Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Murphy Ranch, Whittier, Cal.

"Poetic Whittier" as the town was billed in a subdivision ad, was named in honor of Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier.  By the time the town was steady on its feet, citrus and oil were its two primary industries, transformed decades later by housing subdivisions.  Today, the citrus business has gone away.  Deep oil reserves were tapped and then halted in the early 1990s, but is now back on the table at Whittier City Hall.

In the past, the major agricultural areas were the Leffingwell Ranch and Murphy Ranch.  Charles W. Leffingwell began subdividing his 370-acre ranch in 1919.  Simon Jones Murphy was a wealthy Michigan lumber businessman who was swept up in the great real estate boom of 1887 while vacationing in the area.  Today, the mention of "Murphy Ranch" signifies an elementary school and a little league organization in the city.  [Update 10/31/2016]:  A Murphy citrus packing house once sat at Whittier Boulevard just west of Penn Street, where a Storage facility currently operates.  The vicinity was once a packing hub - at the current site of King Richards Antique Center was the Whittier Citrus Association packing headquarters, and at the next block further east beyond Sunnyslope was the Whittier Walnut Growers Association packing house.  This is documented in a 1925 Sanborn fire insurance map (thanks to M. Lewis for the correction notification). A former Murphy packing house sits on Whittier Boulevard and is now the King Richards Antique Center.

Along with another associate, Simon Murphy purchased the Ramirez Rancho and quickly prepared the land to be subdivided.  When the land boom went bust, only Murphy was sufficiently wealthy to survive the land deal. Citrus crops were next considered to turn a profit on the property, but irrigation was a challenge.  Murphy convinced Arthur L. Reed, a chief engineer back in Michigan, to come out west.  By 1891, redwood flumes, conduits, a pumping station and a reservoir was constructed to successfully deliver water to the ranch, as well as the rest of the Whittier colony. With water available, Murphy could sell off some of the land to new settlers.  He formed the East Whittier Land & Water Co. with himself serving as president.  He also formed the Murphy Oil Company which led to the successful drilling of about 50 oil wells.  Murphy died in 1905, and his son Simon J. Murphy, Jr. lead the business activities until his death in 1926.

Murphy, Henry Ford and the Duesenberg

The Murphy family, as a result of their Michigan business ties, had an early automobile connection.  Another of Murphy Sr.'s five sons was William H. Murphy (who among other business dealings back in Michican was vice-president of the East Whittier Land & Water Co.)  William was a financier of Henry Ford's Detroit automobile company, as well as a sponsor for many of Ford's other automotive projects.  Also, William's nephew, Walter M. Murphy, became well-known for his coachworks company in Pasadena building Duesenberg bodies.

Life at Murphy Ranch

Below is a group photo of workers at the ranch taken in 1941.

Nearly 3 months after this photo was taken, Pearl Harbor would be attacked. It is a safe assumption that many of the men pictured would have enlisted or been drafted into military service. (Image courtesy of A. Lemus)
(Click on image to zoom in)

Above is the family of a Murphy employee, taken around 1933 or 1934.  This particular employee would find employment at the Simons brickyard in Montebello in subsequent years.  (Image courtesy of A. Lemus)  (Click on image to zoom in)

Click here for Flickr to look at a beautiful set of photos on Murphy Ranch, 1941.

Housing Subdivisions and Oil Worries

By 1954, Murphy Ranch would eventually sell out completely to become a subdivision called Friendly Hills, homage to the Quaker community when the town was founded.  Model homes had the names "Americana," "Bluegrass," "Contemporary," "Homestead," and "Thoroughbred."

In 2008 Matrix Oil Corporation received a lease to resume oil and gas extraction from the Whittier Main Field, consisting of about 1,290 acres of city-owned land.

Concerned citizens have many issues, including a desire to maintain the Puente Hills as open land for wildlife habitat.

Some of the region's oil-bearing history in 1922.
(Image from the Library of Congress American Memory website.)

Oil pumps in Montebello, a neighboring city, continues such activity, across from a busy shopping center at Montebello Boulevard.

More oil pumps.

Close-up of another "grasshopper" further down the hill in Montebello.


  1. I was born in Murphy Ranch but remember very little about it. Our family moved to Simons when I waas 4 years old.

  2. Saw my Grandfather, Evaristo Diaz in the first picture. My Mother's side of the family worked for and live on the Murphy Ranch. My High School, La Serna was built there too, as well and "Friendly Hills Homes."

  3. My Grandfather, Jesus Ponce de Leon, worked on the ranch. My mom and her brothers and sisters were born on the ranch. They lived in the second house on the right. My dad took us there and showed us the ranch. The main entrance was tree lined. It was beautiful.

  4. Thank you for sharing your memories, Deanm! Check out and enter the following keyword search, Murphy Ranch - 1941. You will be able to view some stunning images.

  5. Comment by "Anonymous" dated February 10,2012: I remember the Diaz family very well. They were Evaristo and Julia. Their children were Domingo, Cesar and Chita, (whose real name I can't recall). Evaristo and Julia were my parents' "compadres". I imagine your mother must be Chita. In the photo of the workers, my Father is in the rear row, third from the right, Cesar is in the 3rd row, 7th from the right. Youir Grandfather Evaristo is in the same row about 2/3rds from right to left.

    The photo of the workers is labelled "Murphy Ranch Co., Pickers and irrigators, East Whittier, Calif. Sept. 4, 1941.

    1. Ed Ferguson ( 2, 2012 at 8:24 PM

      I went to East Whittier (Grade) School in late 1940s and early 1950s and had classmates from Murphy Ranch. Robert Diaz, son of Caesar and Delia Diaz, must have been a grandson of Evaristo and Julia Diaz? Another classmate, Jessie Garcia was the son of Bolhito and Juana Garcia. I think a third classmate, Rose Marie Rosales, was from Murphy Ranch as well? Perhaps Robert Madrigal, too? We were all born about 1938. Good people, fond memories.

    2. I posted the set of Murphy Ranch photos on the flickr. site that is linked to this blog. Any chance of contacting you with a few questions I have about the property, and the photos you provided for this article? I plan on donating a set of my photos to the Whittier Museum archives. You can contact me by going to my flickr. photostream and sending me an e-mail that way. " marlcal " on Flickr. It would be greatly appreciated. .

    3. Hello! My grandfather was W.E. Spencer, and my dad, Carl Spencer (labeled as man unknown in pics). My dad joined the war effort in 1941, and my mom and sister lived on ranch property with the other family women so she more then I remembers much more history. I do remember driving to the General Store with my grandmother, Iva.
      I am beyond excitement to find memories of the ranch that I knew until early 50's. Thank you!

    4. Very cool for you to discover a piece of your family history here!

  6. Looking for a group picture,as the one on this page,but alittle later.Looking for my Dad in group.I recall seeing it as a child-was lost in a fire,Any help will be appreciated

  7. My great grandfather, great uncles and my grandfather all worked in the local oil industry starting at the Santa Fe Springs Oil fields around 1905. They lived in Los Nietos until around 1911 when they all moved to Whittier and lived on what was then, Sixth Street. My father was born on the Murphy Ranch, on Catalina Street in April, 1918. My family lived in Whittier until the Great Depression in 1929. Like many Latino families, they moved to East Los Angeles. My dad returned to Whittier with his family in 1965. He lived in Whittier until he passed away in 2005. I continue to live in South Whittier, just a few miles where my family began their residence in 1905. Fred Angelo (

    1. Dear Fred, Many thanks for sharing your rich family history on my blog. Thanks for reading, too. Elisabeth

  8. simon J Murphy was my great grandfather. I am just researching and learning about the history of my families lives in Whittier Ca and Scotia. There is a book called the last stand written about the Pacific lumber company and the hostile take over. Its crazy learning about family ao close but yet so far.

    1. I am also a Simon J Murphy ancester.. Just wondering.more about the Murphy Whittier connection. Just spent last month down in Scotia. So sad what they're done to the town.