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The grapes of Sparr Heights

April 21, 2011|By Katherine Yamada
  • This photo, looking north toward what later became Montrose, was taken in 1911 and provides an image of what the region looked like when George Le Mesnager purchased 1300 acres of land that later became part of Sparr Heights. (Courtesy Special Collections Glendale Public Library)
This photo, looking north toward what later became Montrose,…

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.

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