|Señor Reyes Serrano, 1968|
I found documents that indicate that the state utilities commission put the project (called a “separation” because El Toro Road and the train tracks intersected; construction of the overpass separated the paths, thereby avoiding interference) on their list—and then awaited objections. The local entity in question—the County of Orange—evidently did not object, and so the project went forward. It is possible, of course, that, though the county did not object, the locals—perhaps 300 or so citizens—did. But I’ve found no evidence of that.
Another outrage was the decision to rename the town “Lake Forest,” which occurred in 1991. What kind of town abandons its own name, and, ipso facto, its 100 + year history? (Ironically—and nonsensically—the city's shiny new motto is: "Remember the past - challenge the future.")
It’s pretty clear, I guess, that, until recent urban development—that started around 1970—population-wise, the town of El Toro never amounted to much, maybe a few hundred people. Perhaps a tiny throng carped about the aforementioned obliteration, but to no avail. Or maybe they didn’t want to get in the way of what people in those days called “progress.” I remember that concept from back then. What a stupid concept.
A relatively large population called El Toro home by 1990, and those people likely had a bad attitude about the El Toro that stretched back into the past. It didn't help that the “development” of El Toro road, from Trabuco Rd. down to Interstate 5, that occurred after 1970 or so was notorious, countywide. For South County anyway, it looked bad. Disorganized, cheap. Like, say, Anaheim or Garden Grove. Not like Irvine or Mission Viejo.
No doubt the residents of the fancy new developments—e.g., those built around phony lakes and amid eucalyptus stands along Lake Forest Avenue to the west—viewed El Toro Road as an embarrassment and eyesore. Maybe the name wasn't romantic enough or was too closely associated with the old Marine Base just to the west. So (I’m guessing) some core group hatched a plan of starting the town over again by renaming it and redoing its central road. Hence the redevelopment at Rockfield and El Toro called “the Arbor.” The latter seems to have done the trick. It’s fairly posh, mostly, along El Toro Rd. these days.
I’ll see if this scenario is but a fantasy, but I doubt it.
* * *
It turns out, however, that some old timers did complain bitterly about the renaming of the town. Today, I came across an LA Times article, dated March 1991, about exactly that.
The article was written by Davan Maharaj, who, it turns out, was my next door neighbor and good friend back then—i.e., when Kathie and I lived in Old Town Orange on Orange Street. In those days, he was an ambitious young reporter, married to a beautiful girl from Kentucky.
He's come up in the world. Since 2011, Davan has been the editor of the LA Times.
He's come up in the world. Since 2011, Davan has been the editor of the LA Times.
After Kathie and I split in the mid-90s, we lost touch with Davan and Abby, who had become pretty good friends. We just didn't see each other any more. Eventually, Abby contacted me maybe eight or ten years ago, and I kinda dropped the ball.
The article presents another coincidence: it mentions old Bauer family friend Leonard Schwendeman, a fixture of Trabuco Canyon (he must’ve been about 90 years old when he died about seven or eight years ago; that means he would have been born c. 1917). Leonard was a leftover of Orange County's rural past and an old-school white racist. He was pretty cheerful about it; he wasn't the obnoxious or noisy sort. Ma and Pa didn’t seem to pick up on any of that, for some reason, but I had no doubt: I used to see copies of (the notoriously anti-Semitic and anti-black) Liberty Lobby publications at the house, evidently left by Leonard. (As you know, I did battle against that very crowd back in the late 90s during my battles with trustee Steve Frogue and his supporters.)
Anyway, here’s the article:
March 24, 1991| DAVAN MAHARAJ | TIMES STAFF WRITER
TRABUCO CANYON — The Persian Gulf War came and went and Reyes Serrano [born c. 1901] didn't hear a word about it.
He also did not hear the news that greater El Toro will soon be known as the city of Lake Forest. He squirts tobacco juice into a plastic cup and begins to swear when a visitor tells him about the change.
"It makes me want to take my gun and go up there and make them change it right back to El Toro," says Serrano, a great-grandson of Don Jose Serrano, who received the original Mexican land grant of 10,000 acres of land that became El Toro.
Dora Serrano, his wife of 61 years, is even more angry.
"You mean they actually did that?" asks Dora Serrano, 78, with a painful expression on her wrinkled face. "It's these damn city people that come to our country and make a city and change the name. Dammit!"
For the Serranos, the name change is a modernity they cannot quite comprehend. But like other changes they have witnessed during the past decades, they doubt this one will faze them for long.
At 90, Reyes Serrano is revered by local historians as California's oldest vaquero (cowboy). He and Dora Serrano live in a trailer home in Trabuco Canyon in one of the last remaining rural areas of Orange County.
Ironically, the trailer home is a stone's throw away from suburbia—the tract homes and condominiums in Rancho Santa Margarita.
Surrounded by oak and sycamore trees, the Serranos live as if the nearby developments never existed. Here, there is no homeowners' association to complain about the old wagon wheels, rusting tools and bird coops in the front yard where the Serranos keep an old white horse, Lady, four dogs, nine ring-necked doves, a parakeet and a peacock.
Reyes Serrano is a living icon of Southern California's rancho history. His great-great-grandfather, Don Francisco Serrano, served as chief executive officer of the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1799. Don Francisco's son, Don Jose Serrano, was granted the El Toro land in 1846 as part of a sweeping series of land grants in Orange County.
Reyes and Dora Serrano said that for years the Serrano family borrowed money at exorbitant interest rates and had to sign over the land to Banker Slauson of Los Angeles following the devastating drought of 1863-64.
But the family stayed in the community and "became integral parts of the El Toro scene, never complaining about their ill fortune or bad breaks, simply going to work and doing the best job they could," writes Whittier teacher Joe Osterman in his book, "Stories of Saddleback Valley."
Reyes Serrano, for example, is a former hand on the Irvine, Mission Viejo and Moulton ranches. Known for his feisty character, he earned a reputation for being Southern California's most rugged cowboy.
After retiring from the Irvine Ranch in 1967, he bought some cattle and moved his other livestock to a 102-acre Trabuco Canyon spread owned by Ann Robinson. [See photo above.] In 1981, the Serranos had to move out after the land was sold to developers.
Property owner Leonard Schwendeman, however, came to the couple's rescue, offering them a 40-acre plot under the snowcapped Trabuco Peak on the condition that they serve as caretakers.
But two years later, disaster struck. A fire razed their trailer, destroying Reyes Serrano's prized saddles, guns and other equipment.
For Dora Serrano, the loss was even more devastating. For years, she had saved money by selling beer cans to buy books about the region's history. She had spent years researching the Serrano family through old clippings, church records and family stories and had hoped to put together a book of her own. Much of the material was lost in the fire.
Included in the book would have been Dora Serrano's version about how El Toro really got its name.
One version suggests that the community was named El Toro after a padre's prayer for divine intervention stopped a charging bull. Another claims that the community was named after the family's bellowing bulls.
But Dora Serrano says El Toro was named after a white-faced prized bull owned by her husband's grandfather, Francisco Serrano, that was found at the bottom of a well.
Dora Serrano's hopes went up in the flames. "It hurts me when I think how everything, all the history, burned in that fire," she says, her voice breaking. "It's so painful."
The Serranos owned a few head of cattle up until three years ago. But Reyes Serrano broke a leg and suffered a slight stroke when he attempted to deliver a calf. Dora Serrano decided to sell the herd and set aside the money for her husband's funeral.
For now, they say, they will stay put—watching the development and changes around them but with a historical perspective few others share.
Re “Property owner” Leonard Schwendeman: the description of the Serranos’ dilapidated home—old wagon wheels, rusting tools and bird coops—would have applied to much of Leonard’s place, the property with the big plastic chicken, down at the start of Trabuco Oaks, not far from the steak house that Nixon visited.
I know that Leonard was some kind of right-wing libertarian, and he enjoyed ignoring and flouting authorities. He seemed to create and/or allow a kind of Hooverville somewhere on his property in Trabuco Canyon (he charged rent). I do believe that officials sought to crack down on this off-the-grid community in the late 80s or 90s.
Re the “102-acre Trabuco Canyon spread owned by Ann Robinson”: back in the 70s and 80s, Pa knew one of the Robinsons pretty well. I used to see him come around a lot.
I found a peculiar website (here) that seems to be an effort to record someone’s memories of old OC. At one point, the writer refer to Reyes Serrano:
For many of his 97 years, cowboy Reyes Serrano rode wild horses, rounded up cattle, hunted bobcats, chewed tobacco, smoked cigars and downed a shot of whiskey with breakfast every morning. Serrano--born on a Juaneno Indian reservation in 1901 and known to local historians as California's "oldest vaquero"--was the great-grandson of Don Jose Serrano, who in 1846 received the original Mexican land grant of 10,000 acres that eventually became El Toro. Serrano's great-great-grandfather, Don Francisco Serrano, served as chief executive officer of the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1799. The last Spanish cowboy was buried last year at El Toro Memorial Park in a simple service punctuated by the singing of an Indian song.If this information is accurate, and assuming that Serrano was born in 1900 or 1901, it follows that he died in 1997 or 1998.
I wonder if, by then, that money his wife squirreled away was still intact?
|Working on the El Toro Reservoir|