CityDig: Down in the Valley


This amazing cartographic mosaic combines eight USGS quadrangles to show the entire San Fernando Valley all on one whopper of a map (click here to see it larger). Poised between a rush to annexation with the city of Los Angeles in 1915 and a massive suburban settlement in the 1950s, the historic lands seen here show the old Mission and Rancho lands but only hint at the amazing growth that would encompass 225 square miles (and keep 1.5 million Angelenos singing “I’ll make the San Fernando Valley…my home” with Bing Crosby).

From Sunland heading west at the Tujunga Valley, we go all the way to the county line, and from the Hollywood Hills we roll past all the famous canyons of Los Angeles (Nichols, Laurel, Coldwater, Franklin, Benedict, Stone, Sepulveda, Mandeville, Rustic and Topanga…man). This is the Valley that Portola passed through along an old Indian trail now known as Sepulveda Boulevard—or, in some spots, the 405—and Father Crespi described in his diary as “the Valley of Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos.” This is the Valley where some 1,800 cattle, 6,500 sheep, 1,320 horses, goats, pigs, and other livestock roamed in the Mission and Rancho periods. This is the land that Eugenio Celis once owned after purchasing the lands of the Rancho Ex-Mission de San Fernando from Mexico for 14 grand. Celis also hung on to the land after statehood invalidated Mexican claims, proving title in 1873 (just in time for the area to be opened up by Southern Pacific Railroad and a stage stop and a post office).

This is also the place where the two Isaacs—Lankershim and Van Nuys—brought wheat farming to the southern portion of the Valley and created the roads and towns that would draw settlers out from the big city. At the time of this map, however, the Valley was still getting used to the introduction of water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which lead to much of the area voting for annexation to the city of Los Angeles. Not very coincidentally, the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company (spearheaded by Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler) lead the charge to develop the land as prime agricultural and residential real estate.

Lankershim and VanNuys arranged for Pacific Electric to bring street rail lines to Owensmouth (later Canoga Park), and established towns appropriately named Lankershim (later Toluca Lake), Van Nuys, and Marian (later Reseda). The San Fernando annexation alone doubled the size of Los Angeles, and the Valley added some 170 square miles to the city limits. The desire to join up with L.A. was not met with much opposition in the annexation vote—only 25 souls said no to the idea.

By the mid-1930s, movie stars had discovered the Valley’s wide-open spaces and created beautiful, sprawling estates that were as romantic as the films their owners appeared in during the era. Al Jolson, Clark Gable, Gene Autry, Robert Taylor, William Holden, Lucille Ball and Ann Dvorak were just a few of the glitterati who settled in the Valley.

After World War II, the complete suburbanization of the San Fernando Valley took place with freeways, tract housing, drive-in movies, and (eventually) wise-acre teenagers driving up and down Van Nuys boulevard (seen here as Sherman) without a clue as to the history on this map.

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