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CELEBRATE! : ORANGE COUNTY'S FIRST 100 YEARS : CREATING A COUNTY : The Yorba Legacy

May 22, 1988|JOHN O'DELL | O'Dell is a Times business writer.

It all began in 1810 when Jose Antonio Yorba settled on 62,516 acres along the Santa Ana River--a grant known as Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. Although the land had all but passed out of family ownership by the late 1800s, one of Yorba's sons, Bernardo, established his own rancho, Canon de Santa Ana, in what now is Yorba Linda. From his line come the Yorba landowners of today. Bernardo reputedly was a shrewd businessman referred to by contemporaries as the 'Spanish Yankee.' He drilled into his heirs' the importance of clinging to the land, and his lesson apparently took.

\o7 David Belardes lives with his wife, two sons and mother-in-law in a buff-colored tract house in San Juan Capistrano, just west of Trabuco Creek. From their family room, the Belardeses have a view of both the old and new church spires at Mission San Juan Capistrano, where many of their ancestors are buried.

The Belardeses' home is on a street named Via Belardes in the bottomlands of what once was the Belardes ranch.

The only land that David and Gloria Belardes own is the small plot on which their house sits. They are not wealthy. She works at the mission, and he is a groundskeeper for the city school district.

It was their great-great-great-grandfather who was one of the biggest landowners in what now is Orange County.\f7

BELARDESES ARE descendants--through lines in each of their families--of Jose Antonio Yorba, the Spanish soldier who came to California with the Gaspar de Portola expedition in 1769 and who, in 1810, was granted title to 62,516 acres along the Santa Ana River--a grant known as Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana.

Although the original Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana acreage had all but passed out of family ownership by the late 1800s, one of Yorba's sons, Bernardo, established his own rancho, Canon de Santa Ana, on the north side of the Santa Ana River in what now is Yorba Linda. From his line come the Yorba landowners of today.

Bernardo, the most prosperous of his father's sons, reputedly was a shrewd businessman and was referred to by contemporaries as the "Spanish Yankee." He drilled into his heirs the importance of clinging to the land, and that lesson apparently took.

Bernardo M. Yorba, great-grandson of his namesake and a member of the board of trustees of Orange County Centennial Inc., today lives on Yorba land in Santa Ana Canyon that he inherited. And, like his ancestors, he makes his living from the land--but as a developer rather than a rancher.

Another Yorba descendant whose family still holds land that can be traced to the 1834 Mexican grant that established Rancho Canon de Santa Ana is Gilbert Kraemer.

His grandfather, Samuel Kraemer, married Angelina Yorba--granddaughter of Bernardo--in 1886. The union combined her land with Kraemer's adjacent ranch in the hills above Yorba Linda to form a 1,600-acre parcel.

The Kraemer heirs also received acreage in Placentia, the remnants of a farm settled by great-grandfather Daniel Kraemer when he came to Orange County from Illinois in 1865.

Samuel Kraemer and his seven brothers and sisters left their Placentia land to their descendants in individual parcels, Gil Kraemer recalls, while the combined Kraemer-Yorba land in Yorba Linda was handed down intact, each descendant receiving an interest in the undivided property.

The land--in both places--was farmed for years, Kraemer says, "until we saw the advent of urbanization" of the Placentia-Yorba Linda area in the early 1960s. Then family members met and resolved to combine their holdings once again and operate the property under a family-run board of directors.

Initially, two separate companies with overlapping boards were formed. In 1979, however, the two companies were merged, and Founders K Corp.-- now FKC Partners--began overseeing development of the properties. About 700 acres remain, the rest having been sold for residential development.

Gilbert Kraemer cannot talk long about his family without a love for the land showing through. He is proudest, he says, of the fact that after so many generations, the family still is bound together by its land. "So many times, it is all gone by the third or fourth generation . . . We have a lot of pride in what we've done . . ."

Despite the family's huge landholdings in the 1800s, few of the current generation in Orange County are major landowners. Those who are trace their ancestry through Yorba's third-eldest surviving son, Bernardo.

And as the Yorba lineage enters its eighth generation, the Yorba name is a minority one in a family in which surnames like Belardes, Dominguez, Kraemer, Simmons, Avila, Muckenthaler, Serrano, Raitt, Sepulveda, Richards, Rimpau, Burruel, Travis, Carrillo, Callahan, Peralta, Rowland and Sanchez predominate.

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