Hollywood Blog

Nominate H J Whitley as a remarkable Californian at the California Museum

Can you help us get H J Whitley into the California Hall of Fame?
Link to nominate H J Whitley as a remarkable Californian at the California Museum

CA Hall of Fame Candidate Information
Nominee's Name : Hobart Johnstone Whitley (HJ Whitley)

Accomplishments: H J Whitley was one of the nation's most successful land developers, founding over 140 towns during his lifetime. Elected to the Board of Directors of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad he built over 100 towns along the railroads right of way. In 1886, he honeymooned in southern California and while on a horseback ride in the country meant a man hauling wood down a winding trail. When he asked the man what he was doing the Chinese man replied in broken English, "haully wood." HJ took a shine to the hilltop that had views to the ocean and shook hands with the owner of the property to option the purchase of 480 acres which he called Hollywood. Returning east, he established towns for the Northern Pacific. Whitley opened his personal bank in the Dakotas and unarmed, fought off a group of bandits intending to rob the bank. In 1886, Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the bank during the Fourth of July celebrations. Whitley and Roosevelt and Roosevelt became good friends. Roosevelt taught HJ wife Gigi to shoot at his ranch and HJ accompanied Roosevelt on the cattle roundup that fall. With the opening of the Oklahoma Territory in 1889 Whitley staked out land which soon became Guthrie, the future capital of the state. Asked to be Governor, Whitley refused. However, he was instrumental in the development of laws for the new state and was President of the Chamber of Commerce. Returning to California, he built his home at 839 South Flower Street and opened a jewelry store at 111 North Spring. The business became the largest diamond merchant in the west, “Tiffany’s only rival.” In 1889, he finalized the purchase of the 480 acres of the Hurd Ranch north of Prospect Boulevard, now Hollywood Boulevard, between La Brea and Cahuenga. The area called Whitley Heights is north of Franklin and east of Highland, overlooking the Cahuenga Valley. His home was located at 6643 Whitley Terrace on a lot he and his bride had chosen on their honeymoon years earlier. For the opening of Whitley Heights, he planted 10,000 trees and shrubs and invited 1,000 people to a barbeque. He has ever since been called the “Father of Hollywood.” In 1900, he formed the Los Angeles-Pacific Boulevard and Development Company assuming the position of President. In 1902 the company developed the Ocean View Tract, started the Hollywood National Bank, and built the Hollywood Hotel on a strawberry patch fronting a block at Hollywood Boulevard at Highland. He also convinced General Moses Sherman and Eli Clark to extend their trolley line to Whitley Heights. As president of a syndicate he promoted the construction of Sunset Boulevard from downtown to the sea, which opened in 1904. While president of a land and a loan company, he purchased 32,000 acres in the San Joaquin and started development of Corcoran, California. On one of his trips to Egypt, he brought back seeds of the coveted Egyptian long-staple cotton to plant on his lands in California. This was the beginning of the cotton industry in California. In 1920, with members of the Board of Control, the Los Angeles Suburban Home Company purchased 47,500 acres of the San Fernando Valley. Whitley was the General Manager in charge of development. On opening day of the first subdivision, the company hired the telephone company to call every subscriber in Southern California to invite them to a barbeque at the Patton Ranch, a 10,000 acre property which was the headquarters of the American Beet Company, the largest single field in the world, 10 miles long. Whitley was the father of telemarketing. Whitley built a 10,000 square foot villa in Van Nuys as a second home. He was an officer in five valley banks and was directly responsible for the establishment of the cities known as Van Nuys, Reseda and Canoga Park. As the motion picture industry began to grown in Southern California, Whitley Heights became the preferred home of its stars and producers. Included among the residents of the Heights were Jean Harlow, Ethel Barrymore, Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, W. C. Fields, Harold Lloyd, Rudolph Valentino, and latter Tyrone Powers, Bette Davis, Norma Shear, Maurice Chevalier, William Faulkner and Wallace Berry. It is amazing how Whitley attracted all of them to one town Hollywood. The first motion picture shot in Hollywood was filmed on October 26,1911 on the Whitley estate. Whitley also bought the 30,000 acre Sacramento Ranch and the 18,000 acre Estrella Ranch near Paso Robles and started the town of Whitley Gardens. He was also part owner of the Tejon Ranch. He supervised construction of the Ridge-Route connecting Southern and Northern California and kept the state from splitting and becoming two States. Whitley died at the age of 83 in 1931. Whitley Heights is on the National Registry of Historic Places. His obituary in the New York Times called him “The Great Developer” and the “Father of Hollywood.

Lasting Contributions

Whitley was the “Father of Hollywood.” He was able to convince the majority of producers, directors and actors to settle in Hollywood forever branding it as the film capital of the world.
First movie filmed in Hollywood filmed on Whitley Estate October 26,1911.
Whitley built Sunset Boulevard.
Whitley had the first electric lit sign in Hollywood and came up with the idea for the Hollywoodland sign.
Whitley built the towns of Hollywood, Reseda, Canoga Park, Van Nuys, Corcoran and 100 others.
Whitley brought the cotton industry to California.
Whitley received funding for the Ridge Route which included $10,000 of his own money and supervised its construction causing California to remain one state rather than splitting into two states.
Whitley was the first developer to do hillside development and changed California architecture from Victorian to Mediterranean style.
Whitley invented telemarketing.
Whitley brought electricity to Hollywood and had the first electrified house on his estate.
Whitley was environmentally conscious and planted over 10,000 trees in Hollywood.
Whitley brought rapid transit to Southern California by offering the Pacific Electric the right of way to lands in Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.
Whitley had built the Hollywood Hotel. The stars in the ceiling of the Hollywood Hotel that marked the table of certain movie stars had historic value and needed to be preserved. When the Hotel was scheduled to be torn down a member of the Chamber of Commerce conceived the Walk of Fame from this idea.

Whitley loved his family, community and his nation. He never forgot a favor; nor did he fail to note a kindness. His prime directives were to always do what he felt was right and to keep his word. He was willing and able to help others. He often told others “that those who say they can and those that say they cannot are both right. Words are the most powerful things in the universe. The words you say will either put you over of hold you in bondage. There is a creative force within you. Learn to use it wisely.” Whitley taught others that success does not go to those with “luck”, rather, success is 99% hard work and perhaps, 1% luck. Whitley believed making a positive difference in the lives of others is what life is all about. Perhaps Whitley’s most inspirational attribute was that although he faced many heart-breaking tragedies as a young man he was able to overcome them and become a successful man who in the process was able to inspire others to keep striving for their own dreams.

Link to nominate H J Whitley as a remarkable Californian at the California Museum