by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The witticism that greater Los Angeles was “the land of fruit and nuts” referred to the predominance of the citrus industry in the region and to the eccentric characters who also helped bestow the moniker of “La La Land” on the City of Angels. One of the more notable and unusual figures in the region from the 1880s through the 1920s was Henry Gaylord Wilshire (1861-1927) and today’s featured object from the Homestead’s collection is a prospectus for his Gaylord Gold Mine, issued in October 1915.
Wilshire, who commonly went by his middle name, was born in Cincinnati to Clara Clemons and George Wilshire, the latter a wealthy merchant and business figure in that city. When Wilshire’s much older brother, William, headed west to San Francisco, Gaylord, who first worked as a clerk in his father’s bank, joined his sibling. William owned the prosperous Wilshire Safe and Scale Company and Gaylord was associated with the enterprise. The two saw Los Angeles as a place for potentially profitable investment and bought property in the region, with timing propitiously on their side when the great Boom of the Eighties hit at the end of the decade.
The Wilshire brothers acquired land at Santa Monica, where they subdivided the Wave Crest Tract; Long Beach, where they opened a hotel of that name and developed land; and Fullerton, developed in what very shortly afterward became Orange County. All of these were instigated during the feverish boom year of 1887 and all became successful. Another property acquired was some barley land west of downtown Los Angeles near an alkali lake in a marsh land. When William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman and Los Angeles mayor during the boom years of 1887 and 1888, and others decided to create a public park called Westlake, Wilshire’s property suddenly took on strategic importance and accompanying value.
He was approached in 1887 about allowing the westward extension of Orange Street from Westlake Park through his ranch and he agreed, provided that the 1,200 foot long road be an impressive 120-feet wide and that it bear his name. The boom inevitably went bust by the end of the decade and, meantime, Wilshire, who was profoundly affected by his reading of Henry George’s seminal Progress and Poverty, published about a decade before, became a devoted socialist.
For someone raised in affluence and who was not willing to shed the trappings of wealth, Wilshire cut quite a striking figure. In 1890, he became the first socialist candidate for a seat in Congress when he ran for California’s sixth district under the Nationalist Party banner, though he garnered just a couple hundred votes (he ran unsuccessfully for the same seat a decade later.) He then left Los Angeles for stints in New York City, where he operated The Nationalist magazine and ran for state attorney general, losing that campaign, as well; and London, where he obtained dual citizenship and mounted a failed attempt at winning a seat in Parliament.
By the mid-1890s, he was back in Los Angeles and development westward from downtown made his property near Westlake Park more valuable. At the end of 1895, he launched the “Wilshire Boulevard Tract” with one of his first buyers being Harrison Gray Otis, the powerful publisher of the Los Angeles Times and the political antithesis of Wilshire. When, however, Otis and other major capitalists like Arthur Letts, owner of The Broadway department store, and Edwin T. Earl, inventor of a successful refrigerated box car and shipping company and owner of the Los Angeles Express, built fine homes along Wilshire Boulevard, that area quickly became a prime neighborhood on the expanding west side of the city.
In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Wilshire was particularly active politically, even as he failed to win elected office, and he opined frequently in the city’s newspapers on issues of all kinds. As to business, he thought he found his next big investment when he purchased a gold mine near the town of Bishop in Inyo County, north of where F.P.F. Temple had silver mine interests in the 1870s. Dubbing his venture the “Wilshire Gold Mine,” the socialist entrepreneur, who, however, considerably eased back on his political tone over time as most of us are wont to do, issued his prospectus to lure prospective stock buyers.
His lengthy essay, dated 23 October 1915, is titled “Wilshire Boulevard Tract Not the Only Wilshire Gold Mine” and it begins with his assertion that “in Los Angeles the name Wilshire is a synonym for ‘highest quality'” because of houses, schools, churches and stores bearing that name. For those unaware of how this appellation came to be applied to the name, he proclaimed “I can tell you, for it was my doing, for I am the Wilshire—Gaylord Wilshire.”
He began the story of his string of successes by asserting “some years ago I decided that Los Angeles was to be a great city, with its greatest growth to be toward the sea, and that the laying out of a great boulevard starting from Westlake Park to Santa Monica was in the logical order of events.” He added that the park “was simply a dry ravine, no lake, no trees, no grass.”
Wilshire noted that he acquired his barley field “and cut it into lots, and laid out the Wilshire Boulevard 120 feet in width through the center.” On top of that he gave “a large sum of money” to the city’s park fund “to inaugurate the development of Westlake Park.” Before he sold any lots, he claimed to have spent $100,000 for sidewalks, water pipes, sewers and landscaping and “subsidized the street railway company to extend their trolley out Seventh street to the tract.”
As to his namesake thoroughfare, “Wilshire Boulevard has become the great connecting link between Los Angeles and the sea, and property along it has attained fabulous values,” though he cautioned “it is doubtful if ever again one can offer the public such an opportunity as I did in the early days of the Wilshire Boulevard.” Yet, he continued, there were other ways to make a pile of money and real estate speculation rarely returned the kinds of proceeds derived from Wilshire’s tract.
Wilshire went on to discuss how the acquisition of lots along his famed boulevard “bought as home-builders and not as speculators” even as “they made a wonderful speculation” as an incidental consequence that was “somewhat unexpected by them.” The reader, however, “may sight and say, ‘I would like to have had the chance to have bought lots at ground-floor prices'” during that deal.
This led the capitalist to say that “I am also the founder of the town of Fullerton, another of my barley field purchases.” Though there were other partners, including the Amerige brothers and the town’s namesake, George Fullerton, Wilshire stated “I put in the town water system there, built the hotel, established the first bank, and business blocks” and noted that “my buyers [made] even more money than my buyers of Wilshire Boulevard lots,” though the Orange County town project was a little less than a decade prior and “it was even harder to sell Fullerton property than Boulevard lots” because it was a rural community.
Wilshire offered the adage that “the most difficult time to sell is exactly when it’s the best time for buyers to buy” although “men in buying have much more of the characteristics of sheep than of reasoning human beings.” With his next section headed “Sheep’s Brains or Human?” he told readers of the document “I am going to give the buyers one more chance to get in on a Wilshire ground-floor proposition” though “it is not real estate but a Gold Mine,” even if these might be daunting to a prospective investor.
He continued “you may not shy so hard when I tell you that the gold mine . . . although only in operation since June, has already produced . . . over $55,000 in gold bullion.” Adding that “I have followed the same conservative, business-like course . . . that I so successfully followed in the development” of his property along Wilshire Boulevard,” the would-be mining magnate informed readers “I have bought a good property, developed it, proved its value, and now offer it for sale to the general public at a very modest price.”
Moreover, Wilshire claimed (!) that there were some 36,000 tons of ore “exposed” that would fetch $7 to $8 a ton, indicating “we have a huge pay shoot of a proven width of twenty feet.” He added that for about a mile there was a course of ore-bearing area “through the center of our twelve patented mining claims” and “we can extract 85% to 92% of the gold content.” If surface analysis bore out the belief of what was below ground, “we have the biggest gold mine on the Pacific Coast.”
As for its location, the mine “is not a thousand miles from nowhere” and a train ride from Los Angeles got the investor to the area overnight and a car ride the next morning “puts you on the mine . . . near the town of Bishop . . . on the headwaters of the Bishop Creek.” He demurred that might have erred in talking about how reasonably close the mine was to the City of Angels but “distant pastures look as green to sheep as to some Los Angeles men.”
With his “proven mine,” Wilshire went on “here is my story, and it is up to you to say whether you wish to get in on a more certain investment for quick profit than I ever offered on the Wilshire Boulevard” and this certainty was because “the human element is largely eliminated” in terms of the highly speculative nature of real estate. With the gold mine, however, “you are sure of making your gold flow into profits as soon as you get enough of the right machinery to guide its flow.”
With regard to the stock, owned by the Rocky Point Consolidated Mines Company, there were a million shares, with one-half retained by the firm. Wilshire told readers “I can offer a limited number of my own shares at 45 cents each, which represents a total valuation for the company’s property at $225,000.” He added “$200,000 cash, and then some, has already been expended on it.” With the stock price, “you have an absolutely ground-floor price to get in on an operating gold mine which has good prospects of developing into one of the greatest, if not greatest mine in the United States.”
To anyone who might ask, “Why, Mr. Wilshire, if this gold mine is all you represent, do you offer to sell stock so cheap,” there was a dimple answer: “For the same reason I sold lots in the Boulevard Tract so cheap. I need cash.” With the expenditure of thousands of dollars on the project, including the 50-ton mill that would need to be expanded by ten times if the expected amount of ore was present, “such a mill will give is a profit, on $7 ore, of over $100,000 per year” and “40% per annum on 45-cent stock.”
Wilshire stated that “the stock will very shortly be listed on the Los Angeles Stock Exchange” with an opening price at least ten cents higher and like to go as high as 80 cents per share, so he cautioned readers that “if you don’t wish to have a repetition of vain Wilshire Boulevard regrets, then buy Rocky Point and buy now.” There was an installment plan of fifteen cents down and ten cents per share per month for three months, so he advised prospective investors to see him at his office in the W.I. Hollingsworth Building, completed in 1913 at the southeast corner of Hill and 6th streets and which still stands, although heavily remodeled. He ended by imploring “Don’t miss this opportunity for a second chance at profits like that offered by my original offering of the Wilshire Boulevard Tract” and added “What Wilshire offers is always good.”
The prospectus was reprinted in full in ads released the following day, the 24th, but the gold mine project never delivered on Wilshire’s rosy promises. The San Francisco Examiner reported in early August 1920 that “development work is being pushed steadily on at the Wilshire gold mine,” so there must have been some investment by the public in the venture. Some sixty workers were at work to develop a capacity of processing 150 tons of ore per day. Wilshire stated that there was a bearing formation 420 feet long and fifteen feet wide with values average $11 per ton.
Other than that, however, there was no further media reporting located for the endeavor and Wilshire turned to other schemes, including his “IONACO,” which was touted as “an electro-magnetic therapeutic device . . . to magnetize the iron in the human body” with this mineral said to be “a catalyzer uniting the oxygen to the cells.” Claiming “we have now had so many favorable clinical results from patients using the IONACO that there can be no question about its results,” Wilshire posited that everything from asthma to arthritis to high blood pressure to diabetes “have yielded to IONACO.”
Wilshire even had a testimonial event at his office on Hill Street between 7th and 8th at which he offered visitors to “come in and hear the cured speak” about “the facts of the amazing recoveries brought about by this new, scientific method of restoring health.” He invited doctors and surgeons to attend to learn “how the iron in the blood carries oxygen to the tissue cells” and how “the electro-magnet . . . seems destined to revolutionize present methods of treating the sick.”
Yet, the capitalist left the City of Angels shortly afterward “and that enroute to New York he suffered a nervous collapse.” Once he got to the Big Apple, Wilshire had “an attack of inflammatory rheumatism,” presumably one of the medical conditions the IONACO would have successfully treated, that led to his lengthy stay in a hospital until just a couple of weeks before his death on 7 September 1927. Wilshire, who was 66, was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Brooklyn and it was reported that his estate, said to have been at $1 million at its peak, was merely $17,000 when the will was unsealed—this decline, naturally, being “the result of financial reverses.”
Henry James, a columnist for the Pasadena Evening Post, wrote just after Wilshire’s death that “while he had led a singularly active life, all that life he had been a dreamer” and was “classed as a radical.” James, who must’ve known Wilshire during the capitalist’s final years as a resident of Pasadena, observe that “his methods were not practical” and “he never realized himself as a visionary” but “he had a kind heart and was a good friend.”
George W. Parsons, a prominent late 19th century real estate figure who worked extensively with the Wilshire brothers, wrote a letter to the Times to say that “in the statements eulogistic of the late Gaylord Wilshire, allow me to state that” Wilshire’s older brother William, who died in 1917, was “the principal mover in the Wilshire district improvements adjoining Westlake.”
The elder Wilshire “had quite a national reputation” with his San Francisco company and Parsons noted that he worked as the cashier for the Wilshire Tract project with the brothers having their headquarters in Parsons’ office on Broadway. William, Parsons concluded, “was a very companionable whole-souled man, [and] also the mainstay of the enterprise bearing his name.” Yet, it is Gaylord Wilshire who has been accounted the developer of Wilshire Boulevard and its tract and who has a unique place in greater Los Angeles history.