by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The death in 1909 of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, owner of many thousands of acres of land in the San Gabriel Valley, much of it acquired some thirty years prior through his foreclosure on a loan to the failed Temple and Workman bank, including some 18,000 acres of the Rancho La Puente, provided opportunities for development at a time when greater Los Angeles continued its relentless expansion further east and deep into the valley.
As has been noted here previously, one of the new communities to spring into existence after Baldwin’s passing was North Whittier Heights, established on a portion of the La Puente ranch in 1913 and which was renamed Hacienda Heights nearly a half-century later. Edwin G. Hart and associates established the Whittier Extension Company for developing the subdivision, promoted it as a citrus and walnut paradise and lobbied Los Angeles County to build a road through the Puente Hills between (La) Puente and Whittier as a bypass from the inland regions to the coastal plain—this became Turnbull Canyon Road.
On 17 May 1913, the official opening of the tract took place, as a prior post observed, and this entry takes a look at a quartet of letters, dated 25 and 26 May, pertaining to the early marketing of North Whittier Heights. One is an original sent to Hart and while the others are file copies of correspondence sent by sales manager Grover T. Russell, who sold his 1916 house to John and Barbara Clonts in the 1960s. They, in turn, donated a treasure trove of Russell’s papers, left in the dwelling by him, to the Homestead almost six years ago and we’ve shared documents from time-to-time here to give some of the early history of the unincorporated community near the Museum.
On 25 May, Russell wrote to “Mr. C.B. Palland,” who was Clarence Beauregard Poland, a long-time writer, editor and publisher in Los Angeles, acknowledging receipt of a letter dated the 20th and requesting information on lands at North Whittier Heights for raising almonds, walnuts and deciduous fruit—this latter referring to trees from which the fruit falls, such as apples, figs and pomegranates. Russell replied that “I will frankly state that the only tree cultivation among the list which you mentioned that is being actively developed in the district surrounding our property is the walnut industry [sic], but there is no better district in the state for walnuts.”
In fact, the La Puente Valley was soon to have the largest walnut packing house in the world because of the predominance of that nut and, several years later, Walter P. Temple would plant a large number of the trees at the Homestead after acquiring it. The local association was founded in 1912 and some of the earliest trees in the district were planted by Baldwin, with about 4,000 acres dedicated to walnut growing at the time that Russell wrote his letter. Despite the prevalence of the crop, though, the North Whittier Heights representative advised his correspondent that
We are particularly recommending our property for valencia [sic] orange and eureka [sic] lemon orchards and we are showing our faith in this industry by planting out something over two hundred acres to citrus trees at the present time. When you have high-class citrus land however you have the natural conditions essential for growing about every thing that is grown in this state or in a sub-tropical climate.
Russell added that the area around the tract was well-known for orange and lemon growing “and is unquestionably one of if not the best citrus district in the state.” He followed by noting that enclosed was “a detailed statement of the cost of buying one of our young planted groves and the cost of maintenance up to the age of five years on our easy term plan” as well as how much fruit and money was anticipated to be produced in five years.
The agent continued that a five-year old grove in the Whittier area and in good shape couldn’t be acquired for less than $2,500 an acre and most would fetch more than that, observing “I know from personal experience that these groves are worth this amount of money from the point of view of the net income which they will produce.” A descriptive pamphlet of North Whittier Heights was to be sent separately along with a regional map with the subdivision prominently identified, noting “I would be pleased to have you read what we have to say regarding the soil, water and climatic conditions of this property and to note its most advantageous location.”
The recipient and a friend from out-of-state were encouraged to visit the tract office “so we can go over the conditions of our property with you more fully” and, “if the proposition seems attractive to you,” Russell offered to show the pair the property on an auto tour. He concluded that “we are selling this property to some of the most successful citrus growers in the state and I know that if you once see the property it will appeal to you.”
A similar letter was written the next day to E.L. Gard of Redlands, which was one of the main citrus producing areas in a “foothill belt” along the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges, with Russell reiterating that the suggestion was for buyers to plant Valencia oranges and Eureka lemons, that the developers planted 200 acres, and that almost any kind of tree common to the area or in a sub-tropical climate would thrive at North Whittier Heights.
What Russell wrote to Gard that was not in the aforementioned missive, though, concerned the fact that
The price of our orchard land will range from $500.00 to $900.00 per acre according to the location and merit of each particular property, the cheaper lands being the more rolling properties and the higher priced ones some of the exceptionally favorably located sites suitable for picturesque country homes.
He went to observe that the price included “valuable water rights that are both permanent and inexpensive” and that roads were in “first-class condition.” Russell emphasized, as well, that “since we have offered this property on the market in the past few weeks we have had applications for over $100,000.00 worth of the divers[e] tracts an a considerable portion of the purchasers are men who have made good money in the citrus business of the adjoining sections.”
As in the prior letter, the agent wrote that a pamphlet and map was being sent, while he stressed that “if you are in the market for ‘proven citrus lands’ as well as an investment that will bear the closest investigation and a most desirable homesite,” Gard was encouraged to visit the Los Angeles office for an auto inspection. After expressing the belief that the recipient would want to buy as soon as seeing North Whittier Heights, Russell closed by offering to provide more information beyond the folder and map.
Also on the 26th, Russell answered an inquiry from C.A. Richardson, who was with a furniture company in Berlin, Ontario, Canada, some 60 miles west of Toronto. The city was established German Mennonites who migrated from Pennsylvania, but, with the outbreak of the First World War the year after the letter was written and with substantial anti-German sentiment, the name of the metropolis was changed to Kitchener. Richardson’s letter arrived at the beginning of the May and the sales agent responded that the folder and map were being sent.
He went on to note that
There are approximately 1800 acres of land included in this property of which there are practically 1300 acres that have been subdivided into from 5 to 50 acre tracts for orchard purposes. We have reserved about 100 acres of the property where it faces on the Salt Lake Railway [becoming the Union Pacific after it acquired the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake line] for a future townsite [Hillgrove] and there are about 400 acres of the more precipitous foothill and scenic canyon properties which we are having subdivided preparatory to putting it on the market for foothill homesites. This property offers unequaled opportunities for developing fancy homesites and tropical gardens.
In repeating the prices quotes for Gard, Russell added that the cheaper parcels had the same soil, water and climate perquisites, but “they require more leveling preparatory for planting to trees.” He noted that, if the trees were properly set on the hilly lots, “the care and irrigation of the groves can be handled as successfully as it they were planted on lands of more even surface,” while observing that “for scenic homesites, they are without an equal in all the Southland.” Moreover, “we have a few exceptionally attractive knolls for scenic homesites which are the higher priced properties” and these were anticipated to go “to people who desire fancy residence locations.”
More level lots on unplanted sections of slopes were to fetch $700-800 an acre and Russell informed Richardson that “we will plant any of these properties to high-class pedigreed valencia [sic] orange or Eureka lemon trees for $175.—per acre.” This included leveling the lots “to a perfect grade” and “installing a complete distributing system for irrigating.” He gave the example of a 10-acre tract, selling for $700 an acre, or $875 if planted, with 20% down and “you wouldn’t have to make any further payments on the principal for two years,” at which time another 20% was due. with the 40% paid, “we give a deed and certificate of title and take a mortgage back for the balance,” which would be for three years later, or five years from purchase. The balance due would be subject to 7% interest payable twice a year.
With this in mind, Russell commented to Richardson that “we believe the fruit from the trees . . . will sell for enough money to keep up your property and make the final payment” of that 60% remaining on the principal “and by the time it is seven years old, it should have paid out the entire investment on the property with interest at 7% on your money.” Assuming the conditions were as expected and the salesman averred “I believe that they will be even better,” the value of the property should be at least $3,000 an acre. This was because, as was stated above, good orange and lemon groves of the same vintage in the Whittier area could not be had for that amount “and there isn’t a shadow of a doubt but what they are worth the money for I am confident that they will produce better than 10% on the investment.”
After basically repeating what was stated to Gard about the applications for land in the few weeks North Whittier Heights lands were on the market and that successful growers were most of those interested, Russell urged Richardson to “write some of these people regarding their opinions of the merit of our property.” At the bottom of the page, in pencil, the agent wrote that Harley M. Jordan, a Whittier nursery owner, and the Pollard brothers, also operators of a nursery, of Alhambra, were purchasers of land, so letters addressed to them for general delivery at the site “will reach them OK and I am sure that they will be pleased to furnish any information.” As with the other missives, Russell offered to take Richardson on a visit to the tract.
The remaining letter was a brief one addressed to Hart by Martin Olsen, who wrote from Sierra Madre, where he settled in its early days in 1887 and operated a shoe store until 1913, on the 26th and his message was brief and terse:
I received your letter and also the map, but I was looking for a cheaper price of land for alfalfa growing, but this is entirely to[o] high priced for me.
As I know the country around there, I thought it would be cheaper when it was subdivided.
This said, Olsen thanked the developer “for the trouble you have put yourself to.” The only areas, incidentally, that could be planted to the field crop would have been the relatively level lands closer to the planned Hillgrove townsite, but whether Olsen was successful in his quest for more inexpensive property for that purpose or not is, of course, unknown. He remained in Sierra Madre until his wife’s death in 1927 and joined a son in Seattle, dying seven years later, though he was buried in the Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery.
This quartet of missives provide us further great information on the beginnings of Hacienda Heights and we will continue to share more of the documents archived by Russell and saved by John and Barbara Clonts, so be sure to check back for future posts.