Back in July, the Nerd himself asked View From a Loft about a tree he heard about from one of his readers -- so we dug in our archives and tapped our sources to piece together this post. As a digital muralist, it's a perfect location to create a public art piece that can be used as a "Welcome to LA" for those coming in via freeway or Gold Line. As a neighborhood advocate, it may be a way to stop a strip club from opening, since it's yards away from a potential historical landmark. As a storyteller, it's worth repeating.
This morning El Don Nerdito Del Los Angeles forwarded a comment from his site asking about a large tree somewhere in Los Angeles. I had notes from a few years ago because this tree was planned to be part of a digital piece that hopefully will become a mural. By late afternoon, on-line villagers gathered at LACityNerd for council.
Many Angelenos may not know of this sycamore tree, but they do know the site. It’s near where that sharp jog on the 101 freeway is, between the Alameda and Mission exit, where the Brew 102 building stood before it was demolished in 1988. The view from this loft can see Caltrans constructing a bridge linking Union Station to the Metro Goldline Eastside Extension, adding a sound-wall, and replacing the on and off ramps off Commerical Street near Hewitt that will curb weaving as 101 commuters aim their cars for the 10, 5, or the Mission Exit. Now, about that tree that’s a specific link to LA before it was LA.
That massive sycamore tree (60' high and 200' diameter) was alongside a wider, concrete-free, Los Angeles river serving as the site of council for LA’s first residents. In a basin where thousands of Tongva (people of the land) lived, one of the many villages was named Yang Na and took the high ground near what's now the Civic Center –– making it the first settlement in the city. The Tongva village people of Yang Na met under that large sycamore tree, a symbol of the fertile land, and I would guess a big provider of shade during the summer heat. After the Franciscan fathers, led by Junípero Serra, arrived to “save” the tribes, the Tongva people were renamed after Mission San Gabriel Arcángel and called the Gabrielino. And just as the Indians received a Castilian name, so did the tree. It was renamed “El Aliso” (the alder).
Missionaries up and down the state continued settling Spanish owned land with presidios and pueblos –– including an expedition of recruited families accompanied by soldiers who made their way from Mexico, to Mission San Diego, then up to Mission San Gabriel. On September 4, 1781, they walked from Mission San Gabriel to a spot near the river and founded El Pueblo de Los Angeles. Down the slight bluff from this plaza, the sycamore tree was the last refuge of tradition for the remaining natives.
Defending it’s sovereignty, Mexico’s sought overland settlers and maritime traders to develop an economic base after the territory of California was sold to the US. By then the Aliso tree was providing shade for a wine cellar. The wine was produced from the surrounding vineyards planted by a European settler.
That settler, Louis Vignes, arrived at El Pubelo De Los Angeles on December 5, 1831 during Mexico’s reign. Originally from Bordeaux, France, he first traveled to the Sandwich Islands where he sold goods as a trader before coming to Monterey, California. Hearing of the rich farmland he moved south. The city of Los Angeles was growing, having extended out to the intersection of Spring and Main street on the south and further out from El Pueblo to the north. On the “outskirts” of the town on land east of the present location of Alameda Street, Vignes purchased one hundred and four acres and named it Aliso Vineyard. “With my knowledge of vine and orange cultivation and of the soil and climate of California,” Vignes said to a guest in 1833, “I foresee that these two are to have a great future; this is just the place to grow them to perfection.” The northern street was also named after the large tree on his purchased tract, Aliso Street.
“Don Louis del Aliso” –– so named by the local residents –– built his courtyard around the Aliso tree to shade his wine-cellars. After a long career of agriculture and wine making (plus a visit to Mission San Gabriel to grab some samplings to start a private orange grove) on June 7, 1851, Vignes put up his “desirable property, El Aliso” for sale. It was developed for housing that by 1884 made the area, still known as the Aliso tract, a "working class neighborhood" mixed with manufacturing.
One of the most profitable items produced in the area west of the river from Aliso Street then south to what is now Third Street was beer, ale and wine. “El Aliso” was finally cut down, weakened from age and neglect to make room for the Philadelphia Brew House, a brewery later operated by Maier and Zobelein. Later The Philadelphia Brew House was replaced by The Maier Brewing Company. After Prohibition, to pick up sales, The Maier Brewing’s ad agency renamed the formally popular Maier Beer, Brew “102” and kept it a low cost “working man’s” beer. Brew 102 must have had some sort of political clout to have the newly constructed 101 freeway swerve around it’s factory.
Most of Aliso street is under the 101 freeway now. Vignes street starts by my parking lot gate and leads to the site where the brewery, courtyard and "El Aliso" once stood. And Angelenos have found a story worthy to tell under a large sycamore tree near a river.
Aliso tree illustration via A Visit to Old Los Angeles /Brent C. Dickerson
Aliso Street at Alameda / View from a Loft
Brew "102", Maier Brewing Company via Breweriana.com
Additional source material: Dangerous Curve