by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Earlier this year, the City of Industry, owners for forty years of Tres Hermanos Ranch, a 2,500-acre property within the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, reached an agreement with those cities to share ownership and future management of the last large undeveloped property in the area.
The Homestead has in its collection a quartet of 1925 snapshots of the ranch and that, along with other reasons, led to an interest in researching this history of the property, culminating in a presentation given to nearly 140 people at a talk sponsored by the Chino Hills Historical Society.
Tonight, that talk was given to the San Dimas Corral of The Westerners, an association of western American history enthusiasts that has existed since 1946. About 45 people were in attendance tonight to hear the history of Tres Hermanos, centered largely on the “three brothers” who purchased the land in the 1910s.
These were Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, former Los Angeles County Sheriff and Puente Oil Company founder William R. Rowland (whose father co-owned Rancho La Puente with William Workman for over three decades), and oilman William B. Scott.
The talk started by noting the presence of several large native Indian villages in the area and the probable use of the canyon in which the ranch lies for hunting and gathering, though not likely for permanent settlement. In the Spanish and Mexican eras, the area was public land, used for additional grazing land by nearby ranch owners at San José (Pomona and surrounding areas), Santa Ana del Chino (Chino and Chino Hills), La Puente (comprising much of the eastern San Gabriel Valley) and others.
By the 1870s, the area was acquired and considered an addition to the Rancho Los Nogales, which was about 1,000 acres granted during the Mexican era and owned by members of the Ybarra and Vejar (this latter co-owned San José until a foreclosure in the mid-1860s) families. During the Seventies, however, Los Angeles residents Wilson Beach and George R. Butler acquired the former public lands and a couple of others in that city, Spencer H. Wilson and Charles M. Wright acquired interests.
Wilson died shortly afterward and Beach and Butler had financial issues or sold their interests as the boom went bust, so that only Wright remained a part-owner when Santa Cruz lumberman Sedgwick Lynch, who co-owned a Los Angeles lumber yard, acquired a significant interest in the property through foreclosure. When Lynch passed away a few years later, his widow Jane joined Wright as co-owner, an arrangement that lasted for over a quarter-century.
Little had changed through the first years of the 20th century, as Jane Lynch and Wright, who was resident manager, raised cattle and other stock on the expanded Los Nogales, which was about 9,000 acres during its peak. In 1908, the ranch was sold to Pittsburgh dentist and real estate investor Walter Fundenberg, who’d recently bought orange orchard land in Riverside.
It appears Fundenberg was largely driven to buy Los Nogales under the assumption that, because oil was located in a belt spreading from Whittier to Olinda in modern Brea, there was a strong likelihood for petroleum to be located at his new holding. After all, an adjoining ranch was called Rincon de la Brea (brea meaning tar in Spanish) and the original Brea Canyon is the Tonner Canyon of today in which Tres Hermanos is situated.
Unfortunately, the prospecting for oil came to naught and, within a decade or so, Fundenberg sold the ranch in two large parcels. One went to East Coast tire and rubber company owner and yachtsman Frederick Lewis, who organized a new ranch called the Diamond Bar, and includes the city of that name (developed from the late 1950s).
The other was acquired by Chandler, Scott and Rowland and it appears the idea was to have a “gentlemen’s ranch,” not intended for profit-making, but as a place to enjoy for occasional visits while continuing the time-honored tradition of stock raising. The trio also had a mutual interest in oil, including the consolidation of Rowland’s Puente Oil with firms owned by Scott, and Chandler being an investor.
The three were joint owners of Tres Hermanos for a relatively short period, however. Scott died in 1920 and left his interest to his wife, who also passed within several years, and their two children, daughter Josephine and son Keith. Rowland, who was the eldest of the trio, died in 1926 and it seems his heirs sold their interest.
As for Chandler, he lived for almost twenty more years and the ranch was a property of Chandis (Chandler + Otis) Securities, in which the Scott heirs had interests. News articles about Tres Hermanos are pretty scarce, but there were some that discussed gatherings held there from the late 1910s through the Great Depression years.
The centerpiece of the ranch was a Spanish-style home built on a knoll near a reservoir constructed in 1918, with barns, stables and other outbuildings located near the house. While the home was raised years ago, the reservoir remains and outbuildings still stand, as well. These can be seen from Grand Avenue which traverses the ranch from Diamond Bar to Chino Hills.
When I was looking for a Tres Hermanos cattle brand (unfortunately, that was to no avail), I was put in contact with Gwen Garland Babcock, a granddaughter of Chandler, who told me, when I did an oral history with her in March, that she was the last living member of her family who visited the ranch.
Mrs. Babcock told me of occasional visits during the 1940s and 1950s, including overnight stays at the ranch house, including picnics, hunting, and, once she got a car that could be driven by her because of polio, an occasional joyride. Her last visit was actually by air as she earned her pilot’s license and told me of a flyover that she took not long before she married and life led her elsewhere.
Still, Chandis Securities maintained ownership including during an important arrangement made with the Metropolitan Water District, when it purchased an easement for a massive feeder line for water brought in from the Colorado River project and directed to a water treatment facility (the Diemer plant) in the hills above Yorba Linda. This significantly increased the value of the ranch.
In the early 1970s, the Pomona Valley Water District drew up plans to acquire Tres Hermanos and use it for a reservoir, though the idea remained on the drawing board. Finally, in 1978, the City of Industry purchased the ranch from Chandis and, over the years, contemplated the reservoir idea and, later, a solar farm.
The latter led to conflict with Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, which sued Industry over the concept, but, a meeting between the city managers of Chino Hills and Industry led to the agreement this year that now includes a joint powers authority, the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority, that will manage the ranch’s future.
Hopefully, history can play a part in what transpires at Tres Hermanos. From the indigenous people to the change in pre-American public land, to the expanded Rancho Los Nogales to the years of the “three brothers” and beyond, there are interesting stories that can be shared in a variety of ways.
Meanwhile, it looks as if the history of Tres Hermanos will be taken to Brea and West Covina in the future, so, for those who are interested and want to hear about it at those venues, the West Covina talk will take place on 23 January 2020 and the Brea talk is TBD.