All Over the Map While Drilling for Black Gold with a “Map of the Montebello—Whittier Oil Fields,” 1918/1921, Part Three

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This post looking at some depth into the “Map of the Montebello—Whittier Oil Fields,” created in 1918 and corrected to 5 December 1921 and issued by the publisher of The Oil Age magazine, concludes with a look at the core of the item, the area in and around the two cities of Montebello and Whittier. It does appear, however, that part of the map is missing as the bottom doesn’t have margins like the other three sides and the details are abruptly “cut off.” This is, obviously, too bad because it would be great to know what the rest of it contained, but we only have the remaining existing sections to go by, so let’s wrap up by discussing those.

At the lower right corner, as noted in part two, there are parts of the Puente Hills and the recently established community of North Whittier Heights, changed by 1960 to Hacienda Heights. To the left we get into part of the hills region and large tracts worked by the Central Oil Company and then the upper reaches of Whittier, including areas denoted as “Cohn’s Partition.” This refers to Bernard Cohn, who came to Los Angeles from Prussian-controlled Poland in the mid-1850s and became a successful merchant and a prominent figure in the Jewish community, as well as a member of the city council, serving as its president and briefly as interim mayor. Cohn was also president of the B’nai B’rith Lodge and Hebrew Benevolent Society.

The 8 April 1883 edition of the Los Angeles Times included, in its Real Estate Transfers section, a listing that Pío Pico, the last governor of Mexican California and owner for more than 30 years of the Rancho Paso de Bartolo, adjacent to the Rancho La Puente, co-owned by Pico’s compadre William Workman, conveyed the Pico House hotel, the Pico Building (where the bank of Isaias W. Hellman, Workman and F.P.F. Temple operated from 1868-1871), and 3,785 acres of Paso de Bartolo along with other land to Cohn for just under $63,000. Separately, the paper observed that “Mr. B. Cohn made a notable purchase yesterday.” The same day’s edition of the Los Angeles Herald reported that the transaction was a sale, though it only referenced the Paso de Bartolo in its brief note.

At the end of May, Cohn forwarded $41,000 to a San Francisco savings and loan (anyone remember those prior to 1987?) for redemption of the Pico House and Pico Building properties. Within a few months, however, Pico sued Cohn in a case that was decided at the Superior Court early in 1884, claiming that the ex-governor, on presentation of $65,000 by the first of July 1883, was to receive his property back, even though the deed executed in April was “absolute in form on its face.” Pico averred that liens on the properties included in the transaction amounted to not far below $62,000, while Cohn answered that the total was closer to $150,000 not to mention adverse claims of title.

Moreover, Pico brought forward and Cohn admitted that the latter asked the former to keep their deal secret and free from the involvement of legal counsel and Francisco P. Johnson, a friend of Don Pío who negotiated with Cohn, received a $250 commission from the retired merchant. Judge Volney E. Howard, whose legal career as an attorney and on the bench dated back many decades in Mississippi, Texas and California, including almost thirty years in Los Angeles, found that Cohn committed fraud, even as he acknowledged that Pico thought he was executing a loan and Cohn believed the transaction was a deed. Specifically, Howard wrote “it seems to be proved that defendant took advantage of plaintiff’s distress of mind and necessities” because of mounting debts, while he also pointed out that Pico was in his early 80s.

On top of this, correspondence was presented that showed that, in late May, Pico, through some friends, offered to pay the $65,000 plus the $41,000 Cohn sent to the savings and loan along with any other reasonable sums in return for a deed of conveyance of the property back to him. Cohn, however, replied that he wanted $185,000 upon receipt of which “I am ready and willing to sign the deed.” Yet, the case was appealed and dragged on through years, including after Cohn’s death from heart disease in November 1889 (after which it was revealed that he had a second family with a Latina and that there was a marriage, though her claim to his estate was denied).

In the end, Pico lost his case and, in his early 90s, was evicted from his Ranchito. It has been said that, on his way to Los Angeles where he moved in with a daughter, he stayed with Walter P. Temple and his younger brother Charles at the Temple Homestead a few miles north of the Pico residence. A chair and footrest recently donated to the Museum from the estate of Josette Temple are said to have been given to the Temple brothers by Pico in thanks for their hospitality and these are now on display in the Workman House.

On one of the “Cohn’s Partition” sections of the map is the name Carrie Cohen, this being Cohn’s only daughter—there were also two sons. There are also several oil companies listed on nearby tracts along the western flank of the Puente Hills just east of Workman Mill Road, which is shown wending its way southwest (roughly parallel is San José Creek) from the mill site towards Whittier. Some of these tracts, in the area where Rio Hondo College and Rose Hills Memorial Park are now located and east of the San Gabriel River, were owned by Francisca A. Jesurun, who was mentioned in part two, but there are also the names of the San Francisco Petroleum Company (Jesurun had Bay Area ties) and, south of that, Petroleum Midway, Montebello Mascot, Southern California Oil, and Argonaut Oil.

Moving west across the San Gabriel, we get to the Whittier Narrows region and it is notable to see that Workman Mill Road, identified as Second Avenue in Tract 1343/La Fortuna Farms (this also discussed in part two), splits, as it does now, so that the road continues southwest into Whittier, while what is now known as Pellissier Place and which today parallels Interstate 605 down to Peck Road actually continued westward and connected with Durfee Avenue in what is now South El Monte, today there is a junction of Peck and Durfee in this general area, but also there is a Pellissier Road segment, as shown on the map, that still exists in an “island” of sorts southwest of the intersection of the 605 and the 60 Freeway and ends at a nursery at the east edge of the river.

A left turn at this old junction where the Pellissier connection was made with Peck/Durfee, and which was quite likely part of an 1867 cutoff road from Los Angeles to San Bernardino built by F.P.F. Temple and William W. Rubottom, the founding figure of Spadra in what is now southwest Pomona, leads to the John H. Temple Homestead on the west side of Durfee where the Whittier Narrows Nature Center is today. That property was at the southern end of the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo and comprised land within the rancho deeded by William Workman to his daughter Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple and, in the late 1870s, the 130 or so acres was given to her son for his walnut ranch and house. When John took possession of the Workman Homestead in 1888, he sold his homestead and there are five smaller tracts with owners’ names within that property on the map.

On Potrero de Felipe Lugo, we see the names of Jay M. Danziger, also discussed in part two of this post; James D. Durfee, whose family was the namesake of the street on which the property was situated and which came to the area in the late 1860s; Clara Baldwin Stocker, because of her inheritance, with her sister Anita Baldwin, of the ranch from their father, Elias (Lucky), when he foreclosed on a loan to the Temple and Workman bank in 1879 and assumed enormous landholdings in this area; Richard Garvey, who was Baldwin’s agent for a long period and who had some extensive properties including much of what became Monterey Park, where his home ranch is now a city park; and many others. Oil companies named here include St. Helens Petroleum, Pan-American Petroleum (Danziger was a partner with his father-in-law Charles Canfield and the much better known Edward L. Doheny), and Montebello National.

West of this was the much larger Rancho Potrero Grande, which was also formerly owned by Temple, Workman and their compadre Juan Matias Sánchez, who was forced to place his land there and on Rancho La Merced in mortgage to the Baldwin loan to the bank and, consequently lost his land despite having no connection to the institution. The Potrero Grande, however, was also subject to squatters, mostly Americans who arrived in the 1850s as part of what became El Monte, and there was considerable legal wrangling Sánchez, Temple and Workman had to undertake to deal with that and, in at least one instance, violence over ejectment of a squatter.

The ranch, with El Monte city limits included in a sliver at the northeast corner, was well subdivided by the time the map was drawn and so there are dozens of tracts and names of owners. We do see a Baldwin subdivision; an addition to the Richard Garvey ranch, which adjoined Potrero Grande on the west; some sizable holdings of F.V. Gordon and W.T. McGinley, the latter owning an oil company; and tracts 565, 621, 701 and 830. Some oil companies, such as Arcadia Oil at the west end; Red Star, on lands owned by Anita Baldwin at the south edge; and Ranch Oil Company, in the southwest corner, are also discerned. Most of the city of South El Monte falls within the boundaries of the ranch, the northerly limits of which include sections of El Monte, but there are also portions of Rosemead and the entirety of little South San Gabriel (Tract 701) in Potrero Grande, as well.

The southwestern edge of the ranch also included a portion of the Montebello Hills left to the Baldwin daughters, including a half-dozen well sites along the south side of San Gabriel Boulevard as it came south down from the mission of that name and then turned southeast and headed to the original site of the mission, believed to be on the north side of that street across from where Lincoln Avenue comes up from Montebello and terminates at San Gabriel Boulevard. At the heart of the Narrows and south of Potrero Grande is the tiny Potrero Chico, not quite 100 acres and which included tracts listed with the names of the Baldwin daughters as well as to a member of the Sánchez family and three families with long ties to what was called Misión Vieja or Old Mission.

The Barry family, with partial descent from the Bermudez family; Timoteo Repetto, whose father Alessando owned large tracts in the hills of what is now Monterey Park and whose mother was from the Alvitre family, which were the original co-owners with the Valenzuela family; and Pedro Alvitre, another direct descendant of the earliest settlers in the community. These three owners had the following companies drilling for oil on their land: Red Star, Potter and General.

To the south and west of the trio of Potrero ranchos was La Merced with its distinctive sharp-pointed western limit projecting into Monterey Park where the Chloe P. Canfield Memorial Home (discussed briefly in part one) was to open later in the Roaring Twenties. In the Whittier Narrows between the Río Hondo and the San Gabriel River is where the Paso de Bartolo and Merced met and we see many tracts where such thoroughfares as Valley Road, now Rosemead Boulevard, Lexington and Gallatin Road, now Paramount Boulevard (though a Gallatin Road connects it to Rosemead now); and the part of Durfee Avenue (formerly Cate Road—parcels owned by the Cate family is on the right edge of the road on the map) that is now disconnected from the northerly extension because of the construction, in the 1950s, of the Whittier Narrows Dam.

Among the names in this area are Thomas Sánchez, son of Juan Matías, while oil companies include San Francisco Petroleum; Allied Petroleum; Petroleum Midway; St. Helens Petroleum; Pan-American Petroleum; Montebello Crude Oil; Union Oil, and more. When we get to where La Merced, Potrero Grande, Potrero Chico and Potrero de Felipe Lugo converge, we are in the heart of the Misión Vieja/Old Mission community, which, by the early 1920s, was increasingly devoted to oil drilling and with fewer residents than in the past—when flood control planning and implementation came later, residents dwindled to just a few with Pedro Alvitre of Potrero Chico one of the last of the early families to reside there.

The thickest concentration of dots denoting oil well sites is in the center of the neighborhood along San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue at the northeast corner of the Montebello Hills and in the lands flanking the Río Hondo, with some wells to the east and north of this and quite a few in the hills to the west. Again, some of these drilling sites were in Potrero Chico, a goodly number in the southern reaches of Potrero Grande and most within La Merced. Petroleum Midway, McGinley, St. Helens and others had a presence, but the dominant one was Standard Oil Company (California), which had major leases with the Baldwin daughters and Walter P. Temple, whose October 1912 deal with the Baldwins for 60 acres was, by any standard, extraordinarily fortunate as oil was found there until a year-and-a-half later by Temple’s nine-year-old son, Thomas.

The 50-acre Temple Homestead, where the family settled in 1851, is as two parcels at the southeast corner of Durfee/San Gabriel and Rosemead, with the northern 17 acres, containing the original adobe and a circa 1870 brick house (long gone by the time the map was drawn), including the names of Giovanni Piuma, who long leased the adobe for his wine-making business, and Petroleum Midway and St. Helens Petroleum, while the south 33 acres was owned by Wisconsin resident Christian Walter and leased to the F.E. Keeler Oil Company.

As related here previously, Standard dug a test well on the Baldwin portion of the hills and, in late 1916, struck oil. Immediately, Temple well #1 was drilled very close by and, in late June 1917, oil was found there, as well. Over several years, the Temple lease had about two dozen wells, with several major producers and a few gushers and the family was propelled into the wealth, not quite a half century after the disastrous failure of their bank. The Temple lease is clearly denoted and an owner happened to draw an oval in red ink on it an a bit of the adjoining Baldwin lease as part of a line extending, more or less, west to east across the hills and towards the Potrero de Felipe Lugo area.

In the southern reaches of La Merced we see some subdivided areas, including La Merced Heights and others that were part of the Sánchez half of the ranch. While he lost this property and his interest in Potrero Grande to Baldwin, Juan Matias was able to occupy his home and keep a couple hundred acres until his death in the 1880s. Later, the Soto-Sánchez Adobe, which is on a bluff above Lincoln Avenue overlooking the Whittier Narrows, was acquired by Columbia Oil Company owner, William B. Scott, who was married into the Stewart family of Union Oil, one of the major firms of the era.

Scott died in 1920, though his wife, son and daughter kept ownership of the historic house until it was deeded to the City of Montebello. Scott was also one of the “three brothers,” along with William R. Rowland (son of Rancho La Puente co-owner John Rowland) and Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, who owned the Tres Hermanos Ranch, now owned by the City of Industry within the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar. It is no accident that the other tracts near Scott’s were owned or leased by members of the Stewart family, W. W. Orcutt (a Stewart and Scott partner,) Union Oil and Columbia Oil.

Just outside La Merced’s southern boundary was the city of Montebello, including the original location of its predecessor, the town of Newmark, established by the prominent Los Angeles merchant, Harris Newmark, another key member of the early Jewish community of the Angel City. With this, it is time to bring this post to an end with the hope that those readers who are map enthusiasts, interested in the oil industry, or who enjoy the history of the San Gabriel Valley, Whittier and Whittier Narrows areas, found it to be useful and of interest.

The Homestead collection has many more great maps, as well as material related to the oil industry, which is rapidly receding now, so look for future posts in the “Drilling for Black Gold” and “All Over the Map” series.

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