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A Look at the Past : For history buffs, a Sunday bus trip will cover significant sites in the west San Fernando Valley. The narrated tour will take 4 1/2 hours.

September 17, 1993|TOM JACOBS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Tom Jacobs writes regularly for The Times

When the San Fernando Valley Historical Society announced its bus tour of historical sites in the West Valley, skeptics surely wondered whether it was some sort of joke. Historical sites? In the West Valley? Why not tour the beaches of Burbank or the glaciers of Glendale?

Bobbette Fleschler knows better. As president of the historical society, she knows where one can find the few remaining remnants of the pre-subdivision, pre-mini-mall Valley. She will escort a busload of fellow history buffs on a tour of local landmarks Sunday afternoon.

"These sites are hidden away," she said. "They're not easily accessible. But they are there, and they're very significant."

Participants on this 4 1/2-hour narrated tour are almost certain to be surprised by some of Fleschler's facts. How many people, for example, know that Tarzana was once known for its poultry farms, North Hollywood for its peach orchards and Reseda in the 1920s called itself "the lettuce capital of the world"?

For many, however, the first and biggest surprise will be Fleschler herself. She is not the gray-haired senior citizen one would expect, but rather a woman in her mid-30s with a 3-year-old daughter. "Everybody's surprised when they meet me," she said.

Born in Woodland Hills and now living in Chatsworth, Fleschler has been interested in the past for most of her life. Her degree, from Cal State Northridge, is in American history. She returns there each fall to teach a course on Valley history for CSUN's extension division.

A decade or so ago, she was doing research when she wandered into the historical society's headquarters, the Andres Pico Adobe in Mission Hills. She hasn't really left since.

Sunday's tour will begin at that site. The building, which dates from 1834 (and is closed for renovation now), is the second-oldest in the Valley; only the nearby San Fernando Mission predates it.

From roughly 1845 to 1875, it was the home of a Mexican army general by the name of Andres Pico. His brother, Pio Pico, was the last Mexican governor of California--and the man Pico Boulevard is named after.

The first stop on the tour dates to an even earlier era. Los Encinos State Historical Monument, 16757 Moorpark St., Encino, is the site of an ancient Indian village. In 1769, Gaspar de Portola, a Spanish explorer believed to be the first European to set foot in the Valley, spent the night in the village.

"His diarist describes the area around Encino, including the springs that were there--and still are there today," Fleschler said. A more recent addition to the site--dating from 1849--is an adobe structure built by Vincent de la Osa.

The next stop is the Leonis Adobe, an 1844 structure in Calabasas. Built of adobe brick, it was covered by clapboard in the 1870s when there was a push to Americanize local buildings, Fleschler said. It was built by Miguel Leonis, a French Basque who "maintained law and order by riding shotgun," she said.

"Calabasas has a fascinating history," she noted. "It had a reputation for being quite lawless. It was the Wild West of the San Fernando Valley."

The final stop on the tour will be the Homestead Acre and Hill-Palmer House in Chatsworth Park South, at the west end of Devonshire Street. It is on one of the 110 acres that Rhoda and James Hill acquired in 1886 as part of the federal homesteading act. After farming it for five years, they gained title to the land and in 1888, they built the cottage that still stands on the property, according to Bea Berman, president of the Chatsworth Historical Society.

"It was the first house in Chatsworth," said Berman, who noted that docents in period costumes will take tour participants through the house and show them the nearby rose garden.

Fleschler designed this tour for a conference of the California Historical Societies, which met in Van Nuys in February. Sunday is the first time that the tour will be given for the public. If there is interest, she would like to conduct it on a regular basis--along with a historical tour of the East Valley that she is planning for the spring.

As one might expect, many of the people who have signed up for the tour are senior citizens who grew up in the Valley and enjoy being reminded of its past. But a number of younger individuals and couples will also be on board, and some of them are bringing their children--to Fleschler's delight. She recommends the tour to fourth-graders and above, noting: "We're not real heavy on dates, and we tell interesting stories.

"Children need to be exposed to history in a way that's interesting and entertaining," she said. "It gives them a sense of identity and a sense of community. This way, they will realize that history isn't only something in a book. It's all around them."

Where and When What: Narrated bus tour of historic sites of the west San Fernando Valley. Location: Leaves from Andres Pico Adobe, 10940 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills. Hours: 12:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Price: $10 per person; reservations required. Call: (818) 365-7810.

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