THE EARLY DAYS: RANCHO SAN JOSE DE ABAJO
In 1837, Ricardo Vejar and Ygnacio Palomares had been granted land in what is now the Pomona Valley. They called it Rancho San Jose. Vejar had the southern section of the Rancho, over 12,000 acres, and named it Rancho San Jose de Abajo. Vejar’s land encompassed today’s Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, and Claremont.
On his ranch he built a two-story adobe, and other dwellings to meet his ranching needs. It was a working ranch that was such a center of activity that by 1846 the Rancho San Jose de Abajo was known as containing “agreeable people fond of festivities.” With the promise of water, in 1858 the Rancho became a stopping point for the Butterfield stage, bringing the people from all over to the Ranch. But the prosperity didn’t last, after statehood, in 1851, the area was divided into townships and the land began to be taxed. Taxation became a hardship on many landowners that along with a series of floods followed by drought conditions resulted in Vejar’s ranch suffering tremendously. He was unable to continue running a profitable ranch. By 1864, his Rancho San Jose de Abajo was foreclosed on.
LOUIS PHILLIPS ARRIVES
The new owners of Rancho San Jose de Abajo hired Louis Phillips, a Los Angeles area cattle rancher and real estate investor, to run the ranch. Louis Phillips was born in Kempen, Poland in 1829 and was of Jewish descent. At the age of 19, Louis Phillips arrived in the United States with his brother to pursue the mercantile business. They set up shop first in New Orleans and later in San Francisco. In 1851 Louis decided to come to Los Angeles to further his business ventures. By the time he was asked to be caretaker of the Rancho San Jose de Abajo, Phillips was a success in his own right. He had been very active in farming, stock raising, real estate investing, and other enterprises. He owned several properties in downtown Los Angeles and was described as having “thrift and enterprise characterizing his life.” He was so well respected throughout the area that while he was running the Rancho San Jose de Abajo he was appointed as “Judge of the Plains,” settling disputes between the local cattle ranchers.
When Louis began taking care of the ranch, he negotiated a deal where he would receive $100 a month and half of all the colts, calves, and lambs born each year. He took “immediate and successful charge” of the ranch. He was known to never waste anything or to purchase any products that he did not need. After two years of successfully managing the ranch it was deeded to Phillips. He signed a mortgage for $30,000 for 12,000 acres of “the best land in the valley.” Within one year he managed to pay off his mortgage with funds acquired by driving his horses to Salt Lake City to sell.
THE COMMUNITY EXPANDS
Louis Phillips sold 100 acres of his ranch to William W. Rubottom for $1,000 to establish a hotel and stage station nearby. Rubottom named this community, located to the immediate south of the ranch, “Spadra,” after Rubottom’s hometown in Arkansas. Soon, Spadra became known as the home of Uncle Billy’s Rubottom Tavern.
In 1866, at age 37, Louis Phillips married 19-year-old Esther Blake, the daughter of a Baptist preacher from El Monte. They lived in the old Vejar adobe along with Esther’s two brothers who had joined them at the ranch. The brothers ran a store out of the lower floor of the adobe. In 1875, Phillips decided to build his wife a more suitable home. He tore down the old Ricardo Vejar adobe and began building what is known today as the Phillips Mansion. Phillips was very active in the community during this time. He sold parcels for the establishment of the city of Pomona, was appointed postmaster of Spadra, and was one of the original founders of Pomona College. By 1888, all of his hard work had paid off. The city of Pomona was incorporated and soon became a boomtown with a population of over 5,000.
A major disappointment for Phillips during this time was the railroad’s decision to make their main station stop in the city of Colton, rather than Spadra. When the railroad was developed through the Pomona Valley in the 1860’s and 1870’s Phillips had high hopes that a station stop would lead to growth and prosperity for Spadra. By the time Phillips died in 1900, although he was a millionaire, the area of Spadra had become a ghost town.