by Paul R. Spitzzeri
For over sixty-five years, from the early 1850s to the late 1910s, the Temple family resided in an area that few give much thought to now, but which is filled with interesting history, this being the community of Misión Vieja (yes, the Orange County city’s name is incorrect—it should be “Mission Vieja”!) or Old Mission, located at the Whittier Narrows near South El Monte. Because the San Gabriel River, including the older Río Hondo channel and the newer river created by flooding following irrigation canals in the late 1860s, cut through what had been a unified hill range, now the Montebello Hills on the west and the Puente Hills to the east, the Narrows was an obvious place for the indigenous people of our area to establish settlements and take advantage of the abundant water, plant and animal resources that were there over the course of thousands of years.
Last Wednesday the 8th marked the 250th anniversary of the establishment in 1771 of the Mission San Gabriel by the Franciscan missionaries Angel Somera and Pedro Cambón, sent out by Junipero Serra for that purpose, and the site they chose (one of several, including at La Puente, identified as good locales by the Portolá Expedition two years before) was next to the Río Hondo and just north of the northeast corner of the Montebello Hills.
The mission, however, did not last long at that locale because of the intense flooding that frequently occurred from the river and the institution moved to a higher, dryer spot where it has remained since 1775. In time, the original area became known as Misión Vieja, or Old Mission, in reference to the brief tenure of the mission there and much of what was interpreted for several generations was about the heroic work of the missionaries in introducing “civilization” to the benighted natives, though we have learned a great deal more from the indigenous perspective in recent years.
By the 1830s, a small cadre of residents of the Old Mission community included retired soldiers from the Spanish and Mexican armies and others who’d come from elsewhere in pre-American Alta California. Among the first of these was the large Alvitre family, whose patriarch was Sebastián, a soldier stationed in several places in California and who was called by historian Hubert H. Bancroft as “an incorrigible scamp” for his behavior.
The Alvitres remained in Old Mission for well over a century and among the sons of Sebastián and his wife María Rufina Hernández was José Claudio, born in 1811 and who married María de la Asunción Valenzuela, whose family were also early settlers in the Misión Vieja community. In fact, the Rancho Potrero Chico (Little Meadow), also known as Potrero de la Misión Vieja de San Gabriel, which was under 100 acres and included the likeliest site of the original mission, was granted in 1844 to Juan Alvitre, son of Sebastián and Rufina and brother of Claudio, and Antonio Valenzuela, who was married to Juan’s sister Dominga and whose family José Manuel hailed from Villa de Sinaloa in that Mexican state, where Sebastián Alvitre was from, as well. Needless to say, there were not that many families in Old Mission, so intermarriages between them was quite intricate!
One of Juan Alvitre’s sisters was Inocencia (1832-1878) and, in mid-August 1854, she married Cristobál Manzanares (1820-1880), who was born in Abiquiu, New Mexico, from a family of long standing in that town and department of northeastern México. Abiquiu was where the Rowland and Workman Expedition of 1841 (led by John Rowland and William Workman) arrived after leaving Santa Fe about the 1st of September and the mostly American and European group, heading to Los Angeles on the Old Spanish Trail, was then joined by about 25 people from Abiquiu for the journey.
Whether Manzanares (the name translates as “apple orchards” perhaps connected to the raising of the fruit near the city of that name some 110 miles south of Madrid in Spain) was related to any of those who traveled on the trail at least a decade or so before he came out to this area or had some other connection that brought him to Misión Vieja is not known. Because Inocencia was the sister of the co-grantee of the Potrero Chico ranch, it is no surprise that she and Cristobal established their home on a corner of the property. This was on the north side of San Gabriel Boulevard, the historic route to the mission, across from where Lincoln Boulevard, coming up from Montebello, terminates.
By the mid-1860s, though, most of the ranch was sold by heirs to Alvitre and Valenzuela to William Workman, his son-in-law F.P.F. Temple, and Juan Matias Sánchez, a New Mexico native and Workman’s former foreman at Rancho La Puente. Workman, had, a dozen or so years before, acquired the Rancho La Merced, adjoining Potrero Chico to the south, and turned it over to Temple and Sánchez. The three picked up the Rancho Potrero Grande, which was the neighboring ranch to Potrero Chico on the north, in 1857, so they were clearly expanding their holdings in the Misión Vieja area.
Meanwhile, some portions of Potrero Chico were passed down to heirs of Alvitre, including to María de la Ventura Alvitre, whose daughter Adelaida Bermudez and her Irish-born husband George Barry took on that tract; to Micaela Alvitre, whose land was acquired by F.P.F. Temple who then deeed it to Venancia Peña, a Luiseño Indian from the Mission San Luis Rey in modern Oceanside who was married to Joseph Davis, a nephew of Sánchez; to María de la Cruz Alvitre, whose common-law-husband was Italian Alessandro Repetto and whose son by him, Timoteo, lived there for a great many years; and, lastly, to Anastacio, who lived a long life and was succeeded by his son Pedro, the last of his family to reside on the ranch.
Returning to the Manzanares family, their tract had the Rio Hondo behind it to the north and that watercourse ran southeast and then south under a bridge on San Gabriel Boulevard before heading toward the coast. Across that thoroughfare was the Basye Adobe, built in 1869 on Rancho La Merced by Rafael Basye, a nephew of Sánchez. More than four decades later, Walter P. and Laura González Temple, Misión Vieja natives, occupied the house until oil was found on their ranch a stone’s throw away from the Manzanares place (Walter’s sister, Lucinda, lived in the adobe with her husband Manuel M. Zuñiga, who ran a store, saloon and billiard parlor there.) The year Inocencia Alvitre de Manzanares died, Cristobal married María Siriaca Valenzuela, heir of part of Potrero Chico and widow of Francisco Duarte who sold her interest in the ranch in 1863 to Workman, Temple and Sánchez, though he died two years later, in 1880.
That year’s census showed seven Manzanares children living as orphans, headed by the eldest Victor (1855-1930) and including four brothers and two sisters, with ages ranging from 6 to 20. In 1890, he married Librada Quintero, another Old Mission native, and the couple had seven children, including four sons and three daughters. Victor was a farmer on the Potrero Chico tract for many years, but, once oil was discovered in the area by the World War I years, he and his family moved to Montebello, living next to the Rio Hondo just north of where Whittier Boulevard crosses that watercourse. There, they remained until his death in 1930 and he was followed a few years later by Librada.
This afternoon, I went out to Fullerton to pick up a third donation in the last year or so from descendant Bernard Manzanares, whose earlier gifts included a family photo and an image of the La Puente, later Temple (a New Temple School is in South El Monte), School, which served the Misión Vieja community from 1863 and which is now the Los Angeles district office of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which manages a flood control district embracing much of the Old Mission area, including the Whittier Narrows Dam.
Bernard’s donation today is a great portion of a real photo postcard of the house of Victor and Librada Mazanares that was situated on San Gabriel Boulevard across from Lincoln. Standing near the open front door is Victor, while Librada is at the far right. Next to her is their eldest child, Dora, and in front is Dora’s daughter Evelyn.
A small tree is tied to the house near a window and potted and trellised plants are at the front, while what looks like a eucalyptus tree is next to the house at the far left. Bernard told me that he understood that the tree was still standing in recent years and, though, there is a eucalyptus at that location today, it does not appear to be the same one. Given that little Evelyn was born in 1911, the photo looks to be from about 1915. A rough way to date postcards is by the stamp box—this one is an AZO product and the four up-facing triangles at the corners are assigned a range of 1904-1918. The house is long gone, perhaps a casualty of the oil prospecting years that followed not long after the image was taken.
Tomorrow marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month and this rare photo of one of the longstanding Latino families of Misión Vieja (and the timing of Bernard’s donation) is apt for the commemoration, for which we will be offering other posts in coming weeks.