by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Tonight, we continue with our occasional series of posts based on a treasure trove of papers dealing with the early history of North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights, compiled by main sales agent for the tract, Grover T. Russell, and transferred with the sale of his home in the early 1960s to John and Barbara Clonts, the current owners.
This land, part of William Workman’s half of the Rancho La Puente from the early 1840s to the mid-1870s and lost by foreclosure in 1879 to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin on a loan to the Temple and Workman bank, remained undeveloped for another thirty years. When Baldwin died in 1909, his estate began selling off portions of the La Puente property, with a syndicate acquiring a large parcel on the north slope of the Puente Hills and creating the subdivision of North Whittier Heights.
It is striking that there was an identification with that Quaker-founded city over the hills to the southwest rather than calling it, say, “South Puente Heights,” because of the town that was closer to the northeast. Edwin G. Hart, a remarkable figure in real estate and in the promotion of the avocado, even had to argue that there was a viable reason for having the telephone exchange run from Whittier than from Puente (which, actually, was linked to Covina when it came to phone connections).
This was because a great many of the buyers of land in the new tract, from its opening in 1913, were, in fact, from Whittier. This is amply demonstrated by the trio of documents from the Russell/Clonts collection, which date to 7 May 1914. One of them is actually an outlier of sorts in that it came from the David Blankenhorn Company, a real estate, financial services, and insurance company in Pasadena. In his early twenties when he established his namesake firm in 1908, Blankenhorn was a native of the Crown City with his father bringing the family there in 1883 from Chicago where he was a stock and bond broker.
A later partnership strictly for real estate pulled off a whopper of a deal (and, presumably, a commission) when it arranged the sale of Santa Catalina Island from the Banning family to Chicago chewing gum magnate William K. Wrigley, Jr., whose mansion on “Millionaire’s Row” on South Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena is now the headquarters of the Tournament of Roses.
Blankenhorn’s firm wrote to Russell, whose Los Angeles office was in the Union Oil Building, which still stands in downtown Los Angeles at Hope and Seventh streets, and it was a simple reply to Russell’s missive from several days ago. The company answered that his letter’s information was “carefully noted in reference to [the] North Whittier Heights subdivision” and added “the boys in the office would be very mucn interested in looking this property” any weekend during which Russell was available.
More substantive is an invoice to “O.M. Finch, Esquire” from the Whittier Extension Company, the owner of the tract (note that name!), and addressed to Whittier. The items billed included payment for “purchase of Lot 16 at North Whittier Heights,” this being $513.60, interest of 7% annualls on the balance due of $4,168 from just before the prior to Christmas to date and amounting to just under $110 , the second installment of county taxes for 1913-1914 being a whopping $2.10, irrigated water supplied to the property (likely for citrus or avocados) at not much above $10, and, finally, labor (though for what is not specified) at $10—for a grand total of $645.56.
Lastly, there is a letter, presumably from Russell and a file copy (of course), sent in reply to William M. Burke of Puente, as La Puente was known before its 1956 incorporation, as a reply to a missive sent a few days prior. That document concerning Burke, who handled water delivery for irrigation, having lost his map of the North Whittier Heights tract, which had property information on it, and he also requested a list of all the lots sold in what was called “Happy Valley,” as well as what was being planted on a specific lot.
The answer helps provide us some material on early property owners in Hacienda Heights, though the use of the place name of “Happy Valley,” also known as the “Cove,” is one that will almost certainly be unfamiliar to us over a century later. Fortunately, the document mentions two tracts #2421 and #2472 and, even better, there happens to be a post on a regional history blog that, before these papers were donated, featured a 1924 map of the area with these tracts shown in the North Whittier Heights.
Basically, these tracts were adjacent to each other and newspaper references from 1913 and 1914 discuss Happy Valley as adjacent to North Whittier Heights, which, presumably, means the latter was to the east. For those who know Hacienda Heights (or those who want to know about it!), Tract 2421 is an area west of Vallecito (“little valley”) Drive south of where it intersects with Turnbull Canyon Road and east of 7th Avenue where it meets Orange Grove Avenue. It then extends south to where Turnbull Canyon, coming down from the steep slopes of the hills, meets Las Lomitas (“little hills”) Drive.
Tract 2472 is south of 2421 and Turnbull Canyon/Las Lomitas is its northern limit, while Los Altos Drive, which is mostly east to west, though it curves to the north and ends at Turnbull Canyon, is the southern extent. The other east to west street in the tract is La Subida Drive with Vallecito going south to end at Los Altos. The rest of the parcel extends east probably to about where Los Altos Elementary School is situated, or perhaps a little further, towards what was then known as Hudson Road and which is now Hacienda Boulevard.
In providing a list of owners to Burke, the letter mentions sixteen property owners and, as noted above, it was abundantly clear that Whittier residents were among the most numerous of investors in North Whittier Heights and Happy Valley property. In fact, almost everyone noted in the document was from the Quaker City and environs, and most were also established fruit and nut growers.
One of the few who wasn’t was the recipient of the Whittier Extension Company invoice, Olen Finch (1893-1956), who was barely in his twenties and acquired his Happy Valley parcel with his widowed mother, Lucy May. Finch, born in Nebraska, does not appear to have kept his (their) property long as, by the time he registered for the draft a few years later during World War I, he was a rancher in Imperial County in southeastern California. Later he lived in South Gate, near Los Angeles, where he was a physical education teacher. When he passed away, however, he was interred at Rose Hills Cemetery, just over the hill from Happy Valley.
There were a couple of women who owned lots in the valley, as well, including Sophie Evans (1857-1922) and Jennie Stokes (1856-1947). Evans, whose maiden name as Kahler and who hailed from Germany, resided at East Whittier with her Welsh husband David and where they were citrus growers. She was still there in 1920 after he passed away and it appears the Happy Valley property was used for additional citrus raising.
Stokes, an Ohio native, came to Whittier in the early part of the century with her husband, William, who was a doctor. Like Evans, the investment in North Whittier Heights was a separate property as Dr. Stokes continued his practice and the family lived in the Quaker City, with Jennie remaining owner of both after her husband died in the 1920s. She outlived him by about two decades and, she, too, is interred at Rose Hills.
Chester A. Clevenger (1878-1953) and brother William farmed adjacent parcels in Happy Valley and were among the few in the list who also resided full-time there, with addresses, however, including La Subida and Los Altos, though it is possible their properties went through from one to the other, as tracts were typically at least five acres. Clevender, who resided in Whittier prior to acquiring his North Whittier Heights land, appears to have remained on the property until his death (you guessed it—he, too, rests in peace at Rose Hills.)
Like Evans, Charles Hamburg (1863-1951) was from Germany, but he actually was born in that northern coastal city that is also his surname. He resided in Whittier from before 1900 and owned a nursery in town, though, with his purchase of the Happy Valley property, he turned to citrus farming, even as he kept his residence in the Quaker City, where it looks like he lived the remainder of his life (and, yes, he is also buried at Rose Hills.)
Albert Chamness (1873-1956) was born in Indiana and moved to Whittier early in the 20th century, working as a farm laborer before acquiring his own citrus grove. Like most of the others, he lived in town and had his Happy Valley property, as well, though he later moved to Vista in northern San Diego County, a project established by Hart for avocado raising. Because of where he lived later in life, he is the only person we’re covering here who is not interred at Rose Hills!
Arthur M. Chidester (1881-1927) was another Ohio native and he came to California just after the turn of the century and lived in Perris in Riverside County where he worked on a farm. On settling in Whittier, though, he became a horticultural inspector for the state and this would seem to be how he got to be a property owner at North Whittier Heights, though it was a side occupation, as he remained an inspector until his death.
Floyd D. Jordan (1878-1952) came from Kansas to Whittier in the late 19th century and worked on his parents’ grove not far from Chidester. By 1910, he had his own citrus and walnut property in East Whittier where Colima Road meets Telegraph Road and he remained there for the rest of his days, even as he invested in Happy Valley.
Elmer W. Lawrence (1877-1944) was the only of the people mentioned in the letter who was a native of this area, being born in Norwalk from parents who migrated from the Deep South. As a young man, he was a school teacher in Downey before he got into agriculture, starting with an alfalfa farm in Whittier. Like the Clevengers, though, he decided to live full-time in North Whittier Heights once he acquired his land and he was their neighbor for many years, remaining on his grove until his death.
The other property owner mentioned in the missive to Burke was Hart, who acquired four lots and other land totaling over 56 acres, and it was his lot 4 in tract 2421 “which Mr. Hart had selected to plant to trees” but that it, like three other lots in tract 2472, was “taken off of the list which we are going to plant” for reasons not elucidated.
The letter then mentioned that George C. Smith, who moved from Los Angeles to North Whittier Heights when he bought his property, comprised of two lots, “told me that your men had broken a tree while working this lot prior to our delivering it to him.” The missive added, “if you have lemon trees ther, please have any trees that are damaged replanted and irrigated by tank [presumably on a truck] at the earliest date.”
Moreover, Smith “also spoke about wanting a domestic water connection,” meaning, it appears, that he was going to build a house and live on the property and wanted a “lot peg” added “so he will know where his line is exactly.” The writer (again, almost certainly Russell) noted “and I told him to see you and you would have the pipe put across the street for him.”
This trio of documents are among several hundreds in the collection, so we’ll have (hopefully) plenty of opportunities to showcase more in the future, because finding materials relating to the history of Hacienda Heights, being an unincorporated community, can be pretty hard to find. Thanks to Russell’s foresight in keeping these for some fifty years and for Barbara and John Clonts for their stewardship of more than a half-century, these are kept at the Homestead to document and share a good deal of the early years of that area, including its Happy Valley.