October 09, 2015

Photo Essay: The Ruins of Santa Fe Springs

I'd known for a while that we would be going to Disneyland to celebrate my 40th birthday, but we'd planned to go later in the afternoon—leaving much of the day open for other adventures.

Of course, Michelle and Edith wanted to do whatever I wanted to do—it was my birthday, after all, and I was the local. I knew I could just pick someplace, and they'd agree to go.

After scanning my many maps for points of interest between West Hollywood and Anaheim, I put away my phone and declared, "I have a plan."

I'd been curious about the city of Santa Fe Springs for a while, somewhat aware of its oil history, and always distracted by its drive-in / swap meet sign off the 5 Freeway. I recently visited the historic Clarke Estate there (photos forthcoming), but there was one historic curiosity that seemed to fit the bill for my birthday: Heritage Park.

And not just for the vintage trains parked out front, although those, too. The Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe steam locomotive No. 870, restored to its 1920 condition, once hauled slow, heavy freight loads before diesel engines took over in the 1950s. The Santa Fe Railroad actually purchased parcels of land in this area, in the former town of Fulton Wells, part of the former Los Nietos land grant.

It was rich with mineral springs—hence they renamed it "Santa Fe Springs." The property was a prospering ranch for several decades before oil was discovered in 1921. Many remnants of that time—as well as of the Mexican Rancho Period—are still visible.

In fact, it's a pretty significant archaeological site of the area's agricultural period...

...with a large pit having once served as a dumping ground for household waste (like broken china)—
as well as for the bones of the cattle they butchered. That is one huge collection of weird bones.

There are also foundations of old adobe structures and large cobblestones...

...and an aviary that was built in 1928 and still houses a variety of parakeets, finches...

...doves, and pigeons.

A carriage barn from the 1880s burned down and was rebuilt—but more interestingly, there are lots of preserved ruins of other burned-down structures... the former ranch house.

The grounds are still impeccably manicured...

...with formal gardens that reflect prosperity in the Victorian era.

There's a small remaining orange grove (but don't pick the fruit)...

...and a Conservatory made of wood and glass, reflecting the fascination with horticulture and exotic plants at the time. Unfortunately the original structure also burned down, so the Conservatory also has been faithfully rebuilt to the original design.

Also reconstructed is the windmill and water tank house from the 1880s, which could still generate power for the property, if they needed it to.

There's also a reservoir filled with crystal blue water, which I mistook for a swimming pool (wishful thinking).

The history of this land dates way farther back than the 1800s. For thousands of years, the Tongva people were drawn to the hot springs and prospered here...

...until the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1500s and the establishment of the Spanish missions in the 1700s.

I suppose Heritage Park is a bit of a hodgepodge of history, where different layers of time peacefully coexist and overlap, telling multiple stories at once. But that's what I like about it. It's like viewing a cross-section of California itself, with the perspective of many centuries having passed. There's no new commercial or residential land use here—at least as long as it's preserved as a historic public park—but hey, you never know what'll happen in the next 3000 years.

There's still crude oil in Santa Fe Springs. We may need it again, one day. And who knows what else is there from its past that has not yet been rediscovered?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Museum of Misfit Houses
Photo Essay: Oxnard Heritage Square
Back to Bakersfield
Photo Essay: Las Vegas Springs

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