H. J. Whitley: Father of Hollywood

Hobart Johnstone Whitley was born in Toronto, Canada on October 7, 1847, of Scottish-English parentage. As a child he moved to Flint, Michigan, where he was educated in the public schools and later at Toronto Business College. 

Whitley engaged in banking and land development in Kansas City and Minneapolis, establishing banks and townsites along the Northern Pacific Railroad, and for a time managed the H. J. Whitley Land and Mortgage Company. He platted the towns and built brick and stone business buildings in Oklahoma City, El Reno, Chickasha, Enid, Medfore, and other cities on the Rock Island Railroad.

In 1887 he married Margaret Virginia Ross and had two children, Grace Virginia and Ross Emmet. Because of bad health, Whitley came to California in 1893 and the following year established the H. J. Whitley Jewelry Store, for many years the largest in the city. In 1900 he bought the Hurd property north of Hollywood Boulevard, between Wilcox and Whitley, south of Yucca Street, which he later subdivided into what became known as Whitley Home Tract. As a result of the success of this subdivision, one of the first in Hollywood, Whitley became known as the “Father of Hollywood.”

In 1905, Whitley and a group of Los Angeles investors undertook the development of 47,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley and carried through a similar project involving nearly 50,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley.

(click image to enlarge)

Whitley continued his activities in Southern California property until 1922, when he completed the development of Whitley Heights, which was one of the first hillside subdivisions in Hollywood. The opening of the tract in 1920 was the scene of a public barbeque, with city officials and business men of the city as guests. Whitley Heights would become the first celebrity neighborhood and home to such film stars as Francis X. Bushman, Eugene O’Brien, Barbara La Marr and Rudolph Valentino.

In addition to his real estate development, Whitley was one of the founders of the Home Savings Bank and was identified with the organization of the First National Bank of Hollywood, the First National Bank of Van Nuys and State banks in Canoga Park, Reseda and Corcoran.

On June 3, 1931, while staying as a guest of his son at the Whitley Park Country Club in Van Nuys, H. J. Whitley died in his sleep at the age of 83. Whitley was survived by his wife Margaret, his daughter Grace, son Ross and three grandchildren. Funeral services were conducted at the Strother Funeral Chapel at 6240 Hollywood Boulevard with interment at Hollywood Cemetery.

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6 Responses to “H. J. Whitley: Father of Hollywood”

  1. James Bazen says:

    Great article. Thanks for the mention of Eugene.

  2. Allan Ellenberger says:

    No problem. At some point I will try and post some pics of his home and others.

  3. Melissa says:

    I just loved your latest article, Allan. Being an historical Hollywood junkie, I simply inhale this wonderful blog of yours. Thaks so much for giving some well deserved attention to Mr. Whitley!

  4. Thought you would enjoy this youtube clip from Fox News about the founding of Hollywood. http://youtu.be/BLdDLeFbVow

  5. Stacey Steffler says:

    Hello! I just read your article and wanted to see if by any chance you knew what building and what houses he built in El Reno Oklahoma? We bought a house in El Reno a few months ago and I was doing research trying to find the history of it and found out our property was bought by H.J Whitley and his wife in 1892! I’m fascinated by it and dying to know if he is the one that built our house. It was also built in 1892. I would appreciate any info if you have any at all. Thank you so much. Also my email mailbox is full of spam mail so it would be easier if you could text or call me. If you wanted to! My cell number is 405-421-3000 thanks so much

  6. R says:

    We will call you. HJ Whitley & family were in El Reno, OK in 1892. HJ named the city of El Reno and was where HJ had the Chicago Rock Island build the large railroad maintenance facility.

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