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Cities named for missions, smoke signals, even a poet

Last in a series of occasional articles

August 26, 2007|Cecilia Rasmussen | Times Staff Writer

Some towns were named for nearby historic missions. One stemmed from the fact that its site had been used for smoke signals. Still others were based on simple geography. Los Angeles County has 88 cities, each with its own story. Here's how some of them got their names, along with the year they incorporated.

San Dimas (1960)

The area known as Mud Springs served as a watering spot for animals when explorer Jedediah Strong Smith passed through in 1826. But the name San Dimas had taken hold by the time a town started to develop in the 1870s. Some say that Don Ignacio Palomares, owner of Rancho San Jose, named the area for St. Dismas -- the good, repentant thief crucified with Jesus Christ -- because many cattle rustlers and horse thieves lived here. Others say Palomares simply named it after his small hometown of San Dimas in Mexico.

San Fernando (1911)

Like the Valley itself, the name for the city comes from the nearby Mission San Fernando Rey de EspaƱa. The 17th of the Franciscan missions was founded Sept. 8, 1797, and named for St. Ferdinand III, king of Leon and Castile in the 1200s. The Valley's first town site, San Fernando was founded in 1874 by a pair of former state senators: promoter Charles Maclay and farmer George K. Porter. The mission is technically in Mission Hills, under the jurisdiction of the city of Los Angeles

San Gabriel (1913)

The town evolved as an outgrowth of Mission San Gabriel Arcangel in the early 1850s. The mission and town were named for the Archangel Gabriel, one of the seven archangels who stand at the throne of God. The mission itself was founded in 1771 by Franciscan Father Junipero Serra; it was the fourth of California's missions.

San Marino (1913)

This area was once home to James de Barth Shorb, son-in-law and business manager of Benjamin D. Wilson, who founded Alhambra. Shorb named his rancho San Marino after his grandfather's plantation in Maryland, which itself was named for the Republic of San Marino, a tiny state surrounded by Italy. Shorb's estate was purchased by Henry E. Huntington in 1903 and is now the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Santa Clarita (1987)

The Portola expedition of 1769 named the river that flows through this area Santa Clara. The land became part of the Rancho San Francisco land grant. In 1875, former '49er and San Francisco auctioneer Henry Mayo Newhall bought more than 40,000 acres of ranchland and started the town of Newhall.

When the communities of Newhall, Saugus, Valencia and Canyon Country banded together to incorporate, the name Santa Clara had already been taken by a city in the Bay Area. So, to avoid confusion, the area around this river was called Santa Clarita, or "Little Santa Clara."

Santa Fe Springs (1957)

This area was part of the Rancho Santa Gertrudes. During the 1870s and '80s, it became known as Fulton Wells after Dr. J. Fulton, who discovered a sulfur spring and built a fashionable hotel and health resort there. The Santa Fe Railroad purchased the land in the late 1880s, renaming it for itself and for the nearby mineral springs. Oil was struck there in 1921.

Santa Monica (1886)

The community was named by Father Junipero Serra of the Portola expedition on May 4, 1770, the feast day of St. Monica. Reputedly, the group camped near a spring that reminded the padre of the tears that St. Monica shed over her wayward son, Augustine. Her prayers paid off; the son reformed and became St. Augustine.

Sierra Madre (1907)

The name, chosen by the San Gabriel Mission padres, means "mother range" or "mother mountains." In the early 1870s, it was a destination for health-seekers and tuberculosis patients. Later, they flocked to the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel and Sanitarium -- which, if it still existed, would be in Pasadena. In 1881, the town was founded and named by Nathaniel C. Carter. The range was officially designated the San Gabriel Mountains in 1927.

Signal Hill (1924)

Hundreds of years before oil drilling began in the 1920s, the 365-foot hill near Long Beach was populated by Native Americans who sent smoke signals from its peak. Historical references note that even then, oil factored into the hill's daily life: It was used to waterproof canoes.

South El Monte (1958)

When El Monte's boundaries were drawn in 1912, the farmland farther south was left out. Residents eventually realized its potential, developing it into an industrial city.

South Gate (1923)

Formerly the south gate entrance to Rancho San Antonio. During World War I, when the rancho was carved up to make other cities, this section was called South Gate Gardens. City fathers dropped the "Gardens" when the town incorporated.

South Pasadena (1888)

In the late 1880s, when Pasadena began to enforce "anti- saloon" laws, bars crept into the southern part of the city. To stop the onslaught of saloons, the south broke away and incorporated into South Pasadena.

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