Report Has Upland Mayor Seeking San Antonio H2O Shares

A certain degree of mystery attends reports that Upland Mayor Bill Velto is dabbling in water speculation. Unknown at this point is whether Velto’s interest in H2O is on behalf of the city or for himself. Efforts by the Sentinel to find out exactly which is the case were not successful by the end of this week.
What is known is that in 15.62-square mile municipality, City Hall in almost but not quite total measure has control over water and its availability.
The San Antonio Water Company, which was originally incorporated as a mutual water company on October 25, 1882, has consistently provided water service to its active shareholders for over 140 years. Those shareholders include those living in its direct service area in the unincorporated county area north of Upland, San Antonio Heights, as well as the cities of Upland and Ontario and the Monte Vista Water District, and Holliday Rock Company and a few remaining grove irrigators within within the original Village of Ontario area, which extended to cover Upland until the city’s 1906 incorporation. The City of Upland owns 68 percent of the company’s stock, and the city is the major consumer of the water it produces. All but five of the city’s properties purchase water through the Upland municipal water division.
Those five properties, all of which were at one point parts of thriving citrus farms, yet purchase water used for cultivation purposes, bypassing the city system.
In the past, orange, lemon and grapefruit grove owners purchased water directly from the San Antonio Water Company. With the demise of each successive agricultural operation as the owners sold their property to land speculators or developers, the city purchased from them the water shares. The owners of the five properties that yet have a direct relationship with the San Antonio Water Company did not divest themselves of the shares because, to one degree or another, the properties were not developed to the same intensity as the other propserties and each maintained a degree of agricultural use or landscaping that required water in a quantity that would justify hanging onto those water shares.
In those five cases, the San Antonio Water Company maintains a conveyance system for the properties that is independent of the water mains that provide water to the rest of the city.
City officials have for some time coveted the water shares monopolized by the owners of the five properties but have not been able to convince them to let go of those shares.
This is a relatively obscure element of the city’s ongoing existence, which recently came to light when two of the properties were put up for sale.
One of those is the Cracker Jack Mansion and the other is the Nisbet Estate. Each harkens back to a significant portion of Upland history and equally significant personages.
The Cracker Jack Mansion, located at 1936 North Euclid Avenue,
was built in 1931 by Henry G. Eckstein.
Eckstein’s place in American history is tied in with two brothers, Frederick and Louis Rueckheim, who had emigrated to America, settling down in the Chicago area. At some point in the 1890s, Frederick, a candy maker was working on perfection a confectionary consisting of popcorn and peanuts covered in molasses. Initially, the product, which was first popularized when offered at the 1893 World’s Fair, congealed together in chunks until Henry tried adding a small quantity of oil – a closely guarded trade secret. That allowed the kernels and peanuts to separate. The product, while growing in popularity, was still somewhat limited in its distribution potential as it was packaged in metal tins, which the product more expensive and difficult to sell in smaller quantities. In 1896, Eckstein hooked up with the Rueckheim brothers. Over the next two years, Eckstein perfected a way of packaging the product in single serving sizes that maintained the the freshness and crispness of the snack for shipments to the population centers on the East Coast. By 1899, Cracker Jack was being sold, much as it is today, in slim “waxed sealed” waterproof cartons. The company was reorganized as Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein a few years later, by which point it employed 400. In 1908, a Tin Pan Alley composer, Jack Norworth, came up with “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” which contained the line, “By me some peanuts and cracker jack.” By 1912, the Rueckheims and Eckstein were fabulously wealthy.
A few years later, Eckstein purchased 20 acres on Euclid Avenue, north of what is now the northeast corner of Euclid Avenue and 19th Street. Initially, Eckstein built a winter home, a 980-square foot, two bedroom single bath abode surrounded by citrus groves where he would spend the coldest part of the winter away from Chicago. In 1931, he had a six-bedroom, six-bath mansion constructed on the property, one which had a basement of nearly 2,000 square feet, with total square footage of 8,409 square feet. Also on the property was a two-story barn, with a stable on the ground floor and a alfalfa storage loft above, with a conveyance ramp to the feeders below.
The original home was converted to a caretaker’s bungalow.
Over the years, Lucky Baldwin’s nephew was a frequent visitor. He brought his belongings to the home in luggage that had once belonged to his great-uncle. Decades later, that luggage was yet at the home.
More than 16 of the acres remained, essentially, as a citrus grove. The original concrete pipes that brought the water to the property were upgraded by the San Antonio Water Company to ensure that there was no interruption in the water system and the groves remained irrigated.
The property would eventually pass into the hands of the Berry Family, the patriarch of which was heavily involved in construction locally, including being the contractor on Upland City Hall. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the matriarch of the family, concerned that if access to the 210 Freeway were to be provided on Euclid, the construction of the entrance/exit lanes would mean the removal of the caretaker bungalow, effectively lobbied Caltrans and the county transportation agency to place the entrances and exits at Mountain Avenue and Campus Avenue.
Of the original 20 acres, 16.5 were subsequently sold and developed, but the mansion remains on 3.5 acres, along with the caretaker bungalow, barn and some agricultural uses.
On June 1, 2023, the property sold for $3.2 million. The water shares remain with the property.
On November 28, 2023, the 97,539 square foot [approximately 2.3 acre] property located at 200 East 13th Street, consisting of a six bedroom, four bath 5,000 square foot home built in the 1890s in the midst of a citrus grove went on the market. The asking price is $1.9 million dollars. Like the Cracker Jack Mansion, it carries with it water rights that provide it with a water supply directly provided by the San Antonio Water Company.
The property was once owned by Eugene Goodspeed Nisbet.
Nisbet was born on October 23, 1896 in Virginia, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Southern California and served in the U.S. Army during World War I.
Nisbet was first elected to the Upland City Council in 1938. He ran unsuccessfully for California Assembly District 72 in 1942, but was elected mayor of Upland the same year. In 1954, after serving as mayor for a dozen years, he ran successfully for Assemblyman, again in District 72. He was reelected in 1956, 1958 and 1960. He unsuccessfully sought elevation to California’s upper legislative house in 1957 in a special election to fill a vacancy. In 1962, he again ran for a position in the Golden State’s upper legislative house, this time successfully, and was elected to represent California Senatorial District 36. In 1966, at which point the state Senate district lines had been redrawn, he ran in the newly formed Senate District 20, and was defeated. Nisbet was also a delegate to Democratic National Convention from California, 1956, 1960, 1964
The property yet remains in the Nisbet Family, which is now trying to sell it.
Word again is that the city, now under the direction of Mayor Bill Velto, wants to acquire the water rights that go with the property and separate them from the home ownership.
The Sentinel this week sought from Velto information about the effort to secure the water shares/rights that go along with the Crackerjack Mansion on Euclid and the Eugene Nisbet residence on 13th Street, as well as the original water conveyance system, separate from the city system, that descends from San Antonio Heights to serve those houses specifically. It is said that the system, with a few flaws that have been repaired, remains intact.
The Sentinel asked Velto if the report that the city attempted with the Crackerjack Mansion to separate the water shares from the property, such that the mansion would no longer have access to the water coming directly from San Antonio Heights and bypassing the city’s water system, was true.
The Sentinel asked if the intention had been to put the mansion and its property onto the city water system.
The Sentinel further asked Velto if the city indeed wants to end the special arrangement the San Antonio Water Company has with the Nisbet Property, so that the new owner will not have the water rights historically associated with the property and will need to go onto the city water system.
Velto was asked about an unverified report that either he or the city was involved in seeking to have the San Antonio Water Company’s historical/traditional special arrangements with the Crackerjack Mansion/Nisbet properties terminated.
If that was the case, the Sentinel inquired, what is to become of the water shares and whether the city intends to take on the ownership of the shares. The Sentinel attempted to ascertain how many shares are involved in the case of the Cracker Jack Mansion and how many in the case of the Nisbet property. The Sentinel asked what the city was willing to pay for those shares and whether the city was perhaps willing to enter into a deal where the future owners of those properties would be given free water into perpetuity in exchange for those shares.
At present, depending upon the state of drought and/or water availability, a quarter share of San Antonio Water stock is valued between $12,500 and $18,500.
Mark Gutglueck

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