The Puente Hills where Rio Hondo College sits was at one point Mexican soil. Juan Crispin Perez owned much of the land that makes up present-day Whittier, West Whittier-Los Nietos, and Pico Rivera, Calif., during that brief period.
Large Mexican ranchos surrounded the Puente Hills between the 1820s and 1840s. El Rancho Paso de Bartolo and the nearby ranches, Rancho La Puente and Rancho La Habra, all claimed a portion of the Puente Hills.
Rancho Paso de Bartolo and the Puente Hills
El Rancho Paso de Bartolo was mainly south of the Puente Hills. The Rancho extended past present-day Washington Blvd, ending somewhere before Slauson Blvd. But the ranch also included the western side of the Puente Hills.
An 1888 map of Los Angeles County held by the Library of Congress shows that Rancho Paso de Bartolo extended to the Puente Hills. Specifically, to where the current site of Rio Hondo College, Rose Hills Cemetery, and even the Puente Hills Landfill are.
Norwalk-Workman Mill Rd is visible on the map, next to the Puente Hills. The street runs almost directly in the center of the old Rancho property, along the San Gabriel River. Besides this, the Rio Hondo River also ran along the western border of the Rancho.
The map was created in 1888, after the Mexican-American War and after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. So, most of the ranchos that appear on the map are already in subdivided sections.
For example, in El Rancho Paso de Bartolo, the name “B. Cohn” appears across the entire northern part of the property, including in the Puente Hills.
The old Mexican and Spanish-language names were only relics of the Mexican past in Southern California from four decades earlier.
Juan Crispin Perez and Pio Pico, the Mexican Period
The Spanish Empire gave Manuel Neito part of what would become El Rancho Paso de Bartolo in the 1770s. Subsequently, the Rancho was considered public land a half-century later, after Mexico declared its independence in 1821.
But Crispin Perez made his claim to the El Rancho Paso de Bartolo. He had lived there since before the Mexican War of Independence. Alta California Governor Jose Figueroa granted Crispin Perez ownership of the Rancho in the 1830s.
In 1850, Pico bought a portion of the Rancho from Crispin Perez. El Rancho Paso de Bartolo became El Ranchito. But Pico lost his property in 1892, and the majority of his other land by that point. According to piopico.org, Bernard Cohn was able to steal El Ranchito “because Pico couldn’t read or speak English.” An exhausting fact to learn.
After Pico lost El Ranchito, what used to be El Rancho Paso de Bartolo became the cities of Whittier and Pico Rivera, and the census-designated place West Whittier-Los Nietos.
That’s where Rancho Paso de Bartolo’s Mexican history more or less ended. Left as a moment in the history of Southern California.
The Remnants of Rancho Paso de Bartolo and El Ranchito
I went to what’s left of Pico’s house between Whittier and Pico Rivera on a Sunday afternoon, forgetting about the recent time change. The entrance into the historic park was closed. We stood outside for around ten minutes, taking pictures through the fence and staring at the house in the center of it all as the sky grew darker.
During the drive there, I couldn’t help but appreciate my drive down Workman Mill Rd. We passed by Rio Hondo College, Rose Hills Cemetery, and all of the factories opposite of that towards Whittier Blvd. I felt engulfed in a deep sadness. But also a deep connection to the hills looming to the left of my window.
The western side of the Puente Hills were at one point Crispin Perez’s hills. He owned them.
Between the period of Spanish colonialism, and the United States and President Polk’s maniacal conquest, the Puente Hills were part of Mexico. Before the Puente Hills landfall became “the largest rubbish dump in America,” as reported by CNN in 2012, those very hills were Crispin Perez’s and possibly even Governor Pico’s.
Crispin Perez owned El Rancho Paso de Bartolo for around 13 years before Alta California joined the United States. That’s part of why Pico lost his property. But it also happened to all the other rancho owners in Alta California after 1848. And it’s not surprising to learn that El Rancho Paso de Bartolo played an essential role for the United States in the Mexican-American War in early 1847.