by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Several weeks ago, the Homestead received a donation of documents relating to the early history of North Whittier Heights, renamed Hacienda Heights about 1960, left in the house of its first sales manager, Grover T. Russell. In 1914, not long after the founding of the community, the North Whittier Heights Women’s Club was founded.
There were thirteen original members of the organization, the first president of which was Mrs. L. Belle Smith, and the organization became a member of the national General Federation of Women’s Clubs, established in 1889 in New York.
As the role of women in American society changed in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women’s clubs were established throughout the country. They combined social opportunities, education, and social and charitable work, among others, with the best known regional example being the Friday Morning Club in Los Angeles.
An early prominent activity, as noted in a historic timeline put together by the club, was the purchase of a Liberty Bond during World War I, of which the centennial is being commemorated by the Homestead this year and next, to raise money for a clubhouse. By 1922, the organization had collected nearly $10,000 for that purpose and planning continued.
In March 1926, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the building, which was finished and dedicated that September. Over the following decades, the organization worked on programs for women’s education; public health; fundraising for World War II military operations; postwar relief in countries like Korea and Greece; automotive safety; and the recognition of American history. With this latter, this involved funds raised for the National Park Service, a cause that dated back to the 1910s, but specifically provided for funds to help restore Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
In 1964, during its 50th anniversary golden jubilee, the organization formally was renamed the Hacienda Heights Women’s Club in recognition of the recent change in the name of the unincorporated community which was under the governance of Los Angeles County.
As times changed and finances needed support, the club decided, in 1976, to allow for the use of the clubhouse by individuals and other organizations on a donation basis, so that repairs and maintenance on the fifty-year old building could be made. The peak year of activity was in 1986, when $11,000 was raised from these donations.
In a special project with the California Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Hacienda Heights organization purchased a “El Camino Real” bell, commemorating the historic road that spanned California from the Spanish period onward and placed it on Mission Road near the Mission San Gabriel (the first site of which was, for four years, in the Whittier Narrows before it moved to its current location in 1775.) Another recent project through the national organization was raising money for a New York City Fire Department ambulance, to replace one lost during the 9/11 terrorist attack.
With the significant increase in real estate prices, the club made the decision in 2014 to sell its nearly 80-year old clubhouse and property. The building’s original cost was $9,450, but the organization realized $560,000 from the sale with the funds dedicated to the club’s charitable work and community improvements. Interestingly, the owner is in the midst of building a residence on the clubhouse property and has integrated the front elevation of the clubhouse into the project, as shown in the accompanying photo.
The other images include eleven members of the organization at the first club picnic in 1919, with the group seated on a hillside in the community, the list of original members, and a photo taken this morning of club board members with that 1919 photo.
The Homestead is happy to be able to accept these artifacts of our local history and is pleased to add them to our collection on Hacienda (North Whittier) Heights history.