The Furlongs of Vernon and of Van Buren Place


James Furlong, James Jr., Robert, and Thomas, circa 1938

Thomas J. Furlong and his son Robert were part of a dynasty that ruled the industrial city of Vernon from their West Adams home for more than fifty years.

By Leslie Evans and Jennifer Charnofsky

Standing at the northwest corner of 27th Street and Van Buren Place in the West Adams section of Los Angeles is a cross-gabled two and a half story Tudor-Craftsman house, memorialized by the city as the Furlong House, Historic Cultural Monument number 678. The Furlongs referred to were father and son, Thomas J. and Robert Furlong, now largely forgotten but both intimately associated with the lately controversial industrial city of Vernon, California. The house is also on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural merits, but its most interesting aspect is its service for almost forty years as the home of an important part of the Furlong family, who were instrumental in creating the City of Vernon, once Los Angeles's principal industrial suburb, and who guided its affairs from 1905 until 1974.

The house at 2657 S. Van Buren Place was designed by architect Frank Tyler and built in 1910 by Hugh M. and Margaret Cowper, apparently with the intention of selling it. The first residents were Shelley W. and Bella Keiser. Shelley Keiser was a real estate broker and later vice president of the Equitable Loan and Investments Co. The Keisers lived in the house from 1910 to 1921, when it was sold to Thomas J. Furlong, the City Clerk and Treasurer of the City of Vernon.

The history of Vernon is intimately tied to the Furlong family. While it was for many decades the principal industrial center for Los Angeles, Vernon was from its inception the creation and virtual property of three men: John Baptiste Leonis (1872�1953), for whom Leonis Blvd. is named, and brothers Thomas J. Furlong (1872-1950) and James Furlong (1876-1941). These three men founded Vernon in 1905 from farmland the Furlong's owned south and east of the Los Angeles Civic Center. They envisioned their new city as an exclusively industrial enclave freed from responsibilities to other kinds of residents. While as many as 70,000 people work there during the day, its registered population has dropped from 1,700 in 1905 to fewer than 200 today, almost all of whom are city employees living in rented city housing. In truth the recent scandals over the city's infrequent elections and efforts to prevent outsiders from voting stem from its original ambivalent character. While assuming the trapping of a city, with a mayor, city council, and electoral forms, Vernon for more than a century has been in fact a private corporation and has in practice operated as such.

Thomas J. Furlong served continuously as City Clerk and Treasurer of Vernon from 1907 until his death in 1950. His brother James Furlong served as Mayor of Vernon from 1907 until his death in 1941. He was succeeded as Mayor by John B. Leonis, who was in turn succeeded by Robert Furlong (1908-1974), the son of Thomas J. Furlong. Robert served as Mayor continuously from 1948 until his death in 1974. Robert lived in the house at Van Buren Place from the time he was thirteen in 1921 until he sold the house in 1958 at the age of fifty. Even today Vernon is governed by Mayor Leonis C. Malburg, grandson of John B. Leonis.

Industrial pioneers James and Thomas J. Furlong were part of a large clan influential in Southern California history in many ways. They were grandchildren of Thomas Furlong (1788-?) and Ann Sinnott of Wexford, Ireland, seat of the Furlong name, which has considerable antiquity in that region. The name dates to the 1390s in County Wexford, and the name is rarely found outside County Wexford. The Furlong geneology is somewhat difficult to follow because the family was large and favored use of the male names Thomas, James, Luke, and Robert, while for women there are many Marys, Marthas, and Catherines. In brief, the family is traced from Thomas and Ann Sinnott Furlong of Wexford, Ireland. This couple had five children. Of these, four emigrated to California - Robert, Luke, James, and Mary. Robert and James eventually settled in what became Vernon. Robert's children are the principal subject of our interest. These are Thomas J. Furlong, who owned the house on Van Buren Place, and his three siblings, James, Annie, and Judith.

The Parents' Generation: Emigration from Ireland

The first of the children of Thomas and Ann of Wexford to come to America were the brothers Robert (1836-1881) and Luke. Robert fought in the Crimean War, then he and Luke took ship for Canada, landing in Quebec in September 1857. In Montreal they heard of the gold rush in California and decided to try their hands at mining. Robert and Luke sailed to Panama, trekked across the isthmus on foot, and found a ship bound for San Francisco. From there they headed for the gold fields in Tuolumne County. Later they were joined by their brother James, who had deserted from the British army after a fight with a superior officer and spent some years under an assumed name as a gold miner in Australia.

In 1868 Robert and Luke moved south and bought 41 acres of land at Rancho Los Nietos, between the Santa Ana and the Old San Gabriel rivers, where they took up hog raising. After a few years Robert sent for his childhood sweetheart, Martha Kehoe, from Ireland. While Martha, accompanied by her sister Ann, was on shipboard, the president of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco, where Robert had his life savings, embezzled the whole of the bank's money and fled to France. Robert offered to send his fiance back to Ireland but she opted to stay with him and they were married in May 1871 at the Mission San Gabriel.

In 1872, after a disastrous flood of the Old San Gabriel River, Robert, Martha, and Luke moved their ranch to land west of Compton, then called Willowbrook. Here Robert and Martha's first three children were born: Thomas (1872), Annie (1873) and James (1876). Martha's sister, Ann Kehoe, who had not intended to remain in America, married Robert's brother James, and they established a ranch at Vernondale, as Vernon was then called. Luke died in 1877.

In 1881 Robert and Martha also bought a ranch at Vernon and moved their family there. The property was at what is now 2048 E. 52nd Street and remained a home of the Furlongs until 1972. Robert Furlong moved the original house he and Luke had built on the banks of the Old San Gabriel River in 1868 to this property (it had already been moved once, from Los Nietos to Willowbrook in 1874). Robert and Martha had one more child at the ranch in Vernondale: Judith Mary (1881). Judith lived at the ranch the whole of her long life. Judith's daughter Roberta later recalled a story of her mother's:

"On a day when Grandmother, "Mama Martha," was out in the fields supervising the Mexican and Chinese laborers who worked on the ranch, she left Judith in bed with influenza and a bad cold. By her bed was a bottle of wine and a glass. Mama Martha told her to take a small glass every three hours. Judith, never one to waste time, thought it would be better if she finished it off quickly so she could be well again and up and out to play. When her Mother came in she found Judith completely out. From then on she was such a complete teetotaler that if we wanted her to take a toddy for a cold we held her in one arm and the glass in the other hand so she would not go to sleep before we got it down." (Roberta Poxon, undated notes.)

Robert Furlong died of scarlet fever in 1881, when Thomas, his oldest child, was 9. The four children and their mother Martha remained on the ranch, which was managed by their uncle, Robert's surviving brother James, whose property adjoined theirs. James worked both farms with the help of his two sons and the two orphaned sons of his brother Robert. Thomas's younger brother James was able to attend a Catholic high school, St. Vincent's College (this later became Loyola High School), but Thomas had to drop out of school when his father died and had no further formal education, although he was a voracious reader.

Some twenty-four years after his brother's death, in 1904, Uncle James sold his holdings and moved several miles away, leaving Thomas J. and his brother James, now in their early thirties and late twenties, to run their mother's farm. That same year Thomas J. Furlong married Kate (Catherine) Conneally and built a home for her on the Furlong ranch. There their four children were born - Robert, Mary, and the twins Martha and Catherine. In 1915 they moved to 322 N. Oxford Street, at Kate's insistence as she feared the effect of industrial pollution on her children and she wanted a neighborhood with a good Catholic school. Thus Thomas was the only one of the four brothers and sisters to move away from Vernon and from the Furlong ranch. This was a cause of serious friction with his brother and sisters, and caused him some trouble later in life as he was challenged by officials in Los Angeles, who often had a hostile attitude toward Vernon, for holding a civic office in Vernon without living in the city. He response was a lifelong habit of putting in extremely long hours on his job (interview by Jennifer Charnofsky with Father Philip Conneally, July 10, 1994).

In 1921 Thomas and Kate and their four children moved to the house on Van Buren Place. Here they had a house of two and a half stories with twelve rooms. But in the old-fashioned manner, they rarely used the living room - it was saved, as one elderly relative told us, "for when the parson came." Instead they gathered in the little room off the kitchen. Thomas Tavernelli, Thomas's grandson, remembers the Van Buren house from his childhood in the late 1940s. The street still had a rural feel to it. "The people across the street had chickens, and we bought vegetables off a horse-drawn cart. There were some people living on Vermont nearby who got their water from a spring at Beverly and Rampart."

Vernon - The Early Years

Vernon before it was incorporated was mostly pig farms and Chinese-owned truck gardens. It was a terminus for the Butterfield Stage Coach line which ran to Long Beach and San Pedro. Among its prominent residents in addition to the Furlong brothers was the French-Basque immigrant John Baptiste Leonis. Leonis operated a general store in Vernon, and later established a feed barn and winery at 26th Street and Downey Road. Leonis offered free land to factories willing to locate in Vernon, expecting that the jobs created would mean money spent in town that would repay the cost of the land. By 1905 there were two factories and two lumber yards, and some of the pig farms were in transition to becoming meat packers.

About the time of his marriage, Thomas with his brother James began discussions with Leonis, in which Leonis proposed the idea of the first industrial park in Southern California. Between them they owned a large part of the suburb. They sounded out other landowners, such as P. J. Durbin and William M. Stevens, and brought them into the plan. In 1905 this group moved to formally incorporate Vernon as a city, giving it the motto it still proclaims, "Exclusively Industrial." Their experiment was later imitated in the creation of the City of Commerce and the City of Industry, but Vernon was and remains the preeminent industrial-commercial enclave. From that time, Leonis, Thomas and James Furlong, and rancher William M. Stevens entrenched themselves as the dominant force on the new city's Board of Trustees. The eventual boundaries of the City of Vernon were 25th Street and Washington Blvd. on the north, the Los Angeles River on the east, Slauson on the south, and Alameda Street on the west. Cecilia Anne Furlong in an unpublished family memoir writes:

"After the City was incorporated Tom and James bought and sold pieces of property to new factories, or rented it out to them with life-time leases. Tom traveled from his home in West Los Angeles to his office in Vernon. However, he frequently met with James at the ranch, and as a result, Annie and Judith shared the thoughts of their brothers and were cognizant of the business of running a city.

" Vernon established its own school district, and built an elementary school for the benefit of the children of the families of the workers who lived within its five mile radius. Judith Furlong was one of the first teachers. This was only one of her many contributions to the growth and development of this small city, in whose government she later participated as a concilwoman."

James Furlong is remembered in Los Angeles history not only as the first mayor of the new industrial city, but also as one of the first landowners in Los Angeles to sell land for homes to black families. In a retrospective article in 1995 the Los Angeles Times wrote:

"At the turn of the century, the African American community had grown to more than 2,200 people. Downtown, many blacks settled along Jefferson Boulevard, between Normandie and Western Avenue. Others bought parcels of land about five miles south of Downtown from an Irish farmer named James Furlong.

"In 1905, Furlong subdivided his land bounded by Long Beach Avenue and Alameda, 50th and 55th streets. He sold his lots to black families for the going price of $750. From the start, the Furlong Tract was a working-class area, settled by people who were barred from other areas by restrictive racial covenants or high prices.

"Some families lived in tents while they built their modest homes. Eventually, the tract had more than 200 houses, grocery stores, a pharmacy, doctors' offices, a florist, dry cleaners, an ice cream parlor, a real estate office, an icehouse, a community hall, three churches and a school." (February 13, 1995)

Vernon in the early days was something of a frontier town out of a western movie. It is chronicled in a colorful memoir by one-time sportswriter James Kilty (Leonis of Vernon [1963]). Next to the pig farms and new factories a string of bars and brothels opened, where Angelenos clustered on Sundays for the hot night life. Shortly after the town was incorporated there were three saloons, the most popular of which was Jack Doyle's Central Saloon at the corner of Santa Fe Avenue and the well-named Joy Street. Soon Leonis himself founded an even bigger place at Santa Fe and 38th Street, and leased it to Jack Doyle, a former Southern Pacific engineer, who built Jack Doyle's Saloon into one of the most famous bars in the region.

Vernon's prominent citizens quickly split into two factions. On one side was the Board of Trustees majority, led by Leonis, the Furlongs, and Stevens. On the other was the sole dissenter on the Board, W. S. Holland, supported by wealthy farmer J. G. De Turk and City Marshal J. H. Neiman. The Board of Trustees majority postponed the election scheduled for April 1906, arousing loud protests and a legal challenge from the opposition. Then in 1908 the two factions fought it out in a bitter election. The Leonis-Furlong-Stevens camp called themselves the Independents, while Holland and De Turk created a new Business Men's Party, which accused the Independents of making the town undesirable for business by encouraging drinking and prostitution. One Los Angeles newspaper wrote: "Sunday the town is wide open and drunken men stagger on the streets, toughs shout ribald remarks at passing women and crap games are played" (Kilty: 24).

The Independents, however, had something larger in mind than a rowdy red-light district, and were soon to develop Vernon as not only an industrial city but also a center for Los Angeles night life and major sports promotions. The Independents won, although the election was followed by long court fights as each side accused the other of stuffing the ballot boxes (a total of 174 votes were cast!). When the dust settled, James Furlong was confirmed as mayor of Vernon, and was not unseated in his lifetime.

The Business Men's faction retaliated by refusing to honor a city contract signed by the incumbents to allow the Union Oil Company to trench an oil pipeline across J. G. De Turk's farm, one piece of the right of way sold to Union Oil by the city government. De Turk repudiated his signature on the permits and his young wife drove the Union Oil crew off her land with a shotgun. The pipeline had to be abandoned.

Almost simultaneous with the 1908 elections was a second battle between the same two factions which helped to clarify their different perspectives for the city. It seemed that most of the supporters of the Business Men's Party were hog farmers rather than industrialists. The Board of Trustees majority came into conflict with the hog farmers over the importing from Los Angeles of tons of garbage used to feed the pigs. This created odor and vermin that discouraged other kinds of industry from buying land in Vernon. The Board of Trustees passed a law against dumping garbage within the city limits and interpreted it to cover garbage meant for pig feed. William Stevens announced he would arrest all of the prominent hog farmers if they defied the law. This issue threatened to split the Board of Trustees itself, as the Furlongs were hog farmers and James, the mayor, was one of the "Solid Three" on the board with Leonis and Stevens. For several weeks the Los Angeles press speculated as to which way James would vote. In the end the Furlongs were convinced that the practices of the pig farmers would have to change to make room for modern industry. The united Board of Trustees ordered the arrest of seven of the leading hog farmers from the Business Men's Party and the city entered onto its modern path.

Championship Boxing

The Board of Trustees majority took steps to promote Vernon in the public mind by making it a center for professional boxing. James Kilty, a local sportswriter who worked for Jack Doyle and John B. Leonis for thirty years, describes this effort:

"The enterprising little group, under the leadership of John B. Leonis, with James Furlong and his brother, Thomas Furlong, long established residents of the district, started a campaign to advertise the city through sports. That their venture was successful is attested by the fact that the city of Vernon was considered the boxing capital of the world from 1908 until the 1920s." (Kilty: 38)

Then-heavyweight champion of the world James J. Jeffries, in partnership with New York promotor Baron Long, were authorized to construct the Vernon Arena. This was a 15,000 capacity wooden stadium at the corner of 25th Street and Santa Fe Avenue. For two decades the Vernon Arena was the center in Los Angeles and even in the country for world championship bouts. Fighters such as Bert Colima, Packay McFarland, Danny Webster, Tommy Burns, Aurilla Herrera, Battling Nelson, and many others appeared there. Jack Doyle constructed a boxing training center next to his saloon and expanded the saloon to house the boxing crowds. Jack Doyle's became famous as "the longest bar in the world." The bar boasted 37 bartenders, all imported from Ireland, and each with his own cash register. It was packed on the weekends by the sports aficionados.

Vernon also founded its own baseball team, the Vernon Tigers, who were three-time winners of the Pacific Coast Baseball League penant. They defeated the Saint Paul team to win the American Association penant in 1919. These big time sporting events kept Vernon in the public eye and led to the construction of restaurants such as Jack Doyle's Stag Hotel and Baron Long's Vernon Country Club. Enough money was flowing into the city that in 1919 Leonis founded his own bank, the First National Bank of Vernon, and appointed James Furlong and Jack Doyle directors.

In 1913 the Furlong family, by now far from the difficult times after Robert's death in 1881, built the only church in Vernon, St. Martha's Church, named for their mother and her patron saint. Judith was married in St. Martha's the year it opened, to English chemist George Poxon from Stoke-on-Trent. Poxon was a graduate of the British Royal Academy of Science who "wanted to lease some property and start a pottery where he could test his ideas and glazes" (Roberta Poxon, daughter of George Poxon and Judith Furlong Poxon, undated copy of handwritten notes courtesy of Father Philip Conneally).

Together Judith and George founded the well-known Poxon Pottery and the Vernon Kilns, which made dishes of all kinds under the name Vernon Ware. They are perhaps best known for their collectible commemorative plates, still a staple of antique stores throughout the country. The kilns were located on the Furlong ranch in Vernon, where the Poxon's built their home. Poxon Pottery was sold to Metlox of Manhattan Beach, California, in 1946, and the name was changed officially to Vernonware. See the books by Maxine Nelson in the reference list for further information on Vernon Kilns.

During World War I industry began to move into Vernon in substantial numbers. The Crescent Refining and Oil Company was founded there in 1917, followed by the Gilmore Oil Company, for a time the top independent oil company in the area. The Fernholtz Machinery Company also was started during the First World War. By 1927 there were 300 factories or other industrial enterprises in Vernon employing more than 20,000 workers.

The passage of Prohibition in 1919 damaged and eventually destroyed Vernon's night life. James Kilty reminisces:

"At night, Vernon's silent streets that were once alive with thousands of boxing followers and before that with the night life crowd who patronized Baron Long's Vernon Country Club; the sporting fraternity that followed the silent movie stars, the dance girls, harlots and gamblers; this strange little community can only look back with fond remembrance and see it as it once was" (Kilty: 66).

But the passing of this scene did little to slow the growth of the industrial city. "Presidents of oil companies," Kilty writes, "railroad tycoons, heads of the packing industries, builders and contractors and nearly all of the big businessmen of Vernon's early period met at [Jack Doyle's] restaurant's round table to discuss business ventures that were later established in Vernon. It was the spawning grounds for hundreds of enterprises that totaled millions of dollars for this great industrial center (p. 139).

Robert Furlong and the Vernon Power Plant

In the 1940s the founding generation of the city began to pass from the scene. But the 1930s was already a time of transition where the next generation began to enter Vernon politics. The principal figure that concerns us is Robert Furlong, Thomas and Kate Furlong's son and the city's future mayor. Robert graduated from Loyola University in 1929 with a degree in engineering. Better educated than his parents' generation, he went to work for the Edison Company in Vernon as a diesel engineer. The city government predicated its appeal to industrial development on being able to provide good rail transport, cheap land, low taxes, and low rates for electrical power. This last put the city in a long-term argument with the major utilities in Los Angeles from which it bought its power. Counting on Robert's expertise, the City Council - led by his uncle the mayor, his father the treasurer, and John B. Leonis - at the beginning of the 1930s decided to outflank the Edison Company by building their own power plant. Never ones to do anything on a small scale, they proceeded to construct the largest diesel power generating plant in the world with the exception of one in Shanghai. The plant, which went into operation in 1933, was important enough to rate a 16-page article in the trade journal Diesel Power. Robert Furlong became chief operating engineer of the new 35,000 horse power diesel plant.

The Vernon plant was cutting edge when it was built, using a newly developed cooling process of continuous filtration of the cooling oil (Diesel Power 1933: 616). By filtering the fuel the operators were free to buy whatever fuel was cheapest at the moment and were not restricted to high grade pre-filtered varieties. This same source stated:

"Probably no plant, regardless of its capacity, has a more complete electrical control board than has Vernon. Coordination of the plant and the distribution system is made possible, leading to the highest possible economy" (ibid.).

The plant was so well built that more than 65 years later it is still in service and provides the majority of the electric power used by Vernon today, despite the enormous increase in demand over these six and a half decades. The plant is itself a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. The present authors toured the plant in 1994 and interviewed its superintendent, James L. Siegert. The building boasts a beautiful Streamline Moderne facade. Its interior is spotless, with the rows of tall dark green turbines looking as though they were just built, but came from the sets for the Emerald City for the "Wizard of Oz." Siegert, told us that his plant provides power at the lowest price in California and often sells excess power to the City of Los Angeles.

Robert ran the Vernon power plant until the outbreak of World War II. He was elected to the City Council in June 1941. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that December, he enlisted as an army engineer. He saw active service in North Africa and Italy under General Patton. On his return home, Robert was reelected to the Vernon City Council in 1946. His uncle James had died in 1941, and John B. Leonis, although in failing health, was serving as mayor. Finally Leonis was compelled by his health to retire in 1948 and Robert was elected to replace him.

In February 1950 Robert's father, Thomas J. Furlong, died. In his obituary The Tidings of Vernon wrote:

"During the first decade of the century when the civic leaders of Los Angeles were promoting their city as a pleasure resort for tourists, the Furlongs were working for the establishment of heavy industries. Today the central manufacturing district of Vernon is a tribute to their judicious planning. With their favorite project in mind they refused to subdivide their ranch - holding it for the day when industry would clamor for space. At the time of his death, the late Thomas J. Furlong was still clerk and treasurer of the City of Vernon, a position which he held for nearly 50 years." (February 24, 1950.)

Thomas had devoted his life to the city he and his brother had founded. Father Philip Conneally, a nephew of Thomas's wife Kate, remembered that Thomas generally ate his dinner in Vernon after work and did not come home until late. At his funeral there was a parade of 100 motorcycle policemen. (Interview by Jennifer Charnofsky with Father Philip Conneally, July 10, 1994.)

Robert Furlong was reelected as Mayor of Vernon regularly until his death in 1974. Nominally Robert's residence was at the Furlong ranch in the City of Vernon, but he continued to live on at Van Buren Place with his sister Catherine until 1958, when they moved together to Ladera Heights. Of his three sisters, Mary married Joseph Chumbrek, while Catherine's twin, Martha, married Anthony Tavernelli, a truck driver and dispatcher for Union Oil. Catherine remained at home. She devoted her life to caring for her parents, and when they died she kept house for her brother Robert.

During his early years as mayor, Robert worked closely in politics with his aunt Judith Furlong Poxon, who was one of the main leaders of the Vernon City Council. Judith was a formidable character who would give in to no one when she felt she was right. She and John Leonis had a tremendous fight when Leonis wanted to use land that had been occupied by a slaughterhouse he owned to build a gambling casino. Judith opposed this, and she carried the City Council against Leonis!

Cecilia Anne Furlong writes of this period:

"The City of Los Angeles wanted to absorb all the small suburbs, but Robert Furlong maintained the independence of Vernon City against insurmoutable odds and political chicanery. "

Robert Furlong during his tenure as mayor was also employed as an engineer by the Edison Company. This fact flowed from the complicated history of the Vernon power plant. Robert was an Edison Company employee when the plant was built in 1933. When constructed, the plant was operated by the City of Vernon for five years, but in 1937 the Edison Company conceded to the rates the Vernon City Council demanded and agreed to take over the management, with Robert as an Edison Company employee. The plant was rebuilt in the early 1980s and Vernon reclaimed the ownership.

He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Central Basin Municipal Water District from 1964. He was also a member of the Southern California Live Steamers. This reflected his principal hobby, operating large rideable model steam trains. The authors interviewed a former resident of the block on Van Buren Place who recalled as a child being taken by Robert Furlong to ride on the miniature steam trains. Thomas Tavernelli, Robert's nephew, remembered that Robert used to run steam trains with Walt Disney, who was also a devotee of this hobby and who, as a Basque, was friends with John Leonis. Some of these sessions took place at Disney's home. Robert did not keep his trains at Van Buren Place, but stored them elsewhere. He had a special truck built that could carry his two trains when he took them out to run. He also had a large collection of conventional and black powder guns.

In an article on Vernon during Robert Furlong's administration, the Los Angeles Times wrote:

"Vernon boasts one of the greatest concentrationis of industry in the world. Within its five square mile limits are 950 factories and warehouses. More than 500 top names in industrial America have plants in Vernon. Although only 229 call Vernon home, more than 75,000 - 10% of the employed population of Metropolitan Los Angeles - work there each day.

"The meat packing plants, mills, factories and commercial houses in Vernon are contributing $9 million annually in taxes to the Los Angeles City School District�.

"Because of its small population many of the officials double in duties. Frank A. Ziemer is city clerk, accounting officer, head of purchasing, supervisor of City Hall maintenance, license and utility bill collector. Robert J. Furlong, diesel engineeer with the Edison Co., serves as mayor. His father, Thomas J. Furlong, was a founder of the city. Furlong's aunt, Mrs. Judith M. Poxon, 80, the city's senior citizen in age and length of residence (her entire life) is a member of the city council. Her son, Vincent, is city attorney; her son-in-law, administrator." (October 16, 1961.)

Robert remembered his long years in West Adams even though he had moved away from the area; in his instructions at his death (at the age of 67 in 1974), in place of flowers, donations were to be made to the St. John of God Nursing Home at the corner of Western Avenue and Adams Blvd. in the heart of West Adams, a few blocks away from his long-time home.

Postscript - Van Buren Place after the Furlongs

In May of 1958 Robert and his sister Catherine sold the house at 2657 S. Van Buren Place. City records list the next owner as the Cercle Catholique Francais, from 1958 to March 1964, when it was sold to Ernest Johnson, a clerk on the Southern Pacific Railroad, from whom the present authors bought the house in March 1988.

The authors were able to interview several former members of the Cercle Catholique Francais at a picnic of the French Women's Charity Club held at Mapleleaf Park in La Puente in June 1994. Louis Audet told us that among the founders of the Cercle was the millionaire pharmaceutical company owner Lucien Brunswig. Brunswig, who died in 1943, emigrated to Los Angeles in 1888 and founded the Brunswig Drug Company, which today is the Bergen Brunswig Pharmaceutical Company. Brunswig owned an imposing house on Adams Blvd. in West Adams, and his company was moved to Vernon immediately after his death, another West Adams-Vernon connection. Audet told us that Brunswig's family was of Jewish stock but had converted to Catholicism. His mother was French and his father French-Canadian.

The Cercle Catholique Francais used the house on Van Buren Place as a clubhouse. The Cercle's main function was to provide aid to recent French immigrants. One member of the club lived in the house as a caretaker, but the others came only for meetings. "Only the front rooms were used, for dinners, and picnics in the yard," Audet said. "We never went upstairs." He also told us that visiting priests said mass there. They were part of a group of French missionary priests headquartered on Alvarado near 6th Street. There were perhaps thirty members in the Cercle, and some of them were dual members with the French Club of the International Institute on Boyle Avenue in Boyle Heights. When the house was eventually sold the money was given to French charities.

Simone Steinbroner, who was born in France and was 97 years old at the time we spoke to her, remembered Christmas parties of the Cercle at the Van Buren Place house. Noeline Regla told us that the Cercle had monthly meetings and did charity work to support indigent French Catholics, holding bazaars and lunches at the house, and selling hand-made articles such as baby sweaters to raise money for their work.

During the twenty-four years that Ernest Johnson lived in the house it also had a religious function, although it was now once again a private home. Mr. Johnson was an active member of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church on east 50th Street in South Central Los Angeles. The church held regular meetings at the house for many years, until Mr. Johnson's health failed, when he sold the house and moved to Florida in 1988. During his long stewardship Mr. Johnson, although he was a poor man and unable to afford much upkeep, preserved many of the original features and fixtures, so that today it remains much as it was in the days when Thomas and Robert Furlong lived there. Many of the original light fixtures from 1910 are still in service, and he had preserved the fountain in the back yard with its statue of a little Dutch girl pouring water from her jug, although the works had long since rusted away. This fountain was remembered by several of the Furlong family members we interviewed for its water plants and goldfish. In 1999 it was fully restored by the current owners.


Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. 1875. English Surnames and Their Significance. London: Chatto and Windus.
Diesel Power. 1933. The City of Vernon, California: A 35,000 Hp. Diesel Municipal Plant Serves This Industrial Community, America's Largest Diesel Station. Diesel Power, October: 613-44.
Furlong, Cecilia Anne (Sister Bridget of Mary). 1980. The Furlongs of California. Privately published for the Furlong family, 78 pages plus foldout family tree.
Interview by the authors with Emilia McCarthy, assistant manager, Vernon Chamber of Commerce, November 23, 1994.
Interview by the authors with Kath-leen Tavernelli Behn (grandaughter of Thomas J. Furlong), Ventura, California, 1994.
Interview by Jennifer Charnofsky with Father Philip Conneally (Father Conneally is a nephew of Catherine Conneally and first cousin to the children of Catherine Conneally and Thomas J. Furlong), July 10, 1994.
Interview by Jennifer Charnofsky with Leonis C. Malburg, Mayor of Vernon and grandson of John B. Leonis, November 1994.
Interview by Jennifer Charnofsky with Yvonne Chumbrek (grandaughter of Thomas J. Furlong), June 26, 1994.
Interview by the authors with James L. Siegert, Power Plant Superintendent, City of Vernon Light and Power Department, November 23, 1994.
Interviews by the authors with former members of the Cercle Catholique Fran�ais - Louis Audet, Simone Steinbroner, Noeline Regla, and Andrea Regla Kostyzak - June 12, 1994, at Mapleleaf Park, La Puente, California.
Kilty, James. 1963. Leonis of Vernon. New York: Carlton Press.
Los Angeles Times. 1932. Silver Jubilee of Fr. N. Conneally's Ordination Sunday [Kate Furlong's brother]. Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times.
- - - . 1941. James J. Furlong, Vernon Mayor, Dies: Rosary to Be Recited Tonight for Official, 75. Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times, June 10.
- - - . 1961. Only 229 Residents in Fast Shrinking Vernon: City with Lots of Factories Has More People Working for It Than Living There. Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times, October 16.
- - - . 1974. Mass Slated for R. Furlong, Vernon Mayor. Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times, January 24.
McGroarty. 1933. California of the South: A History, vol. 4. Los Angeles: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.: 583-84.
Moruzzi, Pete. 1997. Vernon: SoCal's First "Exclusively Industrial City." L. A. Conservancy News, September-October: 4.
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Poxon, Roberta. Nd. Copy of handwritten notes recounting stories of her mother, Judith Furlong Poxon. Courtesy of Father Philip Conneally.
Rasmussen, Cecilia. 1995. Honoring L.A.'s Black Founders [includes description of the Furlong Tract]. Los Angeles Times, February 13, Metro Section: B3.
Telephone interview by Jennifer Charnofsky with Leo Poxon (son of Judith Furlong Poxon), 1994.
Telephone interview by Jennifer Charnofsky with Thomas Tavernelli (son of Martha Furlong Tavernelli, grandson of Thomas J. Furlong), 1994.
The Tidings (Catholic weekly of the diocese published in Vernon). 1946. Requiem Celebrated for Mrs. Catherine Furlong. Vernon, CA: The Tidings, nd.
- - - . 1950. Thomas Furlong, Noted Vernon Pioneer Dies. Vernon, CA: The Tidings, February 24: 30.
Vernon Chamber of Commerce. 1994. Vernon Industrial Directory, 1994-1995. Vernon, CA.