Sharing the History of Paredon Blanco and the López Family with Boyle Heights Community Partners

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Well, it went from two in a day to two back-to-back as the Thursday doubleheader with Metro LA and the Los Angeles County Library was followed today with a talk, and an unexpected encore presentation, for Boyle Heights Community Partners, a grassroots organization that works to preserve history and community in that neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The topic was the history of Paredon Blanco (White Bluff) which is what Boyle Heights was known during its settlement from the mid 1830s onward by the extended López family and, because of the daylight savings time change and Facebook’s not adjusting the hour forward, I did the talk as scheduled at 5 p.m., but others did not login until closer to 6 p.m.

Not wanting to leave these folks out, due to the miscommunication of that social media platform, I suggested to the BHCP folks that, if it was OK with them, I could do a reprise, though it was necessarily more of a capsulized summary. Fortunately, they were on board and we launched into the encore.

The enumeration of Esteban López and Petra Varelas, her children from Rafael Rubio, and their two sons in the 1836 Los Angeles district census.

The Paredon Blanco, situated on the east side of the Los Angeles River and toward the eastern limits of the pueblo (in fact, Indiana Avenue, dividing Boyle Heights from East Los Angeles is the sole remaining of the original directional limits of Los Angeles now) was granted to Esteban López in 1835. A member of a family that came to Alta California in the late 18th century not long after Los Angeles was founded, López built his home on the bluff on what is now the west side of Boyle Avenue between 1st and 4th streets.

The next year a census of the Los Angeles distict was conducted and it showed the 45-year old living with his second wife, Petra Varelas, her three sons from her first husband Rafael Rubio, and the Lopez’ two sons. There is no precise location provided, but it is assumed the family was residing at Paredon Blanco.

In 1837, Esteban parceled out portions of his land to his children, with Francisco, known as Chico, taking a section to the north of his father, while daughter Josefa, married to Casiano Carrión settled to the south. Son Gerónimo, who later married his second cousin Catarina López and moved to the San Fernando Valley, and daughter Manuela Ruiz, lived below Josefa closer to where 7th Street goes through the community now.

The transcription of the 1844 district census showing Esteban and Petra with their two sons and her son José Rubio.

In 1844, another census was taken and Esteban and Petra resided with their sons and with one of her Rubio sons. Quite a few Varelas family members lived next to them, followed by Petra’s son Tomás and his wife Estefana Soto and their two children. The next household was that of the Carrións, including son Saturnino, who sold the tract to John E. Hollenbeck in 1874 just prior to the establishment of Boyle Heights and whose San Dimas-area adobe house, near Puddingstone Reservoir, is still standing and in private hands

A notable episode involving Paredon Blanco occurred during the tumult of the Mexican-American War. After the Americans seized Los Angeles in summer 1846, but left behind a garrison the commander of which imposed strict curfews and other security measures in the pueblo, the Californios revolted and expelled the invaders. A group of American residents of the region gathered at the home of Isaac Williams on the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in modern Chino Hills and Californios concerned about what they might do surrounded the building, in what is known as the Battle of Chino and demanded their surrender.

Lopez Rubio 1850 census
The Rubio and López families in the 1850 federal census, taken early the following year because of California’s September admission to the Union.

A gun battle erupted, leading to the death of a Californio, upon which the house’s roof was set afire, forcing the Americans out to be captured. Though there were some who wanted to execute the group, they were taken to Paredon Blanco and held there, though it is not known in which house they were kept. As a new American force marched from San Diego to retake Los Angeles, which occurred on 9 January 1847, the prisoners were released on promise they would remain in their homes.

Just a little more than year later and, as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was near ratification by the Mexican Congress, the staggering news of the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in northern California unleashed the Gold Rush. While hordes of gold seekers and others came from Mexico, South America, Asia, Europe and the United States, at a time when the military government in California was barely holding the situation together, and extraordinary racial and ethnic tension and violence ensued, Los Angeles did reap significant financial benefit from the demand for beef and food raised and grown in this area.

Rubio Lopez Carrion 1852 state census
The counting of the Rubio, Soto, López and Carrion families in the 1852 state census.

How well the López family did during this time is not known, though the 1850 census, taken early the next year because of California’s admission to the Union in September 1850, did record self-declared combined personal and real property values. Esteban declared $1,500 in property, while Francisco claimed $2,000 and Tomás Rubio had $520. These figures not only may not have been the full extent of their property, but we don’t know how the Gold Rush economy affected them directly.

Because of a major undercount, not just in Los Angeles County but throughout California, the state commissioned a census, the only of its kind, in 1852. Esteban died just before that count was undertaken and his widow could not be located in a review of that enumeration. Francisco and Tomás Rubio were, however, counted. Within a half-dozen years, major changes would take place locally and at Paredon Blanco.

Francisco Lopez 1852 census
Francisco López and his family counted in the 1852 enumeration.

The Gold Rush came to an end and the economic boon to the area evaporated. There was also a national depression in 1857, which likely affected the region, as well. In 1858, Petra Varelas López, who died just two years later, decided to sell her land to a new arrival in Los Angeles, Andrew A. Boyle, whose story will be told more fully in a few days as well as at next month’s second talk for the BHCP.

Meanwhile, among the usual scarcity of information available for this period of Los Angeles history, it was very fortunate that, several years ago, a very interesting article was stumbled upon that provided a great deal of information specifically about Francisco Lopez’ portion of Paredon Blanco. A relative, Isabel Claire Lopez, penned “Hollenbeck Heights Once Was Home of Pioneer Aristocrats” for the Los Angeles Times in 1926, based on interviews she had with Chico’s daughter, Francisca López de Bilderrain, who was in her late sixties when she shared her recollections. The term “Hollenbeck Heights” was then being proposed as a new name for Boyle Heights and did take hold for awhile, before the historic name finally prevailed.

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A detail of City Map #2 from 1868 showing the Paredon Blanco, with hash marks for the bluff, and the Los Angeles River at the left. Among the identified residences are those of Francisco López toward the top, the house of Andrew Boyle (formerly the site of the home of Esteban López and, three years later, inherited by Boyle’s daughter, Maria, and her husband, William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman), the home of Tomás Rubio, the residence of Joaquina Soto and, at the bottom, that of Saturnino Carrión, whose mother was a López and who sold his land to John E. Hollenbeck in 1874, just prior to the founding of Boyle Heights.

Isabel’s piece began with:

The beauty and romance which the Spanish names conferred on our cities, mountains and rivers by the first settlers of California, conveyed is twofold in the instance of ‘El Paredon Blanco,’ meaning the White Bluff, now known as Hollenbeck Heights. The soft accent which the Spaniard gave it and the significant of it seemed to breathe the exotic grandeur of the heights, which were then covered with tiny white pebbles, glistening in the California sunlight.

Notably, she added that the area was once the residence of many of the city’s well-to-do, but “is now habited by colonies of people of all nationalities” and generally more working-class. This was due principally to the location of Boyle Heights near the industrial district across the river, the rail yards along the river and north of the Plaza, and other manufacturing areas, including new ones to the south where Vernon and the City of Commerce are today. There were no race restrictions for residence, either, as in south and south-central Los Angeles, unlike in the rest of the city. So, Asians, Blacks, Jews and others congregated in Boyle Heights, providing its distinctive diversity.

After reviewing how Esteban got Paredon Blanco and settled on it as well as distributed land to his children, Isabel, through Francisca, added that Mathew Keller, who migrated from Ireland to America and settled in Los Angeles in 1850, bought wine grapes from the López family and then settled in “the Flats” below the bluff and on the east bank of the river. Keller, who became a prominent grape-grower and wine-maker, also became close with fellow son of Erin Boyle and with the Workman family.

Pioneer Aristocrats The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Sep_26__1926_ (2)
Los Angeles Times, 26 September 1926.

As to Francisco, who received his land as a wedding present, he developed an impressive estate that was described in great detail by his daughter. His first adobe house, from 1837, had five large rooms and a second was built two decades later. Near these were storage rooms for grain, housing for workers, a tool room and a silversmith shop. In 1855, twenty-five acres were planted to grapes, fruits of all kinds, and, notably, sugar cane and this land later went to another daughter, Juanita, who married William Warren, a city marshal who was killed in 1870 by one of his own officers in a dispute about a claimed reward, and then John Lazzarevich, a Croatian merchant and founder of Boyle Heights with William H. Workman and Isaias W. Hellman.

Francisca told Isabel of the variety of fruit in the orchard, including peaches, pears, oranges, lemons, limes, pomegranates, apples and plums, while there were also walnus and almonds. Close by was a flower garden, filled with roses, lilacs, hollyhocks, verbenas, marigolds, violets an daisies. Also in the flats were two baths made of wood and lined with tin, which were filled from a zanja, or irrigation ditch, by flood-gates. As to the sugar, it was rendered in mills near the house and “were rudely contrived, being worked by a horse hitched to a pole, which, when the animal went around, crushed the cane, extracting the juice, which was received in a wooden trough.” The sugar was then cooked in large pots and dried and hardened on long wood planks prior to packing for sale.

Pioneer Aristocrats pt 2 The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Sep_26__1926_ (2)
Times, 26 September 1926.

The account ended with the sale of the land by Petra to “the affable and jovial Irishman, Andrew Boyle,” who moved into the adobe house she and Esteban shared before building, a few years later, the first brick residence in that part of town. Isabel then relayed information provided to her by Boyle’s daughter, Maria (pronounced Mah-rye-ah), for the article, though we’ll save the story of the Boyles and Workmans for later, after the next two talks are given in April and May. Meantime, check back in on Wednesday for a post about the Boyle diary.

It was, again, a lucky find when this article was discovered, because information like this about Californios such as the López family is quite scarce. As it is, the history of Boyle Heights is generally thought of beginning only with the establishment of the subdivision in the mid-1870s, while the story of Paredon Blanco went back forty years prior to that. So, it was important to begin the five-part series for the BHCP with the extended López family and Paredon Blanco before getting to Boyle, Workman and the history after 1858.

9 thoughts

  1. Why was Paredon Blanco the headquarters for the Californio rebels in late 1846? Can it be a coincidence that the father (Cayetano) and at least one sister (Dolores) of lead rebels Servulo and Hilario Varelas were living at Esteban Lopez’s rancho? Thanks, Winston Dutton

  2. Hi Winston, thanks for the comment and mention of the Varela and López connection–that could very well be why the Americans were taken there from Chino. Serbulo intervened when one of the Californios wanted to execture the prisoners because a member of the Californio force was killed during that battle, so perhaps he made sure they were taken somewhere where they could be safely guarded? Despite his later frequent brushes with the law, it is said that Varela was always freed by those who did not forget what he did after the Chino incident.

  3. Was it Serbulo, though? Michael White acknowledges that Benito Wilson named Serbulo, then doubles down on his claim that it was Ramon Carrillo who saved the Americans (with Serbulo and Diego Sepulveda being in favor of killing the prisoners). I wonder if both accounts are at least partially truthful. Is it possible that Ramon knocked some sense into Serbulo more or less in private and Serbulo then proceeded to put on a show in front of the prisoners?

  4. Hello and thanks for your questions. Wilson and White both made their statements thirty years later in interviews for Hubert Howe Bancroft, so you may be right about degrees of accuracy, either by memory and wanting to advance a narrative. There were accounts from the era that talked about Varela’s role in freeing those prisoners and which noted he was often bailed out from legal trouble because of what he’d done. Carrillo was a remarkable figure (who was heinously murdered at Rancho Cucamonga, probably at the behest of Robert Carlisle) and it would not be surprising if he was involved in preventing the deaths of the Americans from the Battle of Chino, though we’ll, of course, never know!

  5. Thank you, Paul. The only somewhat contemporary account that I’m aware of is Louis Rubidoux’s 1848 letter to Alvarez, which I don’t believe addresses this question. What other accounts have I missed? Regards, Winston

  6. Hi Winston, given how rare it is to find information from this period, there may not be much more to glean. Thanks again for your interest in this fascinating history.

  7. Thanks for the article. Whilst doing some research into the wine history of Los Angeles, I was wondering where exactly in Paredon Blanco (White Bluffs) was the location of Boyle’s winery? In a manuscript by Ernest P. Peninou, he states: “East of the Los Angeles River, he [Boyle] bought a 30-acre vineyard which had been planted by Jose Rubio…it covered bottom land, just below the bluffs which soon came to be known as Boyle Heights. On the bluff, Boyle built a large brick house and a winery and planted additional vines. He had his first vintage in 1862 and stored his wine in cellars just under the edge of the bluff.” It would be interesting to know if there is any vestige of Boyle’s wine-making past still in existence.

  8. Hi AJ, we’re glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for the question. The location is on Boyle Avenue north of 4th Street, where the Sakura Gardens retirement facility now stands. Apparently, remnants of the Boyle house were still present until the 1994 Northridge earthquake and then removed by the property owners. There are two versions on the 1858 sale to Boyle, one that it was from José Rubio and the other from his mother, Petra Varela López, widow of Esteban López, who was the grantee of the Paredon Blanco property in the mid-1830s. Hopefully this answers your questions. Thanks again!

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