Destination . . . Chorale Bel Canto
By Linda de Vries, Singer and Chair of the Board
Love classical choral music? Think Chorale Bel Canto.
Seldom or never listen to classical choral music? Think again.
On December 7 think the City of Whittier, where Chorale Bel Canto is singing Christmas with Chorale Bel Canto.
Think Whittier is too far to drive for just a concert? Think again.
“Destination . . . Chorale Bel Canto” posts several times in advance of each of our concerts, offering you ideas for a different day trip to the city in which we’re singing, with a Chorale Bel Canto concert at the center of your experience. These trips appeal to a wide variety of interests and share fascinating, sometimes intricate, connections between the city and the music.
Today, think Early California.
The demand for tickets for this concert has been significant, so we have added a second performance—you may celebrate with us at either 4:00 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. If you opt for the evening performance, which we now encourage, you may wish to begin your day later than 10:00 a.m.
Begin your day at San Gabriel Arcángel Mission, 428 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel 91776. (626-282-5308). Founded September 8, 1771 by Spaniards of the Franciscan order as the fourth of what would become 21 missions in California, this mission is still a fully-functioning parish church. Father Antonio Cruzado designed the mission, its Moorish architecture reflecting his home in Córdoba, Spain.Tour the church, museum, and grounds. Museum exhibits include mission relics, books, and religious artifacts. The grounds feature operations from the original mission complex, including indoor and outdoor kitchens, winery, water cisterns, soap and candle vats, tanning vats for preparing cattle hides, a cemetery, and a gift shop.
There are many places to lunch around the mission, and you may wish to spend more of your day in San Gabriel.
Or, you might want to head to Whittier for a great Mexican meal. Try El Buen Gusto Mexican Restaurant, a proud supporter of Chorale Bel Canto, at 10820 Beverly Blvd., 562-692-4448—“the best chile verde on the planet.” Another good authentic choice is Bizarra Capital at 12706 Philadelphia St., 562-945-2426. Owned and operated by chef Ricardo Diaz, who also runs the much touted Colonia Taco Lounge in La Puente, Bizarra Capital has the best guacamole on the East Side!
If you do choose to spend more of your day in San Gabriel and lunch later, you have many choices.
You might visit the Ramona Museum of California History, at 339 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel, CA 91776, 626-289-0034. It is open most Saturdays 11:a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but it is a good idea to call in advance. This museum is Parlor #109 of the Native Sons of the Golden West, an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting California history. The Ramona Museum includes artifacts and relics from the early Rancho and Mission Periods.
There is also the San Gabriel Historical Museum at 546 W. Broadway, San Gabriel, CA 91776, 626-308-3223, and the historic Hayes House next door. The Hayes House, also known as the Bovard-Wilson-Hayes House, was build in 1887 for Reverend George Finley Bovard, who later became the fourth president of the University of Southern California (USC). During the 1990s it was moved to its present location next to the museum. The museum is open the first Saturday of the month and by appointment, 1:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free.
Or, you might want to make your way toward Whittier and visit Rancho La Merced, Misión Viejo, and the Sanchez Adobe.
Rancho La Merced, meaning "Rancho of the Mercy of God," was originally a part of the San Gabriel Mission, but became subject to private ownership with the secularization of the missions in the 1830s. In 1844 Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltorena granted the 2,363-acre parcel to Casilda Soto de Lobo, the widow of José Cecilio Villalobo, also known as José Lobo. Today, parts of the cities of Montebello and Monterey Park occupy former Rancho land.
The Rancho was also known as Misión Vieja, because the site of the original San Gabriel Mission was within its boundaries, on the banks of the Rio Hondo in the Whittier Narrows. The first mission was destroyed by a flash flood and was then relocated five miles closer to the mountains. The site of Misión Vieja can still be seen near the intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue in Montebello.
Why was Señora Lobo granted the land? Ancestry provides a clue. Cecilio Lobo’s father, Juan José, had been a soldier with the Rivera-Moncada expedition of 1781, the group that founded the pueblo of Los Angeles. Casilda Soto’s mother was of the Nieto family, recipients of the huge Nieto land grant of 1784, encompassing territory where today stand the cities of La Mirada, Whittier, and Santa Fe Springs.
In 1845 Señora Lobo built a small adobe on a bluff overlooking the Rio Hondo, the original channel of the San Gabriel River, and lived there with her children during the Mexican-American war. Indeed, not far from her house is a monument commemorating the 1847 Battle of Rio San Gabriel, seen today at the crossing of Washington Boulevard and Bluff Road in Montebello.
In 1850, however, she approached William Workman, one of the wealthiest ranchers in the San Gabriel Valley, for a loan of $2,000, a loan she was unable to repay. Apparently rather than foreclose, Workman purchased Rancho La Merced from Casilda Soto for $4,500 in 1851. The following year he deeded his son-in-law, F. P.F. Temple, and his former La Puente ranch foreman, Juan Matias Sanchez, each a half interest in Rancho La Merced for one dollar apiece.
Sanchez and Workman had first met in Taos, New Mexico, and Sanchez followed Workman to California in 1848. Workman staked Sanchez to prospecting in the Northern California gold fields where Sanchez struck pay dirt, for which Workman was ever grateful.
Sanchez first married Luisa Archuleta, a widow with four children. The couple produced an additional five children. Luisa died in 1873, possibly murdered by her husband, who had a reputation for a reckless use of firearms. Sanchez subsequently married Maltide Bojorquez, with whom he had three more children, and to whom he ceded 200 acres of his property—which ultimately proved to be his salvation.
After the Workman gift, the Temples farmed and raised cattle, building an adobe that stood at what is today the southeast corner of Rosemead Boulevard and San Gabriel Boulevard/Durfee Avenue (destroyed by fire in the early 1900s). Sanchez moved into the Soto adobe, now known as the Sanchez Adobe, and eventually added a wing to the house. Also a successful farmer and rancher, Juan Matias later bought adjoining ranchos, which are today the city of South El Monte.
Workman and Temple partnered in ownership of one of two commercial banks in Los Angeles, located at Spring and Main Streets, the present site of Los Angeles City Hall. The bank was poorly managed, however, and fell on hard times in the 1875 economic collapse caused by silver speculation. Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin granted them a loan, requiring Sanchez to put up half of his land as co-collateral. Unable to meet the terms of the loan, the bank closed and Workman took his own life at his home in La Puente on May 17, 1876; Temple died of a stroke soon after. Sanchez, however, continued to live in his adobe until his death in 1885, after which his widow Matilda lived in the adobe until 1892, when Baldwin filed to acquire the remainder of Rancho La Merced.
After Baldwin’s death in 1909, his estate sold the Rancho to a group of oilmen, including W.B. Scott, who received title to 45 acres and the adobe in 1915. He took up residence and modernized the house, creating a showplace of the period. At Scott’s death the property went to his widow and their two children. The property was subdivided in 1957, creating Sanchez Street, Avenida de La Merced, Scott Avenue, and Adobe Avenue. Josephine deeded the ranch to the Montebello Historical Society and the City of Montebello in 1972. The Sanchez heirs were able to recoup their family’s lost fortune when their property in Santa Fe Springs yielded oil in the 1920s.
The Sanchez Adobe, the oldest standing structure in Montebello and some say in Los Angeles, is located at 946 N. Adobe Avenue, Montebello, CA 90640, 323-887-4592. It is open Saturdays 1:00-3:45 p.m. Admission is free.
Even closer, right next door to Whittier you’ll find Pio Pico State Park at 6003 Pioneer Boulevard, open Saturday and Sunday 9:30-4:00, 562-695-1217. The Pio Pico Mansion, known as “El Ranchito,” is the former residence of the last Mexican Governor of California, Pio de Jesus Pico, and is also one of southern California’s few remaining 19th century adobe structures.
Time for lunch, if you delayed. After lunch, make your way east along Whittier Boulevard.
4:00 p.m. or 7:30 p.m.—The Concert
This year Christmas With Chorale Bel Canto features Vivaldi’s Gloria as well as new arrangements of Christmas music by Edward Zeliff, a southern California composer and arranger. Mr. Zeliff and members of his choir will be in attendance in the audience. The concert will also include the popular feature of sing-along carols. The concert is at East Whittier United Methodist Church, 10005 S. Cole Road. Whichever performance you choose to attend, we look forward to seeing you there!
6:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m.
If you lunched elsewhere, you may wish to return to El Buen Gusto or Bizzara Capital for dinner. Or, you might want to drive further east on Whittier Boulevard to El Cholo Spanish Cafe, a landmark in La Habra for decades. If you attended the evening performance, any would do for drinks or dessert as well.