Tuesday, March 6, 2012

BTTF# 11: One Acre and Independence in Promising Winnetka: The Charles Weeks Colony Story

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library: "Office building of the Weeks Poulty Colony  in Canoga Park on July 14, 1927, founded by Charles Weeks as a utopian colony. Canoga Park was earlier called Owensmouth. The address is 21228 Sherman Way."
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library: "Aerial View of the Weeks Poulty Community in Canoga Park on  January 10, 1925, founded by Charles Weeks as a utopian colony. "
Courtesy CSUN Digital Library: Cover of Intensive Little Farms Brochure from 1923.
Courtesy CSUN Digital Library: A house in the Weeks Poultry Community around 1927.  
Courtesy CSUN Digital Library: Cover of the book "Once Acre and Independence by  Charles Weeks.
Courtesy CSUN Digital Library: Charles Weeks one acre farm, around 1927.
Courtesy CSUN Digital Library: Charles Weeks in 1927?
Welcome aboard the Delorean! Marty McFly here to take you on a journey to the quiet community of Winnetka. The Delorean has the required plutonium plus some random garbage in the Mr. Fusion reactor ready for this trip. The time circuits are set to sometime in the 20's (actual date unknown) and the flux capacitor is.........fluxxing. The engine is running (not stalled this time) so we need to hurry. Hang on, as the ride can be a little bumpy as we travel back in time to Charles Weeks Colony in Winnetka starting with the main office building (picture above) at 21228 Sherman Way. (The last time we were in this area, we were talking about the Guns N Roses recording of Appetite for Destruction album at Rumbo Recorders on Saticoy).

Today brings an exciting post to discuss a concept by a true outside the box thinker, Charles Weeks, and his grand vision for a family to be self sustaining raising chickens and selling eggs on less than an acre in the quiet but yet promising community of Winnetka as it was originally founded (The captions above state Canoga Park as the location which are taken directly from the LAPL website so dont know why there is a discrepancy).

Below is a quoted history on Charles Weeks and his colony from the CSUN Charles Weeks Collection:
Charles Weeks was a visionary in the world of poultry and communal farming. Born on an Indiana farm in 1873, Mr. Weeks grew up with a thorough understanding of farming and farm life. In 1904, Mr. Weeks moved to Los Altos, California with a plan to raise poultry on a ten-acre farm he had purchased there. Unfortunately, due to inadequate water supply, Mr. Weeks’ Los Altos farm was doomed to failure. In 1909, Mr. Weeks moved to a five-acre farm on the outskirts of Palo Alto, California. It was here that he established new methods of raising poultry, concentrating birds into coops “instead of allowing them to roam.” 2 Previous to this time, it was a commonly accepted farming practice to raise chickens in large, space consuming, chicken runs. The “Weeks Poultry Method” of raising poultry in compact houses became so successful that visitors from all over the world began arriving at Mr. Week’s farm to study and learn his method. “One visitor was socialist utopian William E. Smythe who promoted a vision of independently owned small farming communities. Residents of these communities would work together while sharing facilities, new technologies and marketing efforts. Charles Weeks adopted Smythes’ utopian ideals and set about establishing his version of such a community.” 4
In 1916, Mr. Weeks established the “Weeks Poultry Colony,” also known as Runnymead, on land near his Palo Alto farm. With a heavily promoted motto of “one acre and independence,” Mr. Weeks experimental utopian community grew quickly, housing 400 families by 1922.Adding to the success of the colony was his monthly magazine publication called Intensive Little Farm which attracted new buyers to the area and kept the area thriving for years, peaking at over 1,000 citizens by the mid-1920’s. 6
Charles Weeks, however, began losing interest in Runnymead by the early 1920’s. In 1923, he moved out of Northern California and engaged himself in actively promoting a new colony in Owensmouth (today’s Winnetka). Mr. Weeks had been invited to the San Fernando Valley by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in 1920 to establish a series of one-acre farms in the area that would emulate the success of his Los Altos “poultry colony.” The colony Mr. Weeks created in the Winnetka area of the Valley eventually developed into a small farming community, which actively engaged in uplifting the spirit of its members, and aided in the social, intellectual and artistic enlightenment of the region.
Unfortunately, the great depression and the dramatic downturn of the Los Angeles economy drastically affected both the Owensmouth and Runnymead communities. By 1932, many of the farms faced bankruptcy and Mr. Weeks himself took a severe financial hit and lost almost everything. With the failure of the poultry colonies, Mr. Weeks relocated to Florida, where he lived out the remainder of his life growing papayas, raising fishing worms and skin diving. Charles Weeks died in Florida in 1964 but the impact of his communal experiment can still be seen in some areas of both Palo Alto and Winnetka where concentrated numbers of houses are located on large parcels of land.
  1. Steve Staiger. “East Palo Alto’s Early Seeds of Utopia.” Palo Alto Weekly [Online Edition]. Nov 17 1999.http://www.paloaltoonline.com
  2. “Runnymead: 1916 to 1930’s.” A History of East Palo Alto [Accessed Online]. http://www.romic.com/epahistory/runymede.htm
  3. Staiger.
  4. Ibid.
  5. “Runnymead”
  6. Ibid.
  7. Staiger
In case you wondering the boundaries of the Charles Weeks colony, Kevin Roderick mentioned it in his book, The San Fernando Valley: America's Suburb on page 74:
Weeks sold the first acre to Jenja Beckman of Los Angeles in 1922, when the lots went for $1,250. By the end of the year, 41 families had estabilished their acre plots in the tract bounded by Winnetka and Oso avenues and Leadwell and Lanark streets.......The Weeks Colony became a Valley institution, listed on maps and well known in the surrounding towns. Weeks deeded five acres at Winnetka and Roscoe Boulevard to the city for an elemantary school. The colony grew to more than 500 families and had its own egg co-op, warehouse, and packing plant. 
 Here are some more pics from that wonderful colony:
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library: "Workers plucking chickens at Weeks Poultry Ranch, also known ast the Charles Weeks Poultry Communities. It was located at 21228 Sherman Way, Owensmouth (now Canoga Park). Photo date: July 14, 1927."
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library: Aerial view of the Weeks Poultry Community in Canoga Park on January 10, 1925, founded by Charles Weeks as a utopian colony. 
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library: Aerial view of the Weeks Poultry Community in Canoga Park on January 10, 1925, founded by Charles Weeks as a utopian colony.
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library: Aerial view of the Weeks Poultry Community in Owensmouth (Canoga Park). The colony was founded by Charles Weeks as a utopian community located at 21228 Sherman Way in 1960.  (The LAPL site states this picture was taken in 1960 but that is probably incorrect as will be shown in the following images. THhis was probably taken in the 40's and maybe early 50's.
By 1934 with the depression in full swing, Charles Weeks abandoned the Colony he founded and headed to Florida to evade the creditors. The remaining residents also fed facing dire economic situation and a lot of the homes were abandoned. Some remained and became long time residents as we will discuss further below. In the book, Making The San Fernando Valley by Laura Barraclough (pp. 50), the author explains the demise of this area:
But the failures of the Little Lander and Weeks colonies within a relatively short period--just over a decade, in both cases--suggests that hte ideal of "gentlemen farming" was rather more difficult to achieve than boosters acknowledged, even in instances where members pooled their resources and toughed out the hard times. Land monopolies, the control of cooperatives by agribusiness, and uneven access to water constrained the possibilities for individual gentlemen farmers as well as colonies, to truly achieve "one acre and independence." The Great Depression only made these difficulties more apparent and more painful. Gentlemen farmers typically expressed their thwarted economic and cultural aspirations in racial terms, most often by blaming low-wage immigrant laborers and by scapegoating Japanese agricultural competitors.  
Its time to hop into the Delorean and head back to the future with a pit stop in 1952, 1959, 1977, 1980, 2003, and eventually the present. 
From Historicaerials.com: You can see in the image above from 1952 that most of the area was undeveloped with the Charles Week Colony still intact. However, there were early indications of suburban development as can be seen under the word "Winnetka."
From Historicaerials.com: In this 1959 picture, you can see that a majority of the area around the Charles Weeks area was developed with suburban tract homes filling every pocket available. However, the Charles Weeks colony still remained in original form.
From Historicaerials.com: By 1977, the area surrounding the Colony is fully developed with small pockets of land left. The colony itself is slowly transforming with the area south of Saticoy converted into Apartment complexes. 
From Historicaerials.com: By 1980, the Colony was losing its image. Although hard to see in this satellite photo, the tract homes were being laid out as well as the concrete for the smaller streets to access these new homes.
From Historicaerials.com: Here is a zoomed in image of 1980 from above that clearly depicts the suburban tract homes construction. There were those who resisted and kept their plot of land as original as possible. 
From Historicaerials.com: By 2003, the area is mostly developed with a handful of properties left. In 2003, the housing bubble was underway and the temptation to sell at astronomical real estate values were becoming hard to resist. 
As mentioned above, there are a handful of original Charles Weeks Colony properties that exist today close to their original form. Before we discuss those properties, I wanted to share the story of Celeste Dameron who was interviewed by Michael Nesbit as part of a CSUN Oral History Interview in 1989. I highly recommend listening to the interview (unfortunately, its not the entire interview) and reading the transcripts which was conducted at her home. Celeste was a native of Texas who moved to Winnetka to be with her widower husband, Anson,  where they tried to live the Charles Weeks dream raising 12 children and lived together for 47 years. Anson passed away in 1975 while Celeste continued in Winnetka. In an LA Times article from November 29, 1985 titled, Bird of Paradise Was  a Hen in Colony Founder's Eden by Patricia Ward Biederman, Dameron stated: 
Fit and wearing running shoes, Dameron spoke nostalgically of the old colony days when there were 1,500 hens in the backyard, instead of two. She and her husband slaughtered and salted down a pig every few months, and the children ran after the ice delivery truck, hoping a chunk would fall off so their mother would make ice cream.
Dameron continues to walk to church regularly. But, she noted, "When it's late of evening I don't walk any more. You used to could."
Also from that same article, the late Catherine Mulholland (with an exhibit currently open at CSUN) stated:
Catherine Mulholland, whose grandfather, William Mulholland, was the Southern California water czar, started at the school in 1933. "I remember little kids in flour-sack underwear," she recalled in a recent interview. "Kids went to school barefoot. Mother wouldn't allow me to do that. I felt deprived."
As times got harder, many of the colonists had to compromise their commitment to self-reliance and work for wages on the Mulhollands' 700-acre ranch in Chatsworth and Northridge. The boys sometimes "smudged" for her father, servicing the smudge pots put out to protect the citrus and walnut crops through nights that threatened frost. The boys earned 50 cents and sometimes fell asleep the next day in school.
"My first slumber party was on top of a chicken coop," Mulholland recalled. Of the colonists, she said, "They were basically people of enterprise who ran into a bunch of hard luck."
I tried to find Dameron today to see what was left of her Colony home. Unfortuantely, she passed away at the age of 99 on January 30, 2002 in Simi Valley I believe according to this website. So what happened to her property? Yes, you guessed correctly, it was sold and subdivided as shown below. Her address was 20215 Stagg Street which is where the CSUN interview took place by Michael Nesbit.

From Google Earth: The Dameron house in 1994 surrounded by tract homes and  Ingomar street was dead ended on both sides. 
From Google Maps: Image taken sometime in the mid 2000's with subdivided homes. 
So here is a summary of the homes subdivided:
  1. 20215 Stagg Street. Original Dameron home was last sold in 1999 for $305,000 which I believe included the whole land except 20219 Stagg Street. The  home was demolished and made way for a new home in 2000 which was sold for $325,000 on May 31, 2000.
  2. 20219 Stagg Street: Home immediately to the left of the original Dameron home was sold on October 3, 1997 for $98,000 and built new. Home was later foreclosed on May 6, 1999 for $111,332 and sold again on February 2, 2001 for $135,000.
  3. 20216 Ingomar Street: Directly behind Dameron home was built in 2007 and sold for $632,000 on April 27, 2010. 
  4. 20220 Ingomar Street: Directly behind Dameron home was built in 2008 and sold for $621,000 on July 08, 2010. 
  5. 20215 West Ingomar Street: Across Ingomar street was built in 2008 and currently available for $599,950. (I thought the housing bubble ended)
  6. 20217 (?) West Ingomar Street: No information publicly available at this time. 

Sad to see the Dameron home turn into McMansions that overpriced for this area.

So what is amazing about this area is that remnants of its past still remains. Most of the homes in this area were developed in the 80's and you can see the outline of the former one acre plots of the subdivided homes. But what is even more remarkable is that some of the original plots still exist. This is what remains today from what I can find.

20327 Stagg Street: Built in 1930, one acre property (only two left) with what I believe are the original chicken coops. 


Image courtesy Google Maps
20309 Stagg Street: Built in 1927 with 0.5 acres and appears to have some original chicken coops left. 


Image courtesy Google Maps
20115 Stagg Street: Built in 1924 on one acre (only two left) with chicken coops left. To the left is a brand new home development simiar to the Dameron.


Image courtesy Google Maps
20115 Arminta Street: Built in 1923 on 0.18 acres. To the left are brand new homes under construction. 


Image courtesy Google Maps
20147 Strathern Street: Built in 1932 on 0.59 acres with what appears to be a chicken coop converted into a home. 


Image courtesy Google Maps. 
In addition to Winnetka, you can also find some of these "mini-ranches" in other parts of the Valley primarily Reseda which is directly east of this area. My guess is that eventually, all these remaining gems will be converted into more tract homes because of the profit potential, financial hardship, and/or overall maintenance burden. Hopefully something remains to remember this area especially the original one acre plots. One of these homes should be recognized as an LA HCM site. 

Hope you enjoyed it!

You can read more Back To The Future here.

Sources:

Bird of Paradise Was A hen In Colony Founder's Eden by Patricia Ward Biederman on November 29, 1985; Los Angeles Times.

Celeste Dameron Interview Transcripts by Michael Nesbit on October 28 and December 14, 1989; CSUN Early History of the San Fernando Valley Oral History Project.

Celeste Dameron Interview Main Page; CSUN Early History of the San Fernando Valley Oral History Project.

Making the San Fernando Valley: Rural Landscapes, Urban Development, and White Privilege by Laura R. Barraclough; Book.

Celeste Dameron. People Search Website

Charles Weeks Poultry Colony. Welcome to Collective Roots Website

Winnetka: What's In A Name by Steve Adams on Fall/Winter 2006; Winnetka Historical Society

2 comments

Anonymous

Hi, have you encountered any pictures of the inside of the coops. I'm interested in seeing what types of equipment the farmers were using, especially the lighting systems. Thanks

Marty McFly May 28, 2012 at 10:33 PM

Hello Anonymous,

I have not seen any detailed interior pics but you can view more pics at the CSUN Digital Library at the link below:

http://digital-library.csun.edu/cdm4/results.php?CISOOP1=any&CISOFIELD1=CISOSEARCHALL&CISORESTMP=results.php&CISOVIEWTMP=item_viewer.php&CISOBOX1=charles+weeks&CISOROOT=all&CISOSTART=1,1

That still might not be sufficient. I suggest maybe finding an expert at Pierce Farms since Pierce was first started as a local farming school.

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