Boyle Heights and Its “Pioneer Aristocrats”

As noted in the last post, there was a brief time in the 1920s, when, at least to some people, Boyle Heights was actually known as “Hollenbeck Heights.”  In September 1926, a lengthy article appeared in the Los Angeles Times called “Hollenbeck Heights Once Was Home of Pioneer Aristocrats.”  Though romantic essays like this were usually penned by Anglo reporters or guest writers, the piece was written by a descendant of one of the Californio families that occupied the area well before the founding of the Boyle Heights neighborhood.

The author was Isabel Claire Lopez (1902-1985), who had an interesting Los Angeles background on both sides of her family tree.  Her father was William Henry Thomas Lopez (1869-1908), whose forebears were father Jose Antonio Lopez (1822-1873), grandfather Esteban Lopez (1790-1852), great-grandfather Claudio Lopez (ca. 1767-1833) and great-great grandfather Ignacio Lopez (1728-1781).  In 1826 when Claudio was alcalde (roughly, mayor) of the small pueblo of Los Angeles, his son Esteban happened to sit on the ayuntamiento or town council.  About a decade later, in September 1835, Esteban was able to acquire land on the east side of the Los Angeles River that became known as Paredon Blanco (White Bluffs.) 

On her mother’s side, she was the granddaughter of James Alonzo Waite, who came to California from Maine in the 1850s and worked as a printer for his uncle, James S. Waite, proprietor of the Los Angeles Star from 1854 to 1856.  Known as Alonzo, Isabel’s grandfather then founded the Union-supporting Los Angeles News, which operated from 1860 to 1865; the Los Angeles Daily News, the first daily paper in town, from 1869-1872; the Downey Courier from 1875-1881; and finally operated the Santa Ana Herald from 1881 until his death in 1889.  The newspaper business was in the family’s blood (or genes), evidently, as Isabel’s mother and Alonzo’s daughter, Olive, became a society pages editor and reporter for newspapers for decades, including after her husband, William Lopez, died at a young age.  She was also city treasurer in Santa Ana from 1915 to 1927 before moving with Isabel to Beverly Hills where another daughter lived.

Consequently, Isabel took to the business, as well.  Born in Santa Ana, Isabel was listed in the 1920 census as a school newspaper reporter, though for what school wasn’t stated, perhaps the city high school.  It seems probable that the “Hollenbeck Heights” article was a freelance piece.

This drawing is of the Andrew Boyle residence, which was on the property obtained by him in 1858 from Petra Varelas, widow of Esteban Lopez, grantee of the Paredon Blanco tract in 1826.  Portions of this home survived until after the 1994 Northridge earthquake and were torn down.  The site is now a Japanese-American senior housing facility.  Courtesy of David Workman from the Workman Family Collection.

In any case, it contains the flowery language and romantic sentiments often found in the era.  For example, in referring to the name Paredon Blanco, Lopez wrote, “the soft accent which the Spaniard gave it and the significance of it seemed to breathe the exotic grandeur of the heights, which were then covered with tiny white pebbles, glistening in the California sunlight.”  The author also offered that the community was “formerly the palce of residence of the aristocrats of the city,” though that assertion might be countered by the fact that many of adobe “town houses” of the ranchero elite who dominated Spanish and Mexican-era Los Angeles were clustered around the Plaza that was the center of the pueblo.

Lopez continued that with “Hollenbeck Heights” consisting of “colonies of people of all nationalities,” it was to be noted that “no longer do the spreading vineyards of those colorful days lie at its white feet.  Gone are the orchards, its waving fields of grain, the shops of the thrifty shoemaker, goldsmith and the pliers of other trades who sang lilting Spanish melodies as they worked.”

This might sound too romantic and fictional, though Lopez claimed that the information for the article came from Francisca Lopez de Bilderrain, who was a first cousin to Isabel’s father.  Yet, it was related that Claudio Lopez was the “son of noble Spanish parents,” and though noble might mean well-mannered and respected, the connection to Spain was certainly several generations back in the family tree.

In any case, Francisca related that Esteban gave some of his Paredon Blanco land to his children and reserved property between what is now Second and Fourth streets for himself and that his adobe house was “on the bluff about thirty feet south of the present site of Second street.”  Although Esteban would have been an “aristocrat” as defined earlier in the piece, it was noted that, regarding the house, “although modest in structure, it was comfortable.”

Among the children he provided with land was Geronimo who was given “a piece of land south of where Seventh street runs at present” and “there another attractive home was erected.”  Geronimo later moved to the area surrounding San Fernando Mission, where Claudio Lopez was once mayordomo or foreman, and established a house and stage stop called Lopez Station and then occupied an adobe house in what is now the City of San Fernando, the Case Lopez Adobe, that is to be reopened, after several years of closure, to the public by early 2013.

Two daughters, Manuela Lopez de Ruiz and Josefa Lopez de Carrión (who later lived in what is now San Dimas, where the Carrion Adobe is still privately held, on the Rancho San Jose, owned by another Lopez daughter and her husband, Ygnacio Palomares), with the former being immediately north of Geronimo and the latter having her house where John and Elizabeth Hollenbeck later established their estate and which is the location of the Hollenbeck Palms senior residential facility.

Then, in 1837, a son, Francisco (Chico) Lopez, who was Francisca Lopez de Bilderrain’s father, was given land adjacent to that of Esteban as a wedding gift.  Within several years, in addition to an adobe residence, Francisco had a successful vineyard and the article noted that he sold grapes to the budding Gold Rush city of San Francisco in 1849 and also sold to local buyers like Mathew Keller, a prominent winemaker of the era.  Keller also resided at the base of the bluffs in what is called the “Flats”.  Francisco’s holdings also included “granaries, workingmen’s quarters, [a] toolroom and silversmith shop where two men made silver and gold filigree jewelry.

Francisca’s recollections were that, in 1855, her father added twenty-five acres of fruit orchards, sugar cane fields and vineyards to the north near Aliso Street and in the Flats.  Two years later, a new adobe house was constructed and she reflected that “as it stood fronting the grandeurs of the west and its sublime sunsets, it was indeed a land made ready by God for human hands to embellish!” 

The twenty-five acres just mentioned was soon given to another of Don Francisco’s daughters, Juanita Lopez de Warren, who married William C. Warren, a Los Angeles city marshal who was killed in an 1870 daylight shootout on a busy street with one of his deputies, and who was the grandmother of longtime Los Angeles County Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz.

Francisca elaborated for her cousin on the types of fruit raised in the orchard, including “peaches, rosy-cheeked pears, oranges, lemons, sweet limes, citrons, walnuts, pomegranates, almonds, applies, mulberry trees, plums” and what were referred to as “Mission figs.”  A nearby garden was “profuse with gorgeous white and pink moss roses, lilacs, snowballs and hollyhocks, verbenas, marigolds, violets and daisies.  Also of note were wooden bath houses, lined with tin, which took water from the zanja or water ditch diverting from the Los Angeles River by flood-gates, and from which emptied water was directed into pools for swimming.

There was also a simple sugar mill, using a horse moving round in a circle while hitched to a pole and thereby crushing the cane, with the juice running into a wooden trough.  After cooking in kettles, the sugar was dried on wood planks before being taken for export.

However, Esteban Lopez died in 1852 and, about six years later, his widow, Petra Varelas, put up part of the Lopez property for sale.  By mentioning both that she had remarried and that the land had been granted by the town council to her husband, Francisca and Isabel Lopez seemed to imply their displeasure with her decision.  In 1858, however, the local economy was in a doldrums, affected by the end of the Gold Rush, the oversupply of cattle and a national depression that erupted the prior year.  A sale might well have been out of financial desperation.

Francisca did, however, refer to the buyer as “the affable and jovial Irishman, Andrew Boyle, who saw the land and took a fancy to it.”  Moving into the Lopez adobe, Boyle began the manufacture of wine in 1862 under the label of Paredon Blanco.  The article then concluded with the reminiscences conveyed to Isabel Lopez by Boyle’s daughter, Maria (pronounced Mariah), whose husband, William Henry Workman founded Boyle Heights in 1875, but much of that story has already been related elsewhere, while the story of the Lopez family has been underrepresented in the historical literature.

Meanwhile, Isabel Lopez went on to write a small book with Pasadena artist Eva Fenyes (whose residence is now the Pasadena Museum of History) called Thirty-Two Adobes of Early California, published by the Southwest Museum in 1950.  Isabel married Alphonse Fages of Pomona and resided in the Casa Alvarado, an 1841 adobe situated within a stone’s throw of the original adobe of Concepcion Lopez de Palomares’ Rancho San Jose home, which the couple bought in 1951.

As for “Hollenbeck Heights,” its use as the replacement for Boyle Heights was entrenched enough for it to be used in this article, but within a short while, the latter term reemerged as the neighborhood name and has remained so since, though occasional calls for a new name have come along.

In any case, romantic and embellished as this article may be, it is a rare, detailed source of information about one of the first families to live in the Boyle Heights area.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California