by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The donation, somewhat over three years ago, by John and Barbara Clonts of a cache of papers relating to the origins of North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights, has provided the Homestead’s collection with important foundational material for the development of that community, most of which is on the portion of Rancho La Puente owned for almost thirty-five years by William Workman and then for another three decades by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin after his foreclosure on the land following an unpaid loan he made to the Temple and Workman bank.
In the mid-1960s, John and Barbara bought from Grover T. Russell, the sales manager for North Whittier Heights, the home that he built in 1916 and lived in for nearly a half-century before the young couple purchased it. The Clonts’ will soon be selling and leaving the house after well over five decades, but the legacy concerning the community’s history in the gift of the Russell papers will remain in the museum’s holdings.
Tonight’s post covers a trio of file copies of letters written by Russell on 12 January 1914 and they are full of great information about North Whittier Heights and another tract of land a couple miles to the east, both owned and developed by his boss, Edwin G. Hart. Hart, a fascinating local figure for several decades until his untimely death in 1939, was responsible several years later for the subdivision and sale of La Habra Heights just “over the hill” from North Whittier Heights.
The first missive was to Rufus H. Holland, who was a citrus grower with his parents in Pomona at the time and who a few years later worked as an inspector at the University of California’s agricultural experiment station at Riverside, the forerunner of UC Riverside. Russell wrote Holland that “inasmuch as you have not been back to our office to go out with us to look over the properties which we have for sale at North Whittier Heights . . . I thought I would reiterate that I shall be pleased to arrange to take yourself and father [Christopher] out to see this property at any time convenient for yourself.”
Russell added that it was expected that the tract would get much attention during the new year and, should Holland have an interest in purchasing property, he was encouraged to do so as quickly as possible. The sales manager went on to inform Holland that
we expect to put on a modern townsite on a portion of the property which faces on the Salt Lake Railway in the Spring of the present year and with the completion of the boulevard from Whittier to the Pomona boulevard through the North Whittier Heights Tract, the demand for and value of these properties are certain to increase materially.
The townsite would be christened Hillgrove and was just a short distance southwest of the Homestead, then owned by Thurston Pratt and his father-in-law Eugene Bassett, but, not quite four years later, was acquired by Walter P. Temple, and the tract extended from Turnbull Canyon Road, then Tenth Avenue, to Seventh Street and from what is now the Union Pacific rail line (then the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, formed in 1901 by mining magnate William Andrews Clark, and, after 1921, part of the Union Pacific system) to Gale Avenue.
As for that “boulevard,” that gives the impression of wide, straight thoroughfare, but what Russell was talking about was the winding, twisting, narrow Turnbull Canyon Road, which was built through the Puente Hills from Whittier through North Whittier Heights and terminating at Valley (known as Pomona in those days) Boulevard. The road was completed in 1915 and was viewed both as a cut-off route from the eastern San Gabriel Valley to the coastal plains as well as a scenic route excellent for Sunday drives and the like.
The letter continued that “we have a considerable acreage set to [V]alencia orange, Eureka lemon and Marsh Seedless grape fruit trees [well, and vines] which we are offering on the market in tracts of 5 and 10 acres at prices ranging from $750.00 to $975.00 per acre.” Russell noted that this was “an exceptionally good buy” for anyone looking for land with newly planted groves, but cautioned that owners were anticipating increasing the prices of these around the beginning of February, so those who bought before then would save some significant funds.
Russell’s second piece of correspondence was to far-flung Fairbanks, Alaska and to Ole P. Gaustad, a native of Norway who was an auditor and deputy sheriff in Hillsboro, North Dakota, when he joined the hordes of gold seekers who flocked to the Yukon in the Gold Rush of 1898. Gaustad who continued mining (including selling stock in Alaska gold mines in Los Angeles in the early Twenties) while having a unique automobile locomotive pulling cars on a short railroad line in Alaska said to be the furthest north line in America and also owning a printing company, had some local investments, as noted in the opening of the missive, in which Russell wrote, “I was out at Orchard Dale yesterday and your place is looking pretty nice, in fact I don’t think there is a property on the tract that is looking any better than yours.” Orchard Dale was a tract in what is now East Whittier near Lambert Road and on both sides of Colima Road and in which Russell was a fellow investor.
Russell added that the winter to date included ample rain and, with good precipitation, “we have bever had any bad frosts” and he was surprised Gaustad didn’t leave Alaska during the season and come down to California. He went on to say that “my North Whittier Heights property has been moving exceptionally well considering the financial condition of the country [there was a national recession for the entirety of the 1913 and 1914 years] and we expect a considerable demand for our property for the present year.”
As he did in his correspondence with Holland, the salesman told Gaustad about the impending opening of Hillgrove and noted that “with the completion of divers[e] other improvements now under way for our section, the property is certain to quite rapidly.” With no mention made of selling land to Gaustad, it appears that this letter from Russell was more personal than professional.
The last of the letters was to William A. Morehouse, a retired capitalist who made his fortune in El Paso, Texas and lived near Westlake, later MacArthur, Park, and Russell, instead of making a sales pitch about North Whittier Heights, wrote his correspondent about “an opportunity to purchase a one-tenth interest in a syndicate which owns a Three Hundred Acre foothill property between the towns of Walnut and Fallon on the Salt Lake Railroad, a couple of miles East of the North Whittier Heights property which I am selling at the present time.” Fallon was a station stop along the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake line at the Grazide Ranch in what is now Rowland Heights, so it appears the parcel was in that community.
Russell noted that
this 300-acre property was purchased in 1913 by Mr. Edwin G. Hart, with whom I am associated, and some Pasadena and Los Angeles people at a price of $350.00 per acre. They bought the property on a speculation with the idea of either re-selling it as a whole or of developing water for the holdings subdividing into tracts of 5 and 10 acres and offering on the market for citrus lands.
He went on to say that “the tract is well located in the matter of drainage and foothill protection for desirable citrus lands and its accessibility to railroads make it an attractive subdivision proposition,” while there were “water developments adjoining the property [which] assures the securing of ample water for the tract.” Citrus orchards and nurseries next to it meant that “the property demonstrates its practicability for groing ‘citrus groves that pay.'” He concluded by noting that there was “a foot of waste land” on the tract.
By way of comparison, Russell informed Morehouse that North Whittier Heights tracts of five and ten acres were selling from $700-800 per acre, including water, and these parcels “are not any better than this 300-acre tract.” The tenth interest available “is held by a man who has more irons in the fire than he can take care of and which he is willing to dispose of at what it actually cost him” and none of the other syndicate partners wouldn’t sll at that price. The salesman stated that no other interest in the tract could be had for under $450 an acre, but there was anxiety about finding a buyer quickly.
The interest was worth $10,500, with about 40% already paid up, so the balance could be financed over three to four years at 6% interest. Hart told Russell “that they can make enough money from the barley crops on the property to pay the interest onthe investment” and the latter expressed the belief that it could be sold at a handsome profit “either as a whole or by retail.” Russell offered Morehouse the opportunity to set up a time to speak to Hart about the tenth interest “as well as the plans of the syndicate” for handling the property and was confident that Moreouse would find “that the proposition is an attractive investment.”
In ending the missive, Russell offered to show Morehouse the property and emphasized that there were no obligations to purchase the interest “unless you feel that the proposition is attractive enough to do so.” These letters, among hundreds of documents from the Russell papers donated by the Clonts’, help provide some notable historical background for the development of this area in the 1910s, so look for others in future posts here.