BELL GARDENS — On the southeastern side of town, not far from where the waters of the Rio Hondo empty into the cement trough of the Los Angeles River, a cluster of aging mobile homes with aged tenants stands guard over one of the last vestiges of Southern California history.
The boxy mobile homes surround the adobe house that was home to two of California's earliest pioneers: a Spanish cavalier who at one time probably owned more land than any man in California, and a former California governor who received the home as part of his wife's dowry.
For nearly 200 years, the home of Don Antonio Maria Lugo, and later, Henry T. Gage, has occupied this piece of land in southeastern Los Angles county. Although time has worn the surface of the building, its adobe walls, redwood siding, open courtyard and much of the interior remain sound.
It is for this reason that the tenants of Casa Mobile Home Park, who also own the park and the Lugo ranch house, have fought to get the old hacienda, known as Casa de Rancho San Antonio and the Gage Mansion, designated as a state historical monument. Last month the tenants, who are all more than 55 years old, succeeded, and the mansion became State Historical Landmark No. 984.
"We wanted to save it because it has cultural, political and architectural significance," said Casa Mobile Home Park resident Leon Paddock, who has been studying the history of the mansion and first broached the idea of getting it designated as a historical monument to the Bell Gardens City Council.
As historians tell it, when construction of the house began in 1795, the house was one outpost on a vast Spanish land grant of more than 29,000 acres.
"The land was theirs from sea to mountains," said Alice Quiroz, whose mother, Andrea Lugo, was a descendant of the Lugo family. "They acquired it by riding from sunrise to sunset."
History books record the Lugo family as one of several sent from Mexico, when Mexico was under Spanish dominion, in 1773 to settle Northern California. According to Dr. Roy E. Whitehead, who wrote "Lugo," a book of California history, Antonio Maria Lugo's father, Francisco Salvador Lugo, a Spanish soldier, his wife and four children traveled with a group of soldiers to Northern California to the Mission San Antonio de Padua, near Monterey. It was at the mission that Antonio Maria Lugo was born on July 13, 1775.
Whitehead writes that in 1810, when Antonio Maria Lugo was 35 years old and a corporal in the Spanish army stationed in Santa Barbara, he requested and was given his first land grant, the grant that included Bell Gardens. Shortly thereafter, he became mayor of Los Angeles.
Quiroz said that Antonio Maria Lugo had two homes in the Bell Gardens area. The one that stands now and the one in which Quiroz's mother was born on Gage and Garfield avenues. That home burned down several years ago.
By the time Lugo was 63 years old, he had acquired tens of thousands of acres of property.
"He was an extensive landowner and real estate operator, probably owning more land than any other man in California," Whitehead wrote.
As time passed some of the land was sold, but according to a book of history called "California," most of the land grants were lost when California became part of the United States in 1850.
"It was land that had given them (Spanish and Mexican settlers) the framework for their lives, and it was land that the Yankees wanted--and would have," author T.H. Watkins wrote.
In 1860, Lugo died. He was 85 years old.
"Don Antonio Maria Lugo, who had been an octogenarian for more than four years, rode around Los Angeles and over his Rancho Antonio in great splendor," Whitehead wrote. "He had never adopted American dress, culture or language and still spoke only Spanish. He rode magnificent horses, sitting on his $1,500 silver trimmed saddle erect and stately, with his sword strapped to the saddle beneath his left leg. . . . People knew him far and wide, and even the Indians sometimes named their children after him, as he was one Spanish Don that they admired."
By the late 19th Century only a fraction of the land grant given to Lugo was left.
It was then that Gage, a Yankee lawyer from Michigan, came to California and was married to Francis (Fanny) Rains, Lugo's great-granddaughter. Paddock said that Gage was given the house and 27 acres as part of his wife's dowry. In 1888, eight years after he married Rains, Gage became the 20th governor of California.
The house that stands today at Casa Mobile Home Park is more a product of Gage's handiwork than Lugo's, said Marty Parkinson, a South Pasadena resident whose wife is a descendant of the Lugo family. "The Lugos did not live in luxury by any means," Parkinson said.