The weekend festivities included stagecoach rides, a bonfire and flamenco, rancho events resembling those that might have unfolded in the Valley a hundred years earlier, during the waning days of the Spanish dons. Much of the festive life of Valley residents in the '50s, in fact, which played itself out at places like Ford's movie-set hacienda and at horse farms in Northridge, recalled the privileged life of the dons, with its sharp class, race and gender distinctions, its emphasis on horsemanship, its whole-beef barbecues and its disinclination toward labor.
IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL -- I ATTENDED OUR LADY OF Grace in Encino, at the corner of White Oak and Ventura -- we were taught to carve bars of Ivory soap to resemble the different façades of the churches in Junipero Serra's "rosary" of 21 California missions, but we learned nothing of the Gabrielino, the original inhabitants of the Valley. We did not suspect their language lingered in the names Simi, Pacoima and Cahuenga. Characterized as grubbing or "digger" Indians, the Gabrielino were in fact a culturally advanced people when Gaspar de Portolá's party first encountered them on August 5, 1769, in a village on the L.A. River the Spanish named el Ranchería de los encinos, for the coast live oaks in the bottomland. Arguably the most populous and powerful ethnic group in Southern California at that time, they had by 1900 ceased to exist as a culturally identifiable group.
A few years after de Portolá's party passed through, el Valle de Santa Catalina de Bonónia de los encinoswas loosely apportioned between two Spanish lessees. In 1797 the leases were terminated, and virtually all of the Valley's 155,000 acres came under the control of the new Misión San Fernando rey de España. Mexican republicanism replaced Spanish feudalism in 1811, and following secularization in 1834 the mission system of land tenure gave way to a more formalized rancho system of pastoral and agricultural leases. These operations were largely replaced by dry-land wheat farms in the 1870s after a series of catastrophic droughts killed great numbers of sheep and cattle.
Platted towns first appeared in the east Valley around 1875; breakneck land development began about 1905, amid rumors of abundant water soon to be delivered from the eastern Sierra. (Under the so-called pueblo right, the city of Los Angeles laid claims to allLos Angeles River water, including the San Fernando Valley's immense subterranean aquifer from which the river itself arose.)