The Edward A.D. Christopher home, photograph by Mary Mallory.
With the speed of change in technology, transportation, and society, it’s often amazing that something historic survives. The Edward A. D. Christopher home at 11015 Aqua Vista Street in Studio City is such a specimen, a simple farmhouse which is a survivor and witness to the evolution of San Fernando Valley history for over 109 years. Time perhaps could be catching up to the home, and it needs your help to prevent demolition at the Thursday, February 9, 2017, Planning Commission meeting.
The Christopher home remains as one of the last vestiges of an original ranch home constructed when the Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Company began colonizing the former Rancho de San Fernando with white farmers in the late 1800s. On July 2, 1869, the San Fernando Farm Homestead Association purchased all interest in the ex Mission de San Fernando Rancho from Pio Pico. They also brought a suit for partition against the heirs of Eulogio de Celix and received full title to the southerly portion of the Valley.
Hollywood at Play, by Donovan Brandt, Mary Mallory and Stephen X. Sylvester is now on sale.
A photograph of the 1938 flood, possibly showing the Christopher home.
The Los Angeles Farm and Milling Company succeeded the San Fernando Farm Homestead Association in 1880, and on February 7, 1880, stockholders of the dissolving association deeded the southern half of the Valley to it. Early in 1888, the Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Company, composed of J. B. Lankershim, Isaac Van Nuys, F. C. Garbutt, L. T. Garnsey, S. W. Luitweiler, William Bogel, C. W. Smith, and W. S. De Van, purchased 12,000 acres of the lower part of the former Rancho de San Fernando to subdivide into farms.
On April 1, 1888, the organization offered ready-made small farms for sale, ranging in size from 40-120 acres, already planted with nut and deciduous fruit trees—mostly walnuts, peaches, apricots, and pears—which they claimed in advertisements could survive the hot, rainless summers of the San Fernando Valley. In this way, they hoped to attract white “gentlemen farmers” to this vast southeastern section of the Valley, thereby making the San Fernando Valley an important agricultural supplier to the rest of the country, per the book “From Cows to Concrete: The Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles.”
For almost the next 50 years, the vast tract operated as farms and ranches to white immigrants who ventured West seeking a better life and a new adventure. They mostly became wheat and alfalfa farmers instead, dry farming because of the lack of irrigation. The circa 1908 Christophers’ fruit ranch was an example of one of the small gentlemen farms operating independently throughout the former Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Company property.
Over the next 150 years, what was an undeveloped and arid valley of ranchos was transformed into a dense urban population and economic powerhouse, home to some of the nation’s largest agricultural producers, major motion picture studios, as well as aeronautic, defense, and automobile industries. It served as a relentless real estate growth machine rapidly subdividing the Valley and selling its image of prosperity and plenty to people throughout the United States and World.
The Lankershim Ranch land in the southeastern part of the San Fernando Valley remained mostly an agricultural operation, starting as sheep farm but switched over to wheat after a major drought in the 1870s, eventually becoming the largest producer in the world per Kevin Roderick in his book, “The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb.”
Edward Christopher and his wife Clara purchased their acreage in 1908 from the McCormick family, who had originally bought it from the Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Company to develop as their own small ranch. That year Christopher constructed his simple Craftsman-style house, possibly the oldest extant house in Studio City and a very rare, surviving example of a pre-annexation single-family residence in the San Fernando Valley (the City of Los Angeles annexed the San Fernando Valley in 1915).
The Christopher home on Aqua Vista as seen via Google Street View.
Originally from New York and the East Coast, the Christophers relocated to Fresno in 1900 before moving to Los Angeles in 1904 in search of good land, sunshine, and prosperity. Mr. Christopher sold real estate all over Los Angeles and worked as a contractor when the couple purchased the property in 1908. They built a simple rectangular shaped home facing Vineland Avenue, with its south wall facing both Rio Vista Street and the Los Angeles River. It featured decorative touches like original double-hung, wood sash windows with distinctive flared vertical trim that narrows as it tapers from the wider window sill to the top trim, along with river rock columns and porches, very rare in the southeastern end of the San Fernando Valley. The house sits at the exact location where it was built in 1908.
Mr. Christopher listed himself as a fruit farmer on the 1910 United States Federal Census, which lists the then address of the home as 4203 Vineland Avenue. The Christophers also owned multiple lots in the River View Tract surrounding the home, providing water from the well on their property.
The house stands as witness to major changes in the San Fernando Valley, pre-dating major transportation, industrial, and infrastructure introductions that would lead to massive changes over the next century. In 1910, the Southern Pacific Railroad purchased all of Henry Huntington’s interests in a vast chain of electric railways spreading over four counties in the Los Angeles basin. They consolidated all of their Southern California holdings into one system, the Pacific Electric Railway on September 1, 1911, per Raphael Long’s “Red Car Days.” They completed construction of a leg connecting Hollywood with the town of Lankershim and Van Nuys, opening it on December 16, 1911. The line crossed the Cahuenga Pass, and ventured north up Vineland Avenue on its way to Lankershim. Pacific Electric obtained part of Christopher’s front acreage to build its right of way on Vineland, and in return, created the Rio Vista stop on the property (the shelter still survives at the Travel Town Museum).
Construction of the current Universal Studios also post-dates the Christopher home. The Universal Film Manufacturing Company purchased the 750-acre Taylor Ranch in 1914, and began constructing their new ranch and film studio, to replace the smaller one in what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery. This state-of-the-art studio opened its doors March 15, 1915, more than eight years after the construction of the Christopher residence.
A tract map of the Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Co., via UCLA Special Collections and the Online Archive of California.
While the Christophers possessed a windmill and well with which to water their crops, most San Fernando Valley farmers relied strictly on dry farming, limiting the types of plants and produce they could grow. Those near the river or creeks could cultivate various types of fruit, but those farmers farther away focused their attention on wheat and alfalfa, which required little rain to produce. San Fernando Valley residents voted for annexation by the city of Los Angeles in 1915 in order to obtain water from the new Los Angeles Aqueduct which stretched to the Owens River Valley. The Christopher residence predates the aqueduct by seven years.
The Christopher home survived major floods of the Los Angeles River in El Nino years as well. Floods in the 1910s caused damage throughout the San Fernando Valley. A major flood in mid-February 1927 washed out several bridges along the Los Angeles River in what is now Studio City, including the Vineland Avenue streetcar bridge, which has just been constructed in steel the year before. Massive floods in early March 1938 washed out virtually every bridge from Barham Boulevard to beyond Laurel Canyon Boulevard, once again demolishing the Vineland Avenue streetcar bridge. The Christopher residence survived the floods thanks to its location north of Aqua Vista street.
Over the decades, the area surrounding the home and the community itself evolved into a suburb of Los Angeles, filled with residential homes, apartment buildings, and commercial enterprises like CBS Radford Studios, the old Republic Studios, becoming completely urbanized. In 1962, part of the property east and north of the house was subdivided to create an apartment building.
Over the last two years, I have attended city meetings and planning sessions trying to save the home, as well as attempted to gain Historic Cultural Monument designation for it. This hearing on Thursday, February 9 could determine its final fate: either to remain or possibly be demolished for a condo development. Voices in support would be greatly appreciated. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org using the Subject Line: Case No. TT-72928-CN-1A urging retention of Studio City’s oldest extant home, one of the last vestiges of the gentlemen farms created by the subdividing of the Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Company. Without your support, a witness to the vast evolution of the San Fernando Valley could be itself erased from history.