by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Going through a stack of local newspapers this afternoon after getting behind on my browsing for local news, I came across this interesting article in last Wednesday’s San Gabriel Valley Tribune about the distinctive character of the nearby unincorporated community of Avocado Heights through its designation as an equestrian district.
This discovery was timely, given that yesterday’s post concerned the subdivision in 1911 of Tract 1343, also known as La Fortuna Farms, which included what became Avocado Heights. Because lots were large on the tract, many of these survive intact and make excellent parcels for horse-ownership.
It is also timely because this weekend will be the 32nd Industry Hills Charity Pro Rodeo and there will be plenty of equines participating in the weekend’s festivities—you can learn more on the event’s website here. The Homestead will be there both Saturday and Sunday with a booth to promote our ranching history, as well as pre-1930 rodeos.
A great deal of the Homestead’s history deals with the heritage derived from the raising of livestock, from the establishment of Rancho La Puente in the late 1700s as part of Mission San Gabriel to the ownership of the ranch and successful stock raising by its owners John Rowland and William Workman and up through the occupancy and ownership of the 92-acre Workman Homestead by Workman’s grandson, Walter P. Temple. In the 1842 grant of La Puente to John Rowland, priests at Mission San Gabriel protested the grant, claiming they still used the ranch for cattle and horse raising, even though the secularization (closing, essentially) of the missions took place several years before and the ranch was free for the governor to grant to Rowland.
At the peak of the Workman family’s stock raising enterprises, they had up to 5,000 cattle and probably half as many horses on their nearly 25,000 acres of land stretching from the San Gabriel River east to what is now Walnut and Pomona and from modern Baldwin Park and West Covina to the Puente Hills area where Hacienda Heights is today. The Workman family had a “rodeo ground” just west of the Homestead, on what became Tract 1343 in the City of Industry, and a recogida or roundup, was described in detail in a Los Angeles newspaper in 1859. Obviously, any traveling done in those days had to involve horses, whether just riding the animal or in a horse-drawn conveyance.
What is now Avocado Heights included, from the 1840s through the mid-1870s under Workman’s ownership, plenty of cattle and horses grazing on its slightly elevated area adjacent to San José Creek, which had water year-round. Presumably, much of this continued, along with farming, when Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin took possession of most of Workman’s portion of Rancho La Puente after he foreclosed on a loan to the Temple and Workman bank, with Baldwin’s tenure lasting thirty years from 1879 until his death in 1909.
It was two years later, as yesterday’s post discussed, that a syndicate led by Marco Hellman of Los Angeles, acquired more than 2,000 acres, including the Avocado Heights area, for the development of Tract 1343 (La Fortuna Farms) and it is safe to assume that a good portion of that property continued with horses living on them.
The name “Avocado Heights” unquestionably came along after the subdivision of the area over a century ago, especially as neighboring communities like North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights and La Habra Heights were subdivided at the same time as Avocado Heights by Edwin G. Hart. Hart was a major promoter of the avocado industry, serving as president of the state association, and the planting of portions of Tract 1343 to the fruit (yes, avocados are fruits) undoubtedly came during that 1910s era and afterward.
As for the future of the equestrian character of Avocado Heights, the article pointed out that a major problem in the community of over 15,000 persons (85% of whom are Latino and many of them prize owning horses because of their cultural backgrounds in Mexico and other parts of Latin America) is the increasing problem of conflict with cars and trucks posing dangers to horses and their riders.
Drivers seeking alternate routes to clogged freeways, especially the 60 and the 10, often find streets in Avocado Heights, such as its main west-east roadway, Don Julian Road, off which the Homestead is situated, as desirable. Yet, high speeds and congestion comprise a major problem for equestrians.
Consequently, Bike SGV, a group the Homestead has worked with for a few years now and which will be providing bike valet services at our upcoming Ticket to the Twenties event, is assisting with an inventory of horses in the community as part of an effort to plan for better safety for equestrians in Avocado Heights.
Bike SGV’s inventory is actually a wider one comprising bicyclists and pedestrians in Glendora, Irwindale, La Puente, Monrovia and Montebello and the broad aim is to assist these cities in developing a master plan that would lead to more bike lanes, crosswalks and safer intersections—all of which apply to equestrians, as well. Moreover, the idea is to encourage alternatives to driving as a means of addressing issues of pollution and climate change.
One resident of Avocado Heights hopes that the survey of equestrians in her community will lead to improvements like hitching posts, more bridal paths, and intersection warning lights that will provide a safer environment like that of Norco, the Riverside County city that has a major equestrian presence.
This all got me to wonder what William Workman’s biggest concern was regarding his livestock 130 years ago and more. It certainly wasn’t speeding horse-drawn carriages, though the 1874 opening of the Southern Pacific Railroad line paralleling what is now Valley Boulevard just two years before his death, might have been the closest equivalent to modern concerns!