By PVE Trails & Open Space Conservancy
CALIFORNIA RANCHOS & DONS
By L. R. Schott
Ranchos: Spanish Era (1784-1821), the Mexican Era (1821-1846) & the American Era (Began 1846)
To encourage settlement of the territory now known as California, Spain, and later Mexico, established large land grants called ranchos. The owners of the ranchos were referred to as "Dons." The ranchos from the Spanish Crown permitted only grazing rights, while the crown retained the title. The first such grant was to Juan Jose Dominguez in 1784 and involved 75,000 acres known as Rancho San Pedro, including the Palos Verdes Peninsula, making him one of the first Dons. Around 1810 the executor of the Dominguez's estate allowed Jose Dolores Sepulveda to heard livestock on the southwester part of the Rancho, known as Rancho de los Palos Verdes, including what is now the Palos Verdes (PV) Peninsula. Jose Dolores was the grandson of Francisco Xavier Sepulveda, the patriarch of a very prominent family, and this grazing right gave the Sepulveda's a claim to the rancho that resulted in a dispute between the Dominquez and Sepulveda families for decades. In 1821 Mexico achieved its independence from Spain. From 1822 to 1836 Alta (or New or Upper) California became a Federal Territory of the United Mexican States (UEM). During this period and into the mid 1840's, California, including the PV Peninsula, was part of a profitable hide trade. It was also during also this period that Mexico sought to break up and end the land monopoly of the missions, which controlled several million acres, by luring settlers to California by providing land grants. As a result, various Mexican Governors provided several hundred land grants to Spanish, Mexican and Californio settlers in the territory beginning in 1828. A decree intended to settle the dispute between the Domínguez and Sepúlveda families regarding Rancho de los Palos Verdes made by Governor Jose Figueroa in 1834. Between 1836 and 1846 California became a free and sovereign state of Mexico. However, it wasn't until the end of this period, in I846, that a Mexican Land Grant was provided for the 31,629 acre Rancho de los Palos Verdes by Governor Pio Pico to Juan Capistrano Sepúlveda and José Loreto Sepulveda. In 1846 the US declared war against Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalup Hidalgo ended the war in 1948 and California became a Territory of the United States. In the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted to the U.S. as the 31st state. The ranchos also prospered from selling cattle for meat instead of hides with the influx of population form the California Gold Rush. However, contrary to the noted treaty, a law was passed that made it difficult for many families to confirm the titles to their land, including the Sepulveda's. The confirmation process was arduous and expensive and the average confirmation process was 17 years. The land grant for Rancho San Pedro for 43,119 acres to Manuel Dominquez was one of the first completed in 1858, but the patent for the Rancho de los Palos Verdes did not occur until 1880.
Due to droughts and financial hardships, the Sepulveda's encumbered Rancho Los Palos Verdes with various mortgages. Eventually, this enabled Jotham Bixby to acquire a major portion of this rancho in 1882, mostly on the Peninsula, consisting of 17,000 acres. In that same year, Manuel Dominguez died and a year later the Rancho San Pedro lands were partitioned among his six surviving daughters. A few years later, one of the heirs sold 1,400 acres to the Redondo Company and the development of Redondo Beach began.
Bixby arranged for some Japaneese families, which eventually became known as the forty families, to farm mostly vegetable and flowers on what ultimately may have been some 2,000 acres. On the grazing lands, some ranchers were hired, including John Phillips and Roy McCarrell, who had over a thousand head of cattle and also grew some hay and grains. The eucalyptus trees in what is now known as Valmonte were planted by one of the ranchers for a wind screen and the Phillips homestead was close to what is now the PV Golf Club. (See more information.) The Bixby family had other ranches and they apparently made several attempts to sell their Peninsula property in the early 1900s. But after putting up deposits, the buyers were unable to exercise their options. Finally, a Carl Schader, who had an option that was close to expiring, made a last ditch effort to sell the property on a trip to New York where he tried to meet with some bankers. He happened to meet Frank Vanderlip and, apparently in a very short meeting, an agreement was made. Vanderlip formed a syndicate to purchase the Peninsula property in 1913 and Schader eventually received a nice commission. Within a year thereafter design planning began by the Olmsted Brothers.