Friday, February 24, 2017

On This Day: February 24, 1857

How a group of San Francisco investors put down roots—of grapevines—in Los Angeles County and founded the town of Anaheim

Aerial Drawing of Anaheim, c. 1870
California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California

The three men met in Los Angeles in 1855: civil engineer George Hansen, wine businessman John Fröhling, and newspaperman Otto Weyse. They discussed plans to buy land in the county where they would plant grapes and establish a German American agricultural colony.

Over a three-week period, in mule-driven wagons and with a cook, a scout, and a game hunter, they combed the county for an appropriate location, selecting a 1,165-acre tract that offered advantageous conditions—rich soil, proximity of water, and a warm climate—for growing grapes in the region.

Having decided on a location near the Santa Ana River, the men went about tending to business: purchasing the land, surveying and planning, organizing the planting of the vines, and procuring shareholders in the venture. They received assurances from 50 Germans, 9 of them residents of Los Angeles and 41 of San Francisco. The group incorporated as the Los Angeles Vineyard Company in the summer of 1857 in San Francisco. The next year they selected a name: Anaheim, “home on the Santa Ana River.”

Today, on the 160th anniversary of the company’s incorporation, this photo essay tells their story.

Portrait of Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and his wife, Martina Maria Ozuma, c. 1876
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library
Like most founding stories of California’s cities and towns, ours begins with the sale of a Mexican land grant, in this case part of the Rancho San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana granted to Don Pacifico Ontiveras in 1837. In 1857 Onteveras sold 1,165 acres of the property to George Hansen for $2.00 an acre.

Site of Anaheim, California, 1855
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
This map from a lithograph by Küchel and Dresel depicts the township of Anaheim in relation to Rancho San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana, surrounding ranchos, irrigation, and roads. The Los Angeles Vineyard Society’s tract was located nearly 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles and 3 miles from the Santa Ana River in the center of present-day Orange County. 

 Seal of the Los Angeles Vineyard Society
Courtesy of Thomas Pinney
Hansen met with the San Francisco Germans in February 1857. The Los Angeles Vineyard Society was formed at this meeting. Most of the investors relocated to Anaheim (then still a part of Los Angeles County, now Orange County), though not before two years had passed before the colony was deemed ready for them. Wine historian Thomas Pinney notes that Hansen “seems to have done a remarkably capable job of laying the foundations of a successful agricultural community from scratch on land that was nothing but rough, dry, lonely range in every direction.” 

George Frederick Keller (artist), Hospital of the German Benevolent Society, San Francisco, c. 1858
Courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
By 1857, San Francisco had a considerable German population, most of whom had come to seek their fortunes in the Gold Rush. As wine historian Thomas Pinney surmises, “Many of them were now both disenchanted with golden prospects and dissatisfied with crude and violent San Francisco as a place in which to raise families.” The lure of a new and successful life in Anaheim must have been appealing. This image of the hospital founded by the German Benevolent Society, originated in 1854 for the city’s German-speaking residents, is an example of an established and organized German community in San Francisco. 

Portrait of George Hansen, c. 1857 
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
Called the “Father of Anaheim,” civil engineer and surveyor George Hansen first arrived in Los Angeles in 1853. He borrowed $100 to purchase surveying equipment with which he surveyed much of the county. He laid out the township of Anaheim, built its irrigation system, and planted the grape vines—all before the new settlers arrived. 

Portrait of a Surveyor, c. 1857
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
An early Anaheim surveyor poses in a studio wearing surveyor clothes and sporting his equipment. In addition to surveying, Hansen also engaged Mexicans and Indians to dig a ditch to bring water from the Santa Ana River to the town and its subdivisions. In 1858, a committee appointed by the newly formed California State Agricultural Society visited the town. “After one year,” it noted, “the place is fenced, and one-half well cultivated and planted with 500,000 vines, which are in prosperous condition; a water main 10 miles long, bringing from the mountains ample means for irrigation; and 400 miles of zanka, or small ditch, for conducting the water through the place; the ground prepared for 500,000 more vines; and $7,000 funds still in the treasury.”

Plat Map of Anaheim, California, c. 1880s 
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
The Society’s shareholders finally moved to their colony in December 1859. They were skilled at many things—carpentry, blacksmithing, watchmaking, merchandizing, brewing, engraving, binding books, music, teaching, making shoes and hats—but not wine-making. This hand-drawn map of the original tract layout of Anaheim notes the lots, the owners’ names, the types of grapes planted on each lot, and the year the grapes started dying out from a mysterious disease that attacked the vines.

Detail of a trade card for “California Wine Bitters from the Vineyard of Kohler & Frohling” 
Charles Kohler, vice-president of the Society, and John Fröhling, a member of its Auditing Committee, operated a modest wine business in San Francisco in 1854. A year later, they purchased a 20-acre vineyard in Los Angeles. These outlets offered the Anaheim vintners a ready-made market for their wine. Fröhling, in fact, purchased the town’s first substantial vintage in 1861—about 70,000 gallons—and even supervised its production.

Portrait of Benjamin Dreyfus, c. 1880
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
Los Angeles merchant Benjamin Dreyfus—the “king of Anaheim winemakers”—became the largest grower of Anaheim wine and the leader in its distribution. He had established a general store in the center town with August Langenberg in 1858 prior to the shareholders arrival. Later the two men opened a hotel and saloon.

Dreyfus Winery, Center & E. Streets, Anaheim, 1884
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
By 1873, B. Dreyfus & Co.’s 200 acres of vines produced over 175,000 gallons of wine, the majority of which was shipped to New York. By 1880 the company was shipping 2½ million gallons yearly. In 1884, the year of this photograph, Dreyfus built a new large stone wine cellar 200 feet long and three stories high, a testament to his—and Anaheim’s—success.

Dead Vineyard in Anaheim, c. 1890
Courtesy of Thomas Pinney
But Anaheim’s success would be short-lived. Beginning in 1884, the vines of the ubiquitous Mission grape mysteriously began to shrivel and die, the casualty of an unknown disease that ended wine production in the grape town by end of the decade. As one grower described the 1886 crop: “Nobody to my belief was expecting the vine disease in 1886. The disease came on in June, ‘like a thief in the night,’ and in less than a week it was all over Anaheim.” It was not until 1974 that scientists identified the bacterium that had caused the disease. By then, Anaheim’s renown as a cooperative community was a pioneering tale of long ago.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


  • “Benevolent Societies,” The Maritime Heritage Project, San Francisco, 
  • Benjamin Dreyfus: Pioneer Jewish Wine Tycoon of Anaheim;
  • Vincent P. Carosso, The California Wine Industry, 1830–1895: A Study of the Formative Years (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951)
  • Lucille E. Dickson, “The Founding and Early History of Anaheim, California,” Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California 11, no. 2 (1919): 26–37
  • Newton B. Pierce, “The California Vine Disease,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Division of Vegetable Pathology, Bulletin No. 2 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1892)
  • Thomas Pinney, A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)
  • Thomas Pinney, City of Vines: The History of Wine in Los Angeles (Berkeley: Heyday/California Historical Society, forthcoming)


Join Us for These Wine-Related Events!

In Los Angeles
September 14, 2017, 3:00–6:00 pm
Book Launch, Thomas Pinney’s The City of Vines: A History of Wine in Los Angeles (Heyday / California Historical Society)
Avila Adobe, El Pueblo Historical Monument

In San Francisco
March 15, 2017, 6:00 pm
The History of California Wines in 20 Labels

April 13, 2017, 6:00 pm
What Is the Future of Wine Label Design?

Don’t miss our current exhibition, on view until April 16, 2017
Vintage: Wine, Beer, and Spirits Labels from the Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing 

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