Sunday, May 29, 2011

Southern California Days of Lemons, Roses and a Shopping Mall

Plenty of street names abound that signify the agricultural landscape of the distant past, such as Walnut Grove, Citrus, & Orange Grove Avenues.

One such street in Whittier is a plain pronouncement to a layer of history beneath the suburban 1950s homes.

The C.W. Leffingwell Ranch operated here by the turn of the last century until the area was overtaken with new tract homes beginning in 1951.  Dr. Charles Wesley Leffingwell (a descendant of a 1636 Connecticut English settler) was an Episcopal clergyman from Knoxville, Illinois.  He had settled in Southern California around 1893, when he was officiating at St. John's on Adams Street in L.A.  He owned farm land that only successfully produced once his college-educated son, Charles Warring Leffingwell (known as Charles W. Leffingwell, Jr.) began to run the orchards.  By 1905, with 34-year old Charles, Jr. at the helm, the ranch was well-known for lemons, and he was a member of the state's "Lemon Men's Club."  In 1906, Charles, Jr. purchased 300 acres to expand the ranch, but in 1909 he sold 264 acres to an oil exploration firm.  In addition to the lemon crop, another main output of theirs was the walnut.  In the hey days of 1916, the well-known ranch comprised of 500 acres.
Leffingwell Ranch (Courtesy of the Seaver Center
for Western History Research)
The Leffingwells in Pasadena Society

Charles, Jr. lived on or near the ranch in the early years, (his bride, too, after their marriage in 1899.)  By 1910 both father and son had nice homes in respectable Pasadena.  The senior Leffingwell's wife, Elizabeth, was active in clubs including the Civic League.

Charles, Jr.'s father-in-law was Dr. Francis F. Rowland, one of the founders of the venerable Valley Hunt Club and also co-founder of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.  Rowland served as Grand Marshal for the first several years beginning in 1890.

Leffingwell Ranch Placed on the Market

By 1919, 370 acres of the ranch were sold off to enable subdivisions made up of small farms.  The Leffingwell operation was sold to its employees.  The family name remained prominent in the citrus industry for another three decades; their namesake also secured historical record by way of a prominent road serving as a southern boundary for today's city of Whittier.

Image courtesy of Pomona Public Library digital collection

Leffingwell Road at First avenue, at the southern boundary of Whittier
A Diverse Labor Force

Japanese farm hands contributed to the work force around 1910.  Mexican and white employees were also hired, but each group had segregated living quarters.  The Leffingwells constructed an office and bunkhouse designed by the prestigious Pasadena architectural firm, Greene & Greene.

Old-timers recalled in a La Habra history book that the ranch was bordered with roses.  The grounds by the 1930s were abundantly rich in colorful, exotic aloes and eucalypti.

The ranch took advantage of the Bracero Program, an international agreement enabling the import of temporary Mexican labor through the Farm Security Administration, and in the winter of 1943 a newspaper reported 50 workers arrived at Leffingwell and another group sent to nearby Murphy Ranch's orange groves.

An Alaskan Digression

A younger sibling of the Leffingwell clan was Ernest de Koven Leffingwell, a well-known explorer of the Alaskan arctic coastline, contributing the first cartographic record as well as identifying the oil potentials.  He earned his own namesake at Alaska's Leffingwell Camp site.  He retired to Whittier in 1917.

Post-War Housing Propagation

Leffingwell Ranch succumbed to the housing boom as the first phase of 3-bedroom 2-bath ranch-style and contemporary-style homes were produced by the prolific Lusk Company by 1951.  In fact, Lusk set up their headquarters on the former ranch and did not vacate to its Irvine offices until 1970.  Their first commercial development was Whittwood shopping center (which also stood on former ranch land) and opened in 1951.  The same year, the first phase of homes were sold in a tract to the west of the mall, between Cole Road and Scott Avenue.

Lusk continued to roll out more and more phases, enticing housing-hungry families and war veterans with the mild climates, roofed outdoor patios, and electronic conveniences of garbage disposal, dishwasher, clothes dryer, an air conditioning system, and lots of closets.  In 1953, homes priced from $13,950 to $14,525 were offered at Citrustree Road, which is situated east of the mall.  Another sales draw touted that the "tract set back from the boulevard for suburban seclusion."

City Annexation Fever

The late 1950s was a theater of city-hood struggles throughout Southern California as differing groups sought to incorporate their towns while opposing forces reacted to halt annexations.  By 1958, the Whittwood Center and surrounding homes made up a considerable tax base.  Also the nearby new community of Friendly Hills was in the same predicament.  Groups sought to prevent the city of Whittier from annexing the new developments; they petitioned to form their own new cities, with proposals like Diamond Hills, La Mirada Hills, and Whittier Hills.  The drama was ongoing into 1961, with another new town proposed:  La Colima.

The Shopping Mall Will Feed the Spacious New Closets

In 1960 the Broadway Department Store broke ground at Whittwood Center.  By 1970, an existing tenant, J.C. Penney, would expand onto a new site on the property.  In 2004, the antiquated enclosed mall was re-designed to the open air concept that prevails today, with its big boxes PetsSmart, Target, and Cost Plus World Market, as well as its long-time tenants J.C. Penney and Von's Market.


  1. Each intallment to your blog is a chapter on local history. I learn something new from each one. Very interesting!

  2. Hi,
    I am a local historian researcher for Fawnskin. One of the early land owners was C. Warring Leffingwell. I am in the process of writing a book on Fawnskin and would love to include this information.

  3. Be my guest, Eileen; check my facts, though. And if you eventually want to include some of the images I have posted, let's talk about that later! Thanks for reading my blog!

  4. Great blog post. I grew up in East Whittier in the Leffingwell Ranch area (First, Santa Fe, Santa Gerturdes and Leffingwell section) from 1970 to 1991.

  5. Thank you, Mark! Another street to point out in the neighborhood is Leffco Road - probably an access road to the Leffingwell Company.

  6. Does anyone know if one of the (C.W.) Leffingwells held the title of General Agent of the Int. Har. Co. in 1912? I have come across a photo of a man with a handwritten caption saying "C.W. Leffingwell Gen. Agt. Int. Har. Co. 1912

    1. Does any one have pictures of the Leffingwell Ranch from 1918 - 1952 before the homes were put in. My grandfather worked for Leffingwell from 1918 until the late 1950's, then he moved to Portervill CA. My family lived in East Whitter near the packing plant where my grandfather lived on the grounds of the packing house.Thank You for your help -
      Susan Lipcot Holman

  7. Ditto on the great history of East Whittier. Check out this planning map of this area too!

    This gives a vast perspective on the "great build up" of east whittier. Look at section C (5th slide from the last) this shows this area on First Ave. It even has the current 'lazy Spokes' on it! I'm guessing that those lemon trees in the park are of the remaining Leffingwell Citrus?


    East Whittier Native!

    1. Thank you, East Whittier Native! There are many exciting digital resources, including the excellent one at the Huntington Digital Library you mentioned. Another one is the Whittier Public Library Digital collections.

  8. This is so great! I was born in Pasadena '69 and moved to Whittier in '77. I went to Whittier Christian HS '83-'87. I am just uncovering all of this information and it is so relevant because I am the 10th gen. granddaughter of Thomas Leffingwell of Norwich, CT. Thank you so much. I am loving this :)

  9. There is a large, square shaped estate that was behind a house I lived in from 1958-1968 / 11102 S. Portada Drive / Whittier. Does anyone have information on this house? Who built it and lived in it? Thank you.

  10. Hi Debby and David: The County of L.A. parcel viewer shows a large rectangular lot behind the house you once lived at. That address is 11109 Santa Gertrudes. The house there was built in 1931. The land all around it was most likely for citrus groves, until post-war housing took over. The man who lived there about 1951 onward was John L. Alber (born 1910, St. Louis, Missouri), an engineer, who worked domestically and internationally, such as for oil exploration, and by about 1947 also had a business address nearby in Whittier, under the name Bardanal Engineering Co., Inc. Sincerely, Elisabeth

  11. An older married couple once lived at the corner of Santa Gertrude's and Hillgate Dr. By the mid 1970s I lived close to them. I believe their last name was Peters. They had a barn at the corner of Hillgate, their drive way was directly on Santa Gertrudes, back of the house was a feild for horses that faced the top of Creswick street above Hillgate. They told us that the barn had been moved closer to the house after the land around Creek Park and Santa Gertrudes and imperial hwy was sold off. They showed us photos of land, no trees only rolling small hills of grass. They talked about the bandits who were caught hiding behind Creek Park where it meets imperial hwy and how they were lynched from a tree not far from where the stage coach stop in la mirada.we always knew the back of Creek Park as Dead Man's Trail and it had been called that for a long time. Can you find out anything about Mr and Mrs Peters ? Mrs Peters was the last one living. I don't know what became of the photos they had. Their property was demolished in the early 80's and several homes stand there now. I always wondered what part they played in the city history. Also during the 70s I remember another ranch style home with a similar barn located around imperial hwy and telegraph road. That home was already abandoned when I was young. Thanks for your help.

  12. Hi there. I do not know if you still reply to comments but is it possible you could help find some data on my house? 10606 La Alba Dr

    1. Hi JoshyPoozer, I will give it a shot. Thanks for visiting my blog.