Placerita Canyon State Park began in 1949 when local homesteader Frank Walker was paid $25,000 for a 40-acre parcel that included the Oak of the Golden Dream and what is now the entryway and part of the parking lot for the Placerita Canyon Nature Center. In legal terms, it was the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 5, Township 3 North, Range 15 West (see map below). When he signed over the property on June 13, Walker retained the mineral and oil and gas rights.
Completing the property transaction was no easy feat.
Interest in California's gold history picked up steam as the 100th anniversary of James Marshall's 1848 discovery at Sutter's Mill approached. Placerita Canyon had been recognized in 1935 as the site of the state's first documented gold discovery when the golden oak was designated a State Historic Landmark; now, in early 1947, local leaders, the Los Angeles City Council — which saw it as a San Fernando Valley issue — and a determined woman in Pasadena named Mesa Dobson lobbied the Legislature to elevate its status further by making it a state park.
There were ulterior motives, as well. Some local residents saw it as their best chance to push a road clear through from Newhall to Sand Canyon and thwart the efforts of one property owner, Lloyd Earl, who reportedly had threatened to gate it off. Earl owned a 315-acre ranch due west of the golden oak. Years later he sold his land to Walt Disney.
The state agreed to put up half of the money — $15,000 — to purchase Walker's 40 acres if the County of Los Angeles would put up the other half. (Just how a total of $30,000 was cut to $25,000, we don't know.)
The state wasted no time. Assemblyman Julian Beck of San Fernando introduced the legislation, and Gov. Earl Warren signed it into law in July 1947.
However, despite the best efforts of 5th District Supervisor Roger Jessup and the lobbying of Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz — a distant cousin of gold finder Francisco Lopez — the county balked. There is some indication the state and county had difficulty coming to terms on how a jointly paid-for park would operate.
They sorted it out in the nick of time. The Board of Supervisors approved the expenditure just before the clock would have run out on the state funding (June 30, 1949), and on November 1, the state and county agreed to a 50-year contract that gave the county operational responsibilities. (The operating agreement was superseded by a 25-year agreement in 1956 when the park was officially dedicated. The agreement was extended for 5 years in 1981. After 1986 the park was operated on a month-to-month lease until 2012 when a new 50-year operating agreement was signed.)
In 1959, Walker was paid $150,000 for additional land, expanding the park to its current 351 acres.
RK4901: Download original images and separate pdf's here. Courtesy of Ron Kraus and Placerita docent Dan Duncan. Online only.