Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Historic Redwood Barns-Jue Joe Van Nuys Ranch

I recently discovered that the  Jue Joe Van Nuys Ranch  has been mentioned as a property eligible for historic preservation in  "Survey LA Chinese American Historic Context Statement,  City of Los Angeles Department  of City Planning, Office of Historic Resources " September 2013
The full text of this excellent survey of historic Chinese American  sites in the Los Angeles area can be found in this  PDF file.
On page 13 there is this statement :
 "Extant examples of Chinese American owned farms are likely to be extremely rare. The sole example discovered thus far is the Jue Joe Ranch (16608 Vanowen Boulevard), which was submitted to SurveyLA‟s website. The property includes a ranch style house constructed in 1941 with several adjacent outbuildings, consistent with eligibility criteria for the farm house property type developed in SurveyLA‟s Industrial Context."

Our family is extremely pleased that the property's historic significance is being recognized and I wanted to provide some additional  background on some of the historic farm buildings which still exist on the property.

Here is a picture of the main barn of the property , the adjacent car port and packing shed as they exist today.  Click on the picture to enlarge.

And here is a side view.

Here is an aerial view of the farm from the old days where the barn and the car port and  packing shed can be seen circa the  late 1940's .

Here courtesy of  my Auntie Soo Yin is some information about these structures, how they were used , and memories of what life was like on the farm. Thanks so much Auntie Soo Yin ! You have made these old buildings come alive for all of us ! ps. "Ah Gung" refers to  San Tong Jue , my grandfather and son of Jue Joe, and my aunt's father. My grandfather San Tong built the large ranch house in the mid 1940's which is the most modern of the ranch structures and renamed the Van Nuys Ranch the Jue Joe Ranch in honor of his father.

The Van Nuys ranch was purchased in 1920 or 1919. The entire Jue Joe property was originally 300 acres (the old Dickey ranch).  It started from Vanowen Street and ran southward to Haynes Street.  And it ran east to west from Hayvenhurst to Balboa Blvd.  Because the first structure that Jue Joe built on his land was the big barn, according to Auntie Joan, this makes the big barn around 95-years of age.  It served as a stable for Jue Joe's forty (40) working horses.  Inside the big barn, and located to the right side, was a small room with a door that opened onto the stable area (the rest of the interior barn).  This room was Jue Joe's sleeping quarter before he built his cabin with a dirt floor.  This sleeping quarter in the big barn later housed a Mexican family for awhile; not sure if it was Ritchie Valens' family, but I know that they lived on the ranch for awhile, so it could be. 

(Ritchie Valens lived with his father who was a musician until his father died.  At around 10 or 11-years of age he came to live with Connie and Ramon for about 4 to 5 years or so.  One day he threw a rock at a large beehive on the ranch and stirred up wildly angry bees, Ah Gung had to shut down farm operations for 3 days as a result, and Connie soon afterwards farmed Ritchie out to relatives.  Later, they moved to Pacoima, I think, or Sylmar.  I remember that we always hid Ramon in a small bathroom inside our big house whenever the immigration authorities came with paddy wagon looking for him.  Our big ranch house was designed by architect George Chapman and it had 3 bathrooms (the smallest one proved very useful in more ways than one); 

The small sleeping quarter inside the big barn had another door that opened into an even smaller room that Jue Joe used as a kitchen area; it was camp-style:  A hotplate set on top of field crates, very basic and primitive.  This kitchen was later used by the Braceros and their families making tortillas for lunch in the same basic way.  There was a door in that tiny kitchen that opened onto a wide gravel pathway, across which stood the packinghouse.  Later, the tiny kitchen became a storage area where your Dad and Auntie Joan's saddles were stored, and Uncle Guy's too.  This was where Auntie Pingileen and I found your Dad's baby stroller and layette (which was later used for Jimmy and Ming's births). 

The big barn and the packing house are separate structures that are not connected to each other.  All of Jue Joe's original structures were made of Redwood, and this includes the original packinghouse.  This area around the big barn and packinghouse was a beehive of human activity:  You heard chatter in the Spanish language, machines humming as they sheared off stumps of asparagus and as roller belts moved asparagus down an assembly line for sorting and packing; you smelled homemade tortillas and beans wafting from the tiny kitchen in the big barn, and our dog Bingo barking as he went from person to person greeting his old friends.  There were other Redwood structures, too, that were torn down after we moved off the land.  Too bad.  These structures have such stories to tell.       

Uncle Ed's brother Rick had said, "...the big barn is very rare because it is the only original Redwood barn left in the San Fernando Valley, and if it has not yet been declared a historic structure, it really should be." 

 I noticed that the roofs on the big barn and on the packinghouse had been restored using new material.  The original roof covering on the big barn was black-tarred sheet covering.  Not sure whether the original packinghouse had black-tarred sheet covering, too, or had wooden shingles like the carport that it was connected to. 

I do not know whether the packinghouse was built at the same time that the big barn was built.  I can only guess that it might have been built at the same time, or shortly afterwards, as the ranch was intended to be a working farm.  In an adjacent structure that was connected to the packinghouse there were horse's yokes and bridle gear that hung on its tall redwood walls, yokes that Jue Joe's teams of horses wore to haul heavy wagons and farm plows down his fields.  That barn was partially burned in later years, and after we moved off the ranch, it was torn down.   
In your photo the structure to the right of the big barn was a carport.  You could park 2 cars in the carport or drive right through it to park beside Ah Gung's big ranch house; you would then enter the house through the kitchen's side-door.   The carport was actually connected to the packinghouse that is situated to the left of the carport, behind the big barn; the roof of the carport is slightly higher than the packinghouse, too.  And the carport's roof originally had wooden shingles.  

I think the carport might have been added shortly after the big barn and packinghouse was built, but I do not know exactly when, or whether it was built by Jue Joe or by Ah Gung.  The age of the Redwood panels and rusty nails on it looked like it could have been very close in time to the big barn and packinghouse.  I would guess that the carport was built by Jue Joe because Ah Gung was living in Los Angeles and moved to the ranch at a later date.  I remember a telephone pole standing to the right of the carport's side, too.  One day Ah Gung told me not to carve on the pole or paint on the floor of the carport, as I had started to do as a kid, because "...these are valuable Redwood materials, very old, and you will damage them."   

I remember that the door frames of the 3 connecting structures--carport, packinghouse, and barn that stored crates of asparagus ready to be transported to market (this barn opened onto the seed-washing basin)--were built Chinese style, or maybe that's how door frames were built in the late 19th century:  The bottoms of the door frames had a raised block of wood that you stepped over in order to enter the rooms.  It was to keep rain water out. 

On our operating farm some of the families that were not living in the migrant camps, which were spread across the Valley, lived on our ranch: in the big barn, Jue Joe's cabin or Posie's cottage (Auntie Soo-Jan recalled that a Thai family lived in Posie's cottage for short awhile).  There was a gypsy family that worked one or two seasons on our ranch and they set up their campsite on the Hayvenhurst property, according to Ah Gung.  And, of course, wino Mikey lived in the smaller horse's stable that was in a pasture located next to the big house, on its west side.  He worked one season on the ranch and then wouldn't leave.  He was homeless so Ah Gung let him stay so long as he didn't harm us kids. 

The packinghouse was so active.  There was Shorty always working at the shearing blades, cutting stumps off, packing asparagus in crates, and hammering the crates shut almost faster than you could blink, he worked so fast.  It was like watching an artist perform.  Shorty worked for Jue Joe, then Ah Gung, and finally your Dad.  Connie Valenzuela (Ritchie Valens' mother) worked in the packinghouse, too, she sorted and graded asparagus shoots as they moved by conveyor belt down an assembly line.  She always wore a headscarf when she was working.  I don't know where Ramon worked, probably in the produce-storage barn stacking crates from floor to ceiling driving a forklift.  I remember their 2 young daughters, little Connie and Irma, who were very young, maybe 4 and 5-years old, scampering about. 

Farming operations eventually moved from Van Nuys to Saugus in the 1950's . According to Auntie Soo-Yin :
In the 1950s Ah Gung sold 200 acres of the ranch to Southwest Properties for residential development (your parent's first Rubio house was part of that development).  Family farms were giving way to urbanization and Ah Gung could see no future for farms in the Valley.  So he was in the process of moving farm operations to Saugus and training your Dad to take over the reins there. 

Here is a picture of the redwood main barn on the abandoned site of the Saugus farm which was discovered by my cousin Michael. More information about this discovery is here. 

Here is a film made by my late father of the family asparagus farming operations in Saugus in the 1950s. Asparagus farming was our family business since Jue Joe established the business in 1919 until the late 1950s.  

1 comment:

  1. Ritchie Valens: Ritchie showed that he was musically gifted at this young age. He had inherited the talent from his father, who was a musician. On our ranch my father San Tong said that Ritchie was always drumming on our field crates with a pair of sticks he'd fashioned and singing aloud Spanish songs.