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L.A. Scene The City Then and Now

November 01, 1993|STEVE TICE

In 1850, Basque farmers Catalina and Juan Bautista Batz left their home in Spain's Castille region and booked passage on a ship around Cape Horn to California. They wound up at the western edge of the San Gabriel Valley.

The valley had a population of no more than a few hundred. There was a small community at the San Gabriel Mission, a stage station at what is now El Monte, and a few widely scattered ranches.

The year 1850 was an eventful one for Los Angeles. Its first census recorded a population of 1,610, the town was incorporated on April 4, and on Sept. 9, California joined the Union as the 31st state.

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The Batzes' new home was in the jumble of hills and ridges east of Los Angeles in an adobe built in the 1770s by workers from the mission.

Over time, they and their descendants pieced together parcels of land until the family held 3,300 acres in what is now El Sereno, City Terrace, Alhambra and Monterey Park. They named it Rancho Rosa Castilla, or Rose of Castille, for the wild roses in the area. A creek flowed south across the middle of the ranch.

Three generations of the Batz family raised sheep and cattle and grew barley and hay in the dry hills.

Esperanza Batz, the last grandchild of Juan and Catalina, lived until December, 1986. She had grown up speaking three languages--Basque, Spanish and English--did social work for two decades and traveled extensively in her 93 years. But she never lived more than a mile from where she was born in a small adobe.

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In 1906, when Esperanza was 13 years old, her family moved to a 12-room ranch house built just over the hill. When their father died in the 1930s, Esperanza and her sister, Marguerite, began selling what remained of their ranch.

They later moved to a small house at 2261 Lafler Road, atop a hill overlooking their birthplace.

In 1979, both sisters entered the Alhambra Lutheran Retirement Home on South Fremont Avenue in Alhambra, where Marguerite died in March, 1981. The retirement home was on the old ranch's land, as their other homes had been.

By the 1950s, a large portion of the former rancho had been acquired by the state Division of Highways and was used as a source of topsoil for freeway landscaping.

In 1947, in another part of the rapidly growing metropolis, Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts & Sciences conducted its first classes. In its early years, L.A. State shared the North Vermont Avenue campus that is still home to Los Angeles City College. But the school needed its own place with room to grow.

In 1954, after two years of haggling over proposals for several sites, the Board of Public Works chose a 78-acre location near City Terrace. It was the Division of Highways land, the heart of the former Rancho Rosa Castilla.

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It was mostly slopes and gullies. In May, 1955, bulldozers prepared the site for the construction crews. In February, 1956, the new campus opened.

The school's name was changed to California State College, Los Angeles, then changed again to California State University, Los Angeles, in 1972.

Overall enrollment reached 20,000 in the late 1980s and remains close to that figure. Although it is still mainly a commuter campus, residence halls now house about 5% of the university's students.

The creek the Basque farm couple settled by is now a concrete flood-control channel, some hills have been leveled and not much open land remains. The spot where the adobe stood is thought to be under a parking lot.

Catalina and Juan Bautista Batz would not know the place, but it might please them that a street curving along the edge of the campus is Paseo Rancho Castilla.

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