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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

The Impressive Sepulvedas

A number of modern structures in California’s southland bear the name of a family who settled there in the long-ago days when the Spanish Empire owned the Golden State. The list includes—but isn’t limited to—Sepulveda Boulevard, the Sepulveda Pass over the Santa Monica Mountains between the Los Angeles basin and the San Fernando Valley; the Sepulveda Dam and its adjacent recreation areas, and the Sepulveda Wildlife Preserve.

Sepulveda Boulevard is a major thoroughfare, the longest street in the city and county of Los Angeles. It extends some forty-three miles, generally north-south, between present day Hermosa Beach and the far northern reaches of the San Fernando Valley. Winding in a somewhat serpentine fashion, it tunnels beneath two runways of Los Angeles International Airport, parallels Interstate 405 over the Sepulveda Pass, passes beneath world-famous Mulholland Drive, and intersects Ventura Boulevard’s commercial district in Sherman Oaks on its way up the valley.

The name "Sepulveda" is familiar to every resident of Los Angeles, though they might not know it is the surname of immigrants who came as humble servants of the Spanish Crown, to become prominent California landowners and influential government officials.

Francisco Xavier Sepulveda was the family’s founder. Born in Villa de Sinaloa, Mexico, in 1747, he married Maria Candelaria Redondo in 1762 (when he was only 15), and the couple had six children. At some point he joined the Spanish Army; he was an enlisted officer when he and his family arrived, in 1781, at Mission San Gabriel on the far north-western frontier of Spain’s Alta California, as part of a regiment led by Lieutenant Jose de Zuñiga. That same year, Francisco served as military escort for settlers arriving at the pueblo de Los Angeles under the leadership of Fernando Rivera y Moncada, and subsequently served at the Presidio of San Diego from 1781 to 1786. After retiring from military service, he settled with his family in the fledgling City of Angels, in 1815.

Six years later Mexico owned California, having won its independence from Spain. In 1825, Francisco Xavier Sepulveda served on the Los Angeles town council and acted as alcalde (mayor).

The Sepulveda family was a large one. Francisco Xavier’s youngest son Francisco II, born in Mexico, participated in the overthrow of unpopular Mexico City-appointed Governor Manuel Victoria in 1831, served as commissioner of Mission San Juan Capistrano for three years, and received a grant for Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica from California-born Governor Alvarado in 1839. During the earlier Spanish period, Francisco Xavier’s grandson Jose Dolores established a claim to the southwestern portion of the Rancho San Pedro, which was finally awarded to his sons Juan Capistrano and Jose Loreto in 1846, as a 31,600-acre portion of the Rancho San Pedro known as the Rancho de los Palos Verdes.

Francisco Xavier’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all born in California, received a number of land grants during the Mexican period 1822-1846, and several held prestigious posts in the southland after the American conquest. Juan Maria Sepulveda was elected to the Los Angeles Common Council in the early 1850s, and in the late 1850s served for one year as the Los Angeles County Assessor. Juan Capistrano Sepulveda was a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and vice-alcalde (vice-mayor) of Los Angeles in 1854. His brother Jose Loreto served one term as alcalde of Los Angeles, and four terms as vice-alcalde.

Great grandson Ygnacio Sepulveda, born in 1842, was admitted to the California State Bar, and simultaneously elected to the California State Assembly, in 1863. He also served as a Los Angeles County judge, a district judge, and a judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. In 1895, President Cleveland appointed him as an ambassador to Mexico, a position he held for two years before his retirement from public service.

Among the many other properties owned over the decades by various Sepulveda family members were Rancho San Joaquin, Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, Rancho San Bernardino, Rancho San Rafael, and Rancho Valle de San Jose. Several former estates and family homes are now historic landmarks, including Sepulveda House in Los Angeles, Diego Sepulveda Adobe in Costa Mesa, Jose Dolores Sepulveda Adobe in Torrance, and Sepulveda Adobe in Malibu Creek State Park. Numerous elementary and middle schools in the southland are also named in honor of the family.

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