As a person with a long history of spending time on things that don’t bring in money or pay bills, it should be no surprise that I’m a history buff.
Over the years of avoiding real work, I’ve spent a lot of time researching the history of our little corner of the world. And we do have much history to research. Probably unbeknownst to most people, the Los Al-Rossmoor-Seal Beach area played an integral role in so much Southern California history, to wit:
- Native Americans – Puvungna by the Rancho Los Alamitos adobe, and other sites were some of the main settlements for the Tongva (also often called Gabrielino) tribe of native Americans.
- Spanish settlement, – Rancho Nietos (of which Ranchos Los Alamitos, Cerritos, Coyotes, Bolsa and Bolsa Chica were split off) was not only the largest, but one of the very first of the Spanish ranchos in California.
- Ranching – Abel Stearns was the largest rancho-era cattle rancher in all California, and one of the most important figures in early California history.
- Sheep ranching – The Bixbys (mainly via Flint, Bixby & Company) at one time were the largest land owners in all California (with the exception of the railroads).
- Colonization, boosterism, and land speculation – The Stearns Ranchos, Jotham Bixby’s Clearwater and Willmore City/Long Beach, John W. Bixby’s Alamitos Beach, Phil Stanton’s Baytown/Seal Beach to Ross Cortese’s – Rossmoor and Leisure World — this area was right in the middle of it all.
- Railroads — Henry Huntington (Pacific Electric), E.W. Harriman (Southern Pacific), William and J. Ross Clark (San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake) — our community played a small part in an epic battle of the titans.
- Movies (Balboa Studios in Long Beach),
- Aviation (from daredevil flights on the beach to McDonnell Douglas, North American Rockwell & Boeing and the space program),
- Oil (Signal Hill & Seal Beach fields were among the nation’s biggest),
- World II (pilots trained at NAS Los Alamitos played major roles in the Pacific air war against Japan; the internment of Japanese farmers),
- the spread of Suburbia (Lakewood, Los Altos and Rossmoor changed the housing industry, Leisure World was the first gated community) — the list goes on, but so little of our history is really that well known.
I think one reason for that is that none of the people who started this area really lived around here. This, their descendants and their records are elsewhere.
Abel Stearns lived in LA, so did J. Ross Clark (it was really he, not his brother who built and ran the Los Alamitos Sugar Factory). I.W. Hellman — one of the major financial figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries — not only first lived in LA, he then moved to San Francisco.
Another absentee landlord/community builder is Philip A. Stanton — the man rightfully given credit as the founder of Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and Stanton. He was also a major landlord/real estate agent in Anaheim and Stanton Boulevard would probably be real famous if it hadn’t been renamed Beach Boulevard in the 1930s or so. He was also the Speaker of the State Assembly and a candidate for Governor in 1910 (he lost big time), but he continued to be a major force in California Republican politics as well as the major force behind the development of the whole South Coast (Naples to Newport) from 1912 to 1920.
So how come we know so much about other OC figures like Talbert and Irvine and Tustin and all the other figures and so little about Stanton. Because for the most part Stanton lived in LA, and wasn’t survived by any family members who felt compelled to write copious volumes about him. Bottom line — we think poor Phil has been overlooked while less deserving individuals have been lionized. So to make amends in whatever small way we can, we offer the following:
Philip Stanton was born in 1868 in Ohio, and moved from that state to Los Angeles in 1887, ostensibly for “health reasons.” Also moving, either at the same time or soon after, were his parents, Judge Lewis and ___ Baum Stanton who moved into a home at 420 W. 31st Street in Los Angeles with their children Lewis, Adeline and Caroline. (An older brother __ apparently stayed in the East.) Phil Stanton immediately got a job as a real estate agent just as the boom of the eighties was about to burst. He was hustling properties in the Pellisier tract, which was around present Wilshire and Western, right where the Wiltern Theater now stands.
Having missed out on the quick riches of that era, Stanton got involved in 1889 selling properties west of Anaheim area for the Stearns Rancho Companies. He basically bought 3500 acres and resold most of the land west of Brookhurst and east of Knott, from around La Palma Avenue south to Orangewood or Chapman. The southwest corner of this property butted up against the J.W. Bixby family’s portion of the Rancho Los Alamitos. This is now the heart of Stanton.
In the early 1890s, Stanton got involved with growing sugar beets for the new factory bult at Chino in 1891, urging many of his renters to grow the new crop. Stanton soon was selected to the Board of the Anaheim Sugar Beet Cooperative and he worked with architect Frank Capitain to try to raise money to build a cooperative sugar beet factory in that area. In 1895 he wrote banker I.W. Hellman about the project, but Hellman wrote back that the severe economic depression would make it very difficult to sell any bonds at that time. Ultimately, Stanton was unsuccessful trying to sell bonds for a factory.
By this time, Stanton had become the real estate agent for Hellman, the pre-eminent banker on the West Coast. Hellman had started the Farmers & Merchants Bank in Los Angeles and then assumed control of the powerful Nevada Bank of San Francisco (which developed into Wells Fargo). Hellman had personally invested in J.W. Bixby’s purchase of the Rancho Los Alamitos, and upon Bixby’s death in 1887 and the subsequent division of the rancho, Hellman received most of what is now Seal Beach south of the 405 freeway. Stanton became the primary agent for these properties, and Hellman placed much trust in Stanton’s local knowledge. Upon Stanton’s recommendation, and spurred by the construction of the new Los Alamitos Sugar Factory, the pair began making plans to establish a townsite at Anaheim Landing in 1896. But Hellman insisted they had to wait until the current yearly leases around the popular summer resort had expired. This no doubt frustrated Stanton somewhat. In his frequent correspondence with Hellman, it is also apparent that Stanton was very frustrated and annoyed by the presence of a large number of squatters at Anaheim Landing. He wrote Hellman the “only thing these Anaheimers understand is force” and urged the banker to single out the most responsible of the squatters and come down hard no him to send a lesson to the others. Hellman too was annoyed by the squatters, but under advice of his legal counsel, Jackson A. Graves, they avoided a confrontation in the courts because it might open another can of worms regarding a somewhat unspecific survey line that was ran during the property division.
The next year, Capitain enticed millionaires J. Ross Clark and his brother William to build the Los Alamitos Sugar Factory, and the Bixbys agreed to form a township to serve the factory. Farmers on Stanton’s lands also sold beets to the new Alamitos factory as did some tenants on the Hellman lands further south. (Interestingly, when the Chino factory cancelled their beet contracts with farmers on Hellman’s Alamitos lands, Stanton asked Hellman to intervene
with the Oxnards (who ran the Chino factory). Apparently, Stanton still didn’t have enough clout that could prevent the factory operators from taking such a costly arbitrary action.
But Stanton was still looking for the big kill — the one that would make him a player during lunches at the newly formed Jonathan Club.
He probably thought he had it when Hellman and his business partner Henry Huntington decided in May 1901 to build a system of inter-urban electric railways — this would become the famous Pacific Electric rail system, connecting Los Angeles with all its suburban areas.
As Hellman’s agent, Stanton naturally had advance notice of this. He and Hellman had been discussing numerous railroad possibilities in the area as far back as 1895, including possible electric railways. When corporate maneuverings forced Henry Huntington out of the Southern Pacific, and he teamed up with Hellman to launch their new rail system, Stanton saw his big opportunity. A month or so before the Huntington-Hellman plan was formally announced, Stanton put together a syndicate to buy 1500 acres of land around present Huntington Beach. At first they planned to call it Bolsa Bay, (And Superior Beach was a second choice) but later changed it to Pacific City.
The Hellman-Huntington group’s first planned rail line ran from Los Angeles to Long Beach, and although they had the usual snags, they made great time, completing their 25 mile railroad line from LA to Long Beach in five and a half months. (Neither SP owner E.H. Harriman or the Clarks made things easy for Huntington because the new PE would take business away from Harriman’s SP and the Clarks’ San Pedro, LA & Salt Lake lines — which was actually another of Harriman’s lines via a fairly secret partnership).
No doubt Stanton was already smelling the profits from his new township of Pacific City. It’s possible Stanton also had a hand in the 1901 move of John C. Ord from Los Alamitos to what became Seal Beach, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
But the railroad was not to reach neither Stanton or Ord’s new properties for two more years as Huntington hit some roadblocks. First, a bunch of rich LA and Pasadena businessmen had built the Bolsa Chica Gun Club and they didn’t want a railroad traveling down the beach near the club — at least not at the price Huntington was willing to pay for the land. Huntington threatened to take his railroad to Newport Beach via a more northerly route through Los Alamitos and east to catch another line heading from LA to Santa Ana. This route would bypass Stanton’s new township at Pacific City — which Phil had already invested a lot of time and money in.
But an even bigger problem faced Huntington before he could progress any further. Harriman had let it be known that he would contest Huntington at every possible opportunity. This alarmed Hellman — who by now was also Harriman’s banker — who, along with his syndicate of San Francisco bankers, was not happy that their PE earnings were not seeing returns, since Huntington kept reinvesting their profits in more construction and more acquisitions. Bottom line, immense pressure was placed on Huntington who in May 1903 was forced to sell 40% of the PE stock to Harriman.
But to get the railroad heading down the beach towards Newport, he still had to deal with the owners of the Bolsa Chica Gun Club.
Stanton couldn’t wait. He was stretched a little thin and arranged a deal with Huntington for the latter to buy out the West Coast Land Company. Stanton and the others took $200,000 in cash out of it, and Huntington gave some of the others stock in his new Huntington Beach Land Company.
Stanton used some of his money to invest in land on the other side of the Bolsa Chica Land Company – on a little rise of land between Anaheim Landing on Anaheim Bay and Alamitos Bay. He also brought in a partner with much deeper pockets than himself — I.A. Lothian. Lothian had come to Los Angeles in the mid 80’s, to go into the paint and decorations business. He was a relative of J. Parmer Fuller (Fuller Paints) and he became their man in Southern California. He is very soon listed on Good Government committees, and Business associations. In addition to his paint business money, Lothian also made a tidy sum in Los Angeles real estate, and also as a partner in the Central Oil Company which struck oil in the Whittier area.
A month or so after selling his West Coast land company interests to Huntington, Stanton and Lothian each purchased 200 acres from Susan Bixby (widow of J.W.) and her son Fred, and daughter Susannah Bixby. A few days after this Stanton and Lothian formed the Bayside Land and Improvement Company and, with the help of Orange County surveyor C.H. Finley, they laid out the new town of Bay City.
That they had to buy the land from the Bixbys wasn’t a surprise, as Hellman apparently wasn’t selling any land knowing that once the new electric railroad came, it would increase dramatically in value).
Now they just had to wait to get Huntington’s red cars to their new town.
But Stanton could now afford to be patient. He had a partner with deep pockets, and he was also establishing himself as a politician of some influence. In the second half of 1902, he got himself elected to the California State Assembly. And we’ll cover more of that next time.
- Part II of the world’s longest article on Philip A. Stanton – The Political years
- Part III of the Philip A Stanton Encyclopedia – A New City. the Joy Zone and not-so-joyous zone