by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The donation nearly five years ago by John and Barbara Clonts of papers left in the Hacienda Heights home they bought almost six decades ago by its builder, Grover T. Russell, sales agent for what was originally known as North Whittier Heights, continues to provide rare material for better understanding the early history of this unincorporated Los Angeles County community, which emerged in the early 1910s after the 1909 death of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who acquired the property in 1879, along with some 18,000 acres of William Workman’s share of Rancho La Puente, through foreclosure on a loan to the stricken Temple and Workman bank.
Tonight’s post looks at a group of a half-dozen file-copy letters from that donation and all dated 17 March 1914. Two of them related specifically to the sale of a lot in Tract 1953, which was the Hillgrove section of the development, located just south of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, acquired about a decade later by the Union Pacific, and which included the North Whittier Heights Packing House along with residences, though there was talk of a townsite there.
The lot, number 66, was acquired by Francis C. Myers, an English-born citrus grower in Glendora, whose property was just south of today’s Interstate 210 along Grand Avenue, and his son Willie, though one of the letters, to Torrance, Marshall and Company, which financed 10-year mortgages for North Whittier Heights properties, from sales manager and co-founder Edwin G. Hart and likely signed by Russell, stated the two lived in Covina. In any case, it was mentioned that there was also a contract for nearly 1,100 citrus trees which, seemingly were on the Myers ranch, “we have accepted as a one-fifth payment on this property.”
The missive also discussed Hart’s decision to allow more time for a payment from Lucy May Finch and her son Olen, who purchased Lot 11 in Tract 2472, which was sometimes known as Happy Valley and The Cove and which is south of Hillgrove and extended to about where Los Altos Drive is now, with Vallecito appearing to be the western limit and Hudson Road (Hacienda Boulevard) the eastern boundary. A payment of the purchase of the lot was due, but, the letter continued, “Mrs. Finch has failed to secure some expected money on a ranch which she sold in Nebraska,” so it was extended until 23 June.
The remaining quartet of correspondence are identical responses to potential buyers “asking for more information and [a] descriptive folder of our North Whittier Heights citrus land subdivision,” with the recipients probably having contacted Hart because of one of the many ads (see some examples here) taken out in newspapers, some of which appear to have been in other states.
This is because, while one letter was sent to William Wright of Taft, a San Joaquin Valley oil town southwest of Bakersfield, and another posted to E.J. Tomlinson, a burg in Monterey County east of Watsonville, the others were mailed to D.E. Kulp of St. Paul, Minnesota and Hattie Gibson of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Hart, through Russell, was separately sending the folder, which included maps of the tract and of the region, “as well as articles descriptive of the soil, water and climatic conditions of the holdings.”
The letter went on to note that North Whittier Heights had tracts of 2, 5, 10 and up to 50 acres, with unimproved lands offered at from $400 to $800 an acre, dependent on the geography involved. So, “the cheaper properties are the low rolling foothill portion of the holdings and the higher priced subdivisions are some particularly choice locations for scenic homesites in addition to their being excellent citrus lands.”
Beyond these undeveloped parcels, though, the missive added “we also have a considerable acreage which we planted to Eureka lemon, Valencia orange and Marsh Seedless grape fruit trees during the Spring of 1913” and these newly minted orchards were available in tracts of 5, 10, 15 and 20 acres with per acre prices from $750 to $1,025, depending, again, on location. It was added that there was “a complete underground irrigation system” for each, including stock in the water system at one share per acre of any land sold, but which could also be sold at $150 par value “outside of this property.”
To further entice those considering North Whittier Heights for investment, it was noted that “some of the most successful orange and lemon growers and nurserymen of Southern California” were purchasing property “which indicates that we have the soil, water and climatic conditions necessary for developing ‘citrus groves that pay,'” this last being the motto of the developers.
Moreover, it was anticipated that, because of the purported demand for tracts at North Whittier Heights prices “are certain to increase materially during the year of 1914.” Cited as contributory to the expected rise in values “is the fact that we are going to put a modern townsite,” this being Hillgrove, “on the market, on a portion of the property which faces on the Salt Lake Railroad.” Additionally, there was to be “a boulevard, which is now under construction through Turnbull Canyon of the Puente Hills . . . and which will connect the Whittier [actually Beverly] and Pomona [Valley] boulevards,” and it was anticipated that Turnbull Canyon Road would soon be finished. The thoroughfare, in fact, was opened in November.
Finally, the letter proclaimed that the inevitable upward trend in land prices at the development was because of
the fact that it is without a doubt the highest class and most desirable citrus land subdivision on the market in Southern California today, both as an investment and in its desirability as a suburban homesite, and that it is owned and is being finances by a syndicate of capitalists who have the means and ability to successfully develop the property.
As evidence of the success of the development, Hart (via Russell) added “I take pleasure in submitting to you, the names of some of the people who have invested in North Whittier Heights, and who are either experienced citrus orchardists and nurserymen or are familiar with conditions and acreage values of Southern California.”
The list included the county assessor Edward W. Hopkins, the Pollard brothers of South Pasadena, the McMillan brothers of Alhambra and a few others, while the recipient was encouraged to contact the Los Angeles Realty Board, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and any bank “regarding the merit of our property and the reliability of the owners and agents.”
Finally, the recipients were encouraged to pay a call so that they could be taken by car to North Whittier Heights to inspect it. It was added that “we are confident that if you once see the property, you will like it.” With that, the letters concluded, with offers to provide more information and hopes “to have you come to Los Angeles and go out with us to see” the tract.
As to the consistent advertising mentioned earlier, some examples from local papers in Los Angeles, Monrovia, Pomona and Whittier naturally echo many of the comments made in the correspondence. The 8 March edition of the Los Angeles Times promoted these “Proven Citrus Lands” and emphasis was placed on the fact that North Whittier Heights
has the air drainage and foothill protection which assures a protection from damaging frosts and winds and the soil and water conditions of this property are absolutely as good as the best as any of the older districts of the State. As a scenic location for a suburban home, it is without a peer in all the southland and it is being sold to experienced citrus growers and nurserymen of the surrounding districts.
Beyond the orange, lemon and grapefruit trees mentioned in the letters, the ad added that walnut and avocado trees were also offered for those planted sites and Hart was one of the key figures in introducing the avocado to greater Los Angeles, including in his 1920s development of the adjacent La Habra Heights. Not only this, but absentee owners could contract with Hart to have their groves cared for.
The next day’s Whittier News ran an article/advertisement that observed there were sixteen sales of property in the tract since the start of the year totaling nearly $70,000 and that this “is a concrete demonstration of the confidence in which the future of the citrus industry is held by the investing public and of the high-class citrus land in particular.” It was deemed “one of the most impressive facts” that those experienced growers and nursery owners were largely represented in the list of purchasers with the names of the Pollards, McMillans, Hopkins and a quite a few others specifically identified.
The piece continued that “a number of purchasers are planning to erect Villa homes on their property during the present Spring,” while some were contracting with the company and its “orchard experts until, at a later date, when they too, will make this their home.” Finally, given the intensive flooding that ravaged the region in January and February, it was mentioned that the tract “escaped without almost any damage for the reason that a system of storm drains had been installed by the owners which proved to be sufficient to take care of all the water that fell.”
A 14 March ad in the Pomona Progress utilized the “Citrus Groves That Pay” tag line and added the fact that the irrigation system that was built without taking on bonds and the accompanying indebtedness “is conceded to be a model of efficiency and one of the cheapest in operating expense in the Southland.”
Aside from the aforementioned air, drainage and protection from frost and wind, there was the “deep rich loamy soil, easily worked at all times” and the promise that, with so many knowledgeable people involved in the development, as well as among the ownership of lands, North Whittier Heights “has the necessary conditions for success” and “the price is right.”
On the 18th, the Monrovia News ran an ad that crowed “NORTH WHITTIER HEIGHTS ‘IS THE CREAM OF’ ORANGE, LEMON, GRAPE FRUIT, AVOCADO AND WALNUT SUBDIVISIONS,” while, on the 30th, another in the Los Angeles Express proclaimed “ORANGE IS KING OF ALL HORTICULTURAL AND AGRICULTURAL CROPS OF CALIFORNIA” and, because of this, “NORTH WHITTIER HEIGHTS REIGNS SUPREME AS THE KING OF ALL CITRUS LAND SUBDIVISIONS.”
After noting that the yield and quality of the fruit and production costs on a property determined its value, it was averred that
it has been proven beyond a doubt that ideal conditions for growing lemons and Valencia oranges (the two great profit producers of the citrus family) are to be found on the foothill slopes of Southern California, from 10 to 30 miles from the ocean, where the broken trade winds will temper the climate in both winter and summer, and where the comparative elevation and foothill protection is such to assure a sufficient air drainage to eliminate the probability of damaging frosts and excessive winds. In addition, the soil must be deep and rich, and the water conditions the best.
Thanks to the Clonts’ gift, we have an invaluable source of the early development history of North Whittier Heights as one of the many regional subdivisions of the late 19th and early 20th century promoting the growth of citrus, avocados, and walnuts. The tract largely remained devoted to agricultural purposes through World War II, though with the phenomenal population boom of the postwar period came the inevitable eastward march of suburbia.
By 1960, the community shed its North Whittier Heights name for Hacienda Heights, with the word “hacienda” perhaps a direct reference to the Workman Homestead and it was just after this that the Clontses purchased their house from Russell and, fortunately, saved these papers that the Museum can now share to preserve the history of the area.
Be sure to look out for future posts featuring more of these documents attesting to the early history of Hacienda Heights.