Working the Land: Irrigation at a San Fernando Lemon Grove, ca. 1910s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

From yesterday’s entry showing employees at the Hewes orange and lemon packing house, we go to San Fernando for today’s “Working the Land” post.  A stereoscopic photograph, published by the well-known Keystone View Company probably in the 1910s, shows a man on a tractor furrowing between rows of lemon trees to prepare for irrigation.

San Fernando, established in 1874 during greater Los Angeles’ first growth boom, was developed along the Southern Pacific railroad line that connected Los Angeles to northern California.

Though the boom ended the following year and development there remained slow until the larger “Boom of the 1880s,” the town, sited near the old Mission San Fernando, was the center of a large wheat-growing area during the late 19th and very early 20th centuries.

With the importation of water from the massive Los Angeles Aqueduct project, which brought water to the San Fernando Valley through the famous “Cascades” at Sylmar, new agricultural products rose to ascendancy, including the widely recognized Sylmar olive and oranges and lemons.

14242 Furrowing With Tractor For Irrigation In Lemon Grove San F
This Keystone View Company stereoscopic photograph, dating to perhaps the late 1910s and from the Homestead’s collection, shows a man on a tractor creating furrows between rows of lemon trees for irrigation.  The opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913 provided the water for the huge expansion in citrus raising in the San Fernando Valley.

West of town and just south of the mission, the San Fernando Heights Lemon Growers Association, established in 1915, was a major player in the area’s citrus industry.  More than likely, this photograph was taken on a grove of someone affiliated with the association.

As to the date, it might be from the later part of the decade, after the aqueduct brought the largely water-less valley the precious liquid that allowed for the agricultural and residential explosion that came after 1913.  In addition, in 1918, the association built a $25,000 packing house, measuring 20,000 square feet, that allowed local growers to bring their fruit to a substantial facility for sorting, grading and packing prior to shipment.

In the mid-1920s, the packing house expanded with a nearly 14,000 square foot addition and the association hit record highs in terms of boxes and carloads packed, even as the growth meant a decline in prices.  Even during the midst of the Great Depression, another packing house, three stories high, was erected and there was even an unusual mix of bright colors used on the structure.

As suburbia rushed into the San Fernando Valley in the postwar years and lemon trees were razed for tract homes, streets, shopping center, schools and the usual urban amenities, the Association closed the packing house in 1948, though some growers hung on for a while and sent their fruit elsewhere for processing.  Some of the structures, however, survive as storage facilities.

For more on the Association and its history, check out this Lopez Adobe blog post, which just happens to have been penned in February 2016 by a certain museum director who is also a consultant for the City of San Fernando for the Lopez Adobe.

Leave a Reply