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Heritage Park Harks Back to Adobe Days and 1920s Oil Boom

March 20, 1988|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

SANTA FE SPRINGS — Just beyond the cement waterfall that ushers visitors into one of this city's largest industrial parks is a windmill, spinning lazily in the breeze atop a restored tank house.

Nearby is a cottage that oil field workers used to coordinate drilling when the 1920s oil boom swept through this once-isolated town named for its mineral springs. And a few yards from that is the cobblestone foundation of one of California's largest residential adobes, headquarters for a huge cattle ranch that supplied meats, hides and candles to Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Santa Fe Springs has poured more than $4.4 million into the painstaking reconstruction and restoration of these and other structures at Heritage Park, which opened to the public March 12 after six years of planning.

Part of Old Land Grant

The park's exhibits and buildings, connected by winding sidewalks, trace the history of Santa Fe Springs from when it was part of a 300,000-acre Spanish land grant in 1784 through the agricultural period of the late 1800s and through the oil boom. Heritage Park's historic importance was recognized last year when the site was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

"Most of the time, that stuff is bulldozed under and some of the history that made our city grow is demolished," Santa Fe Springs Councilman Ronald Kernes said. "It's hard to see a historical site when there's a 200,000-square-foot warehouse on top of it."

Although Kernes said it was unintentional, the park's site next to the Heritage Corporate Center on Telegraph Road also says a lot about contemporary Santa Fe Springs. Heritage Park is framed by an industrial complex, a symbol of the city's main source of income, with a few oil rigs still pumping in the distance.

And it was with the cooperation of industry that Heritage Park was developed and will be maintained. O'Donnell, Armstrong, Brigham and Partners, the developer of Heritage Corporate Center, consented to retain land for the project within the company's 61-acre industrial complex. O'Donnell also agreed to contribute $100,000 a year toward the $320,000 annual maintenance cost for the park, Kernes said.

Initially, Kernes said the business community was skeptical about having a park in its midst, preferring that the land be used for profit. "What they failed to realize was that the land (parcel) staying undeveloped was producing zero," Kernes said.

"Normally, the private sector likes to tell the public sector what to do instead of doing what's best," Kernes said. "This time, the developer worked with the public sector to make it happen."

Historic preservationists had wanted the park to be eight acres instead of six. But the city, which had a $1.3-million deficit in 1984, decided that a larger park would be too expensive.

Kernes said the city's investment in Heritage Park, about $6 million including parking and street improvements, eventually will be recouped through taxes on redevelopment property in the area. The Redevelopment Agency floated a $7-million bond in 1985 to pay for the park.

Entering under a high, wrought-iron arch, park visitors face a two-story green-and-white carriage barn, a reconstruction of the original structure believed to be one of Los Angeles County's most expensive barns when it was built for $5,000 in 1869.

Inside, a black buggy from the late 1800s sits on the redwood floor, flanked by an exhibit of desks, books and a school bell from the original Little Lake school house, for which one of the city's school districts is named. Another display illustrates life before the oil field days, with an antique sewing machine, steel stove and a cider press.

The carriage barn will be used as a meeting place for civic groups and as a stage for the Santa Fe Springs Community Playhouse, said Monica Penninger, the city's director of library services.

The carriage barn slightly overlaps the cobblestone foundation of the adobe that was the home of Patricio Ontiveros, the mayordomo, or foreman, of Mission San Juan Capistrano. The 23-by-98-foot floor area constitutes one of the largest residential adobes in California, said Constance Cameron, curator of the Museum of Anthropology at California State University, Fullerton.

Weighing from 50 to 100 pounds each, the cobbles were carried in ox-pulled carts from what are now the Puente Hills of Whittier, Cameron said. The cobbles served as protection for the clay-based adobe, which could rot if exposed to water that came up through the ground, she said.

Near the adobe is what Cameron called "an archeologist's dream," a trash pit of day-to-day garbage from the Ontiveros home. The cordoned-off pit includes a display of assorted pottery and bones from the early 1800s.

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