“Probably a Record Unequaled On a Property of This Kind in the History of California”: A Quartet of Letters Concerning North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights, 3 July 1914

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A previous post on this blog looked at some documents from the donation of the papers of North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights sales manager Grover T. Russell from John and Barbara Clonts, who purchased Russell’s home from him almost sixty years ago, dating to mid-July 1914. This was just as Turnbull Canyon Road was opened through the tract and into Whitter, a development that was hailed as not just vital for the project but for general access from the inland to the coastal areas of greater Los Angeles and a fine scenic drive.

This was a little over a year since North Whittier Heights was opened to the public, that event occurring in May 1913, and it did appear, at least from the aggressive advertising from the owners, the Whittier Extension Company and manager and main sales agent Edwin G. Hart (later the founder of the adjacent La Habra Heights), that sales were going quite well.

Whittier News, 4 June 1914.

The featured objects for this post from the Clonts’ donation comprise file copies of four letters dated 5 July 1914, but we’ll also provide some context in the form of newspaper references from the prior several weeks, as well. One of the letters, written to H.A. Foster of Covina by Russell, refers to the fact that an effort to sell tract property to a couple of gents failed to materialize and it was stated that the prospective buyers felt that “our class of properties are too expensive for their ideas of investment.”

The problem, though, was “they talked of $50.00 per acre [of] land with water being offered to them,” and, given that the lowest advertised price was fully eight times that much, or $400.00, Russell was clearly being sarcastic when he wrote Foster that, “you know they are out of my class.” He may also have been joking when he concluded with “hoping that we will have better luck on some future prospect,” as, again, sales did not appear to be lagging—if they were, the prices would have moved lower, though nowhere near $50 an acre!

A second missive was from Hart to D.M. Boyd to the Torrance Marshall Company, a major real estate development firm in Los Angeles, headed by Jared S. Torrance, founder of the South Bay city of that name, and Edwin Marshall, a Texas oil magnate whose investments in our region included the Chino townsite and ranch. The simple letter was to transmit a $40 check, likely as a monthly payment, for a lot in North Whittier Heights.

News, 10 June 1914.

The third document was sent, though it is not known if it was from Hart or Russell, to Arthur M. Chidester, a Whittier rancher, and it was noted that there had been a discussion with William Wood, the Los Angeles County horticultural commissioner, about a petition to have Chidester named an inspector under Wood’s supervision. The missive added that Wood “anticipated no trouble in getting the [county] supervisors to endorse his appointment” of Chidester to that job.

In fact, the effort was successful and Chidester assumed the position of inspector, holding that for several years, including when he registered for the mandatory draft during the First World War. By 1921, however, Chidester had moved up to becoming Wood’s deputy and he retained that role until his untimely death six years later at just 46 years of age.

The last of the letters is the lengthiest and the most interesting, though, again, it is not provided with the name of the sender. Given that it refers to the deliver of Valencia orange trees and it had recently been reported that Russell had purchased just over six acres on the tract for planting that variety of the fruit, as well as for the house he built and lived in for nearly fifty years and which the Clonts’ still own, it seems clear it was his.

News, 13 June 1914.

The recipient was E.R. Essley, manager of the Motor Truck and Terminal Company, a freighting service in Whittier, and the letter concerned “instructions for hauling my citrus trees from Orange to North Whittier Heights.” Specifically, these items were at the ranch of Peter Goddicksen, a German native and former resident of South Dakota and Iowa who settled in Orange early in the 20th century.

Goddicksen’s place was in the McPherson community, which became part of Orange, and the ranch was on Chapman Avenue about where the 55 Freeway intersects it. Interestingly, the letter refers to the place as being “on the good road boulevard,” it, presumably, being understood that only Chapman met that criteria for that area. It was added that there were 755 trees, “but Mr. Goddicksen said he put in 15 or so more for good measure,” perhaps in case an expected number would not survive.

Half the trees were to be taken to North Whittier Heights and to be hauled “by any route satisfactory to yourself,” but the advice was “that the best route for you would be to Orange, Anaheim, Fullerton, Brae [Brea] and through the Brae [Brea] Canyon road to the Pomona Road then to Puente and North Whittier Heights.” This seems to have meant west on Chapman through Orange to Anaheim Boulevard and then north through that city to what was then known as Spadra Road (today’s Harbor Boulevard.)

Covina Argus, 6 June 1914.

After passing through Fullerton and its Hillcrest Park, Spadra Road headed northeast along what is now Brea Boulevard and which becomes Brea Canyon Road as the canyon of that name was reached where the Birch Hills oil field was situated (and still partially remains today.) After driving through Brea Canyon, through which the 57 Freeway now runs, there was a left turn on Pomona Road, today’s Valley Boulevard, and the last leg of the trek westward and right past the Homestead (which was then being used as a meat-packing and cannery facility under the ownership of Eugene Bassett and his son-in-law, Thurston Pratt.)

The instruction was to bring the first load of trees on the following Monday the 6th as planting was to take place the next day and Easley was told to “deliver the trees to Mr. H.W. McKell close to the corner of Gale and Seventh avenues and he will help you unload them.” Gale now ends at 7th as the 60 Freeway crosses right at that intersection and we don’t know where McKell’s place was in terms of which corner. In any case, it was not far south to Russell’s place from there.

As to the other half of the trees “you are to take [them] to Richfield station where you will unload 260 Valencia trees for Mr. Edwin MacGinnis and load an equal number of lemons and deliver those to the North Whittier Heights property with the balance of the Valencias to Mr. Burke, the superintendent of the property, who will show you to unload them.” Further, Essley was told that MacGinnis would keep an eye out for him “at the Santa Fe station at Richfield Tuesday so you get the Valencias unloaded and the lemons loaded all O.K.” The latter were “to come from Mr. Du Barry’s nursery just a short ways from the station.” That station was located along the rail line that parallels Orangethorpe Avenue and was in the Atwood neighborhood of Placentia.

Los Angeles Express, 14 June 1914.

There was a suggestion here, as well, for the most optimal route from Richfield, which was named for the oil bounty (the Richfield Oil Company is now part of Atlantic Richfield or ARCO) found in the area south of Yorba Linda, and which is now mainly within that city as well as being the southeast corner of Placentia. Essley was recommended to go from McPherson west to Orange, but then north to Olive, a community along a small hill where the Santa Ana River, having come westward through Santa Ana Canyon from the Inland Empire takes a turn southwestward to empty into the Pacific. Then the route was “around the foothill road to Richfield,” possibly east along today’s Anaheim Canyon Road to Lakeview Avenue and then north to get to meet Mac Ginnis for the tree exchange.

Taking the lemons from there, “you can go to Placentia,” perhaps along what is now Yorba Linda Boulevard, but apparently not as far as downtown, because it was then indicated to go “out the Olinda road, which would most likely be Valencia Avenue and then north “until you come to a road going to Brae [Brea].” This would almost certainly be Birch Avenue, going west, “where you will strike the road going through Brae [Brea] Canyon,” this again, being Brea Boulevard before it entered the canyon, but, in this case, Essley would continue west “to La Habra and Whittier as you prefer. Why, though, he was directed this way instead of up Brea Canyon and then west along Valley Boulevard was not explained.

Monrovia News, 27 June 1914.

After stating that the second load of trees would probably be picked up on Tuesday the 7th, the sender (Russell) concluded by telling Essley to “instruct your driver to see that the trees are not abused in loading or unloading or knocked off the wagon on the road.” Once the work was completed, the bill was to be mailed at a Los Angeles office for payment by a check.

For context, it is interesting to note that real estate agents Locke and Taylor of Whittier took out advertisements disguised, thinly, as news items in the Whittier News in installments during June. So, the first chapter, as they were called, followed up on earlier statements that experienced citrus farmers from the Quaker City (and elsewhere) were investing at North Whittier Heights. Thomas H. Deaver, for example, sold ten acres at La Habra to buy more than twice that in the new tract, where he’d built a house and outbuildings, leveled the land, and planted oranges and lemons. It was added that “Mr. Deaver has an idea home place and the view from his residence is grand.”

Another early purchaser was Harley M. Jordan and it was asserted that “there is no finer orange grove of its age anywhere in Southern California.” T.G. Challoner came from Santa Ana, acquired ten acres west of Jordan’s property and across from a reservoir, planted it with Valencias, “and today it is a beauty spot. Professor E.W. Lawrence disposed of his five-acre lemon orchard in East Whittier for $25,000 and bought more than eight times that amount of land at North Whittier Heights “in the finest part of Happy Valley” at the south end of the development “located near where Turnbull Canyon enters the tract,” after descending from the upper portion of the hills. Lawrence built a fine house, put in his citrus grove “and is one of the busiest of men,” ready to answer any questions about the soil in his new home area.

With the second chapter, more happy buyers were mentioned, including two men, a Dr. Smith and Wendell McCaslin, who had five and six acre properties and were well contented, as well as Dr. Stokes, a well-liked Whittier physician who “caught the fever” and purchased two tracts, one in Happy Valley and the other where Turnbull Canyon Road “leaves the Hills,” presumably on the descent into the tract.

Joseph Cole, “one of Whittier’s most prosperous ranchers,” however, was given far more attention. This was because he was not only one of the new tract’s “pioneers,” but also had an estate of 125 acres, thirty of which comprised “choice lemon land.” The rest were in the hills and wooded canyons, likely those at the west end of the tract and nestled at the base of the hills, and it was added:

A fine spring in one of those canons affords an ample supply of water for the stock kept in the pastures and also makes an ideal place for picnic parties. This fact is well known by the residents of the tract and their neighbors. They held a jolly “Get acquainted” picnic there recently and planned a number of interesting social events for the near future while they ate the many good things the house-wives of the tract had provided.

The third chapter covered several new property owners with tracts from five to ten acres, with some devoting their property to oranges or lemons and others combining the two. Some of them were mentioned in terms of the streets on which the lived, including Los Altos and La Subida at the south end of North Whittier Heights, as it was then comprised, and another on Seventh Avenue.

One, John R. King, owned a Whittier nursery and used his ten acres for stock for his business, while Locke was one of the others, with his seven acres on Los Altos planted to lemons. The account concluded with the note that “the drives and streets . . . are in fine condition and will be a delight to Whittier automobile owners when Turnbull Canon Road is completed.

The Covina Argus of 6 June reported on the formation of the North Whittier Heights Improvement Association, forerunner of today’s Hacienda Heights Improvement Association, with committees established for such concerns as horticulture, schools, transportation, and water along with one “to make preliminary plans for citrus, walnut and vegetable packing houses and a cannery” and another on “the harmonious planting of ornamental trees in the parkways throughout the property.”

Russell told the paper that about half the tract was sold, totaling some $450,000, and that it was expected that all the lots would be disposed of by the second anniversary, being May 1915. Of the 600 acres taken by purchasers, about two-thirds were planted to beans, with 50 to tomatoes and the remaining 150 to oranges, lemons and avocados.

A week later, the Los Angeles Express ran another of those thinly veiled advertisements posing as news features and in which it was averred that

The figures of sales and development on the North Whittier Heights subdivision, which was opened for sale on May 17, 1913, probably is a record unequaled on a property of this kind in the history of California.

Notably, though, the acreage and the agricultural products planted on them were given very differently from what the Argus reported. The Express stated that there were almost 430 acres planted with oranges and lemons, over 135 to walnuts (not mentioned at all in the other account,) and 10 to the “alligator pear” or avocado, with another 120 to be planted with citrus in coming days and more than 160 acres that were expected to be developed later in the year or in spring 1915. Beyond this, there were the 450 acres of beans and tomatoes mentioned in the Argus, either on dedicated tracts or between the rows of citrus and walnuts, with bell peppers expected as an upcoming winter crop.

There were twelve miles of roads, including a mile-and-a-half with a four-inch concrete base (like the “good road boulevard” mentioned in the above letter), while the $20,000 Turnbull Canyon Road project was expected to be completed in August (it actually was about a month early). With respect to road and water improvements, the total expended to date was about $125,000, including concrete and steel pipes and a pair of concrete reservoirs with a total capacity of 2 million gallons, filled from wells drilled as far down as 836 feet.

We’ll have more to feature from the Clonts donation of Russell’s papers concerning the early history of North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights, so be on the lookout for future posts on this topic.

Leave a Reply