by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The 2017 gift to the Homestead by John and Barbara Clonts of papers left to them when they bought the 1916 house of Grover T. Russell, sales manager for the North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights tract continues to provide great information about the early history of the subdivision and tonight’s post demonstrates that with a group of five letters from that collection and dated 1 May 1914, about a year after the property went on the market.
As noted before, this land, formerly part of William Workman’s half-share of the Rancho La Puente and then lost to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin by foreclosure on a loan he made in the 1870s to the Temple and Workman bank, became available after Baldwin’s 1909 death. A syndicate of investors formed the Whittier Extension Company, which subdivided the over 1,800 acres of land, including a proposed townsite at Hillgrove, on the north edge of the tract next to the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake (after 1925, owned by the Union Pacific) Railroad line.
The prime mover on the development of North Whittier Heights was Edwin G. Hart, a realtor with extensive experience in orchards, including oranges and limes, but who was also an important player in the development of the avocado in our region. Hart, who later created La Habra Heights adjacent to North Whittier Heights, hired Russell to be the on-site agent and, as noted above, Russell built a Craftsman house with a fine view of the San Gabriel Valley on the tract. In 1964, the Clontses bought the residence, which they still own, and were careful custodians of these papers for over a half-century until donating them to the Museum.
One of the missives is a typical request for information sent by A.F. Rice of Huntington Beach to Hart at his office in the Union Oil Building, at Spring and 7th streets in downtown Los Angeles and requesting the “descriptive folder” [we would love to have one of those in our collection!] for North Whittier Heights. Rice also asked about information on La Fortuna Farms, which was not part of Hart’s enterprise, though it was adjacent and developed about the same time, as previously discussed in this blog.
A second letter clearly was a draft by Russell to prospective buyer Edward Lichliter of Ogden, Utah to whom the sales manager acknowledged receipt of a recent correspondence, which inquired about what was involved in the planting and care of oranges on a 10-acre parcel (lots were typically five acres.) Russell replied that prices ranged from $400-800 an acre for undeveloped parcels, according to the topography, with the cheaper lots, of course, requiring more grading for planting.
Enclosed was more information about a five-acre plot acquired for $3,500 with the cost of planting and maintaining orange trees up to five years of age, including interest on deferred payments. Furthermore, Russell added information about five acres already planted and subject to a regular term plan along with “articles of the approximate production and value of orchards at the different ages in this district.” Finally, the descriptive folder was included.
Lichliter was informed that there were some five and ten acre tracts with Valencia oranges planted on them a year ago “and which I can particularly recommend as exceptionally good buys.” While he typed a price that appears to have been $375 an acre, he wrote in pencil “prices ranging from $750.00 to $1025.00.” Russell noted that,
We are selling our property to the most successful citrus orchardists and nurserymen in the State and if you are in the market for something this is high-class both as an investment and for a suburban home, accessible to Los Angeles, you will pleased with our property.
The letter concluded that Lichliter was encouraged to write to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the realty board, the Los Angeles Trust and Savings Bank and the Whittier Board of Trade “regarding the reliability of the owners and agents.” If Lichliter was inclined to visit, Russell offered to take him out to see North Whittier Heights because “we know that if you once see it, you will desire a portion for yourself.”
The third missive was written to Russell at his Union Oil Building office by Whittier attorney Alphonso Moore (1859-1925.) A native of Iowa and from a farming family, Moore spent some years in practice in Nebraska before moving to the Quaker City in 1905. In addition to having his law office, he was briefly city attorney.
Moore wrote Russell that he proposed a “trade of a ten acre Valencia orange grove I have at Placentia for Mrs. Scharenberg’s property here.” He went on to say “I have a beauty at Placentia, three hundred yards north of the Womans Club House” including a new bungalow residence, orange trees of five and six years of age, and two acres of navel oranges—all worth about $25,000. The Women’s Club met in a recently constructed Craftsman-style bungalow at the corner of Chapman and Bradford avenues.
Moore went on to note that he’d invested some $11,000 in the property so there would be about $2-3,000 payable over the term of the loan and nothing was due on the principal for some two-and-a-half years. He ended by telling Russell that he was not aware of what shape Scharenberg’s place was, but added, “it she could afford to handle this grove, it is all the property she will ever need to take care of her.”
Letter number was a copy of one sent by Russell to John Milton Frazier of Hemet, though Frazier, born in Indiana in 1863, was previously in El Modena, near Orange in Orange County, and then an early resident of Whittier, having settled there in 1892, where he was a carpenter and builder, including the first Friends (Quaker) Church, the first structure at Whittier College and many other structures. He went inland for health reasons, grew apricots and peaches, founded a cannery and was a founding trustee when Hemet was incorporated. Frazier wrote Russell at the end of April to day that he had possible buyers from Hemet for land in North Whittier Heights.
Russell replied that with respect to commissions for agents, those in the real estate industry “and who show prospective customers our property at their own expense and close the deal without assistance from agents of our office” were given 5%, paid when a 20% down payment was received, though there was a proportional arrangement possible to that point. He continued,
Now if you wish to make an active effort to sell some of your acquaintances in the Hemet section and will boost our proposition up in that section of the country, we will pay you the regular agents commission of 5%. If, however, you only wish to furnish the prospects and either myself or agents in the office put in our time and efforts in showing the prospects the property and closing the deal, we only allow a commission of 2 1/2%. You would no doubt have more success in selling your prospects with the assistance of salesmen who are familiar with the property, but that is a matter for you to decide.
Russell offered to help Frazier on the details if he brought buyers to the office and then the agent or his compatriots handled “the necessary contracts and receipts.” The document ended with Russell referring to a map he mailed that “shows the size of the unsold lots” and that he thought he “marked the price of the different properties with a pencil.” He hoped that he and Frazier “may be able to do a little reciprocal business” in getting some of the latter’s friends to buy at North Whittier Heights.
Frazier, who purchased land in 1916 in the development on Los Robles Avenue, about a mile from the Homestead, raised citrus on his ten-acre property. He then became president of the North Whittier Heights Citrus Association, the Whittier Extension Mutual Water Company, and the Whittier Mutual Orange and Lemon Association. His wife, Lena Jackson Frazier, hosted the first meeting of the North Whittier Heights Woman’s Club in their house. After forty-five years on his ranch, Frazier died in 1961 at the ripe old age of 97.
The last piece of correspondence was a copy of a letter sent by Russell, on behalf of Hart, but there is no addressee, although it may have been to another sales agent of the Whittier Extension Company, given that the document was a report on recent sales. For example, he noted that there were two unplanted lots and another with lemons put in ten months before in Tract 1953, in the northern section of the subdivision closer to the Homestead, and another unplanted parcel in Tract 2421, which is in the hill section at the center to the south of the former. A lot in Tract 2489, a small one at the northwest edge, was being reserved and which was being earmarked for lemons and later sale.
Eight lots and 20 acres on the east edge of Tract 1953 and apparently east of 10th Avenue, or Turnbull Canyon Road, which were previously set aside “have been planted to Selected Grafted walnut trees of the Placentia Perfected variety during the past walnut planting season” and the unstated recipient was given permission to sell any of them at $750 per acre. Another lot facing Tenth (Turnbull) “where we have put in a concrete road” and which was planted with walnuts was to be sold at $850 an acre.
Notably, Russell added, “we have leased out the ground between the rows of walnut trees to a successful bean grower on a share basis” and any buyers of walnut property could take the company’s share. Because rows between walnut trees were usually 30 feet wide or more, there was plenty of space for crops—this was something done at the Homestead, for example, when the Temples owned the ranch after 1917.
Russell also noted that “Mr. George Weinshank, who is no doubt the largest grower of grafted walnut stock in California,” purchased a lot in Tract 1953. Weinshank (1866-1945) was the son of German immigrants, who settled in Los Angeles in 1857 after migrating from Mobile, Alabama. His father was a copper and butcher and, after his death in 1874, the family remained on San Pedro Street, south of downtown.
Weinshank developed his horticultural interests early and, by the 1890s, was especially noted for his cultivation of the eucalyptus tree. In 1898, Weinshank moved to Whittier and became noted for his fine nursery and his expansive walnut grove. He is credited with planting what is known as the Paradox Hybrid Walnut Tree, an experimental variety that was a landmark on the grounds of the former Fred C. Nelles School for Boys, opened in 1891 as the Whittier State School. The tree, which has been growing since 1907, is California State Historical Landmark #681.
Weinshank collaborated on the planting of the tree with Ralph E. Smith, also mentioned in this document, as Russell stated that
Professor Smith, who is considered an authority on the walnut culture and who is the author of the book, ‘The Walnut Industry in California,’ has purchased 20 acres close to the Weinshank property, which he is arranging to plant to grafted walnut trees during the coming Spring.
Smith (1874-1953) was a native of Boston and graduated from the Massachusetts Agricultural College, where he then taught botany and German. He was recruited to come to California and launch the plant pathology department at the University of California in Berkeley, though he was soon sent to Whittier to open an agricultural experiment laboratory (an experiment station, opened earlier in Chino, later moved to Riverside and became the University of California campus at that citrus capital.)
Smith was widely credited with saving the asparagus industry in the Golden State because he’d studied rust diseases for that vegetable in his home state and recommended sulfur dust and other measures to combat the fungus. He quickly became an authority on crop blights for oranges, walnuts, truck and field crops and flowers. Notably, about the time Smith acquired his North Whittier Heights property he was made a professor of agriculture and returned to the Berkeley campus, where he remained until his death.
Finally, Russell stated “we have reserved approximately 100 acres of the North Whittier Heights property which faces on the Salt Lake [Union Pacific] railway which we expect to subdivide for a townsite [to be known as Hillgrove] sometime during the coming Fall.” Because the properties mentioned earlier in his missive were “in close proximity to our townsite property, their residential value will naturally be raised materially.”
The agent ended with “hoping that the good old summer months will bring you many buyers for our North Whittier Heights unplanted lands or young orange, lemon, grape fruit and walnut groves.” Meanwhile, advertisements and articles in local papers from the first couple of days of May are interesting to peruse in this context, as well.
For example, an ad in the 1 May edition of the Los Angeles Express exclaimed “It’s Simply Perfect!” and called the development “a place where you can enjoy the dry, balmy evenings on the porch and where you can grow the best of all kinds of citrus and subtropical fruits. A place where water is abundant, cheap and refreshing—where the soil is deep and rich . . .”
The next day’s Whittier News ran an article that was really an ad for the Whittier Extension Company and which claimed that:
That the California Citrus industry continues to be the most attractive field of investment for the horticulturist and agriculturist in California is attested to by the record demand for the unplanted citrus lands and young planted orange, lemon and grape fruit groves in the North Whittier Heights Subdivision . . .
Despite the rumors of war—in fact, World War One did begin that summer—and concerns over the economy because of tariff and other proposed measures by the federal government, as well as the unusually cold winter of 1912-13, “there has been approximately $175,000 worth . . . [of tract land] sold in planted or unplanted tracts since the first of January . . . and a considerable portion of the sales were made to experienced orchardists and nurserymen of the surrounding districts.”
Nine persons were listed as recent purchasers, including one from Indiana, another from Villa Park in Orange County, and a third from El Monte, while the remainder were from Whittier, save Frazier (who, of course, had lived there). Prices ranged from $735 to $950 an acre on parcels between five and ten acres. The piece ended with the note that “all of the purchasers . . . whose land is not already planted to trees are making arrangements to have their property planted out at an early date,” something the Whittier Extension Company would handle, in addition to maintaining groves at set fees.
Another ad in the Monrovia News referred to the fact that “The Secret of Success Lies in the One World ‘Excel,'” with California determined to be the finest citrus growing region on the planet. Naturally, as readers were cautioned “if you are going to invest in an unplanted piece of citrus land or a young planted orange, lemon or grapefruit grove, you cannot afford to buy anything short of the best,” they were implored to look into North Whittier Heights before purchasing anywhere else. This was because “we are confident that if you once see the property you will desire a portion for yourself,” just as Russell wrote to Lichliter.
We have plenty more documents from the Russell papers donated by the Clontses, so be sure to check back with us and hear more about these remarkable pieces of early North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights history.