Inspired by other French winemakers who had already come to California, a young Frenchman named George Le Mesnager arrived here in 1866. He set about acquiring several plots of land, including the large property in the northern reaches of our city which now forms Deukmejian Wilderness Park.
As a new arrival, Le Mesnager, like other immigrants, worked at whatever came his way, from tending sheep to working as a county court translator. At one point he edited a French newspaper.
In the midst of his energetic quest to make his fortune, he felt compelled to return to France to help defend his country in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. When he returned, he again took up the duties of his notary’s office, according to the Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1916.
He married a woman named Conception, a native of Spain, and they had a son Louis, born in 1878. When his wife died in 1892, her funeral was held in the family residence on Mesnager Street, opposite the Southern Pacific railway depot on San Fernando Street, according to the June 12, 1892 Times. Later, he married Marie de Grey, a native of France.
After Le Mesnager purchased the 700-plus acres in Dunsmore and Cooks canyons, he planted the slopes with grapes to supply his winemaking operation, according to Jo Anne Sadler, a member of the Crescenta Valley Historical Society, who has done extensive research on Le Mesnager.
When World War I began, Le Mesnager again felt called to support his homeland. Although he was well on in years, he insisted on returning to France to fight.
Before he left, he deeded his holdings to his wife. While he was gone, his son, Louis, developed the property, constructing the stone barn, a shed, a workers’ cottage and other buildings. The barn was used to stable horses and store grapes before they were shipped to the family’s winery in Los Angeles.
Le Mesnager returned from the war in May, 1919, according to the Glendale Evening News, which reported that he was here to look after his ``extensive foothill property in the extreme northern part of the city and to greet old friends.’’
Prohibition closed down the winery in 1920, as noted on the City of Glendale’s website. Grapes raised on the site were sold to a variety of buyers for non-alcoholic purposes.
In 1933, prohibition ended and a winemaking operation began in the barn, but later that year, a huge fire raced along the San Gabriel Mountains, destroying everything in its path. Although the stonework survived, everything else, including the winemaking equipment and most of the buildings on the property, was burned. The flood that hit on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day of 1934 further damaged the property.
After the flood and fire, the Le Mesnagers rebuilt the barn. It was originally constructed with three floors and a slanted roof with dormer windows providing the living quarters. (See a photo of the original barn on the city’s website.) They rebuilt just two floors, topped by an arched roof, with living quarters on the upper floor. The Le Mesnagers lived on the property from 1937 to 1960.
In 1968, the property was sold to a developer and plans were made to construct homes on the site. Fortunately, the city purchased the land in 1988 and it is now a wilderness park.
George Ellison of Special Collections answers a query (Verdugo Views, July 10, 2011) regarding the origin of Willard Avenue in Northwest Glendale. ``Willard Avenue, from 6200 San Fernando Road, was laid out through a subdivision handled by Willard Fry and was given his name.’’ Willard runs between San Fernando and Glenoaks Boulevard.