A photo of the original museum at Campo de Cahuenga, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Note: This is an encore from 2012.
Driving south down Lankershim Boulevard from Toluca Lake into Universal City, it’s hard to miss the skyscrapers, soundstages, and flashing billboard of Universal Studios on the south side of the street. On the north side of the street in Studio City, surrounded by the MTA Universal City subway station parking lot and hard to see, sits a small Spanish building called the Campo de Cahuenga. At this location on Jan. 13, 1847, Col. John C. Fremont signed a treaty with Andreas Pico, ceding California to the United States. Here, California’s Spanish past merged with America’s western expansion to help eventually create our bustling state.
In 1844, Don Tomas Feliz built a small adobe of six rooms here as a farmhouse. Here, he and his family attended their small crops until that fateful January day. Afterward, life returned to normal, with the family farming the land. The little house’s place in history slowly receded from memory. In 1897, Los Angeles school Principal J. M. Guinn suggested the home should be marked and preserved, but nothing came of his idea. Horatio Rust of South Pasadena successfully pushed a bill through the state Legislature in 1902 to recognize the location, but Governor Gage vetoed it. As J. M. Miller, in the brochure entitled, “Fremont-Pico Memorial Park,” issued by the Campo de Cahuenga Memorial Assn. of California, stated, “By 1900, the old Feliz adobe had disintegrated and disappeared, and the historic events it represented were memories in but a few minds of those who had taken part in that great drama… .” At that time, a small animal hospital composed of several adobe buildings was constructed on the site.
Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes brought the location out of the shadows when she discovered the original copy of the Treaty of Cahuenga in the private papers of Jose Antonio Carrillo at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library in 1923, and convinced the city of Los Angeles to buy the property. The California History and Landmarks Club (founded by Mrs. Forbes), the Daughters of the Golden West, and the Ebell Club dedicated the site on Feb. 2,1924. Fremont Pico Memorial Park was open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 pm, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and weekends by arrangement. In June 1927, they arranged for Gen. Fremont’s actual stage coach and carriage to be displayed, when actresses Mona Ray and Barbara Worth and Gaylord Martin of Martin Iron Works made a visit. In 1928, Martin and Worth again visited, with the April 8, 1928 Los Angeles Times displaying a photograph of them with the carriage.
The “WPA Guide to the City of Angels” published in the 1930s, and republished by the University of California Press last year, described the site at 3919 Lankershim Blvd. “The half-acre plot, with pepper and olive trees, wistaria vines, and trellised roses in its center, is a Los Angeles park. Flanking the boulevard entrance stand two one-story adobes of recent construction, one containing a small collection of historic relics.” Adolph Rivera lived at the site as a caretaker, with the museum, housed in a pink stucco building, containing such artifacts as the original table where the treaty was signed, along with “autographed shaving mugs from the city’s early tonsorial shops and massive, framed portraits of the pioneers who owned them,” per the Jan.30, 1940 Times. Iron gates guarded the site, along with a slab of rock from Los Angeles’ old City Hall. Ramona Parlor of the Native Sons of the Golden West took over caretaking duties on this date with Rivera’s death, but it closed again soon after.
In February 1946, the San Fernando Valley Historic Society revived the four year campaign to restore and preserve the park by trying to get it named as a national monument. They mailed letters to the governor and Los Angeles City Council and mayor, requesting that the city deed the now-closed park to the federal government and the original desk, piano, and coach be returned from Banning Park.
While the site failed to earn national status, it did bring increased interest in restoring the site to glory. Los Angeles and its Recreation and Parks Department decided to take a more active interest in maintaining and opening the location. New plans were drawn for a museum building, which were displayed in the Jan. 14, 1947, Los Angeles Times, virtually identical to the building located at the site today. The park needed all the help it could get; a poll commissioned that year showed that only one in 10,000 people knew it even existed. Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz recommended that the original pool and palms remain intact while the old buildings were removed. The July 29, 1949, Times reported that the department awarded almost $35,000 to Wapner and Fremer Construction Co. “for a community clubhouse which also will serve as a historical center.” Mayor Fletcher Bowron, City Councilman Lloyd Davies, and the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department dedicated the new building Nov. 2, 1950, which The Times stated cost $34,000 from the city playground bond issue. On Jan. 14, 1951, the park unveiled historic paintings, a sundial to Mrs. Fremont, and rededicated the 1924 marker. On April 1, 1951, a portrait of Col. Fremont by Orpha Klinker, and one by Charles W, Hulett of the treaty signing, were unveiled.
The little park began hosting local concerts and activities, like music concerts by North Hollywood High Schools Choraliers, the North Hollywood Junior High School Music Department, and the Valley Kiwanis Youth Orchestra, along with reenactments of the 1847 Treaty signing.
Sculptures of Chief Cahuenga and Pico and Fremont were proposed by sculptor Henry Van Wolfe in 1963, with the Los Angeles Arts Committee approving plans for a $15,000 brown statue on black California base to be paid for by donations, but the plan was dropped in 1966 because Valley historic groups were also trying to raise funds to preserve the Romulo Pico Adobe.
On Nov. 20, 1964, the Campo de Cahuenga was declared Historic-Cultural Monument No. 29 by the city of Los Angeles. Native Sons of the Golden West donated a piece of original tile roof to the Recreation and Parks Department on Jan. 26, 1967. Women’s clubs donated an El Camino Real bell on Jan. 17, 1972, at the annual Treaty ceremony, where crowds were noticeably thinning.
The Campo de Cahuenga continued annual observances of the treaty signing. The building survived subway construction but needed a little cosmetic help afterward, reopening for tours the first Saturday of the month a few years ago, after extensive restoration and preservation by the government. The Cultural Affairs Committee of the Studio City Neighborhood Council will be hosting its annual Luminaria Festival there Sunday, Dec. 7 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., in conjunction with the Campo de Cahuenga Historic Memorial Assn. and the city of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks with free refreshments and entertainment as a way to celebrate both early California history and the holiday season.