Historic Packing Houses and Other Industrial Structures in Southern California

Virtual Tour of Los Angeles County: La Verne

Copyright 2002 by William Messecar.
Photos by the author.

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La Verne (ATSF) 

La Verne is on the Santa Fe's Second District main line that runs from Los Angeles to San Bernardino via Pasadena. This line carried the famous name trains of the Santa Fe - Super Chief, Chief and El Capitan. However, it was also an early source of citrus traffic from the communities that sprang up with the building of the line in 1887. Excellent sources of information are available on the history of La Verne's packing houses in The Postcard History Series Lordsburg/La Verne in Southern California by Marlin L Heckman and "La Verne Packing Houses" 1894-1960 in The Greening of La Verne. Originally named Lordsburg, after the founder I. W Lord, the name was changed to La Verne after his death in 1917.

Three packing houses were all located on the north side of the Santa Fe tracks as they parallel east-west Arrow Highway from San Dimas into La Verne. East-west streets north of Arrow Highway were numbered 1st to 12th street. Major north-south streets through La Verne were names "A" through "I" with "D" street as the main north-south street through town. The Santa Fe depot was located on 1st Street between D and E Streets.

The Pacific Electric (PE) also served La Verne with a main line about 200 yards south of Arrow Highway. At E street the PE tracks split with a SE branch heading to Pomona and a NE branch swinging up close to the ATSF mainline. At White Ave. a spur from the PE served the La Verne Co-op Citrus Assın PH which was still standing in 2003 and used by a paper products company.

The first packing house was built in the late 1890ıs by Maurice Sparks and located on the SW corner of D and 1st street. It was sold in 1908 and soon expanded and named the La Verne Orange and Lemon Growers Association Packinghouse. This wooden PH is shown as it appeared in a 1920s photo from the La Verne Historical Society achieves (Photo-WM). This large wooden structure was in use until the 1960s when it was closed and operations moved to Upland. The structure was demolished some time after that date. A small building was built in 1919 on the SW corner of 1st and D Street to provide an office for the association growers, packinghouse operator and citrus marketing department. It still stands today (Photo-WM).

A second packing house was built across the street on the southeast corner of 1st and D Streets - next to the Santa Fe depot. This was built of concrete in 1910 by Valentine Peyton but was sold to the La Verne Association in 1914 for packing lemons. The original wooden structure was torn down in 1931 and a new lemon packing house was built out of concrete. In 1935 a refrigeration and precooling plant were added. An excellent photo of the La Verne Lemon Association packinghouse taken in 1934 is shown on page 103 of the 1994 SFMO publication Santa Fe Railway Refrigerator Cars. This photo shows the southwest corner of the structure in 2001, serving as the art department for the University of La Verne. The artwork on the south wall features the history of La Verne.

William Messecar Photo.

A second view shows the northwest corner (Photo-WM).

The third packing house, which also still stands, is used by the University of La Verne as a storage facility. This structure was built in 1921 of reinforced concrete and was named the La Verne Orange Association Plant Number 2. The oranges were marketed under the Sunkist brand and displayed the familiar logo for 40 years. A photo of this structure in 1934 is also included on page 123 of the reefer book referred to above. Another 1930s photo can be found in Donald Duke's book Santa Fe...The Railroad Gateway to the American West, Volume One, page 208. This packing house provided the association with ice making capability as well as room in the basement for the entire box making process, leaving the main floor clear for orange packing. This view shows the southeast corner of the old cooling tower.

William Messecar Photo

Other photos show the remaining south side along the tracks (Photo-WM), the west end (Photo-WM), and the north side loading doors for delivering oranges into the packing house (Photo-WM).

The La Verne Co-op Citrus Assın built the PH on White Ave. in 1925. This PH was served exclusively by the PE and a photo shows the NE corner (Photo-WM). The PH closed in the late 1950s and was purchased by Paper Pak Products who have greatly expanded the facility but retained some part of the original packing house. The Co-op moved their packing operations to the former Mountain View PH in Upland which continued into the 1980s.

Orange and lemon packing peaked in the early 1930s at 1,500 cars per year and then declined due to citrus tree disease - known as the "slow decline" - and subsequent lower prices for citrus, and due to the increasing value of land for post-World War II real estate development. All the packing houses in La Verne closed by the early 1960s and citrus packing moved to Upland for the next 25 years. Santa Fe records indicate the three packing houses shipped 737 cars of citrus in 1943 and 1006 cars in 1944.

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