Today in History: How the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo Defined our Neighborhood Boundaries

As Los Angeles wraps up redistricting plans, disputes over representation, areas of conflicting identities, and neighborhoods of various socio-economical needs recalls California's history of tension over land dating back to the Mexican-American War. Today marks the anniversary of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago, signed February 2, 1848 to end the war and cede 55% of Mexican territory to the United States, area we know today as California, Utah, and Nevada as well as most of New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.

The terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago provided Mexican nationals within the new U.S. border civil rights and protection for their ranchos or "private land holdings." However, the U.S. government would soon implement policies, such as the Land Act of 1851, to redefine ownership in their own favor.

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'Old Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Los Angeles County' by the Title Insurance and Trust Company of Los Angeles, dated 1937. Map/Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

To establish roots in the new world, the Spanish Empire granted land as a reward to soldiers and explorers, settlers who held no property, and those who petitioned to the Spanish Government. Agricultural instructions were often given for the lands, introducing European livestock, fruit, vegetables and industry in California. Jose Maria Verdugo received 36,000-plus acres from the Spanish Empire in 1784, with instructions to raise cattle, calves, horses and mules on Rancho San Rafael - present day Highland Park, Glendale, Glassell Park, Eagle Rock and Atwater Village.

Of the 800-plus grants, Spain made about 30 between 1784 and 1821. The remainder were granted by Mexico between 1833 and 1846, following their independence from Spain. Rancho workers included Californian Native Americans, many of them former Mission residents.

Not long after the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago was signed and California became the 31st State in 1850, government parties were deployed to survey the land to designate future ownership of what were now U.S. federal territories. California had been crudely surveyed before Statehood, based on the boundaries of the Spanish and Mexican Land Grants. The earlier reports now formed the basis for the Public Land Survey System's (the first mathematically designed system and nationally conducted register of property in any modern country) survey of California.

Today, references to the rancho system can still be found on maps, in city names such as San Pedro and Santa Monica as well as street names such as La Cienega and La Brea. Some ranchos are commemorated in the names of park spaces and historic landmarks, but the most notable remnant of these ranchos are the adobes, home to former rancho land owners.

A gathering of the El Recuerdo Club, a social club, for Spanish dancing at the Lugo home at Rancho San Antonio. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

Because of fraudulent and bad survey occurrences - notably the Benson Syndicate's California survey in the 1880s - the United States soon required proof of land titles from the rancho owners. This new rule for ownership directly conflicted with the system established by the Spanish. In the following years Rancho owners endured long drawn out trials forcing them to go into bankruptcy or sell their land to pay for court fees.

The Verdugo Family lost portions of Rancho San Rafael due to natural disaster, and eventually all of their property due to financial hardship. The image below features the residence of Vicente Lugo on partitioned land from his father's Rancho San Antonio. In 1865, Lugo lost the property through foreclosure and it was sold it to Isaac Hyman at less than a dollar an acre. Later, in 1883, it was purchased by Jonathan S. Slauson, for whom Slauson Avenue was named.

Rancho San Rafael, Glenadale area, circa 1870. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

The remnants of the ranchos in Los Angeles allude to the golden days of Mexican California, with its simple agricultural lifestyle, space, wealth and prosperity. As we remember the Treaty of Guadulope-Hiladgo a deeper history is uncovered. This concept inspired El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan in the 1960s, a Chicana/o civil rights philosophy involving land reclamation.

Through the Google map above you can find your neighborhood and discover an adobe or rancho local to you.

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