San Fernando, the oldest city in the valley for which it is named, is located about twenty three miles north of Los Angeles, near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Founded in 1874, it is nicknamed “The Mission City” because of its proximity to the San Fernando Mission that was established in 1797 and on whose former property the city emerged. San Fernando was originally populated by Gabrielino and Tataviam Indians, the latter naming the area “Achois Comihabit,” before Spanish explorers first passed through the region in 1769. In its pristine state, the hills and valleys were lush with oak and walnut trees. These gave way to ranches and farms in the nineteenth century, as an outgrowth of activities originally undertaken by the mission which thrived for nearly forty years during the early 1800s. During that time, while California was still Mexican territory, a mixture of Spanish, Indian, and Mexican residents arrived and settled in the valley. Following the mission’s secularization in 1834, it went into decline and was abandoned about a decade later.
The city’s founding in 1874 was spurred by a land boom in Southern California and the Southern Pacific Railroad’s building of a rail line between Bakersfield and Los Angeles through Fremont Pass. Soon populated with an influx of settlers, San Fernando became known as the railroad’s “gateway to the north,” and with its Mediterranean climate and deep wells that provided water for irrigation, the community cultivated an abundance of vegetables and fruits, especially citrus and olives. That independent water supply allowed San Fernando to remain autonomous and incorporate in 1911, while most of the valley’s other communities felt compelled to annex to Los Angeles in 1915 to avail themselves of the waters of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which started flowing in 1913. Today, with a population of about 22,600 people, San Fernando is one of the valley’s smaller communities but has retained its individuality and identity with an annual fiesta in celebration of its mission days and downtown architecture that reflects the city’s longtime Mexican heritage.