You might have heard members of El Sereno's Historical Society refer to El Sereno as "The Last of the Independent". This title is not meant to mean that El Sereno is somehow anti-social; on the contrary, the title is referring to El Sereno's unique history. From the beginning of unrecorded history, up to today's modern age of technology, one thing has remained constant: the little known and under-appreciated historic Arroyo Rosa de Castilla. El Sereno's long and rich history was greatly influenced by the role this small stream would play; helping to shape our enduring and unique history, giving El Sereno the special title of The Last of the Independent.
The history of El Sereno stretches back to before the arrival of the Spanish. It is noted that the ancient native village of Otsungna existed in what now is El Sereno. Although no archeological records exist, the recorded annals left by the San Gabriel Mission Franciscans tell us that this village existed alongside a stream that ran North to South through the what is now El Sereno. The village of Otsungna relied on the source of water to meet their daily life’s needs.
During the Spanish Mission period, the little Arroyo served its purpose as well. One of the original 36 adobes was built next to the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla in 1776 by Spanish Vaqueros. The San Gabriel Mission was said to be one of the best producers and growers of all that could be cultivated. Its cattle herds brought in large profits to the Mission coffers; selling hides to the visiting foreign ships was a lucrative business, more so when it was done by very keen and business savvy Mission fathers.
Soon after Mexico's Independence from Spain (1821), the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla was included in the 1831 land grant given to Juan Ballesteros. He was the Regidor of the Pueblo of Los Angeles from 1823-1824. He named the Rancho "Rosa de Castilla" after the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla which ran through the area. This arroyo was the same one that had served the native village of Otsungna. Rancho Rosa de Castilla included what is now El Sereno, parts of Lincoln Heights, South Pasadena, Alhambra, City Terrace, and Monterey Park. After the secularization of the missions in 1833, the Rancho and the stream passed to Francisco (Chico) Lopez. He had a home in Paredon Blanco (now Boyle Heights), but kept his cattle here. In the late 1840s he obtained title to a ranch near Lake Elizabeth in northern Los Angeles County and moved his cattle from Rancho Rosa de Castilla to this ranch. The Rancho and Arroyo become the property of one Father Anacleto Lestrade, a priest of Our Lady of the Angels Church on the Plaza.
Map is courtesy of Ann Dove of the National Service and J. Hall/LA Creek Freak
The next big event in the Arroyo’s legacy comes in 1852, when Jean-Baptiste (Juan Bautista) Batz and his wife Catalina Hegui Batz, who had arrived in California from Argentina in 1850, acquired the adobe ranch house from Lestrade. While the story of immigrants coming to the U.S. and becoming wealthy is not unique in and of itself, the facts behind how the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla allowed the Batz family to become wealthy land owners, has not been fully credited. The fact that the Batz family had the Arroyo within their land allowed the family to be able to keep the Rancho’s sheep herds well tended and the crops well watered. In fact, because of this little Arroyo Rosa de Castilla, the Batz family was able to continue acquiring land at the same time other Ranchos were being sold and sub-divided.
Jean-Baptiste engaged in farming and sheep ranching until his death on December 6, 1859. Under the Homestead Act, Catalina Batz received official title to the 160 acres upon which the adobe stood in 1776. Between 1860 and up to Ms. Catalina Hegui Batz’s death in 1882, Ms. Batz was able to expand the size of the Rancho; the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla afforded her the water needed to do so. She proceeded to purchase land from the surrounding owners, eventually encompassing a total of 3,283 acres.
It is important to note that water was very precious in early Los Angeles County history. Not having a good source of water meant that you were at the mercy of the weather for your farm’s crops and cattle. No rain meant disaster for many, causing farmers to take ut loans or sell parts of their land in order to pay land taxes and get by till at least the next season. Two or three years of bad rainfall meant the end of most farms and Ranchos; many Rancho owners were forced to sell off parts of the land in order to repay loans and/or pay the taxes owed on the land. The majority of the Ranchos surrounding Rancho Rosa de Castilla fell to this fate. The land was sub-divided and developed into housing tracts.
To the west of Rancho Rosa de Castilla was the community of East Los Angeles (later Lincoln Heights), subdivided in 1873 by Dr. John S. Griffin and his nephew Hancock M. Johnston. To the southwest was Boyle Heights, subdivided in 1876 by W.H. Workman. To the east was the town of Alhambra, subdivided in 1874 by Benjamin D Wilson and Ramona/Shorb founded by James de Barth Shorb. To the north was the community of Pasadena, subdivided in 1874.
The Arroyo afforded the Batz Family with the means to their wealth, allowing them to resist falling into the pit of debt and the use of land to pay it off. All of what is El Sereno today was once part of Rancho Rosa de Castilla, El Sereno’s boundaries with its neighbors made possible by the little known stream dubbed long ago-Arroyo Rosa de Castilla. The Arroyo was largely allowed to continue its flow undisturbed up to the 1960s, when it was finally routed under-ground.
One is still able to see part of this historic Arroyo today. There is a short section alongside the 710, as you enter the freeway from Valley Blvd, which has been left uncovered. A close inspection will reveal that the Arroyo is still flowing with the life giving liquid used by so many over the years. Although the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla has been encased into a cement canal, this small portion was left uncovered, left open just enough to remind us that it is still there. Maybe to help remind us of the important role it had in the shaping of our community and its history. Maybe it’s time we gave this little always-flowing Arroyo the recognition it rightly deserves. A plaque and its rightful place in the annals of LA’s and El Sereno’s history, is the least we can do for the Arroyo that has allowed us to be El Sereno: Last of the Independent.
2nd article written by J. Garcia, founding member of the El Sereno Historical Society; featured in Our Town-El Sereno in August 2012.
Support our effort to get our local El Sereno history recognized. Visit: SurveyLA.mindmixer.com and second our proposals for historic recognition. It's one way we can share our long and rich history as well as help to preserve what we have today for the future generations.
There is also a great article featuring the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla in The Eastsider LA website.
For more information about LA's historic rivers and streams, visit: LA Creek Freak. (These folks also present a great post with unique pics and info about the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla).
El Sereno Historical Society's Mission is to ensure the preservation of our community's historic landmarks for future generations. Currently, the proposed 710 Extension poses a very real threat to the future of the Historic Arroyo Rosa de Castilla. All the proposed Freeway Alternatives have El Sereno as the primary route for the 710's extension.
If the 710 freeway is allowed to be built anywhere within El Sereno, there is a high probability of totally destroying the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla, given that it will have to be rerouted or tapped at it's source.
The 710 extension will also impede any future efforts to restore the Arroyo as a naturally flowing stream. All of the areas of the Arroyo that are currently still open will cease to exist.
The preservation of Arroyo Rosa de Castilla is another reason the 710 Extension needs to be scrapped and a more environmentally friendly and community sensitive alternative needs to be found.
Above: In these 1948 aerial photos, you can follow Arroyo Rosa de Castilla's path; from the natural spring from which it flowed out of, down through El Sereno, along what is now the 710 freeway and into Monterey Park/Easl L.A. There are breaks in the Arroyo's path, where the Arroyo is diverted into underground culverts, caused by the construction of major streets (Alhambra Ave & Valley Blvd) and Railroad tracks (Southern Pacific line). Otherwise, the photos show the Arroyo's natural flow since before the arrival of the Spanish Missionaries. Photo is property of El Sereno Historical Society.
The first half of Arroyo Rosa de Castilla's quiet and steady journey from where it sprang up from the under-ground spring and flowed down through the community of El Sereno.
Close up of Arroyo Rosa de Castilla, as it continues pass Alhambra Ave., then Valley Blvd, and finally through what is now the 710 freeway. The large empty hill in the bottom center of the photo is the area Cal State L.A. now occupies.
Above: A better view of Arroyo Rosa de Castilla as it flows past the middle of two hills. The Arroyo is flowing through the area the 710 currently occupies. The large roadway on the left is the 10 freeway, known as Ramona Road prior to the 10 freeway's construction. The area in-between the hills with the large clump of trees growing alongside the Arroyo, is probably very near the site where the historic adobe built in 1776 once stood.
In 1955 the hills began to get bull-dozed and leveled down in order to way for what is now Cal State University L.A. (CSULA) The hills/dirt was carted off and used as a source of fill material for freeway construction (Info from R. Lerner Archives/CSULA).
The Arroyo Rosa de Castilla was largely left free-flowing until the mid-1960s, when most of the Arroyo was diverted into concrete canals and buried underground. Although still flows down what was once its natural stream bed, the only portions of the Arroyo that can still be seen are alongside the 710 S. First, as you enter the 710 on-ramp from Valley Blvd, immediately to your right you'll see an open concrete culvert. A careful inspection will reveal that there is still much water flowing in the Arroyo. The second other portion of the Arroyo that can still be seen is also on the 710 S, on the right hand side, before the Cesar Chavez exit.
Below are a series of aerial photographs taken in the late 1950. The Higgins Brick and Tile Company owned part of the land south of the 10 freeway. The Arroyo Rosa de Castilla can be seen flowing down the center. Cal State LA was in the early stages of being built. Photos are courtesy of USC Digital Library.
Series of maps acquired from the United States Department of Commerce. The maps show Arroyo Rosa de Castilla's current flow, most of which has been diverted underground, in concrete pipes and canals. Only a portion of the Arroyo is still visible; That is what is left to honor El Sereno's historic and life giving Arroyo Rosa de Castilla.
Prior to the arrival of the Spanish missionaries, the area now called the San Gabriel Valley was populated by Native Americans of the Tongva Nation. The Spanish renamed them the Gabrielinos. The founding of the San Gabriel Mission by Spanish Franciscans took place in 1771, in the area that is now known as Whittier Narrows on the border between Montebello and Rosemead.
In 1776, the mission was moved to avoid the spring floods that ruined the first crops, to its present location in the City of San Gabriel. The El Sereno area, then known as the Mission Hills, was part of the lands owned by the Mission San Gabriel Archangel and was used for grazing cattle.
That same year, one of the 36 original adobes in California's history was built on what is now the campus of California State University, Los Angeles.
After Mexico's Independence from Spain (1821), the Rancho Rosa de Castilla (Rose of Castile Ranch) was granted to the prominent Californio Juan Ballesteros by Governor Manuel Victoria. Juan Ballesteros was the Regidor of the Pueblo of Los Angeles from 1823 - 1824. The land grant owned by Juan Ballesteros was christened Rancho Rosa de Castilla in 1831. The Rancho was named after the stream which ran (runs) through the area (This stream is the same one that still runs adjacent to Cal State LA and the 710 freeway. You can still see the creek as you enter the 710 S on Valley Blvd).
Rancho Rosa de Castilla included what today are the communities of El Sereno, parts of City Terrace, South Pasadena, Alhambra, and Monterey Park. After the secularization of the missions in 1833, the ranch passed to Francisco (Chico) Lopez. He had a home in Paredon Blanco (now Boyle Heights), but kept his cattle here.
In 1840 he expanded the adobe on the ranch which had been built by workers from the Mission in 1776 (the adobe was destroyed by a fire in 1908). If the adobe was standing today, it would be located in what is now the City of Alhambra near Westmont Drive and Jurich Place (others give the location as the northeastern tip of Cal State L.A. campus, alongside the Long Beach Freeway at the Hellman Ave.-Gravois Avenue bridge; somewhere between these 4 streets is the best guess). In the late 1840s he obtained title to a ranch near Lake Elizabeth in northern Los Angeles County and moved his cattle from Rancho Rosa de Castilla to this ranch.
Following the Mexican-American War (1848), California became part of the United States. A land claim for Rancho Rosa de Castilla was filed with the Public Land Commission in 1851 by Anacleto Lestrade, a priest at the San Gabriel Mission. In 1852, the Rosa de Castilla grant failed to receive confirmation from the Land Commission. The Board of Land Commissioners rejected the claim because of (a) unclear boundaries, and (b) that the original grantee, Juan Ballesteros, had not occupied the land continuously as required. Since Rancho Rosa de Castilla had failed to receive confirmation, parts of it were sold off, creating a few smaller historical Ranchos as well as areas deemed “public land”.
In 1852, Basque émigré Jean-Baptiste (Juan Bautista) Batz and his wife Catalina Hegui Batz, bought a quarter of a section of land of what was once the Rancho Rosa de Castilla, owned by Juan Ballesteros. Juan Bautista Batz and his wife Catalina were Basques who first immigrated to Argentina and later, in 1850, came to California. The Batz's family settled in the original adobe home built in 1776, in what is now part of the Cal State L.A. campus. Mr. Batz retained the name Rancho Rosa Castilla, inspired by the wild roses that grew along-side the stream since the Mission days. A stream that once flowed south across the middle of the Rancho area, and never officially named, is today enclosed in a flood control channel that parallels the eastern boundary of the campus, alongside the 710 freeway (same stream mentioned earlier).
This stream was essential to the Rancho. Not only did it provide water for the grazing flocks, but it was also used for swimming by the children, by wild geese during migration, as well as the occasional wandering crane. Drinking water for the home was provided by a nearby well. Juan and Catalina Batz would eventually have a total of 7 children, six of which were born and raised on the Rancho Rose de Castilla: Domingo, Marta, Rafael, Jose Domingo, Francisca and Pedro Amado (the eldest daughter, Ana Maria, was born in Argentina). The land was originally used as a sheep ranch, but as survival depended on the ability to adapt, droughts and other factors caused a gradual shift into agriculture; sheep gave way to hay and barley as the principal products. Owing to their ancient Basque heritage of farming and raising sheep, the Batz family was able to thrive, adding more and more parcels of pasture land and rolling hills. Extensive interviews with the descendents of Juan and Catalina Batz, as well as the methodical and exhaustive research conducted by prior historians and research specialist paint life on the Rancho as a picturesque and independent existence.
“Although near Los Angeles, the ranch was not quite close enough to rely on city purchasing, and was self-contained with its own food supplies. There were horses, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and so on. There was the outdoor horno (dome-shaped oven) for baking. There was no smokehouse; they preferred to salt meat rather than smoke it. Although grapes were not grown, they were bought elsewhere, and there were wine cellars and a place for making wine. The half-dozen ranch hands all expected wine with their meals”.
Juan Bautista engaged in farming and sheep ranching until his untimely death on December 6, 1859. While returning from Los Angeles, Juan Baustista was reportedly killed by either being thrown from a wild horse or by a runaway team of horses. However he was killed, the fact is he died at a relatively young age of 48. Under the Homestead Act, Catalina received the official title to the land, to which she continued to purchase additional parcels of land in order to protect the family’s grazing land from encroachment.
By the time of her death on February 22, 1882, at the age of 66, Catalina Batz had amassed a total of 3,283 acres of land, enough land to sustain the family’s massive flock of 2800 sheep. At this point, the Rancho Rosa de Castilla covered what is now El Sereno, south across Valley Blvd, east to the edge of Los Angeles, and to the southwestern corner of Alhambra, including the area that was to become Cal State Univ. L.A.
In 1882, after both Juan Baustista and wife Catalina had died, the Rancho was sub-divided among the 6 unmarried Batz children. The Batz children assembled in the downtown L.A. law office of Henry O’Melveny. Here, each one drew straws for their one-sixth portion of the estate. Thus, the Rancho Rosa de Castilla was unceremoniously divided. After 106 years, the last remaining area originally dubbed Rancho Rosa de Castilla by the Franciscan missionaries and part of the original territory administered under the San Gabriel Mission came to its final end. The land remained undeveloped for much of the 1880s-1900s. With the arrival of the Baird brothers, land began to be acquired for the purpose of real-estate development. George Baird became a prominent figure in the area, buying up much of the land that was first developed into housing tracts. Through his friendship with Henry Huntington, the Baird's Railway Station was created along the Pacific Electric Line. Soon, more people began to settle in what was later known as Bairdstown. On June 10,1915, Bairdstown was annexed into the City of Los Angeles and reunited with part of the Arroyo Seco annexation area to reform what was before known as Rancho Rosa de Castilla and is today El Sereno. In 1917, the official name of this historic town was formally changed to El Sereno.
The History of El Sereno is brought to you by the dedicated members of the El Sereno Historical Society. Our Goal is to bring the residents and public authentic, accurate, and reliable information concerning the history of El Sereno.
We would like to thank the staff of Our Town-El Sereno magazine (Julio Torres) for allowing the El Sereno Historical Society to feature some of our community’s long and unique history. We hope to continue doing so every month. We also want to acknowledge George Casen and Robert Lerner for their generous contribution and use of their historical research as well as for their professional support/guidance.
First article written by Jorge Garcia, founding member of the El Sereno Historical Society; featured in Our Town-El Sereno, June 2012.
The Edison Barn
Said to be the oldest barn in Los Angeles, we are currently conducting preliminary research to find out more about this barn. The property owner on which the barn sits has stated that it was used as a Pony Express Station and that it was built in 1890.
Though it's doubtful that it was part of the Pony Express in these late years, it might have been part of a local Stage Coach overland route that provided passenger service from Los Angeles to other cities within California. What is for certain is that the barn is very old and that the owner has taken steps to preserve it in it's natural state. We hope to uncover more of it's history and be able to share it with the community and the public.