Sunday, August 10, 2014

Official Deeds to Jue Joe's Main Property in China

In a previous post we shared some deeds that my great grandmother Leong Shee brought with her from China in 1918 which my late Auntie Joan had given to my son Robert.  My Auntie Estelle was kind enough to share an additional two deeds that were also brought by Leong Shee from China. The writing in these deeds has never before been translated by our family. Nick, my nephew, was kind enough to have his business associate Franc in China translate these deeds and my Auntie Soo Yin was able to provide some context and commentary.  These documents are a doorway to better understanding our family's history in China.
Here are the two  documents ( click to enlarge and inspect )  :




Here is Franc's translation and some of his commentary of the events in China at the time the documents were created. (Note: In this contract Zhao Xinyan is the seller. Zhao Weiyue  is Jue Joe's "Ming" name used in official documents . More on names below.)

"File 1
Because of lack of food,the seller Zhao Xinyuan discussed with his family members and decide to sell his father's farmland,the farmland was named "old orchard garden",the area is 9 fen(equals 600 square meters), selling price is 45 tael(silver currency).Zhao Xinyuan's relatives do not want to buy the farmland,middleman Zhao Hongqiu introduced buyer Zhao Weiyue to him. Zhao Xingyuan and Zhao Weiyue discussed and agreed with the price 45 tael,they signed the contract, Zhao Weiyue paid full money that day, and Zhao Xingyuan gave Zhao Weiyue the farmland the same day. Zhao Xingyuan promise the farm land was his father's property, Zhao Xingyuan is responsible for this. Seller Zhao Xingyuan and buyer Zhao Weiyue signed the contract to prove the deal.

The finger printing is Zhao Xingyuan's grandma Chen's, to prove they received Zhao Weiyue's money. Date is Lunar January the 25th,1911.

File 2
It is the same as File 1, but it is a formal one with government stamp.

The taxable amount on the formal contract is 62.5 tael, and Zhao Weiyue paid 3.75 tael to the new government as tax. Date on File 2 is 1913.

The below information is not on the documents, I just gave you the information for your reference:
The Qing Dynasty demised in February 1912, and the Republic of China established in 1912 after The Revolution Of 1911.
I guess the contract need official approval from the new government, to approve the owner is Zhao Weiyue, so file 2 was needed."

Let's now discuss some family context to understand these deeds.  Jue Joe returned to China in 1902 and in an arranged marriage married Leong Shee. He purchased a house and in that house his first son San You was born. Later he purchased farm land and built a large two story house to which the family moved and in which my grandfather San Tong was born.

 Upon returning to China from America Jue Joe had turned over his farming business to his brother Jue Shee who remained in America. Their arrangement was that Jue Shee would send regular proceeds from the profits of the business back to Jue Joe in China.  In 1906 , however, having discovered that his brother unbeknownst to him had sold the farming business and left to parts unknown  with the proceeds , Jue Joe has decided to return by himself to the United States to remake his fortune. 

 Leong Shee never hears from Jue Joe again for nine long years and it is twelve years before she is able to reunite with him in America with her boys. She has heard of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and presumes that Jue Joe may have died. She must raise her two sons herself, support her family and maintain title to Jue Joe's property in China. In 1911, with dramatic changes sweeping through China , Leong Shee realizes that she needs to draw up a new contract retelling an older contract between Jue Joe and the seller to insure that title is clear. Land ownership laws  during the Qing dynasty strongly favored retention of family lands along patriarchial lines and if land was sold by a family member to a non family member, the owner could reserve the "right of redemption" and buy back the property at will at the original asking price !

I think  that Leong Shee with all the turmoil happening in the country was trying to insure her property rights  and had this document drawn up  so that no  family members of the original seller could contest her right to remain on the property or buy the land out from under her .. by having the head of the family " grandma chen" affix her fingerprint in 1911 to a retelling of the original contract  done previously she  was insuring her right to title in perpetuity into the future... I bet the original contract is in the other papers that the family has . After the Chinese revolution in 1911 and the installation of the new Republic of China , she was careful to have the deed officialy recognized and stamped by the new government and pays tax.   I am very impressed with Leong Shee , she was one hell of a strong woman , in all respects.

A note on the name Zhao Weiyue . This is the english version of the mandarin pronunciation of Jue Joe's "Ming" or ceremonial name that is used on official documents.  In Cantonese the same characters are pronounced Jue Wei Ngok. This is also the Chinese name of my first born son Robert. My grandfather San Tong chose the Chinese name Wei Ngok (Wei Yue) for his first great grandson ,my son Robert, which was also the "Ming" name of his father.  Wei has the connotation of "great and powerful" and " yue" refers to  "a  mountain peak". The character "Yue" is also the surname of a famous general of the Southern Song Dynasty Yue Fei. , and another meaning of this name could be to refer to that general  ie " the Great and powerful Yue " .

Each person had a 名 ming² [ming²], or official name. Apparently a person had only one ming at a time, but he or she probably had several ming throughout his or her lifetime. A person might even have a posthumous ming. Ming are composed of one or two syllables. Disyllabic ming could constitute a single word or a two word phrase. In the case of phrases, one word might modify the other (for example, names meaning Flying Swallow or Gold Lotus), one word might reinforce or duplicate the other (for example, Hsiao³ Hsiao³ [Xiao³ Xiao³] where the character translates as small, and Shu4 Cheng¹ [Shu4 Zheng¹] where both characters translate as virtuous, pure), or the two words might express two separate characteristics (for example, a name meaning Graceful and Beautiful). In a few cases, a person had a two-word ming that, in the West, seems like a nickname or sobriquet (for example, the ming Hsiao³ Wan² [Xiao³ Wan²], meaning Young Wan, apparently given because the bearer’s older sister’s ming was Wan² Wan² [Wan² Wan²]). As previously described, a ming is an official name. It typically would be used on official documents and in official proclamations. However, in many periods of Chinese history, it was impolite to use a noble or important person’s ming when speaking to him or her.[2,3] At other times, the acceptability of using a person’s ming depended on the relative status of the speaker and the person to whom he or she was speaking. For example, in such eras it was usually acceptable for a father to use his son's ming, a husband to use his wife's ming, or an employer to use an employee's ming; but the reverse would not be acceptable. However, a traditional difference in status might not be sufficient. For example, although his role as husband gave him more status than his wife, the emperor's son-in-law probably would not use his wife's ming when speaking to her where others could hear."
http://www.ida.net/users/valerie_lee/Octofoil/ChineseNames/ChineseNameBasic.html


Here is some additional commentary on these deeds by my Auntie Soo-Yin:

 "Hi Family,
Nick:  Thank you for having Franc translate Auntie Estelle's 2-part deed.  This translation is a treasure for our family!!!  I am sure that this deed refers to Jue Joe's 2nd home, which Auntie Pingy and I visited in 1987.  Moreover, the 600 meters of land converts to 6458.35 square feet, and this is the approximate size of the family compound that we saw in 1987 and that Auntie Pingy had video-taped.  The transitional period between the collapse of the Ching Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic/Nationalist era is a fascinating one, as exemplified by Leong Shee's frantic efforts to ensure that title to Jue Joe's Chinese land remained in the family. 
JR:  I agree with you that this deed, dated January 25, 1911, is a retelling of Jue Joe's earlier contract of sale.  Franc's English translation says, "...Zhao Weiyue paid full money that day.  And Zhao Xingyuan gave the farmland the same day...."  To me the use of "that day" refers to an earlier time period, as opposed to the use of "this day."  Also, in clearing title during China's chaotic political situation, Leong Shee would know that she needed to remove "right of redemption" from the seller and his family, and would know that she needed to have the most senior member, the Grandma, affix her consent to it and to stand as witness to the conditions of the original sales agreement.  Leong Shee, along with so many other families in China, feared the loss of their lands in the political and economic turmoil of the times.  She was wise to reconfirm legal title with the new Republic. 
Interesting that the 2nd part of the deed with the new government's red stamp, dated 1913, indicates a bit of tax gouging by the new Republic.  The tax was raised to "...62.5 taels (of silver)...."  This was a lot of money!!!  But Leong Shee negotiated to pay 3.75 taels of silver.  She was a skilled businesswoman.   
In fact, Ah Gung always said that Leong Shee "...was an impressive businesswoman in China...."  He told us that his mother had added 32 acres to Jue Joe's original land, and in 1987, Auntie Pingy and I saw for ourselves the 32 acres that Leong Shee had added.  The family's land in China is quite large. 
Leong Shee was the only girl in her family, and she was the youngest among 5 older brothers.  Her father died young from diabetes.  After Jue Joe left for America, in 1906, the brothers taught Leong Shee how to run the farm and how to conduct business transactions.  Ah Gung said that he remembered his maternal grandmother taking care of his brother Sam and himself, while his uncles and Leong Shee went out to the fields to work.  In short time, Leong Shee became very proficient on her own.  She acquired so much land that she rented portions to share-croppers who paid her in rice yields, instead of cash.  Ah Gung remembered jumping into the mounds of rice in a shed--almost floor to ceiling--and nearly being buried alive!  At market Leong Shee resold this rice at a high price because the quality was very good.  She was a skilled negotiator!  The family in China never starved because Leong Shee was the breadwinner in absence of Jue Joe.   
Having been such a successful businesswoman in China, you can imagine the shock that Leong Shee must have felt in arriving on the Chatsworth territory and in being relegated to KP duty cooking and scrubbing for 20 cowhands, the rain pelting her cheeks.  Leong Shee couldn't speak English.  She felt isolated.  And she cried for the first 2 years begging Jue Joe to send her back to China.  Frontier life was adventurous for rugged men with big dreams, but it didn't give much comfort or compassion to pioneer women. 
I'm sure you will find more deeds in Robert's stash.  There should be deeds to land that Leong Shee purchased on her own, too, as part of her 32-acre additions.  Ah Gung said that she brought lots of deeds with her to America.  I am sure that the 310 taels of silver that Weiyue paid for a home in 1903 is the house that Sam was born in.  And the gravesite purchased in 1902 was for the reburial of Jue Joe's father, Lerng Kao. 
Robert's name:  An adult male can have several different names besides a married name, as indicated in JR's article.  It depends a lot on the relationship between one person speaking to another.  In this case, I think Weiyue is probably one of Jue Joe's names.  Remember that he built his own family shrine in Canton City (today's Guangzhou) and named it "Wei Kao Ngok Hong."  It was in honor of his father and in honor of all the generations to come.  It was a great honor that the elders in Sum Gong Village had bestowed on Jue Joe:  They allowed him to start his own family shrine that records his lineage and all property transactions.  Most everyone was recorded in the clan lineage, unless you distinguished yourself by becoming very successful.  Leong Shee seems to have used "Weiyue" in her business transactions because a Chinese woman uses her husband's name in formal transactions, not her own name.  So Ah Gung may have named Robert "Wei Ngok" (Weiyue) to celebrate the powerful continuity of generations...his great grandson! "


Here are some pictures of our family.

My great grandmother Leong Shee in her later years when I knew her . 


 I  am happy to have known her growing up. She was to me always the loving kindly great grandmother. I am very happy to learn of her early life when she was a fierce "woman warrior " ensuring the survival of her family and her two sons all on her own in a time of great upheaval.


Here is a picture of my late grandfather San Tong, my late father Jack Sr. , and my son Robert.

  " So Ah Gung may have named Robert "Wei Ngok"(Weiyue) to celebrate the powerful continuity of generations...his great grandson! -Auntie Soo Yin "



And here is my previous post about the trip that Auntie Soo-Yin and Auntie Pingy made back to the old homestead in China including video of the house that was built on the property referred to the deeds. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Jue Joe Real Estate Transactions in Los Angeles 1896 to 1904

In a previous post  I have discussed the fact that Jue Joe told the family that during the late 1800s before he went back to China he was good friends with Otto Brant, co founder of Title Insurance and Trust Company and signed deeds for him and loaned him money. The unlikely relationship between my great grandfather , an illiterate Chinese immigrant  houseboy and potato farmer, with one of the most powerful early businessmen in Los Angeles during a time of rabid anti-chinese agitation has fascinated me.  I found some initial confirmation in a digital newspaper search that there was in fact a real estate transaction with Jew Joe's name on it during the time period in question and was interested in looking for more evidence of real estate transactions from the period and went down to the Los Angeles County recorder office in Norwalk, CA.  and looked at historic microfiche files.  I found some fascinating grant deeds dated 1896 through 1904 that confirm our family history of Jue Joe being involved in real estate transactions during this time and although none of the deeds have Otto Brant's name on them, his background involvement can certainly be inferred.
In earlier posts I have speculated that Jue Joe and Otto Brant met around 1894 after Jue Joe had arrived in the Los Angeles area after working in the Napa valley wineries as a field hand and the Southern Pacific railroad as a track layer.  He was employed in 1893 by the Neils Johnson family in Chatsworth as a houseboy. At the same time Otto Brant was cofounder of the Title insurance and Trust Company in Los Angeles.  The two become good friends, an unlikely pair to get together for sure !

A study of Otto Brant's life reveals that he always liked to the remain in the background in real estate deals. Although he was a major negotiator in land deals involving vast land holdings in the San Fernando Valley and the Imperial Valley for General Harrison Gray Otis , Harry Chandler, Moses Sherman and others , he was always quiet and in the background.  I speculate that in his friend Jue Joe he found the perfect man to trust to be a "straw man" in real estate deals where he himself could remain behind the scenes.  Let's begin a study of these transactions from 1896 to 1904 and see what we can learn. The County of Los Angeles stores historic grant deeds on microfiche . During this time original grant deeds were officially recorded by making a handwritten copy of the deed in a large book and the original deed given back to the grantee ( buyer).  These records can be searched by grantee(buyer's) name but not by grantor(seller). I was able to locate deeds in which Jue Joe was the buyer and later was able to use newspaper records to locate records of sales that Jue Joe made.  The original grant deeds are very hard to read as you can see from the scanned copies and I have typed out the relevant passages in this post to make the documents easier to read.

I suspect their first real estate transaction together was this one, December 8th 1896. It is the first transaction that I can find Jue Joe's name. I suspect that by this time Jue Joe has left work at the Johnsons and has started farming potatoes on forty acres of leased land in Chatsworth through Otto Brant's help in aiding him to secure a lease.  Interestingly, in this document his name is listed as Jue Joe which is how he spelled his name in later years , while in other transactions the name is spelled as Jew Joe.
Here is the original first page of the document .


Here is the detail with Jue Joe's name as the "party of the second part".

Here is a the text of the relevant portion of the deed:

 "This indenture made the eighth day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety six between Lillian Holmes and Thomas W. Holmes her husband , the parties of the first part, and Jue Joe the party of the second part. Witnesseth: That the said parties of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of one dollar lawful money of the United States of America to them in hand paid by the said party of the second part, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged do by these presents, grant , bargain and sell convey and confirm unto the said party of the second part and to his heirs and assign forever all that certain lot piece or parcel of land situated lying and being in the County of Los Angeles, State of California and bounded and particularly described as follows to wit: Farm lot number 50 of the Gardena Tract in the County of Los Angeles, State of California ....except for a strip of land 4 feet wide conveyed to the Redondo Railway Company for railroad right of way by deed......"


Wait a minute ! Jue Joe is buying land for one dollar is that true ??? Not exactly,  as I stated in a previous post, by convention grant deeds need to specify that there is a real estate transfer of title through the payment of "consideration" from the buyer to the seller. The actual amount entered into the deed can be a nominal amount and not reflect the actual sale price which is on the sale contract.  During this period of time I found many deeds which had nominal amounts of money entered  such as one dollar, five dollar or ten dollars and other deeds in which significant amounts of money were noted probably signifying the actual sale price so it can get a bit confusing.  I think the way of looking at these historic deeds is that if a nominal amount is entered in the deed the actual sales price is hidden and where a signficant amount of money is entered into the deed that probably does reflect the actual sales price.

Consideration
"A deed must include a recital of consideration. In most instances, a recital of nominal consideration (for example, Ten Dollars) is sufficient. The actual consideration paid for the real property must be disclosed to local and /or state tax departments for tax purposes. Real property may be conveyed as a gift, in which case no actual monetary consideration is being exchanged for the real property. There are special circumstances in which the actual sales price must be inserted, as in the case of a deed in which the grantor is acting in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of the owner of the real property"


Ok what happens to this property?  Jue Joe holds onto his new property and on August 12, 1897 just five months after buying the property he sells it to J.A. Lakey for $4250









On September 15, 1897 just one month after making the sale on the Gardena farm lot, money in the bank, Jew Joe purchases 10 acres from E.J. Baldwin a big subdivider in Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo in present day El Monte, CA. for $1750.
 Here is picture of the deed.




 Here is a detail of the beginning of the deed.


 Here is the full text of the deed.

" I, E.J Baldwin of the County of Los Angeles, State of California for and in consideration of the sum of one thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars , gold coin of the United States of America do hereby grant to Jew Joe of the County of Los Angeles, State of California, all that real property situated in the County of Los Angeles, State of California and described as follows : the northerly half of lot number two in block F of the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo , that is to say that part of said lot number two extending ten chains from the center line of the road running between blocks E and F of said Rancho according to maps thereof recorded in Book 43 page 43 Miscellaneous records of the Los Angeles County reference here being made to said map and the record thereof for further description containing 10 acres.

The grant is made upon and is subject to the following conditions and party of the second part accepts this grant subject thereto, that is to say:
The party of the first part hereby reserves for his own use and benefit any water ditch or ditches now on said land, together with the right to convey water therein or to carry water through pipes in lieu of open ditches over and across said land and also reserves all water rising on said land with the right to take said waters in pipes or ditches and carry water wither in pipes or ditches over and across said land from and to other lands belonging to said party of the first part and said party will protect said land herein agreed to be conveyed from damage by reason of any new pipe or ditch line which may be constructed or used by said party of the first part.

Witness my hand this Fifteenth day of September 1897
E.J. Baldwin by R.H. Lloyd, his atty in fact., State of California, City and County of San Francisco

On this Twenty ninth day of September A.D One Thousand eight hundred and ninety seven before me, Holland Smith, a Notary Public in and for said City and County of San Francisco residing therein, duly commissioned and sworn, personally appeared R.H. Lloyd known to me to be the person whose name is subscribed to the annexed instrument, as the attorney in fact of E.J. Baldwin described therein, and the said R.H. Lloyd acknowledged that he subscribed the name of E.J. Baldwin thereto as principal and his own name as attorney in fact and as such attorney in fact executed the said instrument. In witness thereof, I have here unto set my hand and affixed my Official Seal at my office in the City and County of San Francisco the day and year last above written.
(Notary Seal)   Holland Smith, Notary Public in and for the City and County of San Francisco, State of California. "



Interestingly, probably realizing that title is clouded on this property, Jew Joe purchases the exact same property from H.A Church and Jennie A. Church on the exact same date !! The history of this subdivision as explained in a previous post is that it was a large Mexican Land Grant Rancho that was subdivided originally in 1887 by E.J. Baldwin and his partner. I presume that perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Church had bought the land and perhaps defaulted on payments and title reverted back to Mr.Baldwin or so Mr . Baldwin thought but perhaps the Churchs had never really released title legally and Jew Joe to clear title needed to buy the same property from the Churchs for a nominal fee. Here is the relevant text of the deed from Mr. and Mrs. Church to Jew Joe.

"This indenture made the fifteenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety seven between H.A Church and Jennie A. Church his wife of the County of Los Angeles, State of California, the parties of the first part, and Jew Joe of the same place, the party of the second part. Witnesseth:That the said parties of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of five dollars, gold coin of the United States of America to them in hand paid by the said party of the second part the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged , does by these present grant, bargain, and sell, convey and confirm unto said party of the second part and to his heirs and assigns forever all that certain lot,piece or parcel of land situated , lying and being in the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, County of Los Angeles, State of California, and bounded and described as follows to with: All right title and interest in and to the northerly half of Lot number two, block F of Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, that is to say , that part of said lot number two extending ten chains from the center line of the road running between blocks E and F of said Rancho according to maps thereof recorded in Book 43 page 43 Miscellaneous records of the Los Angeles County."


All right, now what happens?   Jew Joe holds this property for four years and sells it to Sophronia A. Bliss.
Here is text of the relevant portion of the deed:

 "This Indenture, made the Thirty-first day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and one , between Jew Joe, an unmarried man of the County of Los Angles, State of California, the party of the first part and Sophronia A. Bliss, an unmarried woman of the same place, the party of the second part.
Witnesseth: that the said party of the first part, for and in consideration of the sum of Ten Dollars in Gold Coin of the United States of America to him in hand paid by the said party of the second part, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, does by these presents grant,  bargain, and sell, convey and confirm unto said party of the second part and to her heirs and assigns forever all that certain real property situated in the County of Los Angeles, State of California and particularly described as follows:
The northerly half of Lot 2 on Block F of the subdivision of the Rancho Portero de Felipe Lugo, as per maps recorded in Book 43 page 43 Miscellaneous records of said county that is to say , that part of said lot extending ten chains southerly from the center line of the road between blocks E and F of said subdivision.

We do not know the actual sales price from the deed as only a nominal amount of 10 dollars is entered for "consideration" in this deed. However we do note  in the next day's LA Herald of August 1, 1901 the following listing of a Sophronia A. Bliss entering into a mortgage with Columbia Sav. Bank for this and other properties , terms of 3 years , 9 per cent, $2800.00




The last property I found was a transaction in which Jew Joe is listed as the buyer of a property from Annie Gray for  $2500 dollars on February 29, 1904. The problem is that Jew Joe is now in China having left the United States in 1902 with no plans of returning.  I assume that this purchase is made in Jew Joe's behalf by the person for whom he granted power of attorney to proceed with real estate transactions for him in his name after he leaves the country.

Here is the relevant text of this deed:

"This Indenture made the Twenty ninth day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and four between Annie Gray.  a widow of the City of Los Angeles County of Los Angeles, State of California  the party  of the first part and Jew Joe , of the same place , the party of the second part.,
Witnesseth that the said party of the first part and for and in consideration of the sum of twenty-five hundred ($2500.00) dollars in Gold  Coin of the United State of America to her in hand paid by the said party of the second part the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged , does by these presents grant,  bargain, and  sell, convey and confirm unto said party of the second part and to his heirs and assigns forever all that certain real property situated in the County of Los Angeles, State of California and particularly described as follows: The easterly forty feet of the westerly fifty feet of lot thirteen  of
Block B of West Los Angeles Tract in the City and County  of Los Angeles, State of California as per maps recorded in Book 3, Page 143 and in Book 29 ,  pages 19 and 20 , miscellaneous records of said County..."


So what does all this tell us?  Although Otto Brant is not named on any of these transactions it is crystal clear that Jue Joe is working for someone with a keen knowledge of real estate, the nature of real estate transactions, and the need for clear title . It also shows that whoever is behind the scenes must have extreme trust in Jue Joe as Jue Joe has significant funds transferred to him in his name and holds deeds to property in his name for years.

Years later in an article in the LA Times  John Steven McGroarty (1862-1944)  named poet laureate by the State of California legislature in 1933  and also a Los Angeles Times columnist wrote about Jue Joe "Slowly but surely he established himself in the confidence of the community. He came to be trusted. His mere word was the same as another man's bond."

And as  my Auntie Soo-Yin has said:
"San Tong had said that Jue Joe's name was used on many of Otto's deeds, but he did not say that Jue Joe had any direct involvement in negotiating the transactions. Otto handled all the details of land transactions, and it was a win-win situation for both Otto and Jue Joe. Otto Brant and Jue Joe were like equal friends, according to Ah Gung. I do know that Otto used to ask Jue Joe for loans in order to finance his real estate ventures and to be his "straw man" whenever needed, and Jue Joe was always glad to oblige. Also, Jue Joe told Ah Gung that everything he knew about American business he had learned from Otto; this good friend was Jue Joe's mentor. I can see why the two men got along so well, they were both modest men.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Jue Family Farming in Wasco, Kern County 1933





Sam Jue was the eldest son of Jue Joe and unfortunately died of leukemia in October of 1933. His illness was sudden and devastating and until the onset of his illness he was a young vigorous representative of Jue Joe's farming operations. In early 1933 he was in charge of a successful Jue family farming operation near Wasco in Kern County on 40 acres of land leased under his own name. At the same time Jue Joe was farming some 44 miles away in Porterville as well. At this time, at the peak of Jue Joe farming operations 750 acres were under cultivation in San Joaquin County, Kern County, Tulare County , the San Fernando Valley, and the Imperial valley. I recently discovered this article dated August 20th 1933 from the Los Angeles Times. Despite the Depression, Jue family farming operations were successful  and Sam Jue's farm was the "largest commercial project of its kind in Kern county" and offering "employment to many".  Sam Jue died on October 21,1933 only 2 months after this article was published. He was only 30 years old at the time of his death. This article is a poignant reminder of the promise of Sam Joe's young life and the tragedy of his untimely death.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Two Dreamers in the Desert- A Mojave Tale









"Crossing the Mojave , Joe came upon a rare creek. Leaning over that flow he caught sight of  a varmint's approach . " Howdy", bowled Otto F. Brant, and he honed for Joe an easy grin. "Will ya share that juice?" Joe dipped his Stetson in assent. After the sun began to drop the two men edged beneath a footbridge for the night. They saw the moon lift over the stars and it was a disk radically bright as found nowhere on earth except for strays crossing the soundless stage.  Otto F. Brant began to tell his life's story to Joe ...
Their talk dwindled as the sky fell purple and by midnight their tales began to intersect around the campfire's corona.... Otto F. Brant offered Joe insight on the desert canon, he spoke of what pioneers practiced in that place the padres revered as the "City of Angels"....."
From the "The Legend of Zhao-An Epic Fable based on  a True Story" , unpublished novel by Soo-Yin Jue.

My Auntie Soo Yin wrote to me recently about my post in which I discuss how Jue Joe and Otto Brant could have met in Los Angeles through the intercession of Brant's  houseboy Wong Joe :
"Nice job on your theory of how Jue Joe and Otto Brant met each other.  You gave excellent analysis about the individuals and set them against a historical backdrop of social, political, and economic issues influencing the time period.  Very conceivable,..... There is a question in my mind, however, as to why Ah Gung kept saying that Jue Joe and Otto Brant met in the Mojave and hoboed together to Los Angeles."

Yes... we keep coming back to the "Mojave question"  in our family oral history. My grandfather always told the story that Otto and Jue Joe met in the Mojave and they "hoboed" together to Los Angeles.  For years I have discounted that story as most patently a myth.  When Jue Joe arrived in the San Fernando Valley  he was employed as a houseboy on a Chatsworth homestead .  Otto Brant had just formed his title insurance company in Los Angeles. It was impossible for them to have met in the Mojave and hoboed together back to Los Angeles ..... or maybe not .  Let me tell you a little Mojave tale in which we weave together some facts and some speculation .

In early 1894 we know that Jue Joe made a railroad trip back to Sacramento California from Chatsworth  to get a new certificate of identity required under the new anti-Chinese legislation or face possible deportation.
He had thrown away his first certificate of identity which he had obtained while working in St. Helena and needed a new duplicate one with a picture ID. Since the Sacramento immigration office held the documentation of his original certificate he had to make the journey to Sacramento. At the time there was a branch rail line to Burbank which connected to the main Southern Pacific rail line which stretched across the Mojave desert through the town of Lancaster over the Tehachipi mountains and on to Sacramento.

At the same time in 1894. Otto Brant's new title insurance company business had weathered a very rocky  first year. A nationwide Depression hit the Los Angeles area hard in 1893 just as Otto's business was getting started.  According to his son, David, ... "they really had a hard time of it there.  Then the terrible depression came along , and they were just about to fold up ... when some subdivider came in and gave them a big job of writing policies for this subdivision ... "

Meanwhile the town of Lancaster in the Mojave desert, originally a refueling and watering stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad as it crossed the desert had been booming and was unfazed by the 1893 depression.

"The area in which the city of Lancaster is now located, which is now known as the Antelope Valley, was originally home to the Piute Indians. Lancaster's origins as a settlement start with the Southern Pacific Railroad, which is believed to first use the name 'Lancaster', where a station house, locomotive watering facilities and section gang housing were built when the railroad laid track through the town's future location. By September 1876 Southern Pacific had completed the main line through the Antelope Valley, linking San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The origin of Lancaster's name is unclear, attributed variously to the surname of a railroad station clerk, the moniker given by railroad officials, or the former Pennsylvania home (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) of unknown settlers. Train service brought passengers through the water-stop-turned-community, which, with the help of promotional literature, attracted new settlers. The person credited with formally developing the town is Moses Langley Wicks, who in 1884 bought property from the railroad for $2.50 per acre, mapped out a town with streets and lots, and by September was advertising 160-acre tracts of land for $6 an acre.

 The following year, the Lancaster News started publication, making it the first weekly newspaper in the Antelope Valley. By 1890, Lancaster was bustling and booming, and thanks to adequate rainfall, farmers planted and sold thousands of acres of wheat and barley. The early '90s were years of heavy rainfall and so were prosperous ones for the farmers. Mr. Ward shipped the first carload of alfalfa. As many as two hundred horses and mules could be seen lined up on Tenth Street feeding or waiting their turn to unload the harvests. 1893  - Seems to have been a banner year. Sixty thousand acres skirting the foothills were planted to wheat and barley. Some 730 carloads were brought to Lancaster to be shipped to Los Angeles.

 1894 - Opened a series of dry years. The cattle were the first to suffer and were driven north in such numbers that the stage road was trodden with dust. The town was devastated by the decade-long drought that began in 1894, killing businesses and driving cattle north, though fortunes improved somewhat in 1898 following the nearby discoveries of gold and borax, the latter to become a widespread industrial chemical and household cleaner.... "

 Early 1894 before the drought hit , when Jue Joe made his trip to Sacramento might also have been a good time for Otto F. Brant to scope out the Mojave around the burgeoning town of Lancaster for real estate opportunities as well as opportunities to expand his Title insurance business into the area. The rail line lead directly out from Los Angeles into Lancaster and the Mojave.   Now is it really possible for Otto and Jue Joe to have met out in the desert on the outskirts of that Lancaster boomtown? ... maybe ... some hints come from the character of both men's subsequent actions.

 Jue Joe was the first Chinese farmer in the San Fernando valley farming potatoes in that hardscrabble earth of the Chatsworth area rather then in areas closer to Los Angeles or better irrigated. He looked for opportunities where others had not already gone.

 Later in his career after Otto Brant had become successful... his son David remembers how he met Harry Chandler, of the LA Times and how Harry Chandler tried to get Otto to go with him to the Colorado River Desert to tour the land there and go in with him on investing..... Otto declines Harry's invitation and decides to do a little exploring on his own ... "So I asked Mr Chandler ... "How did you and my father get together?" Well, he said that father was doing such a terrific job developing Title Insurance and Trust company, and " I heard he was a strong man.. so I just went down to his office and introduced myself and told him my story and offered to take him down"... And he said , "your father said to me... 'I,ll go down and take a look at it , but I don't want you there throwing the bull at me. So I'll go down alone.'"...

 And Otto doesn't just make a little trip of it ! David Brant writes "Mother, of course, was very frightened at the prospect of father going away out there in that desert... So father told her that he would leave word in Yuma as to where he was going; and if they wired his party, they'd send Indian runners out onto the desert and locate him and bring him back. So I remember that very well. And we all prayed. Mother got us all down on our hands and knees praying for a safe return. He came back with a couple of ollas. They were big balls made by the Indians. Made out of clay, they were unglazed, they were porous. They would bury those where there was a showing of water in the sand, had a neck just big enough to get your hand in with a cover on that , and they would cover those up with sand . They had some way of locating them. I don't know what that was but had one of those dug up and brought it up. We had it in our library on Figueroa Street.... Another thing he brought back- somebody had castrated a bull , and had taken his scrotum , his pouch and filled it full of sand and one thing and another so it was up like this. And they'd put a red baby ribbon on the top and filled it with cigars. Father used to embarrass my mother holding this thing out offering everybody cigars. He and Mr Chandler were always full of fun and joking with each other, even though things were terribly serious always......"

 So could Jue Joe have been out in the Mojave around Lancaster on his way back from Sacramento just getting a feel for the land and seeing if it was a good place to build his dream of a farm of his own? ... and did he just happen to meet another dreamer in Otto Brant just poking about in the desert and getting a feel for it's possiblities.?.. yes just maybe ! And what about hoboing it back to Los Angeles ?. Southern Pacific railroads of the time often had three classes of rail cars on their line .. plush first class cars for the wealthy , second class for regular travelers , and "emigrant" cars with the cheapest fares which were often little more then converted boxcars with bench seats.... Jue Joe of course would have emigrant car tickets... and Otto, of course, being the kind of guy he was would have no qualms of joining his new found friend in the converted boxcar back to LA... two unlikely dreamers "ho boing" back to Los Angeles after meeting in the desert ........

David Brant's memories of his father can be found here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Tale of Two Joes- Wong Joe and Jue Joe

One of the mysteries of our family oral history is how Jue Joe and Otto Brant became fast friends and how they met. Earlier in this blog I suspected that Jue Joe may have met Otto Brant being employed as his houseboy. It turns out there was probably a "houseboy" connection in how they became friends but it was not as simple as I first thought . Let me tell you the stories of two Chinese domestic servants in Los Angeles , Wong Joe and Jue Joe, and about my theories about how their meeting may have led to Jue Joe's friendship with Otto Brant .

Otto Brant arrived in Los Angeles during the mid 1880s during a major real estate boom. He had made a small fortune in drilling wells for water irrigation in Texas with his brother Byron and came to Los Angeles to try his hand in real estate investment. Later he and a partner would found the successful Title Insurance Company. He and his wife Susan  began a large family and early on hired a Chinese houseboy, Wong Joe . Wong Joe was an integral member of the Brant household and even played nurse "girl " to the Brant children .  Here are some Brant family photos courtesy of Harry Brant Chandler.

Otto Brant in his younger years .

Otto Brant family circa 1905

The Brant house in Los Angeles .

"Old Joe"- Wong Joe , Houseboy for the Brants
Behind the photo of Old Joe there is the following note :


...Wong "Joe"
Cook and nurse "girl" who raised the whole damn family and many of the neighbors Kids. ...

Wong Joe's history with the Brant family was a long and deep one that stretched for many years. He became a trusted member of the family household .

Meanwhile, Jue Joe arrived in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley in 1893 after working on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Like Wong Joe, Jue Joe was employed as a houseboy. He was employed by Neils C, Johnson and Ann Wilden Johnson, pioneer homesteaders. Here is some information about the Johnsons and some pictures of Chatsworth and the San Fernando Valley in 1893 when Jue Joe arrived.


 .HOMESTEADING—1870-1892
By the late 1880s most latecomers found it more difficult to find good farmland in 
the valley. Most were consigned to seek out marginal land in the surrounding hills 
for ranches and homesteads. Benjamin Porter had divided his “least desirable” 
property into thirteen separate shares. Granger Ranch (which Porter named after 
his ranch superintendent), the westernmost share and adjacent to Santa Susana 
State Historic Park, eventually became part of the town of Chatsworth Park. In 
1870, Niles and Wilden Johnson were among the first families to take advantage 
of the Federal Homestead Act, to settle in the San Fernando Valley. The Johnsons 
were applying for the land under the 1862 Homestead Act, which allowed an adult 
United States citizen or naturalized citizen the opportunity to acquire free up to a 
¼ section of a township (160 acres) in the public domain west of the Mississippi. 
The claimant had to have improved and lived on the property for at least five 
years, after which he paid a nominal filing fee; or was allowed to buy it after six 
months for $1.25 per acre. Settling first in Brown’s Canyon, in 1874 they 
relocated farther up the Santa Susana Pass Road and homesteaded in what is now 
the Indian Hills Estates. Over the next twenty years, several other early pioneer 
families established homesteads in the hills above Chatsworth, including the 
Coffeen, Glasscock, Graves, Gray, Thrasher, and Iverson. By damming streams 
and digging wells, these homesteaders were able to coerce crops from the rocky
soil. All of which contributed to the west valley’s economic growth, helping to 
establish the Chatsworth area as an independent agricultural community. With the 
opening of the Owens Valley Aqueduct in 1913, the City of Los Angeles offered 
to sell water to Chatsworth and other towns in the San Fernando Valley only if 
they would agree to be annexed. As a result, Chatsworth’s residents voted to give 
up their municipal independence to the growing megalopolis. With a steady supply 
of fresh water, the Chatsworth area would be noted for its orchards of oranges, 
lemons, grapes, and figs, and eventually develop thoroughbred horse ranches

 from   SANTA SUSANA PASS STATE HISTORIC PARK 
 HISTORIC OVERVIEW 

Ann Willden Johnson 
Ann Willden Johnson defined what it meant to be a pioneer.  Born in Sheffield, England, in 1845, Ann moved to the United States as a small child.  Her family settled in a Mormon colony in Iowa and lived there for several years.  In 1851, the Willdens followed Brigham Young and his Mormon disciples to the Great Salt Lake in Utah.  Ann remained in Utah until she married Neils Christian Johnson and soon moved to California. 
The Johnsons lived around the greater Los Angels area, and ultimately settled in Chatsworth in 1874.  According to her autobiography, Our Pioneer Mother, as told to and recorded by her daughter, Leonora Johnson MacDonald, Ann was "the first white English-speaking woman in the San Fernando Valley."  Ann did all that she could to develop a community in Chatsworth.  In 1880, Ann assisted in establishing the first school in Chatsworth and served as the clerk for the Board of Trustees for several years.  Ann also devoted much of her time to work and worship at the Methodist Church and Sunday School.


Ann Willden Johnson: Chatsworth homesteader
On April 16, 1873, Ann Willden Johnson gave birth in her Chatsworth ranch house to the first white child born in the San Fernando Valley. Born in Sheffield, England, Johnson grew up in Salt Lake City. At 15, she married Neils Johnson. The couple came to California in 1867. The Johnsons lived in a two-room tent in Soledad Canyon, using one half for the family quarters and the other for a grocery store she helped run. In 1870, she and her husband settled in Chatsworth where they built a home. There, she held Sunday school and tutored her 10 children. She helped start the Chatsworth area's first school in 1880 and was clerk of the school board. She helped found a Christian congregation in the West Valley that met under the oak trees at her house until Pioneer Church was built in 1903. The structure is now located in Oakwood Memorial Church in Chatsworth. She died in 1920 at the age of 74.
When Jue Joe starting working for the Johnsons as their houseboy he was already 37 years old,  the Johnson's had 10 children . The two youngest and probably still in the house were Oliver age 8 and Norman age 9 , the next youngest was Emma  age 20 , and the oldest was Hanna age 32


Jue Joe  probably in his 40's 




Neils C. Johnson 



Ann Wilden Johnson 


Chatsworth 1893 

Chatsworth Rail Station 1893 


View of the San Fernando Valley  circa 1893 

I was interested to understand what the relationships between Chinese male domestic servants and their employers were like in 19th century Los Angeles. I discovered an excellent memoir of a Chinese domestic published in 1914 entitled  "Yellow Angel", written by  Mary Stewart Dagget. This book illustrates how the male Chinese domestics became not just servile background attendants in these households but became essential and indispensable members of the family who were trusted and  willing to speak their minds and even to offer their own opinions different from the caricature of a faceless domestic. These men had real character and spunk. The book also shows how in an era of Anti Chinese agitation and exclusion politics the close association between these men and their employers led the employers to develop strong pro -chinese  attitudes. Here are pictures of Ms. Dagget's Chinese servant .
The full text of this book is available for free on the internet archive as it's copyright has expired .






Chinese domestic servants were often proud of their employers and often eager to offer their employer's help to their Chinese  friends even without asking first! One of Sue Chang's friends is arrested  for gambling in a police raid on Los Angeles Chinatown's ubiquitous Fan Tan parlors. Sue Chang is quick to offer his friend his employer's help.




Chinese are a social people and Chinatowns have always served as a haven for area Chinese to meet with their countrymen and to develop friendships and speak their own language and eat and buy food and  clothing and supplies from China. In the 1890s Los Angeles Chinatown was booming and thriving despite the rabid anti Chinese agitation of the times. Railroad connections allowed Chinese working in the greater Southland area to descend on Chinatown on their days off . I am sure that Jue Joe took that opportunity to travel from Chatsworth where he was probably the only Chinese man in the area to Chinatown Los Angeles on his days off.

Here are a few views of Los Angeles Chinatown in the 1890s.



I think that Jue Joe probably met Wong Joe in LA's Chinatown . They discussed who their employers were and what they did. Jue Joe probably told Wong Joe that his dreams were not to remain as a houseboy forever but  to lease land and start farming potatoes so he could make enough money to go back to China . He probably mentioned to Wong Joe that he was looking for white landowners who might be willing to lease land for farming. Wong Joe probably mentioned that his boss ,Otto Brant was a big time real estate guy and could probably help Jue Joe with a farming land lease and offered to set up a meeting between Otto and Jue Joe. By this time Jue Joe had probably also accumulated a fair amount of money and kept it in the bank.  Like  other Chinese of the times he was beginning to thrive despite the difficulties of the times . Carey McWillams in his book , "Southern California -An Island on the Land", 1944  page 93. quotes a vistor to Southern California in 1898 :"John Chinaman is forging ahead rapidly in this country. The Chinese are doing the servant's work in hotels, boarding houses, private families , and on the farms they are leasing land, raising an immense quantity of vegetables, and have a monopoly on the huckster business (door to door vegetable sales ).  It makes a New England man squirm to see them in lines at banks, depositing  money and handling gold in quantities as easily and intelligently as if they were Wall Street brokers.... "

Jue Joe probably jumped at the opportunity of meeting Otto Brant . He was an unconventional man who throughout his life although speaking broken English and being illiterate was able to make friendships with  powerful white men of the time , and forge relationships that would last decades. Jue Joe and Otto when they met were around the same age and although of vastly different life experiences and cultures were  probably able to feel a common bond. They were both dreamers with a vision for big things for the future in their own ways.  Otto at the time was probably interested in a man he could trust to use as a "straw man" in clearing of title for clients in his new Title insurance business and who was also willing to put up some of his own money for transactions  and Jue Joe was in need of Otto's help to arrange for his leasing of land to start his potato farming business . I think it was the beginning of a  strong relationship and friendship that would last until Otto's death in 1922.

Ps. a note on the name  "Joe" . Jew Joe's real Chinese name is Jew Pan Soong  in Cantonese. Chinese use the family name or surname first and the given name last. So Jew Joe's surname would be Jew and Wong Joe's surname was Wong .
Almost all Chinese given or personal names have two syllables, the first syllable would often change after a person married. Thus Jew Joe's  Cantonese name before marriage was Jew But Soong and became Jew Pan Soong after marriage. Sometimes Chinese would shorten their given name and use only the last sylllable, thus Jew Joe would say that his Chinese name was Jew Soong.  "Joe" was most likely an American personal name that he chose for himself after living here in the early years and then using on his first identification certificate.  Many white folks would use Joe , or  John, or Charlie in speaking with Chinese rather then using the Chinese's real given names which were difficult and hard to pronounce. Chinese often adopted these personal names used by the whites as their official given names on legal documents .This was especially true for those like Jew Joe and Wong Joe who had immigrated before stringent Exclusion acts were passed which required careful documentation of complete Chinese names on immigration documents.. In his later immigration documents Jew Joe always speaks of " Jew Joe " as the name by which he  is known by the Americans. Likewise for Wong, Joe would not be his real Chinese name but an American nickname he chose for himself




Friday, July 25, 2014

Jew Joe Real Estate Transaction 1901

My late father was a real estate appraiser working for LA County and at one time looked at historic grant deeds archived in the LA county recorder office and saw multiple deeds with the name Jew Joe dating from the time before Jew Joe went back to China in 1902. (Jew Joe  used Jew instead of Jue as the English spelling of our surname at  that time ). My father told me that Jew Joe had told my grandfather,San Tong,that Otto Brant, Title Insurance Company co owner, had Jew Joe sign real estate deeds for him.  I asked my Auntie Soo Yin  about this and she confirmed this and had the following comments:

1.  Squatters and color of title:  My father San Tong told me that in the 1890s title insurance to real property in SoCal was not yet a tradition practiced by landowners; most folks were a bit skeptical about the need to insure.  But Otto Brant was very deep thinking, and seeing far ahead of the curve, he knew that landowners would soon find themselves in great need of insuring their ownerships and clearing color of title.  "During this period of time," said San Tong, landowners were having so much trouble with "squatters" moving onto their property and claiming title.  This is why Otto had his friend Thompson, who was a saloon bouncer and who was a big, rough-looking guy, remove squatters off disputed lands by physical force if necessary."  (Later, Thompson became a partner with Jue Joe in the saloon located at 2nd and Broadway.)  At once landowners made a beeline for Otto's Title Insurance and Trust Co. and his business grew by leaps, as he knew it would.  Otto had the last laugh.   

2.  Straw man:  San Tong had said that Jue Joe's name was used on many of Otto's deeds, but he did not say that Jue Joe had any direct involvement in negotiating the transactions.  Otto handled all the details of land transactions, and it was a win-win situation for both Otto and Jue Joe. Otto Brant and Jue Joe were like equal friends, according to Ah Gung.  I do know that Otto used to ask Jue Joe for loans in order to finance his real estate ventures and to be his "straw man" whenever needed, and Jue Joe was always glad to oblige.  Also, Jue Joe told Ah Gung that everything he knew about American business he had learned from Otto; this good friend was Jue Joe's mentor.  I can see why the two men got along so well, they were both modest men.  (Jue Joe had met Thompson, his partner in the Saloon, through Otto Brant, too).

My son Robert who is in the real estate business had this theory of how Otto Brant used Jew Joe in his real estate transactions.  Robert has a theory that at the time Otto formed the Title insurance company , there were many properties in Los Angeles that had contested title with several  "owners" claiming to have the right to sell the property . Let us say his company was involved in providing potential buyers of the property with title insurance . One of the primary functions of the Title insurance company would be to search records and establish title before sales and  Otto would have found  quite a few of these properties.   The various owners claiming title would not be able to sell the property outright . They could of course sue each other and try to establish who had real title  and be able to sell but perhaps  Otto could offer a much simpler  solution .  These owners rather then fighting about who really owned the property  could all agree to sell out their  title to  one man each  at a percentage of the total  price of the sale .Since Otto would have researched these properties  thoroughly he could  then be sure that he had all the  real possible property owners in the deal . He could then broker a deal , and provide  title insurance to the single new buyer who had clear title .  That new buyer " straw man "  would not be involved in negotiating the deal at all and just  appear in person  to sign documents  and the entire deal could be arranged by  Otto ,  In fact the "straw man " could in fact loan or put up his own money for the deal with the agreement that once the deal was completed  and clear title was established that land could then be sold at a substantial profit to a new buyer  waiting in the wings who wanted to buy the property in the first place . The sale of the land  from the straw owner to the new owner would , promptly by arranged  by Otto  and then the loan would be repaid with interest to the "straw man " quickly ... Such an arrangement would require a "straw man " with whom  Otto had extreme confidence in and  the agreement especially if a verbal one would  really need to be  one of trust and mutual  benefit .

What evidence is there that this arrangement between Otto Brant and Jew Joe actually occurred ?

Rancho Portero de Felipe Lugo was one of the  large Mexican land grants that was located in the current city of El Monte near Los Angeles. The history of this Rancho and it's subsequent sale and subdivision and owners can be found here.   The Rancho was originally subdivided in the Los Angeles land boom of  the late 1880s. Here is an ad of the original subdivision by E. J. Baldwin in 1887 .



Here is  page 14 of the Los Angeles Herald , on Thursday Morning , August 1, 1901 .
At the time family oral history has Jew Joe farming potatoes in Chatsworth on leased land. There is no family oral history that he owned land at this time . Yet on this date on the list of real estate transfers in the paper, Jew Joe is listed as selling land to Sophronia A. Bliss , in particular -Part Lot 2, blk F, of sub. of Ro. Potrero de Felipe Lugo .

Did Jew Joe buy and accept title to this land some time before and then sell and transfer the title to a new owner to help his friend, Otto Brant ? By the way the 10.00 noted after the property is the amount of "consideration"for the property paid by the buyer to the seller and is noted in the official grant deeds. When the number is low such as 10 dollars in this case, this does not actually reflect the sale price of the property which does not have always have to be included in the newly recorded grant deed. "

A deed must include a recital of consideration. In most instances, a recital of nominal consideration (for example, Ten Dollars) is sufficient. The actual consideration paid for the real property must be disclosed to local and /or state tax departments for tax purposes. Real property may be conveyed as a gift, in which case no actual monetary consideration is being exchanged for the real property. There are special circumstances in which the actual sales price must be inserted, as in the case of a deed in which the grantor is acting in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of the owner of the real property"





Van Nuys Ranch Memories

A ranch and it's buildings are not just simple wooden structures but repositories of cherished memories held throughout decades of time by those who lived there. Here are just a sampling of some of the rich family memories of this place . Although we no longer live there we are happy that the buildings still stand and help us to remember....


Auntie Soo Jan :

I recall moving from the old farm house that had asparagus pushing up through the floors and termite invasions every spring over to the big house when I was about 9 years old, which would be 1947 or so. The house was built soon after World War Two was over. There were 3 bedrooms downstairs and 4 bedrooms upstairs. Posie, Jack and Joan occupied the downstairs, while my Mom and Dad, Guy, myself had our own bedrooms, then Pingy and Soo-Yin shared the last one. Soo-Yin was just a toddler. I don’t recall Dorothy and Corrine ever living there, but they did come to visit. I thought that Dorothy lived in a house in San Fernando because I remember visiting there and playing with a little girl down the street until her mother forbade her to play with an oriental (remember that this was right after the War). Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Jack left the big house when he went away to college. Joan moved to her own house when she married Richard. After they left, Guy and I moved downstairs and Pingy and Soo-Yin had their own rooms upstairs. My job was to take care of Posie’s needs, like doing her hair and driving her around for her errands. She loved to go out every day to Van Nuys for shopping and she’d just buy one little thing so that she could go again the next day for her outing

Auntie Soo Yin:
In our new house I remember us kids skating on the flat rooftop above the indoor porch when our parents weren't home. There were no barriers to catch us if we were unable to stop at the roof's edge. Brother Guy would dare us to see how far we could skate to the edge. It was fun and exciting to do something we weren't suppose to do.
 I loved our homestead. Our ranch was self-sustaining. We had our own gas pump, an auto- and repair shop, fruit trees of nectarines, oranges, pears, apricots, lemons, figs, walnuts, etc. We grew strawberries, grapes, corn, and vegetables of all kind. Behind the big red barn that faces Vanowen St. we had a large chicken coop. It was filled with hens and one rooster (probably purchased from Uncle Ed's Holly Hatchery or Albert Zoraster's hatchery). The rooster was a trip. During eclipse he would go to sleep, then wake up to sunlight and crow. When he grew old he got day and night all messed up and crowed at the wrong times. We raised a pheasant in the coop, too. Then San Tong got a bright idea. In addition to fresh eggs and chicken meat, we could have delicious squab meals too. So he threw feed onto the floor of the coop and all the stray pigeons flew into the lair. Immediately he covered its top with chicken wire. San Tong had wooden nests built from floor to ceiling in the coop, the lower half was for the hens, and the upper half was for the pigeons--hundreds.
 As a toddler I would awaken from a nap, then my mother would take me out to see brother Jack's Morgan horse "Thunder," in a stable. I got to pet Thunder's nose and feed him some straw. I loved horses from then on. Each Spring our dog Bingo always found stray kittens born on our ranch. We would carry the kittens home in a field box, then divvy them up--one for each sibling. Brother Jack had a childhood friend, Jack White, with whom he went riding and exploring with. One day Thunder got stuck in quicksand and it took 5 Mexicans to pull the horse to safety.
 I loved Jack White's parents. Mrs. White was like Mrs. Santa Claus. She was plump and jolly, gray-haired, and blew a hardy laugh as she chugged up our driveway in her Model-T truck. At X-mas time she gave us wonderful storybooks, and when we visited her house on De Celis dirt road, she had the most amazing doll collection for you to see. They were a collector's dream.
 David Frazer was brother Guy's childhood friend. And David had a perky horse named "Brandy," which prompted Guy to press our father for a horse too. When he got Senator, he and David went horseback riding together. The Frazers lived across the street from us on Vanowen St., and I loved playing with their Red Settler dog, "Rafferty." Rafferty was so gentle and had the personality of "Marmaduke," a cartoon character. In the evenings David Frazer and other friends came to play football with Guy on our big front lawn.
On hot Summer evenings we'd have BBQ dinner in our outdoor bathhouse, which had a firepit, picnic table and benches, and Leong Shee's original black iron stove to cook on. We'd get our swimsuits out from lockers in the bathhouse, go for a swim in the pool, then shower in the stalls with toilets that San Tong had built. Those were family moments that San Tong enjoyed. He could balance a chair on one leg in his open palm and tread across the deep end of our pool. Jack was a champion gymnist in school, and he balanced me on his open palm, me on one foot with my hands folded across my chest. I liked doing that.

I think Dorothy and Corrine lived with us in the big new house--only for a short while before Corrine married Lansing, and before Dorothy left for school. Corrine had the bedroom next to Posie's because, as a child, I used to visit her bedroom so that she'd dab perfume behind my ears. She always had fancy perfumes. And she would insist that her mother wear silk stockings whenever Lansing came courting. Dorothy lived in the bedroom near Corrine's that was called the "den." When she was in a good mood I would ask her politely for a piece of candy. I knew that she always had candy in her bedroom. Later, her den room became Jack's, then Guy's becroom. And Corrine's room became Joan's, then Soo-Jan's bedroom. I think in the very early years Jack and Joan shared a bedroom upstairs (the one later to be Soo-Jan's, then Pingileen's, in which a window opened onto the roof of our indoor porch). And Soo-Jan and Guy shared a bedroom next door, the one that looked out to the front lawn. After our aunts moved away we got rooms to ourselves like in musical chairs.

Bob Yen ( My cousin and son of  my late Auntie Joan ) who like  me played at the ranch in our childhood:

I remember the excitement I felt every summer when, after a 10 hour drive through the desert, we’d finally arrive at the tall gates to the Ranch: the fence posts made from railroad ties, the smell of tall eucalyptus, the crunch of gravel under the tires as we drove toward the house, past the cottage, the barns, the gas pump and school house-- closer to the weeks of adventure that we had been anticipating all year with our young aunts, uncles and cousins.

 I remember the giant tortoise shell in the pool cabana, the turtles and fish my mother hand painted on the bottom of the swimming pool; climbing the trees on the northern boundary and throwing acorns at passing cars.

 I remember standing at the fence to the west of the house, calling to the black bull as the sun set in the distance and a cool breeze crossed my face.

 I remember the sound of my shoes on the metal grate by the side door--and just inside-- the smell of Ah Gung’s Stetsons and work gloves in the closet; the creak of the wooden stairs that led from the dining hall and its tall black, shaker chairs, up to Ah Gung’s and Ah Po’s bedroom.

 I remember the coolness of the moss by the front door and the smell of summer gardenias; the weight of the front door carved with a Chinese character and the lushness of the wine carpet in the living room.

 I remember the hammered iron rails on the stairway, and the way the banana tree looked through the round window against the blue sky at the top of the landing.

 I remember the rough feel of cracked leather on Ah Gung’s chair in the living room, and how smooth and soft the purple, silk tassels were on Ah Po’s vanity table upstairs as I laid on my back and tied them in knots.

 But as much as anything, I remember the softness of Ah Gung’s voice, and the roughness of his hands touching my face as he called my name. I miss it-- the innocence of that place and time--The Ranch.