The grapes of Sparr Heights

George Le Mesnager, who left a major imprint on the northern area of Glendale and La Crescenta, was inspired by stories of California’s Gold Rush to leave his native France.

Born in the early 1840s, he immigrated to New York as a very young man and from there, consumed with a desire to go West, booked passage on a ship that took him as far south as the Isthmus of Panama, according to an undated Ledger article reprinted in “Sources of History, La Crescenta,” compiled by June Dougherty in 1993.

Le Mesnager’s journey was taken in the days before the Panama Canal, when passengers disembarked and crossed the narrow, 50-mile-wide Isthmus to the Pacific and boarded another ship.

Le Mesnager took a ship headed for San Francisco and then continued on to Los Angeles, arriving in 1866; he was one of many Frenchmen flocking to our fertile valleys at the time. One of the first French immigrants was Jean-Louis Vignes, a vintner who imported vines from his native Bordeaux in 1833. Vignes lured so many of his countrymen here that he became known as the father of French immigration to Los Angeles, according to a San Antonio Winery website.

Le Mesnager acquired 1,300 acres of local land sometime after 1871. As described in the Ledger article, “the tract lay in a single parcel across the Verdugo canyon from the crest of the Verdugos to the crest of the San Rafaels and was bounded on the north by the Urquidez property. The south line lay about where the Glendale city reservoir on Verdugo road was then situated.” Mesnager planted the entire acreage in grapes to supply his Old Hermitage Vineyards winery and distillery near the Los Angeles River in Los Angeles.

The winery and distillery, plus a liquor store, were operated on Mesnager Street.

While researching Le Mesnager for a presentation at Deukmejian Park, Jo Anne Sadler, a member of the Crescenta Valley Historical Society, discovered several newspaper articles showing that Le Mesnager was an industrious businessman.

“He always had a partner,” she said. “By mid-1888, he and his partner had 11 wineries.”

One morning in 1893, the San Francisco Call newspaper announced that Los Angeles internal revenue officers had made a very important seizure that might result in confiscation of $100,000 worth of property. The day before, agents had seized the distillery and wholesale liquor store belonging to Mesnager & Company after finding a large quantity of illicit brandy.

One of the agents reported that they became suspicious of the firm because the distillery’s bond had expired and they failed to renew it.

“Such cases always excite my apprehension. Reports reached me that the firm was in the habit of starting up their distillery on Saturday night and running it until Monday morning,” reported the May 25, 1893 Call.

Le Mesnager’s winery was in operation until Prohibition closed it down in 1920. Mesnager Street still exists, running between North Main and North Spring Street, west of the Los Angeles River.

According to the Ledger article, the 1,300 acres described above was later sold to William S. Sparr. Sadler said that Le Mesnager also bought many other properties, including the land that is now Deukmejian Park.

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Readers Write:

Louise Baffa Peebles writes that the movie theater that was in the Masonic Temple was the Temple Theater, not the Sands. (See Verdugo Views, April 17, 2011). The Harry Baffa family operated the Temple Theater from the mid-1950s until the end of 1960.

“It was later sold and then reopened, I believe, as the Regency. It was taken over some time later by a theater chain (Pacific Theaters, I believe) and run for a short time as a two- or three-screen theater.”

The Sands opened its doors in February 1963.

“It was built by my father, Maurice Fisher, and Victor J. Nelson. We operated that theater until my father’s death in April 1976. The Sands was located just one building south of the current BevMo! on the southeast corner of Harvard Street and Brand Boulevard.”

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