Monday, November 26, 2012

Ramirez Street, Downtown L.A.

To catch a FlyAway bus from Union Station to LAX one will skim past Ramirez Street, but the street is necessary travel to the nearby Denny's Restaurant.  The street is also the path to "Piper Tech" an L.A. City government facility.

Layers of land use in these downtown parts near Union Station often leave little evidence of what was before.  Street names are clues, and Ramirez Street has survived all the redevelopment and is a reminder of the Juan M. Ramirez Vineyard once here.  Adjacent is Vignes Street which once led to Frenchman Jean Louis Vignes' vineyard.  Though both streets are today equally minor streets, Vignes is highly visible because of its freeway sign on a 101 Freeway offramp.

Juan Resurrecion Ramirez (1839-1922)

Image courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research 
Born 1839 in L.A. Juan R. (pictured) was third generation Californio.  His father Juan M. (senior) was born the year 1801 at Mission Santa Barbara.  The first generation was Francisco Ramirez, a carpenter who came to Alta California in 1794 with settlers from Sonora, New Spain (Mexico).

Juan M. arrived in L.A. about 1828 and settled at a site midway between the Plaza Church and the river.  Two years later he married Petra Avila, daughter of another pioneering family who arrived in 1786.  (Nearby Avila Street is a reminder to the history of that family.)  Juan M. grew grapes for winemaking, and his neighbor and close friend was Jean Louis Vignes, the prolific vintner.  (A previous post described their money-making venture on Catalina Island.)

Juan Resurrecion was one of 13 children.  The 1880 census listed him also as a winemaker and married to Rosa Bustamanto.  Two decades earlier, his occupation was printer, as was his older brother Francisco P. (born 1837) -- Francisco most notably published El Clamor Pรบblico (The Public Outcry) the very first Spanish-language newspaper of L.A. between 1855 and 1859, and Francisco began this venture at the young age of 18.  Francisco's work is the topic of a new book by Paul Bryan Gray, A Clamor for Equality: Emergence and Exile of Californio Activist Francisco P. Ramirez.  He advocated racial equality and the abolition of slavery through his short-lived newspaper.  He later settled in Ensenada until his death in 1908.

Juan R. and Francisco P. had a younger sister - pieces of her life story can be found in newspapers, Internet references and archival maps.  Isabel (1841-1917) managed to marry well - first to Antonio Pelanconi in 1866 (the Italian wine merchant whose Pelanconi building still exists in Olvera Street).  Isabel was widowed in 1879 and soon married her departed husband's business associate, Giacomo Tononi.  The Tononi building stood in what was once Little Italy.  By 1887, Giacomo had acquired a large parcel of the Ramirez vineyard, while Isabel held a neighboring strip of property.  She eventually outlived him too.  Juan R. survived his sister by five years, and he died in September of 1922.

Below is a late 1880s map of the vineyard probably after much of the original homestead was liquidated:

Map circa 1888 courtesy of the Seaver Center
Old Aliso Street shown at the top part of the map above was changed to Lyon Street, being the area where Cyrus Lyon resided.  Cyrus and his twin brother Sanford emigrated from Maine.  Cyrus is most remembered as having been appointed as a member of the Los Angeles Rangers by Horace Bell in 1853 when he was a 21-year old.  The Rangers were a semi-vigilante peacekeeping group of citizens as a remedy for the lawlessness of the newly American city.  Cyrus died in 1892 at 802 Lyon Street.

The Ramirez vineyard original footprint hugely spanned south of the Denny's where the 101 Freeway crosses as well as at today's Patsaouras Transit Plaza just beyond the Denny's pictured above.[Update 1/11/2013:  Mr. Gray, author of A Clamor for Equality, wrote and commented that the original site of the Ramirez adobe lies on the southbound lanes of the freeway nearly straight south from the Denny's.]

The Ramirez family might also have had a connection to the construction of the Plaza Church.  Historical references name the Ramirez patriarch to be Jose Antonio Ramirez (in contrast to the carpenter Francisco Ramirez of Mission Santa Barbara as pointed out by historian and biographer Paul Bryan Gray.)  Jose Antonio was described to have been the architect of the Plaza Church at its completion in 1821.  I have not been able to reconcile this fact, as other references attribute Jose Antonio Ramirez to be a bachelor who built numerous missions up and down the coast.