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In 1800s, De Celis Owned Most of the Valley

VALLEY 200: To commemorate the bicentennial of the San Fernando Mission and the San Fernando Valley, for 200 days we will feature people --some famous, some notorious-- who left their mark on the area.

July 09, 1997|ROB O'NEIL

You can talk about Lankershim, Whitsett or Van Nuys, but when it comes to getting in on the proverbial ground floor of Valley real estate, nobody can top Eulogio de Celis.

The first private Valley landowner--and by default its first absentee landlord--he is the only individual to hold title to nearly the entire area.

De Celis was a friend of Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California. In 1846, Pico decided to sell the San Fernando Mission lands, which had been secularized a decade earlier. Some reports say Pico needed money to finance the war against the United States. Others say he figured that with the land in private ownership, it would be more difficult for the United States to lay claim to it.

Whatever the reason, nearly 120,000 acres, virtually all of the Valley save for the Encino and a few other ranchos, went to De Celis for $14,000.

Details of his grant precluded De Celis, who lived at the Plaza in Los Angeles, from taking possession the first year. (Accounts do not indicate he was present when an overseer read his decree, offering jobs to the "young and strong" Indians living at the mission, but evicting the others, reportedly in violation of the purchase agreement that called for him to sustain the old Indians "for the rest of their days.")

Eight years later, he recouped his initial investment, selling a half interest in the property to Andres Pico, the governor's brother, for $15,000.

But De Celis and his family had already left California by this time, returning to his native Spain, where he died in 1869.

His widow and children eventually returned to California, where his eldest son, Eulogio F. de Celis, was appointed administrator of his father's estate. In 1875, he sold the remainder of his late father's holdings, which were facing foreclosure, to Charles Maclay and George K. Porter for $125,000.

The Valley's "era of the old Dons" was over.

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