Tidbits of Mission San Gabriel History, 1876-1885, Part Two

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Tomorrow’s 2 p.m. presentation at the Homestead on the connections between the Workman and Temple family and San Gabriel, including the mission and the city, between 1842-1972 is an opportune time to share tidbits of history of this community during some notable periods in the 19th century before the arrival of a direct transcontinental railroad line and the growth of tourism made San Gabriel a popular place to visit for a brief (and usually romantic and superficial) exposure to its pre-American history.

We carry on with this second part of a post sharing some interesting items related to the Mission City during the first half of the 1880s and prior to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe completing its line to greater Los Angeles, this taking place at the end of 1885. These “tidbits”, beginning with ones at the end of the 1860s, have often focused on the fertile products of the local soil, mainly oranges and grapes, and we’ll add a few more to the roster. In October 1880, there was a horticultural exhibition (these becoming more popular and important for promoting regional agriculture) at Los Angeles and that city’s Express newspaper of the 21st, in its coverage, noted that

The single 104 years old grape tree from the Mission San Gabriel, on exhibition by J.E. Hollenbeck, Esq., is a greater attraction than all the grape exhibits of last year combined.

John Edward Hollenbeck (1827-1885) intended to come to California for the Gold Rush but was stranded at Nicaragua with yellow fever and a lack of funds and remained there for about a quarter of a century, building a substantial estate through transportation and shipping enterprises as well as a hotel run with his wife Elizabeth Hatsfeldt. The couple decided to relocate to Los Angeles in the mid-1870s, with “Ed,” as he was commonly known, purchasing land at William H. Workman’s new subdivision of Boyle Heights and depositing $20,000 at the bank of Temple and Workman before returning to Central America to close his affairs.

Los Angeles Express, 21 October 1880.

When the Hollenbecks returned to the Angel City, however, the economic panic of 1875-1876 included the failure of the bank and the loss of their funds placed there. Still, they quickly became prominent citizens of the new Boyle Heights community and “Ed” built a Hollenbeck Block commercial structure featuring his namesake hotel and became president of a national bank. He also invested heavily in San Gabriel Valley real estate, including several thousand acres of the Rowland family’s portion of Rancho La Puente in what is now Covina and West Covina and E.J.C. Kewen’s El Molino Viejo estate. It was presumably from the latter that the aged grape vine derived, though the age of 104 may have been an exaggeration for effect.

Leonard J. Rose’s Sunny Slope property was featured in the 15 December 1881 edition, the twelfth issue, of the fledgling Los Angeles Times. Notably, the article stated that, not long before, there were many grape growers and wine-makers who considered tearing out their vines to plant orange trees, but that this proved to not be the case. What was true, however, is that many regional farmers had both fruits because the latter were planted in precedence of removing the former, though grape prices were said to be superior to that of the orange, so it was wondered if the trees were to give way to vines.

Los Angeles Times, 15 December 1881.

Rose was credited with being “the principal mover in the great advancement in the prices of the grape in this county.” He planted his first vines on 29 November 1860 and, of 1,900 acres at Sunny Slope, of which almost 40% comprised the vineyard and the rest were devoted to lemon, olive and orange cultivation, including 12,000 trees of the latter. Beyond the grapes raised there, Rose and his partner Charles Stern imported some 9.5 million pounds of the fruit, spending nearly $100,000 on this, for their winemaking endeavor involving 375,000 gallons of wine and 100,000 gallons of brandy.

The Times mentioned the new cellar constructed at Sunny Slope, noting that that the two-story edifice was 33,000 square feet with the first floor containing 48 new casks of 2,100 gallon capacity each, along with 800 existing casks holding from 170-200 gallons and all filled with the last season’s product. The second story contained barrels, half-barrels and kegs for brandy, while the business office was also kept there and was noted for its finishing in polished cedar and laurel, while the furniture was made of a Mexican wood called prima.

Los Angeles Times, 28 July 1883.

The new barrels and the brick for the structure were manufactured on the site, while it was noted that the firm had branch offices in Boston, Chicago and New York, with Stern keeping his headquarters in the Big Apple. From 1 March, 178 carloads of wine and brandy were shipped to these offices and the article concluded with the observation that,

Sunny Slope is without doubt one of the largest and finest vineyards in the world. it is situated on one of the most beautiful spots on God’s footstool, about two miles from the old Mission San Gabriel. It attracts general attention, and is probably visited by more strangers than any place of the kind in the State.

The 28 July 1883 issue of the Los Angeles Times reported on a new agricultural enterprise, this being “the only raising vineyard about [near] the Mission of San Gabriel.” The owner was Ira W. Felt (1831-1896), who came to Gold Rush California and had a similar experience to Hollenbeck in Nicaragua, though being robbed as added to his trials. He, however, made it to San Francisco where he lived for about two decades and worked in a music store. After the death of his first wife, Felt relocated to El Monte as early as 1871 as proprietor of Bennett’s Hotel, and then took up farming including barley and his endeavor with raisins, while also dealing in liquor and wine in Los Angeles and mining in the Soledad district in the Antelope Valley.

Express, 27 July 1881.

The article reported that Felt’s vineyard was about four years old, but he was preparing to ship some 600 boxes of raisins. What was notable was his comment to the paper that “he has had but little water for irrigation and the vines have made an astonishing growth considering their disadvantage.” It was asserted that there was plenty of room in the San Gabriel/El Monte area for an expansion of grape growing and Felt, later in the year, was reported to be expanding his vineyard with the planting of Sultana grapes, a variety with a golden color after being treated with sulfur dioxide. How successful Felt’s operation was is not known, but it is certainly interesting that he took on raising growing during the era just prior to the decimation of most regional vineyards due to pest infestation and disease.

The first part of this post mentioned the arrival of a telegraph station to San Gabriel in 1878 and the next technological push was the move to get streetcars out to the hinterlands from Los Angeles. While this was magnified by the onrush of settlers in the San Gabriel Valley during the great Boom of the 1880s that occurred during the 1887-1888 term of Mayor William H. Workman in Los Angeles, an early effort was identified by the Express of 27 July 1881. The idea was to extend an existing line to East Los Angeles (now Lincoln Heights) “to the Fruit Belt, by the way of the Arroyo Seco valley,” roughly along where the Metro Gold Line travels now.

Express, 5 May 1881.

The route was to go to Pasadena, established eight years prior as the “Indiana Colony,” and then

past Stoneman’s, the Molino, Shorb’s, Titus’s and Rose’s places, to the Mission San Gabriel. The country along the line of the route is well settled, and it is believed would afford a paying passenger traffic for a street car line.

For pleasure trips, there was the well-known picnic grounds along the Arroyo Seco in what became Highland Park and towards the Crown City and the paper expressed the idea that the enterprise could become quickly and permanently profitable. Again, it was several years too early for the concept to be carried out, but it was later done and we have our modern version in the Gold Line, which is planned to eventually to be as far east as Claremont and Montclair.

Times, 6 December 1881.

There were a few notable historical references found to San Gabriel beyond that of the Mission, including a 5 May 1881 article in the Express relating to the first vigilance committee formed in Los Angeles, this one dating to 1836 and involving Jonathan Temple. The paper’s account, though, identified different persons, “Celedonio Hincapie” and his wife, “Maria del Carmen Ulloa” as residents of a small ranch near the Angel City, while she had an affair with “Bruno Giraldo,” said to be “a worthless vagabond.” This version stated that, when “Ulloa” went off on one of her lengthy stays with “Giraldo,” “Hincapie was told by a friend of the presence of his wife and paramour at the Mission of San Gabriel, where she was openly vaunting his dishonor and her shame.”

The actual names of the couple were Domingo Feliz and María del Rosario Villa, while the gent at San Gabriel was Gervasio Alipas and, while a reconciliation was arranged by church and pueblo officials, Alipas was reported to have ambushed Feliz as he and Villa headed back to the Rancho Los Feliz north of town. The murderer and his lover then returned to San Gabriel and were arrested and taken to Los Angeles when the dead man’s remains were found buried in a ravine. The vigilance committee met at Temple’s house and then seized Alipas and Villa from the adobe jail and executed them, while setting a precedented for further “popular justice” actions that added to the blood-stained reputation of the City of Angels in ensuing decades.

Los Angeles Herald, 6 December 1881.

The 6 December 1881 edition (two days after its debut) of the Times reported on a group of visitors to France who came to the United States for the centennial commemoration of the British surrender at Yorktown that ended the Revolutionary War, which could not have been won by the Americans without considerable French assistance. Fifteen men arrived in Los Angeles two days prior and were feted by their countrymen resident here including, after they disembarked from trains at the Southern Pacific depot, being “escorted in carriages by the [local] committee to the old Mission San Gabriel.” This was followed by a visit to Leonard J. Rose’s Sunny Slope estate and the house of James de Barth Shorb (where the Henry E. Huntington mansion and art gallery is today) before a return to Los Angeles.

Speaking of Shorb, who was the son-in-law of the late Benjamin D. Wilson of the Lake Vineyard estate as well as the town of Alhambra, which the two developed together, he, as noted in the 11 September 1881 edition of the Los Angeles Herald, received a letter from a San Francisco insurance company president about the urgency to work with the Atlantic and Pacific Railway on a proposed transcontinental railroad route to Los Angeles with continued service to San Francisco. A rumor was referred to that the company and the millionaires Jay Gould and Cornelius Vanderbilt purchased the Southern Pacific and, while this was false, the name of prominent railroad engineer Joseph U. Crawford was mentioned as authority for the statement—Crawford was chief engineer for the Los Angeles and Independence, a partially built local line from the Seventies in which F.P.F. Temple was a key figure.

A stereoscopic photograph from the Homestead’s collection and taken by John G. Schumacher of the Mission San Gabriel stone church, with pepper trees planted in front and, next to a small sliver of the adobe rectory, a trellised arbor.

Returning to Rose, he gave an interesting speech at a horticultural and agricultural exposition in Los Angeles in October 1884 and the Times of the 15th reported on the event and his remarks, including Rose’s romantic recollections of what he saw in the region when the native of Bavaria arrived in 1860, just prior to his purchase of the portion of Rancho Santa Anita where he established Sunny Slope. He told the assemblage, “when I first came to Los Angeles county there was no general settlement about the Mission San Gabriel. There was no Pasadena, no Alhambra, no Riverside, Pomona or Ontario. They were waste places and unoccupied, where sheep, cattle and fleet wild horses roamed at will.”

Exaggerated as this was, given that there ranches, with organized livestock raising, as well as farming, including cultivation of the grape and other products, in all of these locations, Rose went on to suggest that “the plow had not then broken the virgin soil nor destroyed the natural beauty of the flowers which annually reproduced themselves with renewed beauty and perfume.” Water cascading from the San Gabriel Mountains “tumbled and foamed over boulders and obstructions in solitary cañons, unused and almost unknown until swallowed up in the sands of the plains.” This, too, was not entirely true, as there was some irrigation and use of the water by ranchers and farmers, though not to the extent, of course, of 1884, but he seemed to suggest the birds made more use of the water than people.

Los Angeles Times, 15 October 1884.

Rose rhapsodized further that “all was quiet and hushed in the oak-groves slopes next to the Sierra Madre [San Gabriel] mountains” with the silence only interrupted by the mockingbird or the woodpecker (but not cattle, sheep or horses?). A quarter century after his arrival in this Arcadia of inactivity, he went on,

What a great change has taken place! Instead of all this quiet, perchance broken by some lone vaquero, now we have colonies of happy homes, each one vieing [vying] with each other in the beauty of surroundings. Where there grew wild flowers, now are reared, by the hand of lovely woman, the violet, the rose, the lily and all the varied flora of the world. Where formerly was an uncultivated plain, where Pomona [goddess of fruit, gardens and orchards, not her namesake town!] was only represented by the prickly cactus, there now grows in profusion and beauty the apple, the pear, the olive and fig—in short, almost every variety of fruit grown in the temperate and tropic zones. It is a transformation scene which cannot be realized or believed except it is seen, and even then each year makes changes which fill us even with wonder.

There is enough early to mid 1880s material from local newspapers to warrant a third part to this post, so we’ll return with that in short order—check back for more tidbits including more visits and descriptions to the San Gabriel district, including by women, as well as a renovation project of the mission’s stone church.

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