Since 1980, I have lived in four residences in Los Angeles, and all have been in one rancho. My adult life has been in Rancho La Brea except for a brief period in 1990s when I lived in NYC, which had it been colonized by Spain and not the Dutch, would have no doubt had its own ranchos. Perhaps my apartment in the Ansonia at 73rd & Broadway would have been Rancho Los Ciervos named for the plentiful deer in the upper west side in 1626.
Some time ago I decided to dig into rancho history. I knew the basics because I grew up in California and all children learn about ranchos in the fourth grade. But my knowledge was limited, I remembered there were two eras of ranchos : Spanish Ranchos (1784-1821) and Mexican Ranchos (1821-1846). I knew the rancho eras went hand in hand with the Mission Era which was hell bent on making everyone Christian which bugged me even as a kid. I certainly knew none of these eras were good for the Native Americans. But driving down streets like San Vicente with its weird angle always made me think, “I bet it is on an angle for a reason.” Or wondering, “Why do all the streets bend at Hoover? Or when I was working at KCET one day and saw a plaque honoring west corner of the original pueblo and I thought, “From Olvera Street in downtown?” I knew in some dusty parts of my bones that all of these things had to do with those Spanish and Mexican Eras.
One day I decided to scratch the itch and I took a trip to the main library near Bunker Hill where I cascaded down a very long escalator past one floor after another until I was at floor five at the bottom of the library. I entered the glass door and I poked around in the aisles of California and Los Angeles history. I got lost in all the books, reading bits and pieces, going more in depth in some topics (Sherman Red Cars) scanning lots of drawings and photos and I did find a few maps of the ranchos in Los Angeles, but they did not give me the detail I wanted. I then walked up to the librarian and asked him if there was a book that gave a detailed map of the ranchos and where they exist now against our contemporary city. He squinted at me, “Do you have a Thomas Guide?” I looked at his sharp eyes and gray hair and couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Before cell phones and cars with GPS the greatest book of all time was The Thomas Guide Street Directory. These guides had every street named and indexed and divided into several hundred pages of compact maps. It was a must have for every driver in Los Angeles. No matter what address or solid memory anyone had on how to get from here to there, a time would come when everyone would get lost and from under the seat, we all pulled out our Thomas Guides. Between 1950 and 2000, I bet you more people knew where their Thomas Guide was located than their bible.
I said, “Thomas Guide, really?”
He nodded and pulled out a Thomas Guide from under the counter, he asked where I lived and then turned to my section of the guide and we followed the dotted lines he turned a few more pages, his finger still tracing the line until it stopped at the words, “Rancho La Brea.” I looked up at him and said, “Wow, I never even needed to come all the way here, I mean I have a Thomas Guide in my car and my house.” He nodded, “Like all of us.”
Later that night I told my friend about Thomas Guide and the ranchos, and he asked if he also lived in Rancho La Brea and I looked him up and said, “No you live in Rancho Las Cienagas. I live in the tar, and you live in the swamp.” He then responded, “I think all the ranchos should be named after the most abundant cars in the area. I live in Rancho de la Hondas, and you live in Rancho dos BMW” I responded, “But we love restaurants in Rancho Las Toyotas”
Do you have an old Thomas Guide?
This is an unusual blog. It makes me see and feel my city in an unusual way. Plz continue!
wow, i did not know about any of this! i keep planning on getting the thomas guide for when our grid/gps fails. btw, i don’t think they teach the missions anymore. thanks for keeping the past so present
I love my Thomas Guide. I have the larger sized edition in my house and still have an old one in the car. I believe they still teach the Mission Era but building miniature missions out of popcicle sticks or sugar cubes or kits, is out. When my son was in 4th grade, his grade had a special guest speaker a Tongva gentlemen who wore traditional garb and described the Tongva life and traditions. The kids were on their feet he was so interesting.