The Juan Matias Sanchez Adobe and Rancho La Merced

 

After leaving the site of the original San Gabriel mission, we headed over to the Juan Matias Sanchez adobe, which is owned by the city of Montebello and run by the Montebello Historical Society. Tours are given on Saturdays and one of the incredibly fortunate aspects of these tours is that several of the docents are relatives of  Juan Matias Sanchez and have an intimate knowledge of the family. Our guide, Tim Poyorena-Miguel, was a nephew of the Sanchez’s mayordomo and is really able to convey a feeling for the period.

 

Besides some great family stories, Tim told us that the chamber pot/potty chair system was essential for avoiding bear attacks (as happened in the 1850s or so – you don't want to be out in the bushes at night – for any reason) and a pleathura of other information. This tour is a "can't miss."

 

Here’s the simplified version of this convoluted story according to the family genealogical site:

 

1844-1852: In 1844 Dona Casilda Soto de Lobo bought the Rancho la Merced from the Mexican government by paying 50 head of cattle to the San Gabriel Mission  In 1845, she and her 3 grown sons built an adobe on the property. In 1850, she hit hard financial times due to the irresponsibility of one of her sons. She sought a loan from William Workman. When she was unable to repay it, Workman bought the property from her and she lived there until her death. [if this is the case, it is pretty convenient that she was on death's door]

 

Workman sold the property for a dollar to his son-in-law F.P.F. Temple and partner Juan Matias Sanchez as a gift. 

 

1852-1892: Juan Matias settled in the adobe.  In 1872 he and Temple received a patent from the United States Government on the property. Not long after this, the property was put up for collateral on a loan obtained by Temple to shore up the ailing Bank he and Workman owned together.

 

The lender, Lucky Baldwin, required Juan Matias as co-owner to put up his half of the property as well. The loan could not be repaid and the property was foreclosed on. Baldwin allowed Juan Matias to keep the adobe and 200 surrounding acres (possibly a lease agreement)

 

Juan Matias deeded his interest in the adobe to his wife, Matilda Bojorquez in 1882.  In 1885 he passed away and the family lived there until 1892 when Balwin filed an action and acquired the remaining interest in Rancho la Merced. After Baldwin's death [1909] his estate was sold and the adobe and 45 acres was purchased by W.B.Scott in 1915.

 

1915-1972: After Scott's death, the property passed to his wife, Luna M. Scott and later to his children Josephine Scott Crocker and William Keith Scott. In 1972, the adobe was given by the Scott family to the City of Montebello, CA which maintains it as a historical landmark It is also the home of the Montebello Historical Society

946. N. Adobe Ave., Montebello, CA  90640   (323)887-4592

http://www.juanmatiassanchez.com/

 

For the long and convoluted version, refer to " Historic Adobes of LA County" by John R. Kielbasa. It’s really a climb, in terms of a very long post for a relatively small house, but the thing is that all of this local history has everything to do with the relationships between just a few families, some good investments, some bad investments and a fair amount of chance. A widow bankrupted by her son, a hidden tunnel, a nine-year-old boy who discovers a fortune, some shady business dealings, and fortunes lost and won. How a grant of 2,363 acres became about 2 acres in 150 years and how the original landowners had nothing to show for it. Very interesting stuff:

 

Rancho La Merced

During the Spanish period, the San Gabriel Mission was allowed to flourish and managed over 100,000 acres of grazing land. During the Mexican regime, the mission fell victim to the Secularization Act of 1834. This caused much of the mission's assets and land holdings to be sold to private citizens. Rancho La Merced, which means Ranch of the Mercy of God, was among one of the several ranchos that once belonged to the mission. On October 8, 1844, Governor Manuel Micheltorena granted Rancho La Merced to Dona Casilda Soto de Lobo. Dona Casilda was a widow of a soldier assigned to guard the San Gabriel Mission. Micheltorena granted the 2,363 acres to the woman in recognition of her deceased husband's military service. The triangular shaped land grant was also known as Rancho Mission Vieja because the site of the original mission was within its boundaries.

 

The northwest section of Montebello and the southeastern part of Monterey Park now occupy the area of what was Rancho La Merced. One can trace the grant boundaries on a modern street map:

 

Starting from Beverly Boulevard where it crosses the Rio Hondo, the boundary line angled in a northwesterly direction stopping at the intersection of Garfield and Keller Drive in Monterey Park. This formed the southern boundary shared by the Lugo family's Rancho San Antonio. From here a southeasterly line continued following the Edison Company's transformer lines to a point approximately 100 yards north of the Mission Vieja site at San Gabriel Boulevard and Durfee Avenue. Rancho Potrero Chico occupied the area north of this line. The boundary jutted eastward from here past Legg Lake, then curved south to the Whittier Narrows Dam. The line roughly followed the length of the dam west to the Rio Hondo, where it followed the course of the river south back to Beverly Boulevard.

 

Rancho Paso de Portolo bounded La Merced to the west. Paso de Portolo was owned by Don Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California.

 

Under Mexican law, the grantee of a rancho must build a house on the property to establish residency within a year's time. In order to comply with the law, Dona Casilda built her adobe home by 1845. She selected a prime location at the eastern base of the Montebello Hills on a slight bluff overlooking the Rio Hondo. The aging widow had her three sons construct the adobe for her. They first built a small single room with an entrance that faced the river. Sometime between 1845 and 1851, they added another room. The original two rooms built by the Soto family can be identified today as the wing of the adobe that parallels Lincoln Avenue.

 

By 1850, Dona Casilda encountered financial hardships and took out a mortgage loan on La Merced to pay for her mounting debts. She approached an English born ranchero named William Workman for the loan. Workman owned the immense 48,790-acre Rancho La Puente in the eastern part of Los Angeles County. Dona Casilda borrowed $1,225.00 with the stipulation that Workman could assume ownership of the rancho should she default on the loan. The widow was unable to repay the amount of the loan by the date due and she lost her property to Workman. Workman received the deed to the entire Rancho La Merced for $2,500 on May 30, 1851.

 

William Workman was born in Westmoreland County, England in 1802. He came to America when he was a youth, settling in Franklin, Missouri, where his brother David Workman established a saddler business. Later, Workman moved to Taos, New Mexico, where he opened a store and became involved in the fur trade. While here he met a fur trapper by the name of Juan Matias Sanchez. Sanchez often sold his wares to Workman and the two men developed an indestructible, life-long friendship. Years later, this enduring friendship withstood a difficult test of loyalty, in which one friend would sacrifice his entire livelihood to help the other.

 

During his years in Taos, Workman met the famous fur trapper and frontier explorer, Kit Carson. Carson, who had visited California in the 1830's on several overland expeditions, would give Workman sensational accounts of his exploits in the California wilderness. Inspired by Carson's stories, Workman decided to move to California. In 1841, he and John Rowland formed a group of twenty-five people who were willing to make the perilous overl
and journey. The Workman-Rowland Party was comprised of families primarily from Missouri and New Mexico. Included in this wagon train was Benjamin Davis Wilson, who went on to become a rancher and politician. He was the second mayor of Los Angeles under American control in 1851. Starting from Santa Fe, New Mexico, the immigrants followed the Old Spanish Trail often used by the fur trappers before them. They crossed treacherous desert land and arrived at the San Gabriel Mission on November 5, 1841. The Rowland-Workman party was the first American overland wagon train of settler to come to California .

 

William Workman became a Mexican citizen and was betrothed to a Mexican woman, Seorita Nicolassa Uriarte. In 1842, he along with John Rowland received title to Rancho La Puente from Governor Juan B. Alvarado. The two men shared the large rancho several miles east of the mission. Workman built an adobe home on La Puente and raised various livestock eventually acquiring considerable wealth. In 1846, he became a co-owner of Ex-Mission San Gabriel. By the time he purchased Rancho La Merced, he was financially secure. His success was so great that he was able to turn around and virtually give La Merced away the following year. On September 15, 1852, Workman sold Rancho La Merced to Francis Pliney Fisk (F.P.F) Temple and his old friend Juan Matias Sanchez for a grand total of one dollar.

 

F.P.F. Temple was a native of Massachusetts. He was nineteen years old when he came to California via the Horn in 1841. After arriving, he went into business with his older brother, John Temple at Los Angeles. The older Temple came to the area in 1827 and started a lucrative trade business in the pueblo. F.P.F Temple, a physically small man of five feet four inches, became known to his Spanish-speaking contemporaries as "Templito" (Little Temple). On September 7, 1845, Temple married Antonia Margarita Workman, the daughter of William and Nicolassa Workman. They were the first couple with English surnames to be married in Los Angeles. They built a Spanish style adobe on their undivided half interest of Rancho La Merced. Their house was shaped in the form of the letter "U" and measured 70 by 110 feet. The site of Temple's adobe was near the present intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and Rosemead Boulevard just east of Montebello. This adobe and a later brick house built by Temple were both destroyed by fire in the early 1900s.

 

Juan Matias Sanchez took possession of his undivided half interest and moved into the adobe house built by Casilda Soto. Juan Matias Sanchez was born in 1808. He became a fur trapper as a young man and often traveled along the Old Spanish Trail. When his good friend, William Workman went to California, Sanchez was not far behind. Arriving in 1848, Sanchez searched for his old friend from Taos and the two men ended up going into business together. Sanchez became the mayordomo (overseer) of Workman's Rancho La Puente. When the Gold Rush frenzy erupted in 1849, Workman financed Sanchez's trip to the placers of Northern California, providing that he split all profits evenly. The investment paid off very well as Sanchez's search for gold was a success. Workman expressed his gratitude and friendship when he deeded half of La Merced to Sanchez for only one dollar. Sanchez and Temple received an official patent to La Merced in 1873.

 

With his newfound wealth, Sanchez was able to obtain two other ranchos adjoining his section of La Merced. He acquired Potrero Chico (Little Pasture Land), the eighty-three acre diamond shaped tract bordering La Merced to the east. He also purchased Rancho Potrero Grande (Large Pasture Land), which was also one of the original ranchos belonging to the San Gabriel Mission.
It was 4,431 acres of prime grazing land at the south end of the rich San Gabriel Valley. The Potrero Grande was first granted to an Indian, Manuel Antonio, who was a mayordomo at the San Gabriel Mission. When possession of the ranch transferred to Sanchez, he allowed Manuel to remain. This larger grant bordered to the north of Sanchez's two smaller ranchos, Potrero Chico and La Merced. Sanchez's cattle roamed freely about the Potrero Grande and provided him with a steady source of income. Sanchez received a United States patent on this rancho in 1859. Today, most of South El Monte along with parts of cities of El Monte and Rosemead replaced the wide-open fields of Potrero Grande. Potrero Avenue in South El Monte was named after this rancho.

 

Don Sanchez became a man of substantial wealth as a result of his prosperous cattle business. He was able to provide a very comfortable standard of living to his large family. When Sanchez came to California, he married Dona Luisa Archuleta, who was born in 1820. Dona Archuleta was the widow of a man named Rafael Martinez and she had four children by him. During her marriage to Sanchez, the couple had five additional children, Tomas, Francisco A., Maria de la Luz, Juan and Julian L. The bodies of Francisco and Julian Sanchez are buried side by side on the grounds to the south of the adobe. An iron gate surrounds the tiny burial plot with two granite headstones. [actually the gravestones are there, the bodies aren’t]

 

Marrying into an instant family, Don Sanchez found it necessary to expand his two-room adobe. Therefore, about 1854, he added on to the present north wing, which runs in an east/west direction. This new addition became the new front entrance facing the hills. It was during the 1854 expansion that Sanchez placed the current fountain just a few feet north of the adobe. At this time, it is quite possible that Sanchez dug an underground tunnel, which led from the north wing of the adobe to the base of the knoll. In 1985, a friendly and informative docent at the Sanchez adobe stated to the author that this tunnel did in fact exist. The docent said that the secret passageway was built by Sanchez to be used as an avenue of escape in the event of an Indian attack. Sanchez may have received the idea from William Workman, who had previously constructed a similar evacuation tunnel at his hacienda at La Puente. Continuing with his story, the docent stated that there was some type of shelter at the end of the tunnel where the family could safely wait until an uprising subsided. This shelter was razed and the tunnel sealed because transients turned it into a flophouse and it became a refuge for various members of the criminal community.

 

In 1873, Dona Luis Archuleta Sanchez died [possibly murdered by her husband, who had a reputation for gunplay], leaving her husband and nine children. A few years later, Don Sanchez married a young woman named Matilde Bojorquez. This marriage produced three more children for Sanchez, two girls and a boy-Dolores, Rosita and Jose. As Don Sanchez grew older, he recognized the need to secure his family's future. He deeded the adobe and 200 acres of Rancho La Merced to his new wife, Matilde. This turned out to be a wise decision because a short time later, he would lose nearly everything he owned. It was as if he was blessed with the gift of foresight, which helped divert disaster.

 

The story of Juan Matias Sanchez's downfall began in 1871 with the opening of a new bank in Los Angeles. F.P.F. Temple formed a partnership with his father-in-law, William Workman, and established the Temple & Workman Bank on November 23, 1871. This luxuriously ornate bank was located on the first floor of Temple's newly completed Temple Block at Spring and Main Streets (the site of present day city hall). With Workman getting older and preferring to run his rancho, he left the management of the bank to his son-in-law. Both Temple and Workman had no experience in business or finance. Temple, a kind and generous man, would frequently grant loans to people who were without means to repay them. Many unscrupulous individuals preyed upon his kindness and naivete, thereby bilking the bank out of large amounts of money.

 

Late in August 1875, wild speculation in Comstock silver caused a severe financial crash in Northern California. The Bank of California in San Francisco had a massive run on withdrawals, which subsequently led bank president, William C. Ralston, to commit suicide. News of the bank failure hit Los Angeles on August 27, 1875. By noon that day, the Temple and Workman Bank experienced heavy withdrawals and suffered an estimated $125,000 loss. With the strong potential for a second panic-induced run on the bank, which would ruin him, Temple was forced to temporarily close the bank.

 

Temple went to San Francisco to secure a loan to help bail out his ailing bank, but found that most banks there had already failed. Ultimately, Temple appealed to San Francisco millionaire, Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin for a loan. Baldwin made a fortune in the Comstock silver mines in the Sierra Nevada Range and was extremely successful in the San Francisco stock market. He invested heavily in Southern California real estate by purchasing the 13,000 acre Rancho Santa Anita and other properties. Lucky Baldwin was virtually unscathed by the devastating financial crash that thrust most of California into a depression. Baldwin was willing to give Temple a $210,000 loan to bail out his floundering bank, but he imposed harsh terms. These terms included charging a one an a quarter percent monthly interest payment, and that both Temple and Workman would have to mortgage all of their ranchos and their valuable land holdings in Los Angeles, including Temple Block. Furthermore, Baldwin would not agree to the loan unless the dear friend of both Temple and Workman – Juan Matias Sanchez, would mortgage his ranch lands as well.

 

Don Sanchez had a difficult decision to make. He was compelled by loyalty to assist his old and valued friends, but at the same time he feared losing everything he owned. Faced with this dilemma, Sanchez sought advice from another long time friend, Harris Newmark. Newmark, a native of Germany and a shrewd Los Angeles merchant, urged Sanchez to refuse to offer his land as a security for the Temple and Workman loan. Sanchez promised that he would do so and told Newmark; "No quiero morir de hambre," which means; "I do not want to die of hunger" . However, Sanchez changed his mind and decided to help his friends. He mortgaged his half of Rancho La Merced and his entire holdings in Rancho Potrero Grande and Rancho Potrero Chico.

 

Temple received Baldwin's money and reopened the Temple and Workman Bank on December 6, 1875. On that day, $90,000 was deposited and only $20,000 was withdrawn. There was no panic run on the bank, but accounts slowly dwindled. Many lost faith due to the long suspension, the widely known provisions of the Baldwin loan and Temple's substandard loan policies. Once again the bank was low on funds by early January 1876. Temple requested more money from Baldwin and received an additional amount of $100,000 to cover a second rash of withdrawals. The desperate run on the failing institution continued and on January 13, 1876, the Temple and Workman Bank was forced to close its doors for the last time.

 

Lucky Baldwin came to Los Angeles on January 17th and foreclosed all the mortgaged properties of Temple, Workman, and Sanchez. Baldwin bought all the deeds through a Sheriff's auction, thus becoming one of the largest landowners in the state at that time. Sanchez lost all of his land except for the 200 acres and his beloved adobe home, which he previously deeded to his second wife. William Workman was the first casualty of the bank failure. Not only had he lost all he owned, he took full blame for the losses of his devoted friend Juan Sanchez. On May 17, 1876, a distraught and broke William Workman ended his life at his house on La Puente. The seventy-five year old man shot himself in the head with a revolver.

 

A humiliated F.P.F Temple became severely depressed following the bank closure. He retired to his adobe home on La Merced, of which he was able to save a small portion, by transferring ownership to his wife. Harassment by angry creditors continued to plague him throughout the rest of his life. The pressure was too extreme and caused him to suffer a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. On April 27, 1880 Temple passed away as a result of apoplexy at what was left of his Rancho La Merced. He died a penniless in a sheepherder's shack in the corner of the rancho.

 

In the spring of 1914, F.P.F. Temple's nine-year-old grandson, Thomas Workman Temple II, was wandering about the fields of his father's property known as "Temple's Four Corners". At the time, Thomas' father, Walter P. Temple, owned the old adobe house built by his father, F.P.F. Temple. This was the tract of land that was saved from the Baldwin foreclosure. While young Thomas Temple was searching for lizards in
the wild oat fields, he came across a natural gas source spewing from a pool of water in the hills on property his father purchased in 1912. This was an indication that oil may lie beneath the ground. The Standard Oil Company commenced drilling operations on the site in April 1917. This was beginning of the Montebello Oil Field, which once again brought wealth to the respectable Temple and Workman families. Since 1917 the Montebello Oil Field has produced over 200 million barrels oil and continues to pump approximately 1000 barrels per day. Thomas Workman Temple II went on to become a historian of the San Gabriel Mission and was an expert genealogist focusing on old California families.

 

Juan Matias Sanchez, surviving his two comrades, spent his last years at his adobe overlooking the Rio Hondo. It was here that he too died in poverty in 1885. What he lacked in money, he more than made up for in honor, loyalty and generosity. His widow, Matilde, continued to occupy the house until her own death in 1892. Subsequent to her death, Baldwin filed a lawsuit against the Sanchez children for the rest of La Merced. Baldwin won the claim and was awarded the adobe and the remaining 200 acres. The Sanchez heirs were able to recoup their family's lost fortune when their property interests in the Santa Fe Springs area yield a bounty of crude oil in the 1920s.

 

When E.J. Baldwin died in 1909, his estate sold the Sanchez adobe and the surrounding property to a group of men who were involved in the oil business. These men were attracted to the area when crude oil was discovered in the Montebello Hills in 1914. The oil men divided the La Merced interests among themselves and used the property to build their country estates. One of the investors was W.B. Scott, who selected forty-five acres for himself, including the Sanchez adobe. In 1915, Scott received title to the property, and he, along with his family, took up residence in the seventy-year-old structure. By that time, the old place suffered from deterioration and substantial refurbishment was needed to make the house habitable. Scott had the roof replaced and installed the current dormer windows. The wide hipped roof added an extra half story to the original first level of the house. The ceilings were decorated with various paintings and gold leaf designs. The majority of the exterior woodwork, including the planked corredores (porches) and support posts were added later. The quaint adobe was transformed to quite a showpiece.

 

Upon Scott's death, the adobe and surrounding ranch land was left to his wife who established the W. B. Scott Investment Company to manage the property. When Scott's wife died the estate was bequeathed to their children, William Keith Scott and Josephine Scott Crocker. In 1957 the last of the forty-five acres was subdivided, except for the Soto-Sanchez adobe and six lots. Josephine Scott Crocker held the title to the structure and remaining lots when she set it aside for designation as a historic landmark. The adjacent subdivision developed into the pleasant residential neighborhood that appears today in northeastern Montebello. In this part of the city one can drive down Sanchez Street, Avenida de La Merced, Scott Avenue and Adobe Avenue, which were all named to serve as reminders to the present-day homeowners of the historic heritage of their town.

 

Mrs. Crocker hired architect, Eugene E. Hougham, to assist with the restoration of the Soto-Sanchez adobe. The plan was to restore the home to its original state, as it appeared in the mid-1840s. When completed, the Montebello Historical Society supplied antique furnishings and a myriad of nineteenth century artifacts to the adobe. In 1971, Mrs. Crocker gave the city of Montebello the title to the Soto-Sanchez adobe. The city has continued with the upkeep and operation of the house as a history museum. The adobe was recognized by the city of Montebello as a historic site on June 24, 1972. The adobe museum underwent recent renovations and was rededicated on May 12, 1990. The structure is a fine example of a typical Southern California rancho hacienda of the mid-1800s.

 

Inside, an outstanding collection of old photographs depicting the early years of the adobe and Rancho La Merced are displayed. Also, an array of antique items which were typically found on an old rancho may be viewed. On the outside, the rear courtyard area, with its plain gravel ground, is a perfect example of how adobe courtyards appeared in the days of Juan Sanchez. It was common to keep these areas free from an abundance of decorative vegetation because it gave the occupants of the house a clear and unobstructed view of the countryside. This was required for rancheros that lived isolated out in the wilderness, so they could see a potential Indian attack from an adequate distance, thus giving them time to plan a defense.

 

Today, a peaceful little park surrounds the Soto-Sanchez adobe. There is a small, shaded picnic area at the southeast end of the bluff where someone could enjoy an outdoor lunch or just sit and wonder about what life was like at this rancho hacienda about 150 years ago. The Sanchez adobe is currently open to the public for guided tours.

"The Historic Adobes of Los Angeles County" by John R. Kielbasa

 

 

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~ by ravenjake on July 26, 2009.

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