This Gorgeous Map Will Make You Nostalgic for L.A.’s Old Rancho Days

Way back then, the Spanish and Mexican governments were handing out land grants left and right
The Old Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Los Angeles County. Title Insurance and Trust Company, Gerald Eddy, 1937
The Old Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Los Angeles County. Title Insurance and Trust Company, Gerald Eddy, 1937

Image courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

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Much of the early cartography in Los Angeles was commercially motivated, from Kuchel and Dresel’s bird’s eye views to the booster panorama maps that paint the city as a late 19th century Eden. More often than not, business interests stretched the truth and exaggerated their own claims to make a buck. The exception, however, seems to have been the Title Insurance and Trust Company, which built a fine archive of documents, photographs, and maps of Los Angeles.

The company was founded back in 1893, with offices at New High and Franklin. Eventually, it moved over to the burgeoning financial district on Spring Street where banks abounded in the late 1920s (and where the Los Angeles Stock Exchange would join in 1931 at the height of the depression). They set up offices in the John Parkinson-designed Title Insurance and Trust building at 433 S. Spring—a fine example of Zigzag Moderne style that still stands as a historic monument.

Title Insurance’s business began with real estate documents, but before long it had expanded to include valuable records of L.A. life, including the priceless C.C. Pierce photo collection, which documents city history from 1886 to 1941. In Pierce’s work we can see Los Angeles rise from being “Queen of the Cow Counties” to becoming a major metropolis.

Not content with just photographs, the company turned to cartography. In the Title mix were the creations of master mapmaker Gerald Eddy, who drew up this classic map. Eddy’s rendering gives us a clear big picture of how our county was patched together in its earliest times of growth.

At the center are four square leagues of pueblo land, which belong to the city. Radiating outward from there are the self-sufficient, suburb-like ranches of early settlers. The Spanish land grants like San Rafael, Los Feliz, San Pascual, San Pedro, San Antonio, Topanga Malibu Sequit, Los Nietos, and Buena Vista were gifts from the Spanish crown to individuals who had served with valor in journeys to the new city.

Both local missions—San Gabriel and San Fernando—had large land holdings and can be seen here. When Mexico took over jurisdiction of the area and secularized the religious institutions, those lands became parts of the many ranchos that were granted to friends of Mexico City. By the time Mexico was finished doling out land, there were over 770 more ranchos on the maps. Most of them, though, would dissolve after the coming of statehood less than three decades later, when Uncle Sam came along with his tax rolls.

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