The city of Burbank occupies land that was originally part of two Spanish and Mexican-era colonial land grants, the 36,400-acre (147 km2) Rancho San Rafael, granted to Jose Maria Verdugo by the Spanish Bourbon government in 1784, and the 4,063-acre (16.44 km2) Rancho Providencia created in 1821. Historically, this area was the scene of a military skirmish which resulted in the unseating of the Spanish Governor of California, and his replacement by the Mexican leader Pio Pico. Remnants of the military battle reportedly were found many years later in the vicinity of Warner Brothers Studio when residents dug up cannonballs.
Dr. David Burbank purchased over 4,600 acres (19 km2) of the former Verdugo holding and another 4,600 acres (19 km2) of the Rancho Providencia in 1867 and built a ranch house and began to raise sheep and grow wheat on the ranch. By 1876, the San Fernando Valley became the largest wheat-raising area in Los Angeles County. But the droughts of the 1860s and 1870s underlined the need for steady water supplies.
A professionally trained dentist, Dr. Burbank began his career in Waterville, Maine. He joined the great migration westward in the early 1850s and, by 1853 was living in San Francisco. At the time the American Civil War broke out he was again well established in his profession as a dentist in Pueblo de Los Angeles. In 1867, he purchased Rancho La Providencia from David W. Alexander and Francis Mellus, and he purchased the western portion of the Rancho San Rafael (4,603 acres) from Jonathan R. Scott. Dr. Burbank’s property reached nearly 9,200 acres (37 km2) at a cost of $9,000. Dr. Burbank wouldn’t acquire full titles to both properties until after a court decision known as the “Great Partition” was made in 1871 dissolving the Rancho San Rafael. He eventually became known as one of the largest and most successful sheep raisers in southern California, resulting in him stopping his practice of dentistry and investing heavily in real estate in Los Angeles.