Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Eucalyptus Trees and WIlliam Wolfskill (and a couple other guys)

A while back . . . a serious while back, 2008 to be exact, I wrote a post on Jacaranda trees in Southern California. And just two months ago, watching the link I shared of a talk on the Olympics in Los Angeles, I learned that many (25,000, to be specific) of our palm trees were planted in the months leading up to the 1932 Olympics.

So I was truly interested in this new KCET SoCal Focus story: "Who Eucalyptized Southern California?" by Nathan Masters. (Lord, what a cute title. Not in a dozen years could I have come up with that!)

(OK, maybe in a dozen days of hard thinking.)

Eucalyptus trees were not here before 1865. They are native to Tasmania and a corner of Australia, not California.

One name is going to crop up in this story, the name of a man who had nothing to do with eucalyptus trees: Hugo Reid.

Scotsman Hugo Reid came to California in the first half of the 19th century, did well, and was awarded a land grant by the Mexican government: Rancho Santa Anita. He made his home there, in an adobe building. He is mainly known to historians for the articles he wrote describing Tongva culture, because Reid's wife, Victoria Bartolomea Comicrabit, happened to be Tongva. Those articles appeared in the Los Angeles Star in the early 1850s, and they are treasured and poured over by academics today.

So. Reid died and his property passed into other hands. And the drawing of Reid looking very gaucho-ish is from Wikipedia, and was apparently done in the 1880s to accompany a biography.

According to the KCET SoCal Focus piece, the landscape of our area back then was desolate. ". . . although conifers grew in the mountains, the lowlands of Southern California were mostly treeless plains, broken by isolated copses of live oak and sycamore." 

William Wolfskill was just the man to change that panorama. He came to California as a trapper, and started out buying 100 acres in Los Angeles, between 3rd and 9th Streets, and San Pedro and Alameda, where he planted grapes and citrus trees. He became the biggest citrus grower in the US and owned 3/4 of California's citrus trees before he died. His land and grapevines were producing 50,000 gallons of wine per year.

This is the man who first brought our blue gum eucalyptus trees to Southern California. He knew plants and trees, and he knew our climate.

The library's brief online biography of Wolfskill tells me that in 1865 "he purchased Rancho Santa Anita, where he planted eucalyptus seeds that he had imported from Australia. The eucalyptus trees, which still stand today, were the first of their kind in California."

I don't know if they really still stand today; I've come across dissenting views.

KCET reprinted a 1920 photo of those trees around the Hugo Reid Adobe. You'll have to go to the KCET site to see it. Wolfskill imported and planted the seeds in 1865, so by 1920 they were tall and lovely.

The KCET story traces eucalyptus tree popularity from there, By 1876, there was 200-acre groves in Santa Barbara and in Downey, and tens of thousands of trees planted in Highland Park. Abbott Kinney came along in the 1880s to take it from there, planting and promoting the tree everywhere--including the Westside, Lots of old pictures adorn that story--I encourage you to visit.

Back to Arcadia and the Rancho Santa Anita, where Wolfskill planted his seeds. The Hugo Reid Adobe is not the structure that you see at the Arboretun today. The original adobe, built in 1839, was gone even by the time that William Wolfskill took ownership in 1865. Which was fine, since he never meant to live there. The building there today is not even in the same location, according to this story in Arcadia Weekly. 

Wolfskill died only a year after planting the eucalyptus seeds, so he was one of many owners who didn't last long. He never saw his trees grow tall. The Hugo Reid Adobe was rebuilt a decade or so later by a later owner of the property, Lucky Baldwin,

So it is the rebuilt adobe we see in the photo above, and the lady in the picture is Ethel Schultheis. Her husband, Herman, took the photo. More on him in a moment.

Lucky Baldwin also built the Queen Anne Cottage on the grounds in the 1880s, which still stands and is quite famous. The entire place, the original Rancho Santa Anita, has been parceled off and whittled down, starting in Lucky Baldwin's day. Now, what is left is the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens.

And that gives me a chance to show this photo, also taken by the same Herman J. Schultheis.

Schultheis was a brilliant and creative man who worked for Walt Disney on such classics as Snow WhiteFantasia, and Pinocchio, and he was also a photographer, traveling the world, You can read a bit about him on this post, but you'll have to scroll down to the last third of the article.

So, we have eucalyptus trees all over SoCal, but the first were out in Arcadia,

This last picture is the Wolfskill Adobe--the place Wolfskill called home. Remember that his original land purchase was that 100 acres in Los Angeles, between 3rd and 9th Streets, and San Pedro and Alameda.

His adobe--this place--was at 239 Alameda, and the library says that 239 Alameda was actually between 3rd and 4th today. Of course it's gone now. And if Wolfskill ever planted his eucalyptus seeds there, they are gone as well.

I don't know why, in 1865, Wolfskill decided to sow those seeds out in Arcadia rather than Los Angeles, but imagine if he hadn't. Our landscapes might look very different.

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