CityDig: Looking Back at L.A.’s Original Ranchos


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Angelenos sometimes take for granted the history beneath their feet, considering most of us live on ground that once was within the boundaries of the original Ranchos of the colonial period. These land grants were handed out for service to the Spanish crown or Mexican government, ranging from Rancho San Pedro in 1784 to the redistribution of the Mission Lands of San Fernando in 1846. Spain made a small number of such grants in the state (30). Mexico was more generous, bringing the total to over 800.

These gifts were meant to encourage settlement and contained some basic conditions—think restrictions from subdividing or renting the property—but also demanded guarantees of open roads and improvements on the land. Once established, many ranchos were completely self-sufficient with their own food supply, schools, security and events that took place without much interference from the outside world.

In celebration of the 200th birthday of the City of the Angels, the Bicentennial Committee commissioned this charming 1981 pictorial that recreates the Spanish and Mexican colonial periods in a rather breezy modern cartographic style. The map is signed by “Boyle,” who was certainly talented but rather under-acknowledged as a cartographer. (If “Boyle” is out there, let us know so we can give credit where credit is due.)

The map shows not only original names such as San Pedro (the first land grant from Spanish governor Pedro Fages to Juan Jose Dominguez of 48,000 acres), but also smaller ranchos that came to be when the Spanish grants were broken into pieces (the partition of Los Nieto into Los Cerritos and Los Alamitos, for example). Familiar names abound and, in many cases, stuck to the area: Los Feliz, Topanga Malibu Sequit, La Ballona, La Cienega, Boca de Santa Monica, La Brea and Santa Anita stand out in that regard. La Brea became the Miracle Mile and Hollywood; Boca de Santa Monica became Pacific Palisades and Topanga Canyon; La Ballona is now Venice; San Antonio is South Gate; Santa Anita became Arcadia, Monrovia and San Marino; San Rafael is now Atwater, Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, Montrose and Glendale, and San Pascual is Pasadena, South Pasadena and Altadena.

Historically minded and extremely fit locals may know that when they take on the L.A. Marathon this Sunday, they will begin within the original Pueblo lands at the center of this map and then run through Rancho La Brea, Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, and end up exhausted at Rancho Boca de Santa Monica, where the ocean breezes await.

Above: Historic Ranchos of Los Angeles, Portrayed for California Federal Savings Bank City of Los Angeles American Revolution Bicentennial Committee, 1981

Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.