the photograph was completed and opened in 1903.

After Anna Hewes died in early 1887, Hewes hired a manager for his ranch and returned to San Francisco.  He met Anna Lathrop, the sister of Leland Stanford’s wife and the two married a couple of years later, enjoying Stanford’s private rail car for the American portion of their honeymoon (which also included a European segment.)  However, the marriage was short-lived and Anna died in 1892, after just three years of marriage.

Hewes stayed in Oakland for several more years, but relocated to Los Angeles in 1897 and acquired property in the market district downtown and built the “Hewes Market” between 8th and 9th and Los Angeles and Santee streets.  Meantime, he tried to subdivide part of his Anapauma ranch into a town of that name, but the project never developed further than a concept.  A few of the streets still in the area today, including Esplanade Avenue and Hewes Avenue come from the proposed townsite.

Hewes Park crate label
A crate label from Hewes’ citrus operation at Anapauma, from the O.C. History Roundup blog.

Hewes did build an impressive hilltop park, with the landscaping designed by the same man who worked on Pasadena’s Busch Gardens, the subject of a post a couple of days ago here on this blog.  Said to have been Hewes’ pride and joy, the park was open to the public and was well-known for its terraced plantings, walks, and drives.

In July 1915, Hewes died at 93 at his ranch and was buried in an elaborate mausoleum at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.  While he expressed a desire “that the property should be kept intact for generations to come” by “some cultured man of wealth,” that was not to be.  In 1920, Anapauma was sold for $1 million and the area was subdivided.  Hewes Park, expanded with a Japanese tea garden and miniature golf course, continued to be open to the public into the 1930s, but closed during the Great Depression.  The Hewes packing house also was shuttered at that time, closing its doors in 1939, after thirty-six years of operation.


4 thoughts

  1. From aerial photographs, I thought Hewes packing house was up closer to El Modena rather than within Tustin, proper…

  2. Hi Steve, the packing house, as noted in the post, was in El Modena and his home was in today’s Tustin (at least, that’s what was found in doing searching for the post.) Thanks for checking out the blog and the Hewes post.

  3. I’m lucky enough to be involved in the process of doing quite a bit of restoration work on the original Hewes House and can tell you that’s how it will stay, original!

  4. Hi Richard, we’re glad to hear of your restoraiton work on the Hewes House and am sure our friends at the Orange County Historical Society would be, as well.

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