Simi’s Bicentennial Party Finally Under Way : Celebration: After months of delays and confusion, organizers kick plans into high gear.


You might not have noticed, but Simi Valley is celebrating its bicentennial.

Or what’s left of it.

After months of delays, confusion and obscurity for the 200th anniversary of the settlement of El Rancho Simi, city historian Pat Havens promised Friday that “the logjam has been broken . . . and we’re getting a lot done.”

It was in 1795 that King Carlos IV of Spain rewarded a worn-out old soldier named Santiago Pico for 20 years of faithful service by granting him 113,000 acres of tawny hills and valleys known as El Rancho Simi--the future Simi Valley and Moorpark.

But only this week did organizers kick bicentennial plans into high gear and set a date for the celebration’s finale party--a year late, in January, 1996.


“I don’t know why it didn’t happen earlier,” Larry Freed, head of the El Rancho Simi Bicentennial Committee, said with a sigh. “It just seemed to take quite awhile to get things to gel. And it took awhile before we were able to get a group of people that were able to dedicate their time.”

Family crises--including the deaths of Freed’s mother and another member’s father--interfered with meetings and plans.

Fund raising has been slow starting and sporadic.

And, Freed said, it’s hard to get Simi residents excited about a 200-year-old land grant when livelier distractions clamor for attention, such as the Simi Valley Days carnival and parties for the modern city’s 25th anniversary.

Mayor Greg Stratton sympathized.

“I think it is difficult to get people really excited about that, as compared to some of the other historical things,” he said. “It’s hard to say that something really happened, when all that happened was someone handed someone else a piece of paper.”

But organizers say they have been working hard to rescue the celebration, hoping the rich story of Simi Valley’s colonial roots will shine through before the last three months of the bicentennial year drift away.

They handed out history packets last fall to elementary school history teachers citywide.

They also designed a bicentennial logo featuring the city’s oldest adobe, emblazoned it onto T-shirts, lapel pins and coffee cups and put them out for sale. They cut a documentary video that traces the valley’s history from Spanish settlement to thriving 19th-Century cattle country.


And Monday, they asked the City Council to spend more than $5,600 on banners, flags and plaques to be thrown up around town.

The city said no.

The council agreed to pay $1,000 for four flags to fly in front of city buildings and for a bronze commemorative plaque. But it’s a little late in the year to spend that kind of money on special postal imprints and banners that will be outdated in three months, council members said. They suggested the organizers try getting donations from the city’s civic clubs instead.

Bicentennial organizers say they are doing just that.

“We’re a little late in requesting money and getting going, but the people that are involved really have their hearts in this,” Freed said. “Our goal is to make as many people as possible aware of our community’s history. It’s important to be aware of those who came before us, and how we got to where we are today.”

Today’s Simi Valley began as a gleam in the eye of Santiago Pico, a Spanish army private.

For 10 years, Pico labored with King Carlos’ soldiers. Pico and 240 other settlers trudged up and down the California coast behind Father Junipero Serra and Capt. Gasper de Portola as the two set up religious missions and military presidios in hopes of strengthening Spain’s somewhat tenuous claims on the vast wilds of California.

And at some point, Pat Havens said, Pico must have marched through the big, dry valley containing the little Chumash village known as Shimiji, because he remembered it later.

And he wanted the land enough to ask colonial commanders upon his retirement in 1785 to give it to him.


Request denied.

For 10 years longer, Havens said, Pico stayed in Los Angeles with his wife and seven kids as part of a police force of retired soldiers, keeping the peace in the often-rowdy pueblo.

Then, in 1795--the exact day is unknown, since the only evidence is a fleeting reference in a document written 26 years later--Pico got his wish.

The Spanish colonial government decided that Simi Valley lacked enough water to support a mission between Ventura and San Gabriel, and chose San Fernando instead.

And the Spanish governor declared that El Rancho Simi--stretching from sites now known as Rocky Peak to Grimes Canyon Road, from the Santa Susanna Mountains on the north to the Conejo Valley’s border ridge on the south--was the 63-year-old Pico’s to use as his own.

Chumash natives who already lived in the valley probably went to work on the cattle ranch run by Pico and three of his five sons, Havens said.

And upon his death in 1815, Pico’s massive ranch passed onto his family, who continued raising cattle, horses, goats and grapevines there even after Mexico won independence from Spain in 1822.


By 1850, California had become one of the United States, and El Rancho Simi had been bought by the family of Jose de la Guerra, a Spaniard who ran cattle there.

But a vicious drought in 1863 and 1864 forced the family to sell the rancho to East Coast investors.

The Americans renamed it El Rancho Simi Land and Water Co. And over the decades since, Havens said, it was divvied up among land speculators, cattle ranchers, citrus growers and other forebears of today’s Simi Valley and Moorpark land owners.

The delay in celebrating the bicentennial of El Rancho Simi “is disappointing,” Havens said. But the work exploring and exposing Simi’s 200-year-old origins will inform generations to come, long after the bicentennial year is past, she said.

Havens added, “It’s not like it has a beginning and an end.”