Chapter 2 – The American Period
One of the first Americans to own land in the Rancho San Rafael portion of Burbank was Jonathan R. Scott. He had come to Southern California from Missouri in 1849. Scott became the first American justice of the peace in Los Angeles and administered the oath of office to the first Los Angeles City Council on July 3, 1850.
In 1857, Scott traded 5,745 acres of land in the La Canada area to Julio and Catalina Verdugo, heirs of Jose Maria Verdugo, for 4,603 acres on the west side of Rancho San Rafael. This is the portion of Burbank that, today, contains the main business district and surrounding area.
In 1862, Scott planted extensive vineyards on his land. This was the start of the grape and wine industry in the area. Scott Road was named in his honor.
However, to David W. Alexander and Alexander Bell goes the honor of being the very first Americans to own land in any portion of Burbank. These men, who were members of the first Los Angeles City Council, bought Rancho La Providencia early in 1851 before Jonathan Scott bought the hill area. They paid Vincente de la Ossa 37 1/2 cents an acre for the Mexican land grant of some 4,600 acres. Vincente de la Ossa wrote:
"The sum of $1500 which has been paid to my entire satisfaction is the first price and true value of aforesaid ranch. It is not worth more nor have I found anyone to give me any more for same."
The two Americans who purchased Rancho La Providencia and Mr. Scott, who had acquired the west portion of Rancho San Rafael, did little to develop the land. In 1867, one person bought both properties, Dr. David Burbank. The picture below clearly shows the two ranchos.
The city of Burbank takes its name from this man who drove a covered wagon across the plains while Luther Burbank, the plant wizard, was still a small boy. Dr. David Burbank, born in 1821 in New Hampshire, was one of California’s most picturesque pioneers.
In the middle 1850's, Dr. David Burbank arrived in San Francisco having given up a fine dental practice in New Hampshire to join the great migration westward and, by the time the Civil War broke out, he was again well established in his profession. After the war, he left San Francisco to establish his dental practice in the "Pueblo de Los Angeles." The booklet, Ranchos de Los Santos, published in 1927, describes life in the pueblo in the 1860's:
"The pueblo of Los Angeles was a new experience even for one as accustomed to frontier life as was Dr. Burbank by this time. No place of the same size in all the Far West was still so predominantly Spanish. The Castilian and Mexican tongues were heard more than English on the streets. Adobe houses outnumbered those built of wood. Saloons with open gambling seemed to outnumber all other places of business combined. The town was "shot up" with great regularity. Every weekend furnished its quota of killings. The coroner made a fortune. There wasn't a foot of paving in town; there were no railroads in all Southern California and only semi-weekly mail service between Los Angeles and San Diego, the next largest place. There were no newspapers, the editor of the Star having moved to San Bernardino hoping for better support. The lone Protestant Church had great difficulty retaining a minister, so slender was the attendance and interest. The lone public school house was located at Second and Spring Streets. A police force and fire department were minus quantities. Street sprinkling was done personally by the merchants standing in front of their places of business with a hose. Public conveyances were entirely lacking. There were no banks or loan offices; there were no men’s or women's clubs, no temperance or other organizations except a Masonic and an Odd Fellows Lodge. There was no theatre, no music hall, although small wandering theatrical and minstrel companies occasionally put in an appearance and gave performances in a hall. Circuses came annually from Mexico and did a good business....
Dr. David Burbank's ranch house built in 1867. It stood on what is now the back lot of Warner Brothers studio.
"Dr. Burbank nevertheless found life in the pueblo attractive and interesting, despite primitive conditions and surroundings. There were no coteries or cliques. The Mexican, the European, the American, the Jew, the Catholic and the Protestant all met on terms of social equality. There was a scarce night without a ball or dancing party being held somewhere in the pueblo. The bon vivant could obtain many of the good things of life for almost nothing. A finely fattened turkey hen of ten pounds could be procured for from 50 to 75 cents and chickens from 15 to 20 cents. Porterhouse steaks ranged from 7 to 10 cents a pound. Fish were caught and peddled by Chinamen who cleaned and sold them at not over 5 cents a pound."
In 1867, Dr. Burbank bought the 4,603 acres of the historic Rancho San Rafael from Jonathan Scott and 4,600 acres of Rancho La Providencia from David Alexander and Alexander Bell for approximately $1 an acre. Although he did not acquire clear titles to both properties until 1871 after the long court action known historically as the "Great Partition," Dr. Burbank maintained his two ranchos as one large ranch. He became one of the largest and most successful sheep raisers in southern California. He was so successful that he soon stopped practicing dentistry and invested heavily in real estate in Los Angeles.
Dr. Burbank sold a right-of-way along San Fernando Road to the Southern Pacific Railroad. This transaction, on February 28, 1873, cost the railroad $1. The first train passed through Burbank on April 5 1874.
Ten years later the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads waged a price war. For a short time in 1887, the fare from Kansas City to Los Angeles was only $1. Many people took advantage of the low fares and migrated to California. Land prices soared and more than 100 towns were founded. Burbank was one of these towns.
The first public school in San Fernando Valley was located where the Van Norman (formerly San Fernando) Reservoirs now stand. As shown in the picture, children of all ages were taught by one teacher.
The first school district in Burbank was established on June 3, 1879, upon petition of Mr. S. W. White and nine other citizens. It was known as Providencia School District. The first school building in Burbank was built during that year. It was located on Burbank Boulevard, close to what is now Mariposa Street. Dr. David Burbank gave one acre of land for this school. The building was a one-gable, frame structure made of redwood, and is reported to have cost $400. At that time, there were nine families in the area who sent children to the school. As far as can be learned, the school was used until about 1887 when it was abandoned because the classes moved to a new grammar school on Magnolia Boulevard and San Fernando Road. The new school was constructed on what was much later to be a parking lot behind business houses on San Fernando. It faced on Magnolia Boulevard.
In 1886, Dr. Burbank sold nearly 9,000 acres of his property for $250,000. This may have been because a severe drought that year caused a shortage of grass and water and thousands of Dr. Burbank's sheep died.
The group of men who bought the acreage formed the Providencia Land, Water and Development Company with Dr. Burbank as one of the directors. The land was surveyed and a business district was laid out, surrounded by residential lots. The outlying area was divided into small farms. The original plot of the townsite of Burbank extended from what is now Burbank Boulevard on the north, to Grandview Avenue in Glendale on the south, and from the top ridge of the Verdugo Rills on the east to what is now Clybourn Avenue on the west. When the town was incorporated in 1911, its territory was reduced in size because incorporation data left out a large section of land between Alameda and Grandview Avenues. This land was county territory until Glendale annexed it just as Burbank was about to add it to the city.
The following year, 1887, Burbank was founded. It officially became a town on May I when the lots and farms were offered for sale. An advertisement to lure buyers read:
"Land and ocean, mountain and valley, sunshine and shade, offer here their choicest benefactions to prolong the lives of the feeble and enhance the enjoyment of the robust. In no place are these natural advantages more remarkably manifest than in the San Fernando Valley, in which are spread the broad acres of Providencia and on whose sightliest eminence stands the new townsite of Burbank."
In less than a year sales amounted to $475,000, "and this without a single free lunch, brass band, or excursion, and with but little advertising."
Speaking of the new town in September of that year, the Los Angeles Express said:
"Sheep pastures and barley fields passing and orchards and vineyards being created from old ranchos - an example, Providencia, for years famous for the fertility of its soil. Burbank, the town, being built in the midst of the new farming community, has been laid out in such a manner as to make it by and by an unusually pretty town. The streets and avenues are wide and, all have been handsomely graded. All improvements being made would do credit to a city.... Everything done at Burbank has been done right. There is not a shabby building in town.”
The Providencia Land, Water and Development Company laid out wide streets such as Olive Avenue, and each of the officers of the company built a handsome home with "city conveniences." A luxurious $30,000 hotel, the Burbank Villa, was built on the site of the present main post office building.
Dr. Burbank and his son built the Burbank Villa for the land company. Down the street The Times, a small weekly newspaper, was first published on November 12, 1887. A subscription cost $10 a year payable in advance in cash. A short distance to the east, the Providencia Methodist Episcopal Church had been dedicated in 1884, before the founding of Burbank.
Across San Fernando Road, the first brick building in town was constructed on the northeast corner of San Fernando Road and Olive Avenue and was planned for a bank. The picture below shows the building in 1888. For a time, the Burbank Post Office was located on the ground level. The "city fathers" met upstairs to conduct community business. A wooden sidewalk ran in front of this brick building which was known as the "Burbank Block." When the boardwalk was torn up in 1911, the children skipped school at the ten o'clock recess to go down to look for money which they had heard was under the sidewalk. They had to stay after school to make up the time. The building has been remodeled several times and still stands today. After an earthquake, the cupola was declared unsafe and was removed.
The Providencia Company built the first streetcar line in Burbank. A horsecar line ran up Olive Avenue from the Southern Pacific station to Sunset Canyon. The horse pulled the car up the hill carrying prospective buyers of property. Returning to the station, the horse rode on a small platform at the back of the car while the car coasted down the hill. The picture opposite, looking down Olive Avenue toward San Fernando Road in 1889, shows the horsecar tracks.
From early 1887 until late 1888 the town of Burbank grew steadily. Many people had bought small farms or lots, and thirty substantial dwellings were built. The new grammar school which was constructed on Magnolia Boulevard in 1887 was a two-story frame building with four classrooms upstairs and four downstairs. It had a belfry or bell tower which housed the bell that called the boys and girls of the community to school each morning. The bell was tolled by means of a long rope, which extended down from the tower, through the building, to within reach of the principal at a point right near the front door. At the rear of the school was a windmill and an elevated tank which stored the water pumped from the ground. The space below the water tank was framed in, and it was here that many of the boys and girls kept their bicycles. Near the present corner of Third Street and Palm Avenue there was a lean-to carriage shed in which the youngsters kept their horses and buggies and their ponies and pony carts while they were in school.
Children came to the Burbank Grammar School from as far away as the area of Brand's Castle in Glendale, Roscoe (now Sun Valley), and the present Warner Brothers area at the south end of town. The school playground was the space now occupied by store buildings along the San Fernando Boulevard frontage between Magnolia Boulevard and Palm Avenue. During some of the time that the Burbank Grammar School was used, the children maintained a flower garden in the area in front of the school and a vegetable garden near the shed which was used to house the horses and buggies. The care of those gardens provided practical experience for the boys and girls studying agriculture, one of the main occupations of the area at that time. There were two lunch houses at the rear of the school, one for boys, and one for girls. Each child brought in his own drinking cup which hung in the lunch house, and, of course, the children all brought their own lunches with them each day. Games were played at recess time in the schoolyard. These included darebase, pomp-pomp-pull-away and hid and seek. To enter school each morning the boys and girls lined up in separate lines at the front steps and marched into the building in time with the sound of a drum, beat by a selected pupil. When the school first opened, there were four teachers and a principal, and the student body totaled about 200 children. The school had classes for Grades One through Eight.
When, in 1889, a depression hit the Los Angeles area real estate values tumbled. Many of the foothill and boulevard lots in Burbank were sold for taxes. One man, C. B. Fischer, was able to buy three lots at the corner of Kenneth Road and Olive Avenue for $80 and three lots at Olive Avenue and San Fernando Road for $800. The Times was no longer published. A furniture factory was abandoned and tramps slept in the building until it burned down. Four hundred dollars was all the money needed to buy a five-room house. Most of the men who had promoted the Providencia Land, Water and Development Company were ruined financially. Few of them lived to see their dream of a beautiful city come true.
The outlying area of the Burbank townsite had been divided into 10, 20, 30, and 40 acre farms. The natural fertility of the land enabled some ranchers to make a living on the farms during the long dry spell, which followed the land boom collapse of 1889. In five of the seven dry years, less than ten inches of rain fell each season. Water conservation was unknown in the area and there were few reservoirs to store water for irrigation. However, the fine sand loam and the natural underground wells gave Burbank some of the finest vineyards in the world. Burbank became famous for its fine wines and large wineries. Pictured below is Gai's Winery.
During this long, dry, depression period other Burbank lands produced crops of peaches, alfalfa, melons (particularly cantaloupes), pumpkins, and grains. These lands were located in the Toluca area and were near or actually over the natural storage basin of the great San Fernando Valley.
After the grain was harvested, it was put in large burlap bags. The ranchers loaded the bags on wagons and transported them to flour mills in Los Angeles. The wagons traveled through Burbank on San Fernando Road. The flowing three pictures were taken in the 1890’s.
The remaining undeveloped land around Burbank reverted to the grazing land it had once been. Flocks of sheep were again seen, and, until 1908, driven along San Fernando Road on the way to new grazing areas. Store owners closed their doors and windows while the sheep passed because of the dust.
Jack rabbits were plentiful in the valley and destroyed many crops. The ranchers would get together periodically to round up the rabbits in much the same manner as cowboys round up cattle. After the rabbits were "corralled," they were shot.
The following two pictures are representative of the social life of the times. The groom in this early 1900 wedding picture is Milo Weddington, Sr. Mr. Weddington helped develop the Lankershim (North Hollywood) area. His son was an officer in the Burbank branch of Security First National Bank until his retirement in October, 1965.
Picnics in the hills above Burbank were popular with the young people. On Sunday afternoons they used their bicycles to travel to a picnic site under live oak trees.
In 1904, national attention was drawn to Burbank when James J. Jeffries, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, bought 107 acres for a ranch on Victory Boulevard. He paid $2,000 down and assumed a $10,000 mortgage. Only ten acres were placed under cultivation, and the rest was sagebrush and sand. Jeffries later developed another 93 acres and planted alfalfa. The market price for alfalfa dropped shortly after this time and it did not pay Jeffries to harvest his crop. He decided to put cattle on the land to eat the alfalfa. This proved to be a prosperous enterprise. Jim Jeffries became one of the country's foremost suppliers of thoroughbred bulls. Most of them were sold in Mexico and South America thus establishing Burbank's first foreign trade relations.
Jeffries built a large ranch home and a barn on the corner of Victory Boulevard and Buena Vista Street now cross. He gradually sold parts of his ranch until only his home and barn were left when he died, March 3, 1953. The barn may now be seen at Knott's Berry Farm where it was moved to make room for the labor union building now occupying the site. The home deteriorated after Jeffries died and was torn down several years ago.
The Women's Christian Temperance Union, an organization which developed to oppose the sale and consumption of liquor, erected a water fountain at the corner of San Fernando Road and Olive Avenue. It was a watering trough for horses, cattle, and other animals. The fountain was near the Burbank Villa. After the collapse of the land boom, the hotel became a private home. Later, it was reopened as a hotel with a new name, "Santa Rosa." Mrs. May Clarke owned the "Santa Rosa" for many years. Mrs. Clarke often acted as an interpreter for Mexican-Americans living in the area.
1908 was a memorable year for Burbank even though the town had failed to qualify for recognition in the government census of that year because its population was under 500. One important event was the opening of the first bank, the Burbank State Bank, near the corner of Olive Avenue and San Fernando Road. H. A. Church and his son, Ralph O. Church, had purchased a 30-foot frontage on San Fernando Road for $1,000. Capital stock worth $25,000 was sold and the bank opened on April 1, 1908. At the end of the first day's business, $30,000 had been deposited. Ralph Church was the entire personnel. The bank was closed when he went home for lunch.
The original bank officers were H. A. Church, President; A. O. Kendall, Vice President; and Ralph O. Church, Cashier. Additional directors were J. T. Shelton, Orville Myers, E. A. Knapp, Martin Pupka, and Charles B. Fischer. Two more directors were added by 1911, Thomas Story and J. H. Avery.
The bank's deposits rose from $50,000 in 1908 to $146,000 at the end of 1911 and larger quarters were needed. An additional 20 feet on San Fernando Road and Olive Avenue were bought for $1,200, the bank building was remodeled, and the floor space doubled by erecting an addition on the newly acquired frontage. A second story was then built over all. Other boulevard lots were selling for $250, but the bank officers thought that the corner frontage was worth the extra money. In 1911, the Burbank State Bank was dissolved, the First National Bank was incorporated with a capital of $25,000, and the Burbank Savings Bank was started with a capital of $25,000. The same management ran both banks under one roof, the one as a commercial bank, and the other as a savings bank exclusively. By 1923, Burbank's population had greatly increased from the less than 500 people in 1908 to over 3,000.
It was anticipated that Burbank would continue to grow rapidly making a strictly local bank inadequate to finance such a large number of people. On February 3, 1923, both banks merged with Security Trust and Savings Bank of Los Angeles, and became known as the Burbank Security Bank.
Another important event that took place in 1908 was the passing of a bond issue to raise money to build a high school. Burbank high school pupils were attending school in Glendale. Burbank withdrew from the Glendale Union High School District after the successful bond issue, and built a high school on San Fernando Road between Cypress Avenue and Grinnell Drive. While this school was being built, high school students used three unoccupied rooms in the elementary school. When the high school started on September 14, 1908, there were 42 pupils and a faculty consisting of a principal and one teacher. Courses were offered in English, Latin, algebra, geometry, ancient history, physical geography, and chemistry.
The original Burbank Union High School as it appeared in 1911.
This picture, taken around 1922, shows the building after it had been remodeled and was being used as an intermediate school.
On July 9, 1908, for the first time since 1889, Burbank had its own newspaper. E. M. McClure published the first copy of the Burbank Review on that date.
It was also in 1908 that Clementine Lamer, Alphonse Brosseau and Charles B. Fischer bought a lot on the corner of Orange Grove Avenue and Fifth Street and donated it to the Los Angeles Diocese. Burbank’s first Catholic Church was built on the lot. The wooden structure cost $2,000.
The Martin homestead pictured here was erected on the southwest corner of what is now Warner Boulevard and Avon Street about 1908, and is typical of the ranch homes which were built in the Toluca area.