One hundred years ago last Friday, a town named Owensmouth was born on the barley fields of the San Fernando Valley. "Like an eaglet bursting asunder the egg which nourished its embryonic life," the Los Angeles Times gushed in its coverage the following day, "Owensmouth yesterday pipped the shell of the universe and spread its bright young pinions in the glory of the sun."
Founded on March 30, 1912, the settlement -- renamed Canoga Park in 1931 -- represented one of L.A.'s first steps in a march that eventually transformed the San Fernando Valley from farmland into suburbia.
Owensmouth was at the vanguard of a land boom in the San Fernando Valley. For decades, two factors prevented development in the Valley: its remote location, separated by the Santa Monica Mountains from the population and business center of Los Angeles; and the opposition of a few large landholders, who preferred to maintain the valley for agricultural use. Some suburban settlements ringed the valley from Calabasas to Burbank, but wheat fields, orchards, and ranch lands predominated.
By the end of the twentieth century's first decade, however, the climate had changed. Electric railways and growing popularity of automobiles shrunk the distance between the city and the Valley, and heightened expectations of population growth and agricultural fecundity -- fueled by the imminent arrival of water from the Owens Valley -- boosted land values. One landowner, Isaac N. Van Nuys, was willing to sell. The aging farmer, banker, and land baron controlled the Los Angeles Farming and Milling Company, which owned a vast tract totaling 47,500 acres and constituting much of the southern half of the San Fernando Valley.