About the same time that Valentine Peyton purchased land from the Chino Land and Water Company on Rancho Santa Ana del Chino (see August 3), another Illinois native and California transplant acquired nearby acreage: Revel Lindsay English.
Born in 1877 in Kane, a rural community north of St. Louis, he left to pursue a career in music, with his rich baritone singing voice. He performed in a St. Louis opera company as well as a quartet that toured the United States, then moved to New York City to pursue an opera career. Then he headed to the opposite coast and landed in Pasadena.
By 1905, Mr. English was teaching vocal music and rapidly became a popular performer at parties, community functions and other events and he married his pianist Edith Ames. He also had a family passion for horses. In 1909 and 1910, he was a competitor in horse-drawn chariot races that gave the name to the “Tournament of Roses.”
Around that time, he opened the Kentucky Riding Academy (his father’s father was a horse breeder in that state famed for horse breeding) in Pasadena and operated it until the 1920s. Meantime, his widowed father came out to California and the two purchased 560 acres west of Chino for their Sierra Vista Stock Farm, and 1,240 acres in the hills further to the west.
Father and son raised horses in the purebred saddle, draft and harness classes, but the senior English developed health problems and died in 1915. Within several years, Revel closed his riding academy, sold his Pasadena home, and moved full-time to the Sierra Vista Stock Farm (now the site of Don Lugo High). During the 1920s, he rose to national renown in the equestrian community for his breeding of and competition with his saddle horses and was also much sought-after as a judge at competitions.
In 1926, English rose to the pinnacle of his field when he became the first amateur to win the Grand Championship stake for his division of saddle horses at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville, an achievement that made national news. It would be over 60 years before another amateur took the same prize.
The prize horse, Edna May’s King, who won a 1924 title in that class, was acquired for $12,000, a then-record, but English sold him in 1930 for $40,000. Other horses raised at Sierra Vista and in the grazing lands in the Chino Hills were sold to candy tycoon Franklin C. Mars and silent film legend Gloria Swanson. As the Great Depression worsened in the 1930s, English downsized his inventory of horses, though he continued the operation of the stock farm and grazing lands. He even tried oil drilling on the Chino Hills property, though to no avail.
In summer 1940, a fire broke out in English’s home at the Sierra Vista property and destroyed the residence including his trophies and awards. Though he rebuilt, the 63-year old horse breeder decided to auction off more of his animals, farm implements and tools. As he reduced his breeding and management operations, he continued to judge at competitions.
In April 1941, he sold his Chino Hills grazing lands to Pasadena capitalist James N. Clapp, though English remained at Sierra Vista a few years more before selling that property and moved to Tujunga, where he died in 1953. As for the Chino Hills property, Mr. Clapp died, and the ranch was subdivided. Among the later purchasers of portions of the English property were Walter Laband (the subject of a future column) and the Payne family where the Payne Ranch subdivision is today.
Meanwhile, there are a couple of visual reminders of Revel English’s nearly forty years of horse breeding and raising in Chino Hills, including English Road, around which are the last major equestrian properties in the city, and English Springs Park, through which a 1970s county road plan contemplated running today’s Grand Avenue. Fortunately, an alternate route was chosen.
(Paul Spitzzeri, historian and author who lives in Chino Hills, maintains a blog on the history of Carbon Canyon called carboncanyonchronicle.blogspot.com. Next Monday he will speak at the Chino Hills Historical Society meeting at the Community Center at 7 p.m.)