H.J. Whitley

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Hobart Johnstone Whitley
HJ Whitley.jpg
Born (1847-10-07)October 7, 1847
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died June 3, 1931(1931-06-03) (aged 83)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Education Toronto Business College
Known for Hollywood
Spouse(s) Margaret Virginia Whitley
Parent(s) Joseph Whitley
Eleanor Johnstone

Hobart Johnstone Whitley (October 7, 1847 – June 3, 1931), also known as H.J. Whitley, was the "Father of Hollywood."[according to whom?] He was a real estate developer who helped create the Hollywood subdivision in Los Angeles, Southern California. He and his wife Margaret Virginia Whitley named the town while on their honeymoon in 1886.[1]

Early years[edit]

Hobart Johnstone (H.J.) Whitley was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the seventh and youngest son of Joseph Whitley and Eleanor Johnstone. He attended Toronto Business College. Whitley became a naturalized citizen of the United States in the 1870s. Whitley moved to Chicago and owned a hardware store and candy store. He became interested in land development and was elected to the board of directors of the Chicago Rock Island Railroad. In the spring of 1886, Whitley married his second wife, Margaret Virginia Whitley.

Land developer[edit]

Whitley became one of the nation's most successful land developers. During the westward construction of frontier railroads from the late 1870s to the early 1890s, he founded scores of towns in the Oklahoma Territory, the Dakotas, Texas and California. Whitley was a good friend of Theodore Roosevelt while in the Dakota Territory. Whitley was at the first Oklahoma Land Run of 1889, April 22, where he claimed property. He built the first brick block building in the territory and was asked by the local people to be the first Governor of Oklahoma. He plotted the towns and built brick and stone business buildings in Oklahoma City, El Reno, Chickasha, Enid, Medford, and other cities on the Rock Island Railroad.[2] Whitley traveled to Washington D.C. where he persuaded the U.S. Congress to allow the City of Guthrie, Oklahoma to be the new capital of the state of Oklahoma. It is estimated that Whitley founded over 140 towns in his lifetime.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17]


Besides his land developments, he was also the President of the National Loan & Trust Company, Guthrie, Oklahoma, Vice President of Home Savings Bank, President of First National Bank of Van Nuys, State Bank of Owensmouth and Bank of Lankershim; General Manager of the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company, principal in the Bank of Hollywood, The Whitley Land Company and owner of the H.J. Whitley Company jewelry store.

Civic donations[edit]

Whitley donated large parcels of land and money for civic use. The donations were used to finance public schools, libraries, parks, landscaping, streets, transportation, lighting and churches.[3][5][7][8][9][18][19]


House at the "French Village," Highland Avenue, Hollywood, by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1923. Architects: Francis Pierpont Davis and Walter Swindell Davis, H.F. Withey, 1920. Demolished

In the mid-1880s, Whitley arrived in Southern California. He was well known as a land developer and many tried to follow on his coattails. As president and major shareholder of the Los Angeles Pacific Boulevard and Development Company, he orchestrated the building of the Hollywood Hotel, the opening of the Ocean View Tract and construction of a Bank which were located on the corners of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland. The name Hollywood was coined by H.J. Whitley,[7]. He and his wife came up with the name while on their honeymoon in 1886.[20]

Hollywood Hotel[edit]

Whitley built a hotel and a bank as the foundation of almost every town he developed. The most prominent hotel which he is said to have built was the Hollywood Hotel on the corner of Hollywood and Highland Boulevards, although his name is not mentioned in the newspaper accounts of the building as one of the principals.

Whitley Heights[edit]

H.J. Whitley had a quest to make a very fine residential development on the hill of his share of the Hollywood property. He had to bring new ideas to create a development on the side of the hill in the fast changing times. This was at the end of the Victorian culture. Homes were built with the living area upstairs, for the views of the ocean and valley. He employed architects to go and study the hill developments of Spain and Italy. Whitley sought to create a masterpiece of architecture to be preserved for all times. In 1982, the U.S. Government named Whitley Heights a National Historic District.[21][22][23][24]

San Fernando Valley[edit]

After Whitley saw the San Fernando Valley and heard of Catherine Mulholland's ideas for a new aqueduct, he began discussing opportunities with business associates in Los Angeles. The city's approval of the Los Angeles aqueduct project in 1905, with a proposed terminus in the San Fernando Valley, inspired the formation of a land speculation syndicate: the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company. Its partners included Whitley, Isaac Newton Van Nuys, General Moses Sherman, James Boon Lankershim, and Harry Chandler, manager of the "Los Angeles Times," as director.

The Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company syndicate purchased the 47,500-acre (192 km2) parcel from the Los Angeles Farming and Milling Company, owned by Van Nuys and son-in-law Lankershim, in 1909. It comprised nearly the entire south half of the San Fernando Valley (south of present-day Roscoe Blvd.). The price was $2,500,000, or just under $53 an acre.

On the land he planned the new towns of Van Nuys, Marian (present day Reseda), and Owensmouth (present day Canoga Park and West Hills. Though located 15 miles (24 km) to the southwest, Owensmouth was named for the new Owens River aqueduct's terminus/mouth in the northern valley, that opened in 1913.[25] The Janss Investment Company was contracted for developing and promoting Van Nuys and Owensmouth.[26]

To link the new town developments, Whitley planned for the syndicate to include construction of the San Fernando Line, a new 20 miles (32 km) long extension of the Pacific Electric railway system. Moses Sherman directed the project. After departing Van Nuys, the line's tracks ran in the middle of the syndicate's also new Sherman Way, a paved and landscaped "$500,000 boulevard." Paved streets were unusual for rural 1911 L.A.; Sherman Way had no posted speed limit. The Janss Investment Company was the developer responsible for Van Nuys and Owensmouth, which brought losses later that Whitley bore.

Whitley became president of three San Fernando Valley banks — two were in new towns he had planned, Van Nuys and Owensmouth.


H.J. Whitley took the lead in building the city of Corcoran, California. He purchased 32,000 acres (130 km2) to start the development and moved a member of his real estate firm, J. W. Guiberson, to the area. Whitley named all the city streets "avenues". The main street of the community is named in his honor.

Whitley Gardens[edit]

Whitley’s last development was never finished. He bought thousands of acres and started the town of Whitley Gardens. It is about ten miles (16 km) east of Paso Robles, California.


H.J. and Margaret Whitley traveled seventeen times to Europe, the Middle East and Asia for business and pleasure. After one trip, he brought back the coveted Egyptian cotton seed to be planted in Corcoran. He bought precious stones and jewelry to be sold in his Los Angeles City jewelry store, H.J. Whitley Company.


Whitley died on June 3, 1931 at the Whitley Park Country Club near Hollywood.[27][28] He was buried in the Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, today named Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood Forever Memorial Park. On his crypt is inscribed "The Father of Hollywood".


  1. ^ Margaret Virginia Whitley Diary Naming Hollywood 1886 http://thefatherofhollywood.com/images/HJ%201886%20name%20Hollywood0002.JPG
  2. ^ "Hollywoodland H. J. Whitley."
  3. ^ a b Whitley Papers (1889-1946).
  4. ^ Gaelyn Whitley Keith, "The Father of Hollywood" Tate Publishing & Enterprises(2010) http://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=978-1-61663-475-9
  5. ^ a b Los Angeles Herald (August 31, 1951)
  6. ^ Discover Hollywood Magazine Spring (2010)http://www.discoverhollywood.com/Publications/Discover-Hollywood/2010/Issue-Spring-2010/Whitley-Heights.aspx
  7. ^ a b Los Angeles Times Magazine (January 4, 1987)
  8. ^ a b California and Californians by Rockwell Dennis Hunt and Nellie Van de Grift Sanchez (1930)
  9. ^ a b Jonathan Magazine http://thefatherofhollywood.com/images/pdf/Jonathans.pdf (March 2009)
  10. ^ Cahuenga Valley Sentinel (May 7, 1904).
  11. ^ Hollywood Citizen (Spring Addition March 4, 1914).
  12. ^ LYCOS RETRIEVER http://www.lycos.com/info/al-christie.html
  13. ^ Office of Historic Resources http://www.preservation.lacity.org/hpoz/la/whitley-heights
  14. ^ Architectural Digest (April 1996)
  15. ^ Discover Hollywood Magazine (Spring 2010) http://www.discoverhollywood.com/Publications/Discover-Hollywood/2010/Issue-Spring-2010/Whitley-Heights.aspx
  16. ^ Owensmouth Baby by Catherine Mulholland (1987)http://thefatherofhollywood.com/images/pdf/TheOwensmouthBabybyCatherineMulholland.pdf
  17. ^ William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles by Catherine Mulholland (2000)http://www.amazon.com/dp/0520234669
  18. ^ California Historian Volume 54, Number 4 published by Conference of California Historical Societies (2008)
  19. ^ Keith (2006)
  20. ^ Los Angeles from the mountains to the sea: with selected biography ..., Volume 3 By John Steven McGroarty 1921 pgs. 814-817
  21. ^ Discover Hollywood Magazine (Spring 2010) http://www.whitleyheights.org/about9.html
  22. ^ Los Angeles Times (January 13, 2009) http://www.whitleyheights.org/about8.html
  23. ^ Los Angeles Times 1-13-2008 http://www.whitleyheights.org/about8.html
  24. ^ Architectural Digest http://www.whitleyheights.org/about1.html
  25. ^ The Van Nuys News (July 6, 1923) http://www.thefatherofhollywood.com/Van%20Nuys%20News.JPG.
  26. ^ KCET(2012) http://www.kcet.org/updaily/socal_focus/history/la-as-subject/canoga-park-at-100-a-brief-history-of-the-birth-of-owensmouth.html
  27. ^ "Death Calls H.J. Whitley. Real Estate Man Known as "Father of Hollywood". Pioneer in many Southland Developments." (PDF). Los Angeles Times. June 4, 1931. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  28. ^ "Whitley Dead at 83". New York Times. June 5, 1931. H. J. Whitley, California real estate man known as the "Father of Hollywood ... 

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