by Paul R. Spitzzeri
When in 1879, three years after its collapse, Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin foreclosed on a loan of just over $340,000 to the Temple and Workman bank, the principal had leapt to above $575,000 because of the high rates of interest built into the agreement. The long wait was designed to ensure that no one would come along and assume the debt, but the payoff was that the wily San Francisco capitalist took possession of tens of thousands of choice acreage in greater Los Angeles.
These lands included what became the Baldwin Hills of southwest Los Angeles as well as a huge swath of the eastern San Gabriel Valley and several ranches, the largest of which was what was left, namely more than 18,000 acres, of William Workman’s half of the massive Rancho La Puente. Baldwin held on to much of this property for the remaining three decades of his life, but, after his death in 1909, his nephew and executor Hiram A. Unruh oversaw the sale of much of these princely holdings.
Among the tracts on La Puente that were sold were North Whittier Heights, which, by 1960, was known as Hacienda Heights; Hillgrove, a tract north of North Whittier Heights and on the south side of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad line; and what was first known as Tract 1343, commonly just called Rancho La Puente.
This latter was acquired by the Cross Land Company, a syndicate that included Marco and Irving Hellman, sons of the prominent banker Herman W. Hellman and whose brother was the even more well-known financier Isaias W. Hellman (the first banking partner of William Workman and F.P.F. Temple), Louis M. Cole, Solomon N. Clark, and J. Fred Gale. George Cross of Puente was the manager of his namesake concern.
Marco Hellman was the leading figure in this organization, having vested interests in the national banks at Covina and Puente and Gale was a principal of a stocks and bonds firm called Purcell, Gray and Gale, which conducted the purchase from the Cross Land Company and then became general agent for the development.
A special agent for Purcell, Gray and Gale was Samuel P. Rowland (1866-1916), grandson of John Rowland, long-time co-owner of Rancho La Puente with Workman, and the wife of Margarita Antonia Temple, daughter of Workman’s daughter Antonia Margarita and F.P.F. Temple. It was often stated that Rowland had a particular value as agent because of his having grown up on the ranch and posessing a better understanding of the tract’s value.
Tract 1343/Rancho La Puente spanned 2,066 acres from First Avenue (Workman Mill Road) on the west to Tenth Avenue (Turnbull Canyon Road) on the east and from Valley Boulevard on the north to the Salt Lake tracts and a portion of it on either side of Seventh Avenue below the tracts with Clark and Gale avenues through that southern outcropping. The main west to east thoroughfares in the tract north of the railroad line were Proctor Avenue and Central Avenue, this latter renamed Don Julian in honor of Workman’s moniker in Spanish.
Immediately east of the tract was the 75-acre Workman Homestead, owned in the early Teens by Eugene Bassett (no relation to the Texas capitalists who owned what was the Joseph Workman ranch to the west and which remains known as the unincorporated community of Bassett) and his son-in-law Thurston H. Pratt. For several years during the decade, the Puente Rancho Packing Company had a slaughterhouse, meatpacking and vegetable and fruit canning facility in the former Workman wineries at the Homestead.
For a little more than a year, from September 1911 to November 1912, Tract 1343/Rancho La Puente was marketed heavily, but a change was made by the latter date and the development was rechristened “La Fortuna Farms.” Tonight’s featured objects from the museum’s holdings are a trio of advertisements from the Los Angeles Express in January and February 1913 and they are interesting for the promotional efforts jointly undertaken by Rowland for the reconstituted firm of Aronson-Gale Company (Solomon Aronson was a brother-in-law of Marco and Irving Hellman) and Louis Napoleon Cleveland as sales agents.
The earliest of the three is from 11 January and noted that “there’s money in walnuts” and “there’s money in dairying” at La Fortuna, with the tract considered “unexcelled for walnut farming” because “the soil is deep and rich; [and] no hardpan exists,” while it was also “ideal of dairying purpose” with a purported $12.50 in profit per cow raised on the land.
Walnuts were, in fact, raised in large numbers in the area and, within a decade, the world’s largest packing house, under the Blue Diamond brand, was built in Puente. As for dairying, August V. Handorf, owner of the prominent Los Angeles Creamery, acquired land in Tract 1343 in 1911 and established operations on Seventh Avenue next to the Salt Lake track. Handorf added to his holdings a short time later and a family house was built and still stands on the corner of Don Julian and Turnbull Canyon roads at the east end of the tract.
Also mentioned in the ad was that “onions are another great money making crop” with a yield of 200-300 sacks per acre and prices not usualy below a dollar per sack. It was proclaimed that the soil was “pronounced by experts to be ideal in every particular or growing walnuts, alfalfa, tomatoes, sugar beets, garden truck [vegetables,] etc.” With Los Angeles being about 16 miles away, a ready market was available for anything grown on the tract.
Yet, that distance also meant that a reader could “buy a La Fortuna Farm and build a home away from the noise and bustle of a great city” while children would be raised “in an atmosphere that canot be excelled” because of “the life-giving vigor of pure country air.” As for water, it was stated that each parcel was provided with access to a reservoir of 4 million gallons with pipes to each lot and ownership in the water company was included in the purchase at one share per acre.
Additionally, it was just a 20-minute ride on the Salt Lake or the Southern Pacific, which paralleled Valley (also known as the El Monte or the Ocean-to-Ocean) Boulevard on the north, to Los Angeles with eight trains running daily and fare just nine cents through a commutation ticket (which allowed for a specified number of trips on a route for a reduced rate). Not only this, but Valley Boulevard was reputed to be “the finest automobile road in Southern Califonia,” so that the trip into the city would take no more than 40 minutes.
Rowland and Cleveland informed prospective purchasers that “the great demand for the property since it was put on the maret a few weeks ago” was such that prices would have to be raised on the 1st of February, so those interested were warned that “opportunity comes like a snail, and once it has passed you, it changes into a fleet rabbit and is gone.” Prices were set at $450 to $600 an acre for each five-acre lot with 10% down and the rest payable “on terms to suit [the] purchaser.”
The second ad, from 8 February, highlighted the possiblites for profit by raising tomatoes and a photo of a smiling and vigorous looking elderly man holding the fruit with a bounty of them in and surrounding a basket enhanced the point. It was averred that “tomatoes raised beteen the rows of young walnut tree, if intelligently cultivated, on LA FORTUNA FARMS, will yield $275 to $350 an acre—more than paying for the land while the walnut trees are maturing.”
As for the nuts, they would, when bearing at three and maturing in five years, provide at least $560 an acre. Because “there is now and always will be a sure market for walnuts,” La Fortuna was deemed to offer “Favored Acres in a Favored Land” as well as “Five Acres and a Future.” it was added that the tract was so blessed because of “being part of Rancho La Puente, the last of the famous ‘Lucky’ Baldwin holdings to be placed on the market—the gem of them all.” Notably, it was added that there would be a “Covina-Whittier cut-off of the Pacific Electric [streetcar system that] will pass through the farms,” though this project never materialized.
The third notice, dating from 15 February, claimed that there was a profit of “300% in Three Years” waiting for walnut growers, because they could buy land at $500 an acre and in three years a grove would sell for $1500 an acre—it was claimed that “this has been done right in the La Fortuna district.”
Beyond this phenomenal promised return, it was asserted that, in the three years it would take for the trees to bear, $250 an acre per year could be made by growing tomatoes, potatoes, onions, berries and other crops between the trees (which had to be spaced some 30 feet apart because of the reach of branches) and “this will more than pay for the land.”
As an ideal location for a suburban residence, La Fortuna was such that
Nature has been lavish with her gifts to these favored acres, and man has added to them by installing a road roads system, a gravity water distributing plant at a cost of $176,000, and placed every convenience of modern times within easy reach.
Good land close to Los Anglees was “a safe investment” and, as the population grew, so would would the value of the land, so, purchasing La Fortuna property was a trifecta of a profitable farm, a perfect spot for a house and a guaranteed realization of investment.
Other newspaper ads in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Covina newspapers showed flowing artesian wells and irrigation systems, panoramic views of the tract from the Puente Hills, the laying out of new walnut trees, the raising of hay. A new firm, the Provident Realty Investment Company, became the exclusive sales agents, though Rowland continued to sell property.
On 6 September 1913, a townsite of La Fortuna, fronting on Valley Boulevard and adjacent to the 2,000-acre Farms tract with “townsite business lots” on offer, was opened and, for twenty-five cents there was transportation by rail, a lunch and a band concert for the reported 500 persons who visited. Also mentioned in advertisements of the period was that a tract office was located two miles east of El Monte, which suggests it was likely at what is now Workman Mill Road and Valley Boulevard at the northwestern corner of the development.
An ad the following day suggested that “we expected a large crowd—but nothing like the number of people who attended” and that there were so many visitors that “we were obliged to change from automobiles to a special Salt Lake train to get them there.” It was added that “we sold twice as much property as we expected” so “La Fortuna Townsite, is now on the map, and new buildings will be underway immediately.”
About a week later, it was asserted that “it was the kind of crowd to start off a new town right” with “lots of enthusiasm—[and] quick appreciation of the big values offered and generous buying.” This response “was convincing evidence” that La Fortuna “is truly the ‘Garden Spot of the San Gabriel Valley.'”
As to escalating property values, it was claimed in September 1913 that H.J. Wilkens and his won, August, purchased fifteen acres at La Fortuna the previous December for $9,000 and shortly planted it to alfalfa and corn with a vegetable and flower garden and chicken runs. Recently, a group drove by and an Illinois farmer offered $15,000 for the property and even offered to cover the costs of all improvements, but, when this was rejected, he went to the tract office and began discusing acquiring the adjoining acreage.
While the town of La Fortuna did not develop as anticipated, the tract continued to be used as farm, dairy and ranch land for many years. After World War II as the population expanded dramatically, some of the property became the Avocado Heights community, one of the few dedicated equestrian neighborhoods in the region, while most of it was absorbed, in the late 1950s, into the newly established City of Industry.
Walter P. Temple purchased the Workman Homestead in November 1917 and very shortly afterward built houses for his two sisters, Lucinda Zuñiga and Margarita Rowland, the latter recently widowed with Samuel Rowland’s death the prior year. The residences faced Turnbull Canyon and looked west toward La Fortuna, with Mrs. Rowland remaining in her home even afer Walter lost the Homestead and not leaing until the ranch was sold in October 1940 for use as a sanitarium.
La Fortuna may be forgotten in name, but these ads do survive as documents of its existence over a century ago.