This mural of land grant owner Jose Maria Verdugo

This mural of land grant owner Jose Maria Verdugo was commissioned in 1956 by Normal C. Hayhurst, president of Fidelity Federal Savings, forthe banks new building on Broadway at the corner of Louise Street. The mural was on the wall behind the banks winding staircase. (Photo courtesy of Margaret Hayhurst)

The United States was only a few years old and California was still under Spanish rule when Jose Maria Verdugo applied for permission to graze his cattle and horses in our fertile valleys.

Verdugo, a native of Loreto, in Baja California, was serving as a military guard at the mission at San Gabriel. In 1784 he received one of the first land grants made in Alta California by the King of Spain and one of the largest ever issued during the Spanish occupation.

That land now incorporates a good part of present day Glendale, Burbank, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, the west part of Pasadena and the area in the triangle formed by the junction of the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River, according to Carroll W. Parcher in his chronicle, “Glendale Community Book.”

The huge land grant remained intact for less than 100 years. Jose Maria Verdugo left the rancho to his son, Julio, and daughter, Catalina. They shared the land, often selling off parcels as funds were needed. At one point, Julio took out a mortgage to build a new house and later defaulted on the loan, leading to extensive court proceedings brought by those land purchasers. Those proceedings led to the eventual break-up of the land grant.

The court awarded large portions to many claimants, among them Benjamin Dreyfus, of Anaheim, who received more than 8,000 acres, which later became Eagle Rock and Tropico.

Andrew Glassell and Alfred B. Chapman were awarded Rancho La Cañada and more than 2,000 acres of what is now Highland Park and York Valley.

Three men who later figured prominently in Glendale’s history, O. W. Childs, C. E. Thom and Prudent Beaudry, also received title to land.

Another was David Burbank, who received legal title to about 4,600 acres he had purchased a few years before from Jonathan R. Scott, who had obtained the parcel directly from Julio and Catalina in 1857, according to E. Caswell Perry in “Burbank, An Illustrated History” written in 1987.

Burbank had come to this area in 1867 and began acquiring land soon after his arrival. In addition to the Verdugo land, he purchased La Providencia Rancho. The combined properties totaled more than 9,200 acres. The price for the two was $9,000, less than one dollar an acre, again according to Perry.

Burbank planted wheat on some of his land, raised sheep on the remainder and built a small ranch house and barn on the edge of the Los Angeles River.

He sold a right of way to the new Southern Pacific railway for one dollar and the first train arrived in 1874, leading to the city’s growth, as noted on Burbank’s official website.

Eventually, he sold a large plot of his land to a development company, which laid out a business district at San Fernando Boulevard and Olive Avenue and subdivided the rest into residential lots and small farming plots. The tract — named for Burbank—opened in 1887.

The farmers who purchased the fertile land surrounding Burbank’s ranch house began raising vegetables and fruit. They produced most of the watermelons and cantaloupes consumed in this region.

The town grew steadily and within 20 years had a bank, a newspaper (established in 1906) and a high school. Burbank had a population of 500 when it was incorporated on July 8, 1911.

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To the Readers:

Burbank residents are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their city’s incorporation in many ways, including a party at City Hall in Downtown Burbank on Friday.

The city has already had a parade with two grand marshals, both 100 years old. One was Burbank resident Otto W. Jensen; the other was Genevieve Cowden Sultenfuss, who grew up in Burbank and has lived in Glendale for most of her life.

Other special events are planned for the remainder of the year, including summer concerts, classic films made in Burbank studios, photo exhibits, slide shows, school celebrations and a water carnival.

For more information, and to find out about the city’s centennial history book, visit the city’s official website, at www.ci.burbank.ca.us.