The San Fernando Valley has experienced a great evolution over the last several centuries from bucolic fields to economic powerhouse. Quiet and peaceful for years, it served as Southern California’s breadbasket for decades until Angelenos looked to its empty vistas as places to escape harsh, city life. What had been a vast agricultural and ranching engine eventually became hedgerows of homes and factories.
For centuries, Indians lived here peaceably until the Spanish arrived and claimed the land, later establishing the San Fernando Rey Mission in 1797. Indians and settlers farmed and ranched the land on behalf of the mission, until Isaac Lankershim and Isaac Newton Van Nuys purchased 60,000 acres on July 2, 1869, and established the San Fernando Homestead Assn., later reorganized as the Los Angeles Farm and Milling Co. In 1888, Lankershim established the Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Co. to subdivide the land, starting the migration of Americans to this rich undeveloped area.
A Bonner Fruit Co. label listed on EBay for $16.76.
During the last half of the 1880s, alfalfa and wheat filled vast fields next to lands where sheep and cattle grazed. In 1887, Mrs. E. M. Rose planted the first orange orchard with seeds shipped from Florida, inaugurating the area as a major citrus and fruit-growing area, per the book, “The San Fernando Valley: Then and Now.” Farmers began growing all types of fruits, nuts and melons in the area, leading to the Toluca/Lankershim area being nicknamed “The Home of the Peach” in 1893.
In a glowing Sept. 22, 1912, story, the Los Angeles Times describes how the area became a peach powerhouse. The article praises the sandy loam, which produces such bounteous crops, which “will produce any kind of vegetable…which will survive the climate of the locality…” What they called “dry farming,” cultivating the land without irrigation and pulverizing the dirt and applying it as mulch, gave these wonderful results. “Under these conditions and materials the peach grows to perfection. The flavor of the fruit could not be better by irrigating, and as the crops are, with a few single exceptions, always as heavy as the trees will bear, it becomes not only unnecessary to irrigate, but it would be decidedly unwise to do so.”
W. H. Andrews was one of these farmers, growing fruit and dreaming of a way to reach vast markets with his produce. In Aug. 16, 1894, he, along with several others, established the Toluca Farm Growers Assn. to buy, sell, dry and handle fruit, vegetables and farm products. Andrews’ barn at the northwest corner of Lankershim Boulevard and Magnolia Boulevard, then known as 4th Street, served as a canning plant. Another canning company, the Toluca Fruit Co., was established a few years later.
Andrews established the Bonner Fruit Co. in 1907 across the street from the Southern Pacific depot at the south side of Chandler Boulevard, in what is now North Hollywood Park, to can peaches, apricots, pears and tomatoes. In 1910, he purchased the neighboring Toluca Fruit Co., which had been closed a few years, to erect a new 50-foot by 200-foot warehouse and spent $20,000 improving the property to help can the 400 tons of apricots and 1,000 tons of peaches his company was churning out.
By 1914, The Times reported that the company was enlarged and remodeled to handle the 3,500 tons of apricots and 5,000 tons of peaches that needed to be preserved and canned. Farmers were reaping $25 a ton for their apricots in this period.
In 1924, crops ran only half as large as normal and financial pressures forced Bonner out of business, with the eight acres purchased by 30 men who hoped to establish North Hollywood’s version of the Hollywood Athletic Club. When that failed to come to fruition, they established the park, with a swimming pool and recreation area instead.
Over the next couple of decades as homebuilding exploded, most of the ranch land gave way to tract homes and the Valley as agricultural center was no more.
At the far south of the Mission San Fernando Valley land, on the site of the Campo de Cahuenga, the Studio City Neighborhood Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee is hosting its third annual Luminaria Festival on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Campo de Cahuenga, 3919 Lankershim Blvd. in Studio City, with free entertainment, refreshments and children’s activities. Come enjoy the holiday season surrounded by beautiful luminaries.