With the demise of the ranchos due to drought, taxes, and financial plight, the San Fernando Valley attracted a group of Anglos with experience in stock raising and wheat farming.
In 1869, Isaac Lankershim, a Bavarian Jew, reached the United States as a teenager in 1834. After marrying an English born woman in 1842, he became a convert to the Baptist faith in Missouri and held the belief all his life. He had come to California during the Gold Rush, his family following in 1860, When he rode through the San Fernando Valley in 1869. Lankershim had already built an empire of grain ranches in northern California, and with wheat prices soaring as a result to a worldwide shortage, he was looking for new land to plant. Even though the valley was still a vast cattle ranch, Lankershim could not help but notice the richness of the soil as evidenced by the wild oats that flourished throughout the valley.
Within months the enterprising Lankershim organized the San Fernando Farm Homestead Association and with the help of San Francisco bankers, bought half of the valley, 60,000 acres, from Pio Pico for $115,000—at $2.00 an acre. The northern border of the purchased land is today’s Roscoe Boulevard. Lankershim moved to the Valley and the new ranch in 1869. To oversee the operation he hired Isaac N. Van Nuys, whom he had known in Napa. Van Nuys was a young New Yorker who had come to California for his health in 1865, So in 1871, Van Nuys moved from Napa, where he had been operating a small store, to operate the new ranch. For several years their Valley ranch continued to be devoted to cattle and sheep. Drought years put an end to this. The loss of 40,000 sheep caused the owners to experiment with growing wheat, which proved successful.
A corporation was formed, the Los Angeles Farm and Milling Company with Lankershim and Van Nuys as partners. The new company acquired the land formerly held by the San Fernando Farm Homestead Association. By the fall of 1875 Van Nuys had planted 10,000 acres and Lankershim was making arrangements for harvest and shipment. Lankershim, unwilling to pay the high freight rates for grain shippers that the Southern Pacific demanded, he built his own wagon road to Santa Monica. Presented with this aggressive reaction, the Southern Pacific quickly dropped its rate on grain from the valley. By 1876 the harbor of San Pedro became for the first time a world port with the shipment of wheat abroad—destination: Liverpool.
Despite their initial success and enhanced profitabily of the milling operation, Lankershim and Van Nuys were concerned and anxious about their future prospects. Their margin of success was infinitesmal and could have easily ended in disaster. They had harvested and shipped their crop beating the disastrous rains by only a matter of days and had found a willing buyer for their grain only at the very last minute.
Lankershim died in 1882, but before that happened Van Nuys had married his partner's daughter and thus inherited the embryonic empire. By 1888 a record 510,000 bushels of wheat were produced and milled by the company.
The wheat operations were handled through several ranches in the valley; the forerunners of today’s towns. (see Fig. 26.46.). Home Ranch, where Van Nuys had built his home, became Van Nuys.
Isaac’s son, J. Benton Van Nuys, remembers learning to ride a horse there and said “We children enjoyed the Valley in the Spring and this was the only time of year we were allowed to go, until I grew older, and then we spent many Spring vacations at the Home Ranch with my parents. As we grew older, picnics were planned and friends would drive out for the day.…during the last years there were 30,000 to 35,000 acres in wheat and barley. This standing grain was a gorgeous picture to a farmer. This operation was handled by six operationg units; each unit meant a superindentdent’s house, two or three large barns that would house 120 head of stock, blacksmith shop and equipment shop and bunk houses for the men.…It is inconceivable to me, when I drive through the Valley today,  to understand how only six ranch houses stood in 48,000 acres.”
While the southern half of the old Rancho Ex-Mission de San Fernando early became corporate property, the northern portion, comprising almost half of the Valley, passed into the hands of three men, two former state senatore, Charles Maclay and George K. Porter, and George’s cousin, Benjamin F. Porter.
For more than three decades wheat was king in the San Fernando Valley. After the first rain each fall a battalion of eight-horse teams crawled across the valley, each pulling a gang plow, a seeder, and a harrow to cover the seed. In a good year as much as 31,000 acres of golden wheat could be seen rippling like an ocean on the valley floor.
During the great wheat era the harvesting went through a minor industrial revolution. Giant combines, drawn by thirty-six horses and manned by four men, cut a twenty-foot path through the fields—harvesting, threshing, winnowing, and stacking grain in a single operation. A few of the ten combines would eventually be steam powered, while some were drawn by a combination of both a traction engine and from ten to twenty mules.
From May to November these clattering monsters would slowly but inextricably march through the valley. They would be followed by an army of men heaving the sacks on flatbed wagons bound for the nearest railroad siding. There the 120-pound bags would be transferred from wagon to platform to open freight car.
Charles Maclay was born in Pennsylvania and became an ordained Methodist minister, like his four brothers. He agreed to be posted to California as a missionary and established a Methodist church in Santa Clara and opened a store to support his family. He also spent a couple of years in San Francisco as minister of the Howard Street church and a member of the Vigilantes. His experience with the Vigilates made him fear for his safety and and he left for Santa Clara. He was elected to the state Assembly in 1861 and then to the state Senate in 1868, but his political career was not without controversy.
When he wasn't chosen as the county candidate for the state senate, he bolted the Union party and approached the Democrates to form an opposition ticket, reversing his former positions, namely he was now opposed to enfranchisment of Negroes when a few months earlier he supported it, causing a former Republican associate to denounce him, as in this piece in the San Jose Mercury:
We infer that the only principle which actuates him in the course he has taken is one of pure and unadulterated selfishness. Charles Maclay wants office, by the votes of Union men, if possible, if not by the votes of Democrates. Failing in the former, he now expects to receive his election from the hands of the latter…he had been seen in close conference with several of the leading secessionists of this county—men who oppposed the Government through all the dark years of the rebellion, and who secretly exulted over the assassination of our Lincoln. They have promised him their support.
He went on to accuse Maclay of “lust for office,” of having no princeples, of selling his soul to the Devil for office, and insulting God with “hollow professions of adoration.” The attack continued at a public meeting of the Union party in San Jose, where Maclay was accused of practicing political chicanery and trickery all week, and then preaching the Gospel on Sunday. One of the speakers noted:
“Since he joined the left wing of the Confederate army his name should be changed to Chamelion Maclay. His back is perfectly green, the side is gold, and his head is copper.” (Laughter)
His candidacy went down in defeat, but he refused to admit final defeat and continued to nurse politiacl ambitions as a maverick Republican and strong foe of Radical Reconstruction. Men, he believed, had a right to repent of their former ways. But he was against Congress passing laws allowing “all the chinamen and greaseres of this State to Vote.”
A Republican defense of Maclay called hime a “loyal man” in a newpaper columnn. But its writer was wrong. The same month Maclay assisted in the organization of a Democratic Club in Saratoga and was the first one to sign its constitution.
Maclay’s defection was well timed: the Democrats swept Santa Clara County and the state in the 1867 election, the Republicans loss attributed to their support of railroad construction and the granting of subsidies. When a senate seat became available due to a senator‘s death, the Democratic County Convention in San Jose gave Maclay the minimum number of votes necessary for the nomination.
His opponent was a politically inexperienced wealthy farmer and stockman who narrowly lost to Maclay. After six long years his desire for senatorial office was at last fullfilled.
Maclay introduced a bill favoring a subsidy for the Southern Pacific Railroad, arguing it was one of the most important of the session. Without a doubt the railroad itself had prepared the bill for Maclay to present, for he was the avowed advocate of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific throughout his entire tenure in the Senate; his action is the first indication of that association. Maclay was undoubtedly convinced that the rapid growth of those railroads through state subsidy was essential to the growth and welfare of California, not to mention the railroads. It was a postion which ultimately brought his political defeat.
By now Maclay was a close friend of Leland Stanford, a guest at his table, a recipient of his railroad passes, and probably the railroad president’s best contact in the Senate. The voters of Santa Clara County, however, thought ill of the relationhip and they let Maclay know their feelings at the next election. He received only 329 of a total 4,200 votes cast. It was a humiliating defeat. He felt he could no longer remain at the scene of his disgrace; he abruptly decided to shake the dust of Santa Clara off his feet and go elsewhere in California for a fresh start in life.
He spentt the next five or six months with his son at the Clarendon Hotel (formerly the Bella Union) in Los Angeles as a base for a suitable ranch property. The Celis heirs retained ownership of the only the northern half of Rancho San Fernhando, having sold the southern half to Lankershim. As was the case with many of the ranchos in Southern California that remained in the hands of origianl owners, San Fernando was heavily mortgaged. Celis had six months to redeem the mortgage; he faced the loss of over half the ranch unless money could be raised for redemption.
Perhaps for this reason, Maclay was particularly attracted to San Fernnado while in Los Angeles that 1873 winter. He made a special trip to the old mission and resided far a while with its resident, General Andrés Pico. The valley, Maclay noted, supported large numbers of sheep and held potential for dry wheat farming. In addition the Southern Pacific had pushed its line out from Los Angeles to Pico Station near the old mission, and Maclay knew that in a few years the line from the San Joaquin Valley would be completed and would give San Fernando a transcontidnental rail connection.
Maclay was obviously interested in the property, but he was unable to reach an agreement with Celis. Consequently, after several months of fruitless searching, Maclay departed from Los Angeles in late May 1874.
At approximately the same time Maclay left Los Angeles for San Francisco, the two principals connected with Rancho San Fernando, Celis and his attorney, Anson Brunson, also departed for the same destination. Their immediate mission was to raise the redemption money for San Fernando. While they were trying to come to suitable terms with a buyer, Maclay happened to meet Brunson on the street in front of the Occidental Hotel and asked him if the San Fernando was still available for purchase. Brunson affirmed that it was and asked what would Maclay offer. Maclay replied that he was authorized to offer $125,000.
At this point, Maclay compromised his integrity by offering Brunson a bribe. If Brunson could negotiate with Celis for any price below $125,000, Maclay said he was willing to split the difference iwth him. Brunson agreed. Celis decided to split the differnce between the lowest he would accept, $120,000 and what Brunson offered, $115,000; so a price of $117,500 was set.
The agreement reached was that Maclay put down $1,000 cash on the spot, $79,000 was to be paid when the deed was delivered, and the remaining $37,500 to be secured by a mortage held by Celis. Brunson agreed to represent both parties in seeing the sale through probate court since the property was part of an estate. Maclay laughingly remarked that it was “rather singular for one lawyer to act for both parties.”
They did not discover how unusual it was until 1877 when Josefa Argũello de Celis, who was appointed administratrix of the estate after her son was removed for mismanagement, brought suit against Brunson for breach of trust, alleging that he entered into a “fraudulent combination and conspiracy” with Maclay during the purchase of Rancho San Fernando. Her case dismissed by the lower court, she appealed to the California Supreme Court, which reveresed the lower court and found Brunson guilty of fraud. The court awarded de Celis $7,500, the amound lost on the sale and damages from Brunson. Maclay, not being a party to the suit, suffered no penalty.
The purchase of Rancho San Fernando was an undertaking beyond the meager resources of Maclay. At the time of the agreement with Celis, Brunson thought that the Southern Pacific or Leland Stanford were Maclay’s backers: such was not the case. Several days after the agreement with Celis, Maclay signed a preliminary agreement with his backers, George K. Porter, Benjamin Porter, and Thomas G. McLaren.
The agreement stipulated that Maclay was to proceed with the purchase and subsequent sale of San Fernando “in the most expeditious and profitable manner.” The Porters and McLaren acquired a three-quarters interest in the property by giving Maclay $1,000 and “other valuable consideration.” Maclay agreed to use his name and experience in such matters as the sole purchaser; the others, at this time, remained silent partners.
Among Maclay's three financial backers, George K. Porter was the key person. Maclay had known him since 186d2 when Porter was in the State Senate and Maclay was in the State Assembly. Together they had once served on a joint Assembly Senate committee.
George Porter, Mclaren, and Maclay had once been partners in a disputed forty-eight acres in downtown San Francisco. In later years this was to be a source of contention between Maclay and George Porter, eventually causeing a disruption in their relationship respecting San Fernando.
With the Porters and McLaren in the background Maclay quickly made preparations to subdivide San Fernando into city lots and small tracts and to put them on the market, even though he did not have full title to the land. From his friend Leland Stanford, Maclay obtained several concessions regarding the settlement of the valley. Stanford agreed to transport on theSouthern Pacificfrom Wilmington, at one-half the regular rates, all heads of families who settled in the prospective city and all lumber for building for a period of one year. In a letter to Maclay, Stanford assured prospectiver settlers that “San Fernando will probably remain the terminus until the railroad from the San Joaquin Valley is completed through to Los Angeles.”
In a front page story in the San Francisco Alta California, April 14, 1874, Maclay announced his intention to immediately survey 1,000 acres in the vicinity of the railroad depot for the town of San Fernando and to put up one-half of the lots for auction in Los Angeles on July 3. “No doublt there will be a great demand for them by speculators,” the Alta warned, “so that laboring men should be attentive, and purchase when they have good bargains.”
Maclay acted quickly to put thses lots on the market, perhaps to take immediate advantage of of a Los Angeles real estate boom that had begun the year before. Leaving San Francisco on April 15, he arrived in Los Angeles three days later and immediately organized an excursion party to San Fernando on a free train provided by Leland Stanford. On April 20, 1874, with the promise of a free barbeque, nearly sixty people rode the first passenger train into the San Fernando Valley to view Maclay’s prospective town near Pico Station. The scene was not one to inspire much enthusiasm among the prospective buyers and interested onlookers. A small wooden building served as the station; the Mission San Fernando, partly in ruins, lay in the distance; uncleared land marked with surveyor’s stakes indicated the plat of the town.
Presiding over the festivities was Dr. Frederick P Howard, a prominent Los Angelest druggist, who introduced the several speakers. After the speakers, the excursionists proceeded to name the newly laid out town. Someone suggested Maclay as s fitting name but the founder would not censent to it. The name Pico was put forth, a reference to the current resident of the mission, but a prominent Los Angeles physican opposed calling a new town after a living celebrity and suggested the logical neame — San Fernando. An informal vote was taken; it was unanimous for San Fernando.
During May and June the town was offically surveyed in to lots by the county surveyor. Over 12,000 lots, only twenty-five feet wide, were laid out on a 1,000-acre tract. Major streets ran perpendicular to the railroad track and were name for prominent local citizens.
The 1,000-acres lay on the south side of the railroad and extended as far southwest as the mission. The proposed principal street, Mission Boulevard, extended from the railroad through the center of the subdivision to the mission buildings znd gardens. Blocks were formed 200 feet wide and 500 feet long each containing 40 lots (25 x 100 feet&rparl;. Streets were provided with widths of 60 feet.
Meanwhile, Celis has so far failed to redeem his mortgage within the allotted redemption period of six months — a fact that had not gone unnoticed by Maclay. To forestall the land falling into the hands of a creditor, Maclay sailed for San Francisco just ten days before the redemption period ended, to arrage for the redemption himself.
Maclay undoubtedly spend some anxious days on that voyage to San Francisco, for his steamer was delayed by a storm and he reached the city with only two days left before the expiration of the redemption time. Once there, he quickly discovered that neither the Porters nor McLaren could supply the $37,830 necessary for the redemption. With a growing sense of urgency he turned to Leland Stanford who readily agreed to advance the money to Maclay, without security. On the last day for redemption, just five minutes before the Bank of California closed, Maclay, accompanied by Anson Brunson and another, arrived to pay the sum to the creditor. In Maclay’s own words, “it was the last hour for redemption.” Immediately he telegraphed to Los Angeles to prevent the sheriff from deeding the land to the creditor, the final act of foreclosure. A potentially serious situation thus was narrowly avoided.
With affairs settled in San Francisco, Maclay returned to his Santa Clara home for the first time in several months. There he gathered up his family and his foreman and together they travled to San Fernando, arriving early in June. For a short while they resided aht the St. Charles Hotel in Las Angeles; thereafter they were the guests of Andrés Pico at he mission until their new residence could be completed. Pico reputatiuon as a gracious and genial host has already been reported. Maclay’s daughter, Josephine, recalled that they had "never met with a more generous hospitality nor more couteous consideration than was shown…[them&rbrackl; by General Andrés Pico and his family.”
Both George Porter and Maclay, no doubt, envisioned that land sales would be brisk and that the existing indebtedness would quickly be paid off. To this end, Maclay began to vigorously promote the town of San Fernando, the first townsite open for settlement in the entire valley. To prospective buyers he pointed out the community’s assets, the healthful climate, adequate water from nearby springs, fertile soil, and proximity to the Southern Pacific. Looking ahead, Maclay envisioned the town as a market center for numerous farms that he hoped would one day dot the surrounding landscape. A visitor to the valley in 1874 observed that it possessed good feed for sheep and much good farm land, yet hardly an acre was under cultivation. Maclay’s job was clear-cut: promote the town and the land around it for farms.
The great potential of the San Fernando Valley for agriculture was yet to be realized. Following a severe drought in southern California, 1862-186 3, the cattle industry declined and such areas as the San Fernando Valley were thought to possess value only as sheep lands. For nearly ten years thereafter, the sheep industry was almost a craze. For example, in the southern half of the valley, the San Fernando Farm Homestead Association was running 40,000 sheep on its pastures in 1873. But another severe drought, 1874-1875. killed off nearly all of the sheep before they could be driven to the watered High Sierra. This disaster prompted Isaac N. Van Nuys to attempt the planting of wheat on a large scale basis, and by 1876 the San Fernando Farm Homestead Association was marketing its surplus wheat in Liverpool, England. Thus while Maclay was initilly promoting San Fernando, the valley was just beginning to realize its wheat growing potential.
Maclay served as the emissary of the Central Pacific Railway’s president, Leland Stanford, to Morman leader Brigham Young in Salt Lake City, where he successfully obtained the right-of-way for the railroad in Utah.
On September 15, 1874 Maclay visited the County Recorder carrying a subdivision map showing several thousand 25 foot wide lots, enough to take care of an army of land buyers. It was labeled "Map of the City of San Fernando." The map showed the town adjoining the Southern Pacific Railroad right of way, a depot and a hotei.
Excursion trains soon brought throngs of people from Los Angeles to look over the new town and have lunch at the Mission. Town lots went for $10 to $25 and farming lands at $5 to $40 an acre. A circular issued by the California Immigrant Union stressed that, "The soil of Maclay SF Ranch is without exception the richest on the Southern Coast." Maclay soon opened a store which was shortly followed by a hotel. Remi Nadeau, making the new town his headquarters, brought in 80 teamsters and 1,600 mules, built barns and warehouses. Senator Maclay built himself a two-story house at the corner of Celis and Workman Streets. Thus the town of San Fernando was founded.
George K. Porter, one of whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower, was born in Plymouth County, near Boston. When he was fifteen-years-old he shipped before the mast, coming around Cape Horn to San Francisco at the height of the gold excitement. From San Francisco he went to Soquel, Santa Cruz county. He worked as a tanner of leather goods and then into the boot and shoe business. He acquired several ranches near Watsonville as he built something of a real estate empire in the area.
Under the direction of the three men, the northern half, like the south half, became a giant field of waving wheat and barley. In 1881-2, the three partners partitioned their land among themselves, Maclay taking the easterly third, George K. the middle third, and Benjamin F. the westerly third.
Partition enabled each of the three men to develop his land as he saw fit. George K. Porter, for example, pioneered in the citrus field, setting out in 1887 what became known as the "Long Orchard"—a planting made in a strip half a mile wide and two and a half miles long. Whether in agriculture, in subdivision, in town building, in construction, in community efforts, or in education, each of the three men made distinguished contributions to the Valley's development-as did Lankershim and Van Nuys.
Later, George K. Porter sold his properties and opened a shoe factory in San Francisco called Porter, Schlessinger and Company, which included his cousin Benjamin F. Porter, and operated this in tandem with his tannery. From 1861-1863 he served in the state senate as a Republican representing Santa Cruz County.
Meanwhile in 1887, George Porter deeded a large portion of his acreage south of San Fernando to the newly organized Porter Land and Water Company, which moved its headquarters to the Mission convento building. That part of he Mission not used by Porter and his associates was turned into a hog ranch. By January 10 a subdivision map was prepared showing 10 acre and 40 acre lots. An irrigation system was installed that would supply 4,000 acres.
Although wheatfields covered the vast majority of the Valley, throughout one could find ranch homes, fruit trees, clusters of buildings; simply put the beginnings of community were making an imprint on the land.
As quickly as the land boom began it ended. By January 1888 realty sales collapsed. Of the 100 towns plotted in Los Angeles County only 38 survived. Even one-third of settlers returned east. For the next 20 years the San Fernando Valley made little progress in attracting population. Despite the land bust the face of the San Fernando Valley was subtly changed.
Today, one of the lesser known casualties of the anglicization was the eviction of the Mission Indians from Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando. Following the mission’s secularization in 1835, many of the Indian families continued to reside upon lands which they had been given to support themselves under the Mexican government. Under the Mexican government, these families were given rights to continue to establish their homes in the vicinity of the former mission and to sow crops to support their households. A few Indians were given their own modest-sized land grants independent of those who continued to live adjacent to the mission.
In 1846, Pío Pico became the last Mexican governor of Alta California, after his predecessor Manuel Micheltorena was overthrown. Micheltorena had been active in restoring the mission lands and distributing grants to Indians. Pico subsequently leased and sold a number of the missions to raise money to oppose the United States conquest of California during the Mexican War. He leased Mission San Fernando to his own brother, Andrés Pico, and sold a large grant of land in the San Fernando Valley to Eulogio de Celis.
The descendants of these families remained on these lands under the authority of a recognized chief until 1886. In that year, under court order, the Indian families were evicted because the lands formerly owned by the mission had been acquired by new owners who wished to develop the property. The Indian Agent for California protested this taking of tribal members’s lands to no avail.
A sad case in point is that of the eviction of Rogeria Rocha, which reverberates even today. Born in 1824 to a Ventureno-Chumash and a Tongva woman from the village of Tujunga, he had remained at the Mission and became a leader of the Indians who remained at the mission after the priests left. He had played violin in the mission orchestrta and was labeled the last mission neofito.Before his death in 1904, Rocha figured in an unsavory bit of business that soiled the reputation of Charles Maclay and led to some sniping in the letters column of the Los Angeles Times. Maclay forcibly evicted Rocha and his frail wife from their adobe house and farm beside the Pacoima Wash. They had lived in the adobe for decades, but the land grant was not recognized. Maclay wanted the land and its spring for a brickworks to supply his new subdivision outside San Fernando.
Even the deputy sheriffs who carried out the eviction called it “disagreeable duty…a hard cruel thing.” In some accounts, Rochas and nine other Indians were hauled to the nearest road and dumped in he rain with all their belongings. Rocha walked to Los Angeles and won permission to squat in a shed at Mission San Fernando Rey ruins. This took him many days and his wife caught pneumonia during her exposure and died.
In a letter published in the Times, Maclay’s nephew and attorney insisited the eviction was handled mercifully and that Rocha, on bad advice from a lawyer, had rejected offers of housing elsewhere and $100 in cash. The Indians have been a great nuisance and their rancheria had been a rendezous for horse theives and other bad characters,” the nephew wrote.
E. F. Celis, whose family had sold the land to Maclay, retorted the following day that Maclay had violated an agreement that “the old Indians were to be protected…as long as they lived. Rocha had been born on the land and had planted fruit trees and vines,” de Celis said, “and harbored no theives. As for Rocha being offered compensation, the Indian denies it, and I believe the Indian.”
In the end, Rocha lived out his years with others who lost their homes in a canyon above the Valley. “Rocha had the great mistake of having a fine spring of water on his place,” the former Indian agent for the area wrote later in Out West magazine.
Following the loss of their homes near the former mission, the history of the tribe then shifts to the rural area surrounding Newhall, located not far from San Fernando in the upper Santa Clara River Valley. Here several San Fernando Indian families had relocated by the late nineteenth century, some purchasing their own property in the area. These families supported themselves through farming and through labor on neighboring ranches.
A news piece in the Feb 6, 2019 San Fernasndo Sun,revealed an anit-Maclay sentiment among the Tataviam Indians. The Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians’ call to remove Maclay’s name from the city’s main street and replace it with one that recognizes the tribe or of their former tribal leader who they feel was wronged by Maclay. After purchasing a 56,000 acre land grant in 1874, what was known as San Fernando Rancho, Maclay ruthlessly displaced and, the tribe believes, illegally removed the Tataviam people from their land.(see the article)