panning over 1,700 acres in the northwest corner of Chino Hills and some 750 acres of northeast Diamond Bar, Tres Hermanos Ranch is the last major undeveloped piece of property in our area and is now subject to a revamped joint powers authority under a recent agreement by the property’s owner, the City of Industry, with the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar. What its future will be remains to be seen under the auspices of the authority, but a look back at its past provides some possibilities for interpreting the ranch’s history with whatever is done for public access and use.
The ranch was not the site of an indigenous village, though there were native settlements in modern Pomona and at Pasinogna, where Boys Republic is located now. But, the Tres Hermanos site, situated in Tonner Canyon (formerly the original Brea Canyon), was undoubtedly used for hunting and gathering of plants and animals and was likely a transportation corridor for local Indians making their way from the inland valleys to the coastal plains.
When, during the Spanish and Mexican eras, ranchos were created in the area, such as La Puente and Nogales to the west, San José to the north, and Santa Ana del Chino to the east, this section of the Chino Hills range was reserved as public land. What this meant was that cattle grazers in these adjoining ranches could use the public spaces in the Chino Hills (as well as the nearby Puente Hills to the west) as extra grazing land when needed.
After the American seizure of California, public lands were converted to private property and sold and The Vejars owned where southern Pomona is now before losing that to Louis Phillips (hence the name Phillips Ranch), most of which is now Tres Hermanos. Then there was a succession of owners until the first decade of the 20th century, during which the area remained grazing land for cattle and horses.
In 1908, Walter F. Fundenberg, a real estate investor, acquired the nearby Rancho Los Nogales, apparently hoping to find oil. The industry was growing dramatically after the early 1890s, including a productive field to the west in the Puente Hills and a rich field at Olinda in modern Brea to the south.
Stymied in his efforts to find black gold after about a decade, Mr. Fundenberg sold Los Nogales, which was divided into two parts. The western portion, acquired by Frederick Lewis, a tire and rubber company owner from New York, was rechristened as the Diamond Bar Ranch. The eastern section was refashioned as the Tres Hermanos Ranch, named the “three brothers” for the new owners, William Rowland, William Benjamin (Ben) Scott and Harry Chandler who were close friends with a shared genealogy in business.
Mr. Rowland (1846-1926) was born on the Rancho La Puente, just west of Tres Hermanos, co-owned by his father, John. In 1871, Mr. Rowland was elected Los Angeles County Sheriff at age 25. He was well-regarded as the county’s top law enforcement officer. At the peak of the Puente Hills, Mr. Rowland and partner William Lacy found oil in the mid-1880s and launched the Puente Oil Company. They built a refinery in the new town of Chino, with the pipeline passing through the Tres Hermanos area.
Mr. Scott (1868-1920) was a native of Missouri who came to California as a young man and worked as a laborer in oil fields in Ventura County. He married the sister of Wallace Hardison, one of the owners of the Union Oil Company, which had taken over the Olinda oil field. A new company, Columbia, was formed and also drilled in Brea Canyon and the Puente Hills on the Rowland property and counted Harry Chandler among its directors
In 1903, the Columbia and Puente oil companies merged into a firm with $2 million in capital, which linked the “tres hermanos” as principals.
Mr. Chandler (1864-1944) was from New Hampshire and, while at Dartmouth College, he took a dare and dove into a cold vat of starch, this causing a lung hemorrhage. Soon settling in Los Angeles where the weather suited his damaged health, he went to work for the new newspaper, the Times. He worked his way up the company ladder and, a couple of years after the death of his first wife, married Marian Otis the daughter of the paper’s owner, Harrison Gray Otis, a powerful figure in Los Angeles politics and business.
Mr. Chandler became assistant publisher and vice-president, and after Mr. Otis died in 1917 took control of the Times. Tres Hermanos was one of many Chandler real estate acquisitions.
More about the ranch in next month’s column.
(Paul Spitzzeri, historian and author who lives in Chino Hills, writes of Carbon Canyon history and events at carboncanyonchronicle.blogspot.com.)