Peter and Ann Tolstoy

Peter and Ann Tolstoy

Peter and Ann Tolstoy on a safari

Peter Tolstoy was born in Los Angeles July 1, 1927. His mother was Vera Marie Demens and his father Andre Tolstoy. His grandfather Demens was a guard for Nicholas the last czar of Russia. Disenchanted with Nicholas, Demens left Russia for the United States, ending up in Florida. He began growing citrus and operating a lumber mill. A railroad developer contractor asked Demens to produce the wooden rail ties he needed. When the rail entrepreneur defaulted on payment, Demens took over the company. He built the railroad to the outskirts of what is now St. Petersburg, naming the town. Needing more money to maintain the railroad, Demens lost the company to creditors.

He went next to North Carolina where he started another lumber mill, and then headed west to San Francisco. His newly born daughter screamed for so much of the trip that he disembarked the train in Los Angeles. After selling his East Coast lumber mills, he invested in Los Angeles banking, a steam laundry and a soap factory.

He had 8 children, 4 born in Russia, and 4 born in the United States. He yearned for more rural living, and bought a citrus ranch first in San Dimas, then sold it after a year, and in 1892, bought the house and 300 acre ranch in the Alta Loma region from a Chaffey cousin. He formed his own orange packinghouse, Hillside Groves, a member of Sunkist. He established a first-class fruit label of Starlight Brand, and a second-class fruit label, Padre Brand. He befriended Huntington, who built a railroad station in Alto Loma.

Many of his year-round workers and foremen were Russians. He helped to name the town as well. He sold the packinghouse during the Depression of the 1930s. He wrote articles for Russian, Los Angeles, and regional newspapers boosting the area. One of his daughters, Vera Marie, married Andre Tolstoy, a white Russian Guard with the Cossacks. During the revolution, Tolstoy escaped to China, where he got a job on an Alaskan fishing boat. In Seattle, a Hollywood friend encouraged him to go there.

It was in Hollywood that he met Vera. He became a technical director on films depicting Russia. During 1941, he was asked by the U.S. Government to work on comedy films about Russia, for which his life was threatened. He retired from Hollywood, and first tried turkey farming in San Diego, then became a citrus ranch on the family's citrus ranch in Alta Loma.

During his childhood Peter went to a different school in Los Angeles every year, finally he joined the Navy, then returned to his father's new ranching enterprise in Alta Loma and began Cal Poly, moving from the Pomona campus to San Luis Obispo and majoring in Chemistry and Bio-Chemistry. He completed an Ag Teaching course and began teaching Agriculture at Chaffey High School and College. By the time of the college move, agriculture was disappearing from the region and he switched to teaching Chemistry and serving as a campus counselor. He participated in the incorporation meetings, and spent the city's first four years on the Planning Commission, then returning later.