by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In its 6 December 1913 edition, the Los Angeles Express proclaimed that “having accomplished results far greater than the original expectations, the great land exposition given in the Bronson building under the auspices of The Express and The Tribune will close tonight and go down in history as one of the greatest forward movements in real estate and agricultural development in Southern California.”
The paper hailed the educational outreach of the event, adding that “practically every exhibitor has said that the show has been the direct means of interesting the public” in their subdivsions and tracts. There wasn’t just the residual effect of direct sales, but “the show has had the effect of bringing many new settlers to this great land of opportunity and boost California products.”
Moreover, the Express stated that fears that “looky-loos” would only come to see the exhibits and not be serious about buying land were not borne out and that “each day the great throngs have ben composed entirely of intelligent people seeking more facts about Southern California and its many wonders.” These “surprisingly earnest” guests heard about broader matters such as the imminent completion of the Panama Canal, the very recent opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, planned work at the Port of Los Angeles and “the citrus and other fruit industries in the state,” and more.
Among the exhibitors showering praise on the show and testifying to the real benefits accruing to land developers was F.E. Quigley of Edwin G. Hart and Company, whose North Whittier Heights, now Hacienda Heights, subdivision was launched earlier in the year. Quigley told the Express that:
The land show has been a complete success, and I would be glad to see it repeated. The exhibits have been of a high order and the people have shown a marked interest. It has been noticeable that the strongest endorsement has come from people from other southern states. We have sold between $20,000 and $30,000 worth of citrus property, and I believe the show has been one of the best advertisements North Whittier Heights could desire.
The tract was carved out of a section in the southwest corner of Rancho La Puente, granted in the 1840s to John Rowland and Homestead founder William Workman, and which was acquired by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin in 1879 when he foreclosed on an unpaid loan by Workman and his son-in-law F.P.F. Temple for their failed Temple and Workman bank.
Thirty years later, the colorful Baldwin died and his estate began selling off large amounts of the former Workman portion of the rancho, with the Whittier Extension Company buying a substantial parcel of over 1,800 acres and Hart, one of the principals and the president of that firm, being the manager and general sales agent. Hart, who went on to develop the adjoining La Habra Heights, was also one of the key figures in promoting the avocado (sometimes called the “alligator pear”) in the region with both communities heavily devoted to its cultivation.
The onsite sales manager for Hart at North Whittier Heights was Grover T. Russell and a little over four years ago, the Homestead was fortunate to receive a donation of a treasure trove of papers conserved by Russell in the house he built on the tract in 1916 and which he sold after nearly a half century to John and Barbara Clonts, who have lived in the residence for nearly sixty years and made a gift of the important documents of early Hacienda Heights to the museum.
Tonight’s post highlights a quartet of letters, or file copies of the originals, sent by Russell to prospective buyers, and they are excellent examples of how the tract was promoted, along with articles like the one for The Express and The Tribune Land Show cited above, in its earliest days. The first missive was to J.H. Vickery of Pasadena and acknowledged a letter received about the subdivision.
Russell told Vickery that he was going to send him a pamphlet with a tract map and one showing the tract in the region, along with “articles descriptive of the soil, water, and climactic conditions.” In aswer to one of Vickery’s queries, the agent noted that “the owners of the North Whittier Heights tract do not build houses, barns, etc. or sell on a ‘the same as rent’ basis.” Instead, lots of five acres or larger were “planted to orange, lemon, and grape fruit trees and we will sell these on the same approximate terms as the terms on which we sell the unplanted lands.” That is, 20% down in cash and another 20% within two years, with the remaining 60% due in five years.
Russell added that “we can recommend this land as being high-class for citrus fruits, as well as all kinds of vegetables and a good place in which to raise poultry.” The targeted buyer was the person “who have made a success of the citrus business in California” being those who know what land was worth “and the conditions necessary to grow ‘citrus groves that pay.'” Obviously, if Vickery was to visit, he would want to buy and, this being the case, “we shall be glad to have you let us take you out to see the property.”
Andrew S. Lee, who was staying at the Hotel St. Mark in the coastal town of Venice, annexed a dozen years later to Los Angeles, also wrote to find out more and was to be sent the same information as Vickery, though Russell went into more detail about prices. Specifically, he informed Lee, “the price of the unplanted lands range from $500 to $800 per acre according to the location and lay.”
Russell noted that “we will plant any of these properties out to budded avocado trees, which we own, for $250 an acre in addition to the cost of the piece of land . . . and we will plant out any of the properties to orange or lemon trees at $175 an acre.” This meant that the company would “plow and harrow the ground, beg out the property where each tree is to be planted, dig the holes, firnish and set out budded trees and put in the lateral pipe and orchard stands for irrigation . . . if you were to select a rolling piece of land on which we would have to hire a surveyor to beg out for the trees, we would have to add this additional expense, however.” For absentee owners, the firm could “contract to have our orchard experts care for the groves at a minimum cost.”
Also of value was the agent’s statement that,
Mr. Hart, the President of the Whittier Extension Company, who are the owners of North Whittier Heights, spent several years in Mexico and while there he became impressed with the future commercial possibilities of the avocado. At his home in San Marino, adjoining the H[enry]. E. Hutington home, he had a number of young budded avocado trees growing up. The buds for some of these trees were brought from Mexico. He is making preparations to plant out an orchard for himself over at North Whittier Heights. He has also secured a bearing avocado tree at Duarte which he is going to take up and plant on his property.
If Lee was interested, a car would be sent out to take him on a tour and, of course, once he saw the tract, he would “desire a portion of it.” Russell added that “we are selling these properties to people who have lived in California for 5 to 25 years and who have made a success in the orchard business.”
E.C. Day, who was spending time at the Paso Robles Hot Springs in that Central California town, also wrote to seek out details on North Whittier Heights. In addition to informing Day that the pamphlet would soon be on its way, Russell provided different information on prices, stating that those for “our level lands range about $700 and $735 per acre, which price includes one share of water to the acre in a mutual water company and which is salable at $150 for lands outside our property.” Rolling land was “as cheap as $550, $600, and $650 an acre,” but these “have the same oil, water, and climatic conditions of the better lands but they require more leveling for planting.”
After reiterating the purchase terms, Russell added something new, perhaps because of a question raised by Day, saying “I have a friend who has had a considerable success in farming in California who has been investigating the possibilities of the tobacco industry here.” This person was also friendly with officials of the very powerful Southern Pacific Railroad, whose line traversed La Puente in the early 1870s and who were “assisting him in his investigation.”
Moreover, Russell went on:
I know that a variety of the Turkish tobacco has been gown with succes at Sherman along the Hollywood foothills and at Yorba Linda along the Puente foothills, under soil and climatic conditions similar to that which we have at North Whittier Heights.
The town of Sherman, named for land promoter Moses H. Sherman (Sherman Oaks), was found in 1896 and is now West Hollywood, while Yorba Linda was a tract acquired from the Janss real estate firm from Los Angeles several years before this letter was penned. Notably, tobacco experimentation in greater Los Angeles was initiated as far back as the mid-19th century and F.P.F. Temple had an acre devoted to the crop, though the commercial potential was never realized.
After telling Day that “when you come to Los Angeles, I will be glad to put you in touch with my friend . . . and possible he can be of material assistance to you,” Russell also offered to drive his correspondent to see North Whittier Heights and “we feel sure that if you once see the tract, you will like it.”
Finally, the agent wrote to H.H. Busby of Denver, also seeking information on the tract, with the reply that the pamphlet would be mailed that day. Busby, however, was looking for an exchange of property, a common request, but Russell told him “we do not exchange business whatever on this property either for local or properties in other sections.” In fact, he continued, “I believe it will pay you to dispose of your Denver property there for what it is worth on the market and buy what suits you in Southern California at the market price.” In so doing, “you will find that you will come out better than to try to trade Denver or any outside property for local properties.”
Russell repeated that “we have a particularly high-class property” sold to orchardists who did well elsewhere in California and “this fact certainly indicates that we have the soil, water and climatic conditions necessary for growing orange and lemon groves that pay and that the prices are right according to the quality of the property.” Busby was encouraged to visit “so that we may explain more fully the merit and conditions of North Whittier Heights” and, if Day was inclined to be looking for investment, an inspection tour “through the property and district” was in the offing.
These four pieces of correspondence are among the hundreds in the Clonts donation, some of which have been shared in this blog since the gift was made in 2017, and we will continue to feature more documents in future posts on the early history of Hacienda Heights.