Thursday, July 13, 2006
Our Sunkissed Past
I wasn't in Pomona to see the citrus groves eaten up by new housing and development. If I had been, I'm sure I would have been plenty sad. My Pomona-native friend Jen told me that she still laments the last strawberry patch in Pomona to go, which was located on the corner of Garey and Bonita -- where brand new homes now stand.
When I went to the Pomona Library's Special Collections room last week, I found out that the house we live in has a close connection to the citrus industry. It turns out that a Mr. "J.C." X lived in our house from 1911 when it was built to sometime around his death in 1938 at the age of 72. J.C. was an orange grower and an officer in the LaVerne Citrus Growers Association, alongside familiar names like R.K. Pitzer. J.C. was born in Wisconsin in 1861. His parents Anton and Agatha had immigrated from Wurtenberg, Germany in 1849, after the third of their five boys was born. Anton was a pioneer farmer in Wisconsin and then in Nebraska where Anton died at the age of 84. J.C.'s mother Agatha was 20 years younger than his father, but died the year before his dad did. With the 5 boys she had to raise, it's no wonder.
J.C. married his wife Mary Adelia in 1888. In 1890, they moved to Salem, South Dakota where J.C. was in the grain business. J.C. was the first city clerk of Salem, and later became their assessor. Mary Adelia was third generation Irish. The couple had 3 children together: Hazel who was born in 1889 and died in 1917 in Pomona when she was 26 years old; Young Verner who was born in 1890 and died in South Dakota when he was 9 years old; and Eben who was born in 1893 and died in 1958 in Claremont when he was 62 years old. In 1908, J.C. moved his family to Pomona. They built our Lincoln Park home in 1911. J.C. was described in a local history book as a man of "correspondingly broad and wholesome views and takes his recreation in hunting and fishing sports." He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, Knights Templar and attended Trinity Unity Methodist Church. He was commended for being single minded in his business pursuits and interested in the general welfare of the community.
Sometime before 1940, J.C.'s family sold our Lincoln Park house and moved to Claremont. I don't know whether J.C. survived the move, since he died in 1938. But it does seem that the "moving to Claremont" thing was already happening back then. And at their age, I don't think they were doing it for the school district. The family moved to neighboring addresses on Live Oak Canyon Road in Claremont, with Mary Adelia lived at one home and son Eben lived at the home immediately next door.
I drove up to Live Oak Canyon one day and found two large, somewhat glamorous, old Hollywood type homes at each address, both mediterranean in style. The home where Mary Adelia last lived was called "Casa de Luna" in tilework at the entrance. Additional tilework described the home (in Spanish) as "a little closer to heaven." As it turned out for Mary Adelia who died in 1940, it was a bit closer to heaven. But then I started wondering if this phrase was not an early comparison of Claremont to Pomona? What got to me personally about their Claremont home was that our beloved dog Luna died a year after we moved to Pomona. Not that I believe in spooky coincidental stuff or anything like that....
From what I can tell, Live Oak Canyon is both a road and a lifestyle. The street itself is a small cul de sac in a canyon above Baseline to the west of Towne (it's just west of the Webb School). The street is chock full of oak and olive trees. The most magnificent part of the street is the road's namesake: a huge live oak tree literally sitting in the middle of the street near the top of the road. The small service road between the X families' two homes also has an oak tree smack dab in the middle. Lovely, older, now-million-dollar-plus homes line the street, which has no sidewalks --in typical canyon fashion. This road must have been an enclave of successful citrus growers at one point, being above and surrounded by groves. It's still fairly isolated and along one of the small, off-shoot roads there is a sign that says, "smile, you're on camera."
My biggest realization in driving up to Live Oak Canyon is that J.C. and Mary Adelia were certainly the ones to plant the California live oak tree that dominates our backyard. The Pomona Historical Society told me that most of the old trees were planted by former owners, not in the ground already. This tree is my favorite thing about our house. These days when I look up at our grand old oak tree, I find myself thinking of the X family doing the same.
As it happens, the Live Oak Canyon home were Mary Adelia lived is on the market with a sale pending for $1,250,000. If you're interested in seeing the property, click on the below link, then click on "Geoff's properties" and then click on the one listed as SOLD (not pending) at 1,250,000:http://www.geoffhamill.com/properties.htm
My ultimate goal is to find a photograph of J.C. and his family with our house in the background. Son Eben's 1958 obituary offered some clues as to living family members who might have old photos. The obit referred to Eben as a "Valley citrus leader." Before making the predictable move to Claremont, Eben lived at an address in Pomona on Holt at San Antonio. Back then, Holt was lined with stately homes, not 99 cent stores and sleazy motels. Eben was a graduate of Pomona High, attended Occidental College, and was trained and associated with dad J.C. in the citrus biz. At one point, Eben owned 50 acres of oranges and lemons and was "an authority on water supplies and development." He was a director of various water and citrus companies and associations, as well as of the Claremont Chapter of the American National Red Cross. Eben's wife Thora Jessen didn't die until the year 2000 at the age of 99 years old. Too bad I missed her. They had children, but I don't know yet if any of them are alive. I found several possible family members through free ancestry services on the internet and internet telephone directories. I'll keep you posted.
As for how this ties into our children? Well, in driving up to the old citrus grove area where the X family last resided, I discovered a wonderful park dedicated to LaVerne's citrus growing past: Heritage Park. It's like any normal park, except immediately next door to the grass area is one of the only surviving orange groves and children are free to explore there. Also preserved there is one of the oldest homes in LaVerne, an historic barn and retired citrus growing equipment. In short, it's an outdoor museum dedicated to La Verne's citrus growing past. Not only are they home to concerts in the park every other Sunday night June through Sept, but they host a two week long Pumpkin Patch Festival, a "U pick oranges" event on Saturdays from January thru March, a "spring squeeze" and their "Hands on History" events March thru June. Here's a really interesting article on the park: www.ulv.edu/ctimes/web_exclusives_stories/springsqueeze.htm.
Heritage Park is located off of Wheeler above Baseline. You can't miss it if you go up Wheeler from Baseline and look for the signs on your right. While you're up there, picture in your mind that all the modern housing in the area was once citrus groves. The vistas must have been gorgeous. No wonder the fruit of the region was referred to as sun kissed.
P.S. to Jen: there's a surviving strawberry patch at Towne and Baseline. Next time you're down from San Francisco, we'll take the kids.