On Aug. 31, 1911, residents of a small, rural, and mostly Anglo farming and ranch community – which was plentiful with livestock, olive trees, and many other crops – decided to “throw off the swaddling clothes of a country village and put on those of a city” by casting ballots in favor of incorporation, officially making San Fernando the first city in the Valley more than a century ago.
The San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol newspaper – which was then called The Press – reported the pivotal results the day after the historic vote for cityhood, which passed by a narrow margin: 123 in favor to 115 against.
From its incorporation to the present, the City of San Fernando has evolved and grown from a predominantly white town to a city of nearly 24,000 residents that is 93 percent Latino. Today, the City is made up of a tight-knit community of mostly blue-collar families who have lived here for generations, with an outdoor mall featuring quinceañera shops, Mexican restaurants, western apparel stores and other businesses that reflect its residents.
As the City celebrates its 112th birthday at the historic Casa de Lopez Adobe on the evening of Aug. 31, its largely Mexican-American culture will be reflected in the festivities, which will include mariachi musicians and folklórico dancers.
According to Nick Kimball, city manager for the City of San Fernando, what was once a modest agricultural town has evolved and expanded into the “bustling center of commerce, entrepreneurship, and cultural pride that we celebrate today.”
The First City in the Valley
Named for a Spanish king (who was later canonized and became Saint Ferdinand), San Fernando was originally established as a settlement that grew out of the ranching activities that surrounded the Mission de San Fernando Rey de España (today commonly referred to as San Fernando Mission), which was founded in 1797 in what is the modern-day community of Mission Hills.
By the early 1800s, the settlement had grown into a small trading center, where wine was made, livestock was raised and a variety of crops were grown by local Native Americans known as the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. In the 1840s, the San Fernando settlement experienced a brief gold rush when gold nuggets were discovered in a nearby canyon.
By 1874, the settlement had grown into the first organized community in the San Fernando Valley. After the Southern Pacific Railroad constructed a rail line to San Fernando two years later, the price of town lots jumped from $10 each to $150 per lot.
After the City was officially incorporated in 1911, J.C. Maclay, nephew of founder Charles Maclay, served as the first mayor from 1912 to 1914. Over the years that followed, San Fernando continued to grow, and in the years following World War II, the City and the rest of the Valley transitioned from a predominantly agricultural area and gave way to suburban development.
While the rest of the San Fernando Valley was annexed into Los Angeles, the City of San Fernando retained its independence, in part because of its abundant groundwater supply, which kept it from being dependent on the LA aqueduct like the majority of SFV communities.
As we look back and celebrate “San Fernando’s rich and proud history,” Kimball emphasized that there is a lot to look forward to for the future of the City as well.
“As we look toward the future of San Fernando, through the leadership of the City Council our focus is on beautifying the City [and] preserving our neighborhoods, while planning for mixed-use growth in our commercial corridors,” he said.
Another City priority moving forward is “increasing our environmental stewardship” through investments that will help with “protecting our water resources, enhancing our tree canopy and reducing our carbon footprint” through a Climate Action and Resiliency Plan, he explained.
“By coming together to celebrate the City’s birthday each year, the community can reminisce about how far we’ve come and dream about where we can go,” said Kimball.
The 112th birthday celebration for the City of San Fernando will be held Aug. 31, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Casa de Lopez Adobe, located at 1100 Pico St. in San Fernando.