Rancho San Pedro Collection
Scope and Content
The collection consists of material related to the Rancho San Pedro, the Dominguez family, and various Southern California companies founded by the heirs of Manuel Dominguez. These companies include the Dominguez Estate Company, Dominguez Water Company (later Corporation), Dominguez-Wilshire Corporation, Carson Estate Company, Francis Land Company, Reyes-Dominguez Company, Ramona Properties, and a number of affiliated companies. The collection traces the evolution of the Rancho San Pedro from a farm-based concern to a major participant in oil, water, and real estate development industries.
Agricultural interests are shown through crop reports and correspondence with farms, orchards, and tenants. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the Rancho had a number of tenants of Japanese and Chinese descent; materials include leases and papers related to legal issues facing these tenants, most notably the 1913 California Alien Land Act, and the relocation of Japanese-heritage tenants to internment camps in the early years of World War II.
The discovery of oil on Rancho San Pedro lands in 1920 and its subsequent development as a major petroleum center is shown through extensive land appraisals, drilling leases, and daily, monthly, and annual production and royalty reports from a number of major oil companies. Records of interests such as the Dominguez-Wilshire Corporation and the Beverly-Arnaz Company show how the Dominguez family interests helped vitalize retail and residential growth in Los Angeles areas, including the Miracle Mile, Cheviot Knolls, and Beverlywood.
The interests growing out of the Rancho San Pedro were interrelated, with family members, employees, and lawyers often connected to multiple companies. Documents of individual companies include personal correspondence, most notably some handwritten letters by Dominguez family members. Correspondence with longtime employees is often of a personal nature, with expressions of congratulations at the birth of children, sympathy over the death of relatives, or advice regarding personal matters.
The Rancho San Pedro Collection provides a vivid illustration of Southern California life and business in the twentieth century, and it is rich in the language and character of the times. Along with the Dominguez family and heirs, it provides glimpses of some of the major figures and businesses that helped shape the region’s history, including Henry O’Melveny, Rhoda Rindge Adamson, Walter H. Leimert, and the Title Insurance and Trust Company.
Original material in the collection covers the years 1871 to 1960, though there are a few reproductions (generally photographs or photostats) of deeds and other legal documents, plans, and graphic materials dating from as early as 1769. The bulk of the material covers the years ca. 1901 to 1950, the main years of business of the various family-related companies. Much of the material is primary, including articles of incorporation, minutes of meetings, ledgers, deeds, maps, blueprints, leases and quitclaims, business and personal correspondence, financial and business records, tax materials, invoices, and receipts.
- Documents and maps in the collection that note a site on Rancho San Pedro lands with an offensive, racist term is its name. Though the site no longer exists, the name appears throughout the collection.
- In developing a Los Angeles subdivision, the Francis Land Company was guided by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). The FHA policies were exclusionary of all persons of color, and this is reflected in the covenants and restrictions created for the subdivision, barring persons of color from owning homes in the neighborhood forever.
- Documents and letters related to the forced removal of Japanese American tenants from Rancho San Pedro lands in World War II, and their incarceration in inland concentration camps. These papers reflect the anti-Nisei sentiment of the time, and the letters often describe the victims' physical and emotional distress.
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- Majority of material found within 1900-1960
- California State University, Dominguez Hills (Organization)
There are no access restrictions on this collection.
All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Director of Archives and Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical materials and not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.
Biographical / Historical
The materials in the Rancho San Pedro Collection document the history and development of the Rancho San Pedro, one of the original Spanish California land grants. Juan Jose Dominguez, a soldier in the King’s army, received the Southern California land grant in 1784, largely as a reward for his years of service in California. Unlike many original owners of Spanish grants, Dominguez and his heirs managed to retain ownership of the Rancho San Pedro through the decades as California moved from Spanish to Mexican to United States rule. Of over seventy Spanish and Mexican land grants, the Rancho San Pedro was the first to be granted a clear patent by the United States government.
In its original form, the grant given to Juan Jose Dominguez comprised over 75,000 acres, extending from San Pedro Harbor to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, then eastward as far as modern-day Lynwood. Following Juan Jose’s death, the Dominguez family had to constantly fight off legal challenges to their ownership of the Rancho. A complex arrangement with the Sepulveda family allowed them to claim a large portion of the property; after several court decisions and appeals, over 31,000 acres of Palos Verdes land was awarded to the Sepulvedas in 1846. By 1858, following further land sales and purchases, the size of the Rancho San Pedro was approximately 26,000 acres. In that year, the U.S. government granted the Dominguez family a patent for the land, establishing them as owners of the Rancho San Pedro under United States law. Rancho San Pedro land, as described by the patent, was bounded by the modern-day cities of Long Beach, Wilmington, Compton, and Redondo Beach.
Juan Jose Dominguez built a home and herded cattle on the property until his death in 1809. When Juan Jose died childless, primary ownership of the land passed to his nephew, Jose Cristobal Dominguez, who held the land until 1825. After his death, the land was divided among his six children. In addition to managing the Rancho, the oldest son, Manuel, began to purchase the land left to his brothers and sisters. He ultimately consolidated ownership of the entire Rancho San Pedro, and he would remain owner for almost sixty years. In addition to being a major property owner Rancho, Manuel Dominguez became a prominent figure as the nearby settlement of Los Angeles moved from being a small pueblo to a frontier town to a thriving city. Dominguez held a number of public positions in Los Angeles, including mayor, justice of the peace, and supervisor, and he was a delegate to the first California constitutional convention in 1849. During this time, Manuel Dominguez created a relationship between the Rancho San Pedro and the city of Los Angeles that would continue long after his death in 1882.
When Manuel Dominguez died, the land passed first to his wife; following her death a short time later, the land of the Rancho San Pedro was divided among his six daughters: Ana Josefa Juliana Dominguez de Guyer, Guadalupe Marcelina Dominguez, Dolores Simona Dominguez de Watson, Maria Victoria Dominguez de Carson, Susana Delfina Dominguez del Amo, and Maria Jesus de los Reyes Dominguez de Francis. After initial efforts at determining equitable land distribution among the sisters failed, the family asked the Los Angeles Superior Court to evaluate and formally partition the land. This partition, which went into effect in 1885, divided the Rancho according to a complicated scheme giving the daughters not merely equal amounts of land, but equitable types of acreage (farmland, river land, swamp, oceanfront, etc.), meaning that each daughter owned pieces of land throughout the Rancho.
With this division of the Rancho San Pedro lands, the business interests became increasingly diverse. Some companies, such as the Dominguez Estate Company and Dominguez Water Company, were formed in service to the entire Rancho, while others served interests of specific families, such as the Watson Land Company, the Francis Land Company, the Del Amo Estate Company, and the Carson Estate Company. Even when the Dominguez heirs formed separate companies, however, these companies remained tightly interconnected, with members of the extended family often serving on boards or as executives. In some cases, as with lawyer Henry O’Melveny or Chief Engineer George Hand, employees, lawyers, and advisors performed services for multiple family-related companies at the same time.
The land’s proximity to Los Angeles, Los Angeles harbor, and ever-growing neighboring cities made it inevitable that the Rancho San Pedro would be inextricably linked with them. In 1912 Los Angeles purchased the “Shoestring Strip,” a narrow strip of land running through the Rancho San Pedro, thus creating a viable link between Los Angeles and its harbor. The rail line constructed on the Shoestring Strip allowed traffic to and from the port and opened the door to the region’s explosive industrial growth in the twentieth century. As the cities surrounding the Rancho San Pedro grew, it was inevitable that the heirs of Manuel Dominguez would need to negotiate easements, rights of way, and municipal and industrial property rights. In 1925-1928, the City of Long Beach attempted to annex both Davidson City, a development on the eastern side of the Rancho, along with nearby Rancho properties. The various Dominguez family-related companies worked together to defeat the initiative, even threatening to incorporate Davidson City a separate city. Oil companies operating on the Rancho San Pedro joined forces with the family companies, and the move to annex Davidson City was defeated by a narrow margin.
The Rancho San Pedro was initially devoted solely to ranching. While the various companies diversified the focus of the Dominguez heirs to include nurseries, real estate, and water management, tenant farming remained a vital part of Rancho San Pedro life throughout the first half of the century. Tenant farmers on Rancho lands included a large number who were of Japanese or Chinese descent. From the California Alien Land Act of 1913 to the evacuation of the Japanese during World War II, these tenants faced laws restricting where they lived and their right to lease land. Tenants and the Rancho landlords dealt with a number of issues related to the laws, including gathering birth certificates or other documents to prove tenants’ American citizenship, or writing letters of recommendation on tenants’ behalf to War Relocation Boards.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, the lands around the Rancho San Pedro were found to be oil rich. In 1920, oil was discovered first on property belonging to the Del Amo family, and the first producing oil well was drilled there in 1921. This opened the door to oil exploration throughout the Rancho San Pedro, and before long the Rancho became one of the major petroleum centers in the United States, with over twenty oil companies holding oil production leases on Dominguez family lands.
At the same time that the oil industry was discovering the Rancho San Pedro, the influence of other Dominguez family businesses was extending beyond the borders of the Rancho. While the Dominguez Water Company was originally formed to generate the water needs of the Rancho and nearby Compton, it was reincorporated as the Dominguez Water Company in 1937 and become a public utility in 1940. With its connection to the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District, the Dominguez Water Corporation helped fuel the explosive growth of both residential and industrial centers in and around Los Angeles. From the late 1920s to the 1950s, other affiliated companies, such as the Dominguez-Wilshire Corporation and the Beverly-Arnaz Company, were important in developing and vitalizing business districts and some of the first major subdivisions in Los Angeles.
From its origins in agriculture to its growing involvement in oil, water, industry, and residential development, the history of the Rancho San Pedro parallels that of Southern California itself, and the Dominguez family-related companies helped steer many of the economic forces that shaped the region throughout the twentieth century.
The Rancho San Pedro Collection contains records documenting a number of Dominguez family-related companies. While they existed in the context of the Rancho San Pedro, and they were inextricably bound to each other, they were also nonetheless organized as separate entities. A brief history of each follows:
Dominguez Estate Company
The will of Ana Josefa Juliana Dominguez de Guyer divided her estate among her sisters. The sisters decided to form a corporation that would manage the de Guyer estate, with each sister receiving equal shares. The Dominguez Estate Company was incorporated in 1910. Dominguez daughter Marcelina also donated her share of Rancho holdings to the Dominguez Estate Company a year before her death in 1913. Headed by Henry O’Melveny, the Dominguez Estate Company became the largest and most diverse of the family-related companies, dealing in oil production, land and water management, real estate, and stock and bond investment. Operations on the Rancho San Pedro lands remained of paramount importance, and the Dominguez Estate Company managed leases to farmers, and also negotiated with officials, municipalities, and companies in matters regarding easements, rights of way, and land purchases.
The Dominguez Estate Company (along with the Dominguez Water Company) was initially headquartered in the Title Insurance Building in downtown Los Angeles. In 1929, the company purchased property at 5410 Wilshire Boulevard, in the booming Los Angeles business district known as the Miracle Mile. The Dominguez-Wilshire Company was incorporated that year to oversee construction of the Dominguez-Wilshire Building, and then to manage the building and rent office and retail space. The Dominguez Wilshire Company was dissolved in 1936, with the Dominguez Estate Company taking over the management of the building and tenancy. In 1944, the company was reincorporated as the Dominguez-Wilshire Corporation. It resumed management of the building, and stayed in existence until 1958, when it voluntarily dissolved, and its assets transferred to the Dominguez Estate Company.
Wilshire-New Hampshire Company
While the Dominguez-Wilshire Company was established to manage rentals at the Dominguez-Wilshire Building, the Wilshire-New Hampshire Company was incorporated in 1948 to develop and manage other properties, particularly an office building in the 600 block of New Hampshire Avenue in Los Angeles. The directors included Dominguez family members H. H. Cotton, H. H. Jarrett, and Edward A. Carson. The Wilshire-New Hampshire Company was in existence for three years; in 1951 it was voluntarily dissolved, and its assets absorbed into the Dominguez Estate Company.
Dominguez Water Corporation
When water engineer William Mulholland determined that there were extensive water reservoirs under Rancho lands, the Dominguez Water Company was established in 1911 as a means to distribute water to all parts of the Rancho. Headed by lawyer Henry O’Melveny, the company also supplied the water needs of the nearby town of Compton. While never profitable, the Dominguez Water Company remained in operation until 1936, when the Dominguez Estate Company bought it out, then reincorporated it in 1937 as the Dominguez Water Corporation. In 1940, the Dominguez Water Corporation became a public utility, eventually moved its headquarters to Long Beach, and began to greatly expand service.
Carson Estate Company
The Carson Estate Company was informally established in 1901 following the death of George Carson, then formally incorporated in 1914, with Victoria de Carson as President and her children as directors (along with son-in-law H. H. Cotton, who was elected secretary). The Company initially intended to raise money through the leasing and sale of land, but with the discovery of oil on Rancho property, the articles of incorporation were amended in 1924 to permit oil drilling on the Carson property. Farming, land management, and oil production would continue to be the primary concerns of the Carson Estate Company.
The Francis Land Company was incorporated in 1928 to help manage the Rancho San Pedro holdings of Maria de los Reyes Dominguez de Francis. De Francis was widowed and had no children of her own, and she wished to distribute her wealth to members of the extended family without imposing heavy tax burdens. Her lawyer and confidant, Henry O’Melveny, organized the company to have close and complex ties with the other family-related companies, particularly the Dominguez Estate Company, the Carson Land Company, and the Watson Land Company. Following de Francis’s death, the assets of the Francis Land Company, largely held by the Carson Land and Watson Land companies, were transferred to the Dominguez Estate Company. The complexity of the issues surrounding both the de Francis Estate and the Francis Land Company made resolution problematic, and it would take years of legal maneuvering before both were settled. The Francis Land Company continued to exist as a subsidiary of the Dominguez Estate Company until 1944, when it was dissolved, though all assets were not liquidated until 1951.
While the Francis Land Company accounted for the bulk of the de Francis estate, Mrs. de Francis retained ownership of nearly $3.5 million worth of municipal bonds. In 1932, O’Melveny incorporated another company, the Reyes-Dominguez Company, to manage these assets, largely through the purchase and sale of bonds and securities. In 1936, the Reyes-Dominguez Estate Company began the process of liquidating its assets; like the Francis Land Company, however, it was several years before all of these assets could be transferred to the Dominguez Estate Company.
Watson Land Company
The Watson Estate Company was incorporated in 1912 to help protect the interests of Dolores Simona Dominguez de Watson. While the Watson Estate Company made a steady, albeit relatively small, income from leasing land, it broke with other Rancho-based companies in regularly selling off small pieces of property. The company was reincorporated as the Watson Land Company in 1927, largely as a way to have lands assessed according to richer 1920s valuations, rather than the 1913 valuation that had been used. Under reincorporation, land sales and leases gave the Watson Land Company a sounder financial foundation. As with other Rancho-based concerns, the Watson Land Company realized profits from sales and leases to oil companies; throughout its history, though, the directors of the Watson Land Company focused on the agricultural and industrial development of the land. The success of this practice grew throughout the century, and the Watson Land Company remains one of the most successful in Southern California.
Jarret Estate Company/Ramona Properties
Following the death of Dolores Watson Jarrett, her husband H. H. Jarrett managed their sons’ estate until they reached legal adulthood. The estate held Dominguez and Watson stock, and in 1937 Jarrett created the Jarrett Estate Company as a way to invest the profits, primarily in real estate. In 1937, the name of the company was changed to Ramona Properties. In 1939-1940, Ramona Properties purchased lots from the Francis Land Company in what was to become Cheviot Knolls, one of the first major Los Angeles subdivisions.
In 1939, H. H. Cotton and H. H. Jarrett headed a syndicate formed to purchase property known as the Arnaz Tract from the Marblehead Land Company, owned by Malibu heir and Los Angeles benefactress Rhoda Rindge Adamson. In April, 1939, the syndicate incorporated as the Beverly-Arnaz Land Company, with Cotton as President and Jarrett as Director. Also on the board was noted Los Angeles developer Walter H. Leimert. By 1940, the Arnaz Tract was being developed as Beverlywood, a subdivision located near Beverly Hills and what is now Century City in the Los Angeles area. The company was voluntarily dissolved in 1946 and its assets liquidated.
Valencia Spanish Tile Corporation
The Valencia Spanish Tile Corporation, a manufacturer of ceramic tiles, operated out of Culver City, located near Los Angeles. Several members of the Carson family owned stock in the corporation from the 1920s, and in 1937 Lucy Carson Rasmussen, David Carson, and H. H. Cotton gained control of the company as principal shareholders. They were only nominally directors, retaining former owner Charles Bausback as manager. While not actively seeking out new business, the corporation continued to serve a number of clients for several years.
301 boxes (155 linear ft.)
Language of Materials
This collection contains legal and business papers related to the Rancho San Pedro and to its owners, the Dominguez family. The Spanish crown gave the Southern California lands of the Rancho San Pedro to Juan Jose Dominguez in 1784, and in 1858 the United States government granted a patent confirming Dominguez family ownership of the Rancho. A few items predate the 1858 patent, but the bulk of the collection is from 1900-1960. Some materials concern the Rancho San Pedro itself, including partitions of land among family members, farming, oil and water development, and legal issues with neighboring cities, including Los Angeles and Long Beach. Much of the collection comprises records of the business, water, and real estate companies established by Dominguez heirs in and around the Los Angeles area.
Arranged in 12 series:
- Series I. Dominguez Family Papers, 1770-1960
- Series II. Rancho San Pedro, 1769-1960
- Series III. Rancho San Pedro Oil Production, 1921-1960
- Series IV. Dominguez Water Corporation, 1912-1960
- Series V. Jarrett Estate Company/Ramona Properties, 1936-1944
- Series VI. Valencia Spanish Tile Corporation, 1937-1949
- Series VII. Beverly-Arnaz Land Company, 1939-1952
- Series VIII. Watson Land Company, 1910-1948
- Series IX. Francis Companies, 1923-1948
- Series X. Carson Estate Company, 1912-1954
- Series XI. Dominguez Estate Company, 1910-1962
- Series XII. Photographs, 1846-1969
The materials in the Rancho San Pedro Collection arrived in two major accessions. Approximately 110 linear feet of materials had been stored in the boiler room of the Dominguez Water Corporation, and were passed to California State University, Dominguez Hills in the early 1970s. In 2006, the Carson Companies donated approximately 25 linear feet of materials. Many of the materials in the Rancho San Pedro Collection were used by Robert Gillingham and Judson Grenier as research for Gillinghams’s The Rancho San Pedro, his history of the Rancho San Pedro and the Dominguez family.
During the 2005-2006 processing, duplicate, redundant, or nonessential materials were removed from the collection, along with items not directly related to the Rancho San Pedro or related companies. Newspaper clippings were photocopied and discarded.
- Gillingham, Robert Cameron, The Rancho San Pedro: the story of a famous Rancho in Los Angeles County and of its owners the Dominguez family. Los Angeles: Cole-Holmquist, 1961.
- Grenier, Judson, California legacy : the James Alexander Watson—Maria Dolores Dominguez de Watson family 1820-1980. Los Angeles: Watson Land Company, 1987.
Materials in this collection were partially processed and foldered during inventories in 1987 and 1994. Final processing was completed in 2006.
This finding aid was created as part of Early Los Angeles/Rancho San Pedro Manuscript Cataloging Project, a CSU Dominguez Hills Library project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The project started in 2005. Project Director was Greg Williams. Project Archivists were Thomas Philo and Jennifer Allan Goldman.
- Aeronautics -- Competitions
- Amo, Gregorio del, 1858-1941
- Annexation (municipal government)
- Associated Oil Company
- Beverly-Arnaz Land Company
- California -- History
- Carson Estate Company
- Carson, George Henry
- Carson, Maria Victoria Dominguez
- Central business districts -- California -- Los Angeles
- Chanslor-Western Oil and Development Company
- Cohn, Kaspare, 1839-1916
- Compton (Calif.)
- Corporate governance
- Cotton, Hamilton H.
- Del Amo, Susana Delfina Dominguez
- Dominguez Estate Company
- Dominguez Water Corporation
- Dominguez, Guadalupe Marcelina
- Dominguez, Manuel
- Dominguez-Wilshire Corporation
- Family-owned business enterprises
- Farms -- California
- Foreign workers
- Francis Land Company
- Francis, Maria Jesus de los Reyes Dominguez de
- Guyer, Ana Josefa Dominguez de
- Housing development -- California
- Inheritance and transfer tax -- Law and legislation
- Japanese American evacuation and resettlement
- Japanese American farmers -- Los Angeles
- Jarrett Estate Company
- Kaspare Cohn Commercial & Savings Bank
- Land grants -- California
- Long Beach (Calif.)
- Los Angeles (Calif.) -- History
- Marland Oil Company
- Oil and gas leases -- California
- Oil wells -- California -- Los Angeles
- O’Melveny & Myers
- O’Melveny, Henry John
- Partition of decedents’ estates
- Petroleum industry and trade -- California
- Photographic prints
- Photographs, original
- Planned communities -- California
- Public utilities -- California -- Los Angeles
- Ramona Properties
- Real estate business -- California -- Los Angeles County
- Real estate development -- California -- Los Angeles
- Real property -- Valuation
- Redondo Beach (Calif.)
- Reyes-Dominguez Company
- Richfield Oil Corporation
- Shell Oil Company
- Standard Oil Company of California
- Stock transfer -- Law and legislation
- Torrance (Calif.)
- Union Bank & Trust Company of Los Angeles
- Union Oil Company of California
- Valencia Spanish Tile Corporation
- Victory Oil Company
- Walter H. Leimert Co.
- Water resources development -- California -- Los Angeles County
- Water supply -- California
- Water utilities -- California -- Los Angeles
- Watson Land Company
- Watson, Maria Dolores Dominguez de
- Wilshire Boulevard (Los Angeles, Calif.)
- Wilshire-New Hampshire Corporation
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Law and legislation
- Inventory of the Rancho San Pedro Collection
- Finding aid prepared by Thomas Philo.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English