Thursday, August 08, 2019

Verdugo Street, San Juan Capistrano

Horse tied at Verdugo St. near the Swallows Inn on Camino Capistrano, circa 1960.
Often what begins as a seemingly minor question turns into a larger and more interesting project than I expected. Isobel D. wrote, “What is the origin behind the name of Verdugo Street in Capistrano?”
For the little town of San Juan Capistrano, the 1930s were a period of renewed interest in local history. They began to realize that their best shot at economic survival during the Depression was we now call "heritage tourism." Accordingly, they played the "romance of the Mission Era" theme to the hilt. Their efforts spanned from architectural preservation to Mexican fiestas. They also renamed many streets.
Colorful raconteur, self-promoter and history buff Alfonso Yorba (a.k.a. Chauncey Chalmers; a.k.a. Bruce Conde; a.k.a. Hajji Abdurrahman; a.k.a. Major-General Bruce Alfonso de Bourbon; a.k.a. His Serene Highness Abdurrahman Bruce-Alfonso de Bourbon, Prince of Conde. Real name: Bruce Hamilton Chalmers) led the drive to change the English street names into Spanish ones. As historian Pam Hallan-Gibson writes, "McKinley became Del Obispo, Garden became Verdugo, and Oriental Street returned to [being] El Camino Real. Occidental Street became Los Rios Street and Central was changed to Camino Capistrano. Most of the new names had historical significance." 
Map of San Juan Capistrano in 1875, from the 1936 WPA report, “The Adobes of Orange County California.” Note the street names.
So what was the source for the street name Verdugo? Thanks to San Juan Capistrano Historical Society Museum Curator Jan Siegel, we now know. She found something written by Alfonso Yorba that's pretty specific:
"[The] last of the streets leading into the old ex-plaza is Verdugo Street," wrote Yorba, "extending west from near the northwest corner of the pueblo square, and indicting the approximate location of the "L" shaped adobe of Don Pedro Verdugo in pueblo days. The high-walled adobe once stood on the ground now occupied by the Hotel Capistrano and the Mission Theater [now Hennessey's]. Fred Stoffel, builder and owner of the hotel, remembers the old adobe... Good old Monsignor St. John O'Sullivan, beloved restorer of the mission, was heartily against [the demolition of the Verdugo Adobe] and even went so far as to take the occasion of a sermon in the  mission chapel to warn devout San Juanenos 'to lay off helping Mr. Stoffel tear down the historic landmark.' So energetic was the zealous prelate in his fight to save the adobe that Fred had to do the work himself."
Pedro Verdugo, in the ruins of Mission San Juan Capistrano, circa 1890s. (Courtesy USC Libraries Special Collections)
Pedro Nolasco Antonio Jose Verdugo was the longtime sextion at the mission -- maintaining the buildings and grounds. The child of Julio and Maria Verdugo, he'd been baptized in 1820 at Mission San Fernando; married Gertrudis Gonzales sometime after 1844, and died in Capistrano in early 1899.

Pedro was the grandson of Jose Maria Verdugo, for whom many Southern California landmarks are still named. In California Place Names, Erwin  G. Gudde writes that the Verdugo name's appearance in Los Angeles County "commemorates the Verdugo family. Jose Maria Verdugo, a  corporal of the San Diego company, who had served in the mission guard at San Gabriel, was grantee of one of the first land grants, dated October 20, 1784 and January 12, 1798. The name Rancho de los Verdugos is repeatedly mentioned in documents and appears in Narváez’ Plano of 1830 as Berdugo. The modern town [of Verdugo City -- now part of Glendale] was laid out by Harry Fowler in 1925, but Verdugo Park is shown on the maps of the 1910s as the terminal of a local railroad. The mountains are shown as Sierra de los Berdugos on the diseño of La Cañada grant (1843); and Sierra or Cañada de los Verdugos was the name of an unconfirmed grant of 1846.”

Jose Maria Verdugo and his brother Mariano de la Luz Verdugo were among the first to come to Alta California in 1769, marching north to San Diego with Fernando Rivera y Moncada on the first leg of the Portola Expedition. (In retirement, Mariano would serve as Alcalde of the Pueblo of Los Angeles.) Their father, Juan Diego Verdugo (1715-1780) had also been a soldier and served at Loreto and various missions in Baja California until the mid-1770s.

During the Mission and Rancho eras, the Verdugos spread out across Baja and Alta California and seemingly intermarried with every other family in early Southern California.

Local on the map named for this large Californio family include Verdugo Canyon, near San Juan Capistrano and south of San Juan Hot Springs.

In Los Angeles County, there's a Verdugo Street, the (late 1920s) Verdugo Woodlands tract and the Verdugo Hills in the Glendale area. There's also a Verdugo Wash and the Verdugo Mountains near La Cañada.
A Spanish soldier on the California frontier.
Pedro was not the only Verdugo to end up in San Juan Capistrano. One of the first Verdugos to leave their mark on the town was another of Don Juan’s sons, Juan Maria Verdugo, a Spanish soldier who served as "Cabo" in Capistrano from at least 1797 until at least 1802.

Later came one of Juan Maria’s nephews, Miguel Verdugo. According to the Orange County California Genealogical Society's book, Saddleback Ancestors, "By 1836,...Miguel was living on the Rancho Santa Ana Abajo [northwest Orange] and later served as mayordomo there for Jose Antonio Yorba, the younger. In 1841 he was granted a house lot in Pueblo San Juan Capistrano..."
According to Capistrano historian Jerry Nieblas, Miguel Verdugo’s adobe home was near the Plaza, not far from the Blas-Aguilar adobe. This matches up well with other historians' descriptions of Miguel’s home being on the east side of El Camino Real, south of the Ortega Highway.

The Verdugos "were well liked for their local generosity and were somewhat influential during their years here,” said Nieblas, citing an oral history of his grandmother, Buena Ventura Yorba Garcia Nieblas, who in turn heard stories of the Verdugos from her parents, Felipe Yorba Garcia and Florencia Yorba Sanchez-Colima Garcia.

It’s unknown how long Miguel stayed in town, as he also had a home in Los Angeles. But it’s known that in 1857 he was across the road at Mission San Juan Capistrano visiting his friend and neighbor Juan Forster at the moment the Flores gang raided the town.

Pedro Verdugo -- namesake of the street -- was also mentioned among the witnesses to the Flores raid.


Sheree Ito said...

Nice to read this article Chris. May I suggest that you correct the last name of Juan Forster, unless it is a different family?

Chris Jepsen said...

Thank you. I don't know why I'm so prone to making that particular typo, but I am.

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