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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.