When oil magnate Edwin J. Marshall formed the second version of the Chino Land and Water Company in 1905 to manage and develop the massive Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, he assembled a team of highly connected wealthy business associates whose activities ranged throughout greater Los Angeles.
Isaac Milbank (1864-1922) was a native of Fairfield, Connecticut, where his father was a farmer and inventor. Milbank graduated from the business college at Yale University and went to work for the New York Condensed Milk Company, founded by his uncle and Gail Borden, who invented the process of condensing milk. He married a Borden relative, Virginia Johnson, and rose to be vice-president and general manager of what was renamed Borden Condensed Milk Company in 1899. He retired shortly afterward and moved to Los Angeles, partly because a son had tuberculosis.
Mr. Milbank became a director of a bank, a farm syndicate, a life insurance company and the powerful Union Oil Company. Among his partners were Marshall and Edwin T. Earl, another Chino investor.
A shrewd real estate investor, Milbank was involved in development of several projects on the booming west side of Los Angeles. He endowed, in the memory of his son, who died from his lung ailment, a sanitarium building at Elysian Park. The Milbanks lived in a mansion on the famed “Millionaires Row” in Pasadena that still stands and is often used for film and television shooting. Mr. Milbank’s exertions in saving Union Oil from a Shell Oil takeover appear to have taken its toll as he died a few months later.
John S. Cravens (1871-1946) was from the Kansas City, Missouri area. Son of a prominent attorney and judge he also was a graduate of Yale where he met and married Mildred Myers, whose father was co-founder of the large Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company. Mr. Cravens went to work for the company and made his fortune when tobacco titan James Duke bought the firm, with Cravens directly involved in the negotiations, after John Liggett died in 1897. Later the merger was reversed, and Liggett and Myers returned, becoming well known for its Chesterfield, L&M, and Eve brands of cigarettes
Flush with cash, Cravens, still in his twenties, moved to Los Angeles and became second president of Southern California Edison. He left to become president of Southwestern National Bank, of which Marshall was a director. He had other business and banking roles and was part of a syndicate that developed much of the Westchester area of Los Angeles and was a developer in the new town of Torrance, created by and named for one of his partners at Chino.
Well known by Pasadena police officers for his high-speed driving and his refusal to pay his speeding tickets, Cravens was a near neighbor of Milbank on Millionaires Row. He and his wife lived in their home for many years, but razed it to build, in 1927, a massive mansion costing more than $300,000, an enormous sum. After Cravens and his wife died, the home became the headquarters of the regional chapter of the American Red Cross, then was sold to singer Michael Feinstein.
Next month we discuss the remaining partners: Edwin T. Earl and Jared S. Torrance.
(Paul Spitzzeri, a historian and author who lives in Chino Hills, maintains a blog on the history of Carbon Canyon called carboncanyonchronicle.blogspot.com.)