Museum Lobby

Old Salt Lake | Virtual Museum

Report by Galen Hunter


The Story is Quite Clear - 1


[ Page updated - September 17, 2021 ]


In 1965, Ken Johnson, editor of the Daily Breeze newspaper, interviewed Robert Gillingham, author of the 1961 book "The Rancho San Pedro". This book is the customary reference book for researchers interested in knowing about the Dominguez family ownership of the large Spanish era rancho. This rancho became American cities covering a significant area of Los Angeles County. At one point in the two hour interview, Gillingham told Johnson:

"A patent is an official federal deed to the land, which had to be secured first after the land was acquired from Mexico. So that all of the land [real estate] in your area, Redondo, goes back to the official patent of the Rancho San Pedro, December 18, 1858."

This brief report features selected historical resources clarifying the context of Gillingham's above statement to Johnson. First, the "Redondo" Gillingham was referring to is the City of Redondo Beach. It is important to know that the legitimacy of an official patent is based on the legitimacy of the boundaries of the underlying survey of the patent, the surveyor and/or the person instructing the surveyor where to put the boundaries. So, the boundary Gillingham is specifically referring to in this statement is, for instance, this line of text in the official Los Angeles County description of the northern boundary of the City of Redondo Beach. This boundary line places within the jurisdiction of Redondo an electricity generating power plant right there on the coast. But before the power plant, there was a Pebble Beach (the original tourist attraction of the City of Redondo Beach), a Sand Dune and the Old Salt Lake or Salinas, as the land was called by the Spanish. Both the Pebble Beach, and Sand Dune have been destroyed by the city. Remarkably however, remnants of the Old Salt Lake site still exist. The legal description of the boundary line which placed the salt lake and now power plant within the land use jurisdiction of Redondo is this excerpt from the official Los Angeles County description of the boundary of the City of Redondo Beach:

"City of Redondo Beach Incorporation - Incorporated as a Municipal Corporation of the Sixth Class, April 25, 1892, with boundaries as follows: [...] 86 degrees west 3.44 chains to a rock which is Station 10 of the official survey of the Rancho San Pedro; thence south 69 degrees west to the high-tide line of the said ocean [...]".

So, note the text "boundaries" and "a rock which is Station 10 of the official survey of the Rancho San Pedro". There are, of course, significant historical events and activities of specific human beings associated with this boundary line, rock, survey and patent. The early historical record of these people and events is about ownership of the salt lake site. Interestingly, what Gillingham wrote in his book about these people and events is not what happened in the past.

To be clear, Gillingham's work is a "false narrative". For instance, the City of Los Angeles owned the salt lake site, not the Dominguez family. Manuel Dominquez's attorney, Joseph Lancaster Brent, managed to take the salt lake site from the City of Los Angeles by setting the boundary line for the "official survey of the Rancho San Pedro" in a position, putting the salt lake inside the Rancho San Pedro boundaries -- in order for him (Brent) to gain ownership of the salt works at the salt lake. Brent did this through a series of moves, including instructing the Los Angeles County Surveyor, Henry Hancock, exactly where to set this northern boundary line of Rancho San Pedro for the purposes of the official survey. Brent, at the same time he was the attorney for the Dominguez family, he was also the City Attorney for the City of Los Angeles. Brent was hired by the city to secure the ancient boundaries the Pueblo had under Mexican jurisdiction for the new City of Los Angeles under American jurisdiction as was the agreement in the treaty between the United States and Mexico which ended the war.


(Figure 1) is actual historical context about the activities of the Dominguez family attorney Joseph Lancaster Brent and the Los Angeles County Surveyor Henry Hancock about the boundary line "[...] 86 degrees west 3.44 chains to a rock which is Station 10 of the official survey of the Rancho San Pedro; thence south 69 degrees west to the high-tide line of the said ocean [...]". The context is in the form of written text in an October 19, 1896 Los Angeles Herald newspaper article titled "City Land In Early Days". Read the entire article on the California Digital Newspaper Collection. This selected clip from the article describes Brent's activities which the boundary line of the official survey of the Rancho San Pedro quoted above is an instance of. Here not only did Brent obtain ownership of the salt lake, he also obtained ownership of the salt works company extracting salt from the lake, which Brent incorporated and then had his client Manuel Dominguez, who didn't own the land, sell the lake site to the name of the corporation, with Brent one of the two primary shareholders. This is a classic example of how corporations operate, and an early one, the Pacific Salt Works Company being the second registered corporation in Los Angeles County.



[Figure 1 - Clip from the October 19, 1896 Los Angeles Herald newspaper article titled "City Land In Early Days"]


(Figures 2 and 3) are question and answer records and part of a U.S. District Court case in Los Angeles in 1856. The case was about who owned the Old Salt Lake site. Tomas Talamantes is the deponent. He was an owner of Rancho La Ballona and an authority about who owned the salt lake. Talamantes gave two depositions. (Figure 2) is page one of the first deposition. (Figure 3) is page two of the second deposition. Brent's last question to Talamantes -- Brent: "Before you put the stone there in 1815 did not the Dominguez claim the salt lakes?" Talamantes: "No. The Pueblo claimed it."


[Figure 2 - Page 1 of 8, Deposition 1 of Tomas Talamantes, December 13, 1856 - Los Angeles]



[Figure 3 - Page 2 of 2, Deposition 2 of Tomas Talamantes, December 15, 1856 - Los Angeles]


(Figure 4) is a clip from page 196 of "The Rancho San Pedro" by Robert Gillingham in which he writes about 15 depositions taken in the above U.S. District Court case in Los Angeles in 1856. The Talamantes deposition is one of the depositions. Talamantes said the Pueblo of Los Angeles owned the salt lake. Yet, Gillingham wrote: "All of them confirmed the original line, and that the Las Salinas area always had been considered a part of the Rancho San Pedro." Gillingham himself originally obtained these depositions from the U.S. Archives in Washington, D.C.. Like Talamantes, many of the individuals testifying did not consider the salt lake to be a part of Rancho San Pedro.


[Figure 4 - Detail "The Rancho San Pedro" by Robert Gillingham, page 196]


There are many more such examples where Gillingham was factually incorrect about the significant historical events and the activity of specific individuals related to the ownership of the salt lake site. There are too many examples to include in this brief report. Anyway, the story is quite clear. Gillingham has been a propagandist for the Dominguez family and so have all the various derivatives of Gillingham's work. The interesting dilemma, however, is with all the various individuals, corporations and institutions who rely on the false narratives for the legitimacy of their authority. The story is quite clear what these derivatives of Joseph Lancaster Brent's activities will do. Like Brent, they will continue to try and do what they have always done until they can't and then move on to something else. Brent got one of Manuel Dominguez's daughters pregnant, left to fight in the Civil War for the South and became a brigadier general. He lived until 1905, never returning to Los Angeles. With the permission of the City of Redondo Beach, the salt lake was bulldozed in the early 1950's by the owners of the land at that time.