Saturday, August 2, 2008

Rancho Del Paso

Returning to sunny Sacramento after the gloomy Dayton statistical excursion and sour posts on declining downtown, here’s a look at how land development in California was different than Ohio.

I’ve always been fascinated by the tale of the Spanish and Mexican land grants and ranchos in California and the Southwest, this thin overlay of pre-US culture over the landscape, as well as by the development history of the state after the gold rush, which isn’t well known, even to Californians.

Rancho Del Paso is a good way to tell this story, especially since there is a lot online on this place. Most of what you see here was cribbed from various online historical & contemporary sources.
The rancho was one of the last Mexican land grants, and like a number of the Central Valley grants went to an American. The grant was made in 1844, just a few years before the Mexican War.

Eventually via some legal maneuvers, in 1859 the rancho came to James Ben Ali Haggin and Lloyd Tevis, Kentuckians who emigrated to California during the gold rush, but made money as a lawyers and businessmen, and later mine owners, not prospectors.

James Ben Ali Haggin & Rancho Del Paso

The Ben Ali part was a reference to his grandfather on his mothers side, who was a Turk, and apparently he did look a bit Turkish according to contemporary accounts.

I don’t know if Haggin participated in bonanza farming of post gold-rush era, large scale quasi-industrial dry-land farming specializing in wheat. The Rancho might have been just a bit cattle operation, or not operated at all and held in speculation.

Historical accounts do say Haggin ran Rancho Del Paso as a big horse farm starting the 1880s, with paddocks along the American River bottoms, and horse barns and shipping facilities at “the arcade”, next to a Southern Pacific station (the transcontinental railroad bisected the property). This was a fairly successful operation, siring some winning horses. One wonders if the “Molly” in the Molly & Tinbrooks song came from here as she was a California horse.

Maybe not if the song predates horses on the Rancho.


...Haggin eventually moved operations back to his native Kentucky, acquiring the famous Elmendorf Farm near Lexington (still a horse farm today), and liquidated his California horse breeding activities in 1905. After returning to Kentucky Haggin apparently invested in Lexington real estate, opening the Ben Ali theatre in 1913 on Main Street, later torn down for a parking lot.

Haggin did keep Del Paso for a few more years, with the last days of the rancho as a conventional cattle operation

This 1901 map shows the souther part of the rancho across the American River from Sacramento, which had just started to expand beyond the original grid plat ("Oak Park"). Neighboring ranches were Rio de Los Americanos, and San Juan, which saw an early “sunset colony” at Fair Oaks, and Sutter's old rancho of New Helvetia, by this time subdivided into smaller holdings.

What’s noticeable is the lack of a gridded road system , as the land was never surveyed in the rectangular coordinate system (and was under one owner), so roads ran wherever they were needed, like the diagonal from the river paddocks to the “Ben Ali” crossing & horse barns at “Arcade”.

It should be noted that Haggin never lived on the property. He had a mansion in San Franciscos’ Nob Hill, a villa in Newport RI, and a townhouse in Manhattan.

From Rancho to Ranchette

In 1910 the Rancho was sold and subdivided, pitched as a property suitable for irrigation colonies and small holdings

This was a popular pitch for California land development, to attract Midwestern farmers with the promise of making money in intensive agriculture (thus smaller holdings), growing orchard crops and produce for eastern markets. The other attraction was the mild climate vs. cold, snowy, and gloomy winters.

By 1916 the area had been subdivided even further, with holdings by the “Antelope Land Company”, “California Citrus Lands”, and subdivision into irrigation/citrus colonies, such as “Arcade Park, the Pasedena of Northern California”, the “Cream of the Haggin Grant”.

The Pasadena reference is worth noting as the Sacramento area developed very similar to Los Angeles, little LA, really, even though it is closer to San Francisco. Large ranches subdivided and sold-off to Midwesterners, intensive agriculture like produce and orchard crops, and settlements linked by interurban rail and the new automobile technology and wired for electric power (Sacramento was a pioneer in long distance power transmission and hydroelectric generation). Housing was in the modern (for that time) bungalow style.

The obligatory orange grove image:
(there actually were colonys to the east called Orangevale and Citrus Heights, todays' suburbia)

A close up of the land development activity, showing an early suburban plat (Del Paso Heights) along the interurban line, and a large lot ranchette developments, as well as speculative holdings like ‘Interurban Acres” (of course one could say it was all speculative).

The Northern Electric was built through here in 1907, predating the end of the rancho by a few years. This line drove subdivision activity through the rancho (one plat, Rio Linda, was made famous by Rush Limbaugh), and had plans to extend eastward to similar citrus colony development in adjacent Rancho San Juan.

Only a small branch was built though (which later became the route of the new light rail line)

The combines here permitted quick shipments of small parcels, but the line did develop a solid freight business shipping fruits and vegetables (incidentally these cars were built in Niles, Ohio, neary Youngstown). Passenger service ended late, in 1940.
Roughly the same area as in the blow up, today. One can see the land subdivision lines, outlined here in red, the Del Paso Heights suburb, the interurban ROW in yellow, and the grid of ranchettes in the large lot development of "Oak Knoll" (as labled on the preceding map)
And a close up, showing how the lot sizes here (and elsewhere in this development) led to small time speculation, eventually permitting little subdivisions to replace the ranchettes, or for multiple ranchettes to be combined into larger developments.
Eventually the larger speculative holdings became postwar subdivisions. One can see this early pix looking over the old Ben Ali crossing, toward the eastern part of the Rancho.

Areas outline in red on the small map and in the pix were subdivisions from the early days of platting activity. In the foreground is early large lot development (the large squares), and one can see how the initial large long lots in some of these areas drove development patterns as late as the postwar era.

What's interesting is some of the diagonal roads from the rancho era (far left map) were preserved when the land was subdivided, and persist to this day.

The image in the lower right of the bungalow is from the Natomas reclamation area to the west of Del Paso, but this was a popular style throughout this area for the first settlers One can also see the iconic California tank tower in the background, too.

Del Paso Boulevard

During the 1920s, the southern reaches of the rancho developed into early suburbs, at first along the interurban, later along Del Paso Boulevard, which developed into an early suburban strip, somewhat akin to the "boulevards" of Southern California.
This was “North Sacramento”, which eventually merger into Sacramento proper in the early 1960s.

As an early auto-strip this area also picked up its share of honky-tonk neon and gaudy signs and googie coffeehouse architecture. Example being Lil’Joes, a Sacramento landmark, but you can see more of the strip at this excellent pix tour by a Sacto blogger

As suburbia sprawled well to the east and south the Del Paso area was left behind and deteriorated. Recently, the retro feel of the place, with it’s honky-tonk strip architecture and little bungalows, led to a revival of interest in the pace by hipsters, with the place becoming an arts district of sorts as well as local business forming the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership to publicize and improve the area.
The arts focus, development of live-work housing like Surreal Estates and various visual improvement are perhaps lessons for Daytonians to do something with their neglected urban strips. A note here is that this is a mix of individuals, business groups, and the city working together to make this happen.

And a pretty good web presence, too.

What’s interesting here is that this is happening on what would be a nondesrcript area, like in Fairborn or North Dixie here, which shows what hot commodidites “old” urban environments are in Sacramento, or other sunbelt boomburbs, or at least an appreciation of things beyond the usual Victoriana.

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