by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The Homestead was happy to take part by having an exhibit at tonight’s Hacienda Heights Improvement Association annual dinner, which also marked the 70th anniversary of the reconstitution of the Association, the first version of which was founded in May 1914.
This was a year after the community, originally known as North Whittier Heights, was subdivided and opened for development. Much of the area was part of William Workman’s portion of Rancho La Puente, while another section was on the John Rowland part of the ranch.
After Workman’s Temple and Workman bank, which he co-owned with his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, failed in 1876, most of his share of the ranch was lost by foreclosure to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who’d loaned money to the stricken institution. Baldwin’s death in 1909 led to the sale of the North Whittier Heights property to a group of investors, including Jared Torrance, founder of the city of that name, and Edwin G. Hart, who was involved in the development of San Marino.
Hart was the managing agent for the new community, which was marketed to citrus and avocado growers (Hart, who spent some years in Mexico, helped popularize the Haas avocado here, including his La Habra Heights subdivision in the 1920s). The Whittier Extension Company, which marketed and sold North Whittier Heights property, also employed Grover T. Russell as the on-site sales agent.
Russell built a Craftsman-style bungalow on the property in 1916 and lived in it for nearly a half-century. When he sold the home in the early 1960s, it was purchased by Barbara and John Clonts, who, when getting ready to sell the structure and land, called me to arrange a donation of a large cache of original North Whittier Heights documents Russell left with them.
Several of those papers were on display this evening, along with a photo and framed lists of original members and many of the presidents of the North Whittier Heights Woman’s Club, which was founded about the time of the original Improvement Association. These items, along with a brief write-up of the founding of the community, and copies of newspaper articles and advertisements from the early days of the neighborhood were available for guests to view.
For most of my three decades at the Homestead, when people would occasionally call and ask for information on the history of Hacienda Heights, there was very little to offer. As an unincorporated community, there wasn’t much gathering of historical material and the Internet, until fairly recently, didn’t have much information either. With the donations last fall of the Russell papers and the Woman’s Club items, as well as an increasing amount of online access, that’s starting to change.
Especially as the Russell papers get processed and we get a better idea of the contents of many hundreds of documents, we’ll get a better idea of what they do to help tell the story of a community, renamed Hacienda Heights in the early 1960s, that hasn’t had much of its history available before.
Tonight was a very small step in that direction, but look here for more information in future posts!