Where did the name “ Toluca Lake ” come from anyway?
Over the years there have been many fanciful stories about the origin of the name “ Toluca Lake ”. Some say it was a local Kahaweenga (Cahuenga) Indian word, others claim the name was brought here by the Franciscan Padrés. Some claim it was taken from the Mexican town named Toluca , while other attribute it to an (apparently) imaginary local tribe of Indians that they call the “Tolocans”. While those stories may sound good, they are wrong. But the real story is just as colorful.
If there was a real person after whom the fictional “Ben Cartwright” of “Bonanza” fame was modeled it was General Charles Forman. Forman arrived in Virginia City, Nevada, around 1860 with little to his name. In a short time he had made a fortune in mining, then cattle ranching, and then lumbering his vast ranch lands. He supplied much of the lumber that was used to build Salt Lake City. He gained local Nevada fame when he led a unit of ninety-seven Nevada militia against five hundred hostile Indians. After a bloody five hour battle only twenty one of the militia was left alive, including Forman. As a result of his bravery in leading the unit, Nevada Governor John Kinkead appointed him a “Major General of the Nevada Volunteers”.
By 1887 Forman was one of the wealthiest men in Nevada. On a trip to Los Angeles he met, fell in love with and married Mary Agnes Gray, whose family owned the Rancho de la Puente. He moved to Los Angeles and within two years had started the Kern River Company, a power company which would deliver electricity from generators at the Kern River to Los Angeles. He also bought a large parcel of rich farm land including much of modern day Toluca Lake. He built an adobe ranch house at the intersection of Forman and Toluca Lake Avenue. Modern-day Forman Avenue – southward from Riverside - served as the driveway to his ranch house. His land included at least the western portion of that ancient and historical marshy pond that we now call Toluca Lake .
In 1893 the modern Toluca Lake was part of a bigger “town” known as Lankershim. Lankershim stretched from the current North Hollywood (where the historic Lankershim train station still stands) to the current Toluca Lake. That year General Forman, along with the Weddington family and others, petitioned the U S Postal Service to grant a first Post Office for the region. Forman successfully argued – in what was likely a battle of personalities - that the area deserved a name that wasn’t tied to a commercial land developer (Colonel Lankershim). So, when the petition was filed it called for the name of the Post Office to be the “Toluca Post Office”. This is the first time the name “ Toluca ” is known to appear anywhere in the area. That first Post Office was opened in the parlor of the home of Wilson Weddington (our first local postmaster). That same year, Colonel Lankershim used his influence with the Southern Pacific Railroad, to have the new train station named the “Lankershim train station”. So, the new Toluca Post Office was situated directly across from the new Lankershim train station. When asked later why he had chosen the name Toluca, Forman said it had come from a Piute Indian word, which means “fertile” or “beautiful” valley.
The new name did not really catch on at first. Although mail sent to the area was addressed to “Toluca, California ”, many locals continued to call their town “Lankershim”, except for Forman, who called his ranch and the land around it “ Toluca ”. Forman died in 1912.
In 1923 a group of investors bought and decided to develop much of Forman’s prior land. They needed a catchy name so they chose “ Toluca Lake Park ”. Unfortunately, that first venture failed quickly and new investors from Hollywood – with a vision of creating a first “bedroom community” for Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley - assumed the assets of Toluca Lake Park and renamed the development company “The Toluca Lake Company” (which still exists today). At that same time the Toluca Lake Company adopted as their logo the “swan on rippled water” - that many associate with the community today - and they also formally changed the name of the community to simply “ Toluca Lake ’.