“The Greatest Merit as an Investment of any Citrus Land Subdivision Being Offered on the Market of California To-Day”: A Quintet of Letters for the Development of North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights, 6 March 1913

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This post is another in a continuing series from the trove of documents donated by John and Barbara Clonts pertaining to the development of North Whittier Heights, renamed Hacienda Heights around 1960. The Clonts’ acquired the papers when they bought the 1916 house of Grover T. Russell, a sales agent for the tract, developed by the Whittier Extension Company, of which Edwin G. Hart, founder of the adjacent community of La Habra Heights and also of the San Diego County town of Vista, was a principal figure. After over a half-century of residing in the house, the couple donated the material to the Homestead and we’re continuing to share items from the gift as part of documenting the early history of the community.

As noted previously in this post, this area was part of William Workman’s half of Rancho La Puente from 1842 until his death in 1876, following the failure of his Temple and Workman bank in Los Angeles. Having placed his La Puente lands as collateral for a loan from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, the San Francisco multi-millionaire, in a desperate effort to save the bank, Workman took his life when the institution collapsed.

Monrovia News, 21 February 1913.

Baldwin foreclosed on the loan in 1879 and took possession of tens of thousands of acres of land, principally in the San Gabriel Valley, but also in Los Angeles and west of that city, and held on to much of it for thirty years until his death in 1909. The settling of the estate, which opened development opportunities on Baldwin lands, included the sale of the North Whittier Heights property to Hart and others.

The first of the five letters (being file copies when sent by Russell) from 6 March 1913 highlighted here was from Harley M. Jordan, who wrote on the letterhead of his The Jordan Citrus Nurseries business, with his nurseries in the north part of Whittier with buds taken from the “best orchards in East Whittier.” Writing to “Friend Russell,” Jordan stated that he’d “been exceedingly busy the past month,” but received the agent’s correspondence and hoped to reply earlier. He stated that “if you can sell 40 acres in Happy Valley [a section of North Whittier Heights west of Hacienda Boulevard and at the base of the Puente Hills where Turnbull Canyon rises and then continues southwest into the Quaker City] can get you a customer for 40 of your tract.”

Pomona Review, 1 March 1913.

Additionally, Jordan requested Russell to ask Hart about “when the are going to have water on Lot 92 which I own” as “I want to plant it to nursery stock.” Notably, the correspondent added that he’d worked on maintaining two lots for a man in Yorba Linda, which was established just the prior year and where one of its earliest residents was Richard M. Nixon. Jordan continued that he couldn’t get to an adjoining property and was too busy to go back out to Yorba Linda, but would send a bill for what was completed.

A very brief letter was received by Hart from John H. Griffin, a grocer in Lake Odessa, Michigan, situated roughly halfway between Lansing and Grand Rapids. Griffin merely requested that he be sent an illustrated map folder of North Whittier Heights and, while he wrote from there, he did reside for a time in Long Beach, where, in the 1910 census, he was listed as a farmer. It seems unlikely that Griffin invested in North Whittier Heights as he remained in Lake Odessa as a farmer until his death in the 1940s.

Whittier News, 6 March 1913.

A pair of letters were sent by Russell to Iowa, with one directed to A.E. Thorp of Jamaica, a hamlet northwest of Des Moines. The missive accompanied one of the folders promoting the tract and, notably, it was indicated that Thorp was “familiar with this section of the country” and, therefore, “it will be unnecessary to tell you what the property is.” This is because of the other Iowa letter, which is referred to in the Thorp document, in which Russell said he had “written the man whose address you mailed me” with North Whittier Heights information.

This other recipient was E.M. Kenney of Des Moines and the letter to him acknowledged Thorp’s provision of the address as well as the information that Kenney was looking to come out to greater Los Angeles during the ensuing spring. Interestingly, Russell told Thorp that “I haven’t been with the Vista People since the first of the year as I had been fishing to get hold of the selling end of this property to my going with the Vista Company and so when this property open[ed] I tied up with them.”

In the Kenney missive, Russell wrote “since I had last seen Mr. Thorp,” who had a place in El Monte, “I had taken over the selling end of a new property and in as much as we had not gotten out the literature on the same up to the present time I had to wait until it was off of the press before I could mail it to you.” For Kenney’s benefit (which Thorp, as indicated above, did not need), Russell added,

We are putting the property on the market as orange, lemon and walnut land as it is most valuable for those products but it is good for all kinds of vegetables, deciduous fruits, olives and in fact any-thing grown in this country. The property is so well protected from frosts that it is quite valuable for raising vegetables during the winter season when most other sections have had their products killed.

This statement was followed by one that informed Kenney (and, expressed differently to Thorp because of his knowledge of the area) that “we are preparing to subdivide a townsite on a portion of the property where it faces on the Salt Lake Railway and the purchasers who buy in the property will have the advantage of having stores from which they can secure their supplies, also convenient schools, churches etc.” Thorp, however, was also told about “the Boulevard which the county is preparing to build connecting the Whittier section with the El Monte-Pomona Boulevard,” this being Turnbull Canyon Road.

The Kenney document also mentioned that the owners of North Whittier Heights “have also contracted with the Pollard brothers, well known southern California nurserymen, to plant out 20,000 [E]ureka lemon and [V]alencia oranges on a portion of this property during the coming spring and these young groves will also be offered on the market in five and ten acres tracts on easy terms.” The Pollards would also offer to care for groves for absentee owners (presumably including Kenney, if he decided to purchase property) for up to three years.

Russell concluded by telling Kenney that “if you are coming out to California and are contemolating [sic] purchasing acreage . . . and have made up you mind as to what kind of a property you want to secure, I would be glad to furnish you any information possible if you will wrote me what you want.” This included location and terms and Kenney was assured that “I will try to secure something to suit you.”

The last letter was to a local, Ed Gorsline of the Arcadia Lumber Company, and was a reply of a request from the end of February requesting information on North Whittier Heights. Russell wrote that he was sending the descriptive folder of the tract, but also went into detail about the pricing, which he did not do with the Thorp and Kenney missives. In noting that a portion of the property was subdivided, the agent noted that there were five, ten and as many as forty acres available at $700 per acre, with the terms being 20% up front, another fifth due in two years and the remainder owed in five years.

The Gorsline letter reiterated the deal with the Pollards for the planting of the thousands of citrus tree, but specified they would be set out in April, May and June in new portions of the tract and that 5 and 10 acre tracts would be sold at $865 per acre on the same terms above. Also of note was the statement that “these trees were purchased at a low figure before the late cold wave had visited California [something we can relate to with this year’s winter!] and destroyed a considerable portion of the nursery stock available for spring planting.” This, in turn, allowed for the new grove lots to be sold at “most attractive prices when the merit of the property on which they are planed is considered.”

Echoing other statements made in letters at the time, Russell told Gorsline

We feel that the North Whittier Heights [tract] is the highest class and has the greatest merit as an investment of any citrus land subdivision being offered on the market of California to-day. The fact that the s[t]ate of California has had their horticultural experts negotiating to purchase about 200 acres of this property for their proposed horticultural experiment station and that we had sold over $130,000 worth of the property to the successful orchardists of Whittier and other adjoining districts before we had ever offered the property on the open market, is a testimonial of what the people who are most compitent [sic] to judge a proposition of this kind think of the property. The state horticulturalists stated that it was the best frost protected lands adapted to the growing of citrus fruits . . . in the province of their knowledge.

The horticultural experiment station did not locate at North Whittier Heights, with the three branches eventually being at the University of California campuses at Berkeley, Davis and Riverside, with the latter specifically for citrus. The Gorsline letter also mentions the new road project, specifically calling it the “Proposed Turnbull Canyon Road from Whittier” as well as the townsite, which was to be called Hillgrove, though it never developed much beyond a railroad station, the packing house for the North Whittier Heights Citrus Association (papers of which are also in the Homestead’s collection), and some of the residences within its bounds north of Gale Avenue and south of the Salt Lake (after 1925, the Santa Fe) rail line between Turnbull Canyon Road and 7th Avenue.

Russell offered to drive out to Arcadia and take Gorsline on a tour of North Whittier Heights and added “if we can’t demonstrate that we have all that we claim our property to be after a trip of inspection we won’t expect to sell you” and “neither will you be under and [any] obligations to buy if the property doesn’t suit you.” Gorsline did leave Arcadia, but wound up settling in Whittier before later moving to the high desert area near Adelanto.

We will certainly continue to share these invaluable early documents for the early history of Hacienda Heights, which as a modern bedroom suburb, but also as an unincorporated community of Los Angeles, is not generally well understood as to its origins. So, please check back for more of these papers.

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