CityDig: Tujunga’s Twisty-Turny Path to Becoming Part of L.A.

This 1918 map shows the old Rancho under new ownership
Map of Rancho Tujunga
Map of Rancho Tujunga

Confirmed to David W. Alexander, 1918

“Old Woman’s Place” may not be the most vibrant moniker for a living space, but it was good enough for the Tongva people, who set down roots in Tujunga thousands of years before this map was drawn.  What they actually meant by Tujunga was “earth mother,” which still seems to fit the hills that now encompass Sunland, Tujunga, and Lakeview Terrace.

It was 1840 when the legendary Lopez brothers, Francisco and Pedro, received the 6,661-acre Rancho Tujunga as a land grant from Mexican governor Juan Alvarado for their services—e.g. Francisco’s discovery of gold in Placerita Canyon that set off a mini-gold rush. The Lopez bros. held on to Rancho Tujunga for five years before swapping it out to José Miguel Triunfo (a Tongva Indian who had once lived at the San Fernando Mission) for the smaller but better-located Rancho Cahuenga. The wrangling didn’t end there. Triunfo soon sold a half interest in Rancho Tujunga back to Francisco and sold portions of the other half to David Alexander and others. Francisco in turn sold his portion to Augustin Olvera (of Olvera Street fame), who, along with Alexander, hung on to it until after California became a state in 1850. Next, the rancho was sold to Andrew Glassell (who had a hand in the founding of Orange).

It was Big Tujunga Canyon—the artery through which the Butterfield stage passed—that put the area on the map, but Rancho Tujunga itself was remote. It took a full day to travel between Tujunga and Los Angeles over the rugged terrain. A terrible drought from 1862 to 1863 wiped out most of the large ranches, and the plentiful oak trees that dotted the hills were cut down by settlers desperate to wrench an income from the land.

This map, a recent gift to the library from the City Planning Department, clues us in to the haggling and legal sparring over subdivisions of the old Rancho Tujunga. Part of the map shows the Hansen Heights annexation into Los Angeles, which was sweetened by the availability of L.A. Aqueduct water, and the other part shows the long-planned Village of Monte Vista that would eventually become Sunland. The effects of David Alexander’s ownership of the land still show through in his Tolkienesque tract names like “Western Empire,” “Umplebys,” and “Hillrose.”

By 1923 the population up in Sunland had swelled to 2,000 and—three years into the horrors of prohibition—table grape growing had kicked into high gear. Sunland gave in to Los Angeles and accepted annexation in 1926. Tujunga was supposed to do the same, but California Poet Laureate John Steven McGroarty lead a fight to resist the tentacles of big bad L.A. Eventually, McGroarty lost, and Tujunga was annexed in 1932.

Hansen Heights as seen here (appropriately divided into several 40-acre lots) was prime agricultural land where Japanese American farmers grew flowers and other crops with great success. Sadly, after 1942 and the relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps, the farms that had flourished for generations went to seed.

Tujunga was once billed as “the most healthy place in the world” because of the relatively clean air outside the automobile-packed Los Angeles basin; asthmatics even visited to give their lungs a holiday. Sunland, not to be outdone by the “Little Lands” residential utopia in Tujunga (“a little land, a lot of living”) played host in the 1960s to the “Hog Farm,” a hippie commune founded by the one and only Wavy Gravy.


View a larger map

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