Whittier is a city in Los Angeles County, California, about southeast of Los Angeles. The city had a population of 85,331 at the 2010 census, up from 83,680 as of the 2000 census, and encompasses . Like nearby Montebello, the city constitutes part of the Gateway Cities. Whittier was incorporated in February 1898 and became a charter city in 1955. The city is named for the poet John Greenleaf Whittier and is home to Whittier College.
Whittier's roots can be traced to Spanish soldier Manuel Nieto. In 1784, Nieto received a Spanish land grant of , Rancho Los Nietos, as a reward for his military service and to encourage settlement in California. The area of Nieto's land grant was reduced in 1790 as the result of a dispute with Mission San Gabriel. Nonetheless, Nieto still had claim to stretching from the hills north of Whittier, Fullerton and Brea, south to the Pacific ocean, and from what is known today as the Los Angeles River east to the Santa Ana River. Nieto built a rancho for his family near Whittier, and purchased cattle and horses for his ranch and also planted cornfields. When Nieto died in 1804, his children inherited their father's property.
At the time of the Mexican-American War, much of Whittier was owned by Pio Pico, a rancher and the last Mexican governor of California. Pio Pico built a hacienda in Whittier on the San Gabriel River, which today is known as Pio Pico State Historic Park Following the Mexican-American war, German immigrant Jacob F. Gerkens paid $234 to the U.S. government to acquire of land under the Homestead Act and built a cabin known today as the Jonathan Bailey House. Gerkens would later become the first chief of police of the Los Angeles Police Department. Gerkens' land was owned by several others before a group of Quakers purchased it and expanded it to , with the intent of founding a Quaker community. The area soon became known as a thriving citrus ranching region, with "Quaker Brand" fruit being shipped all over the United States. Later, walnut trees were also planted, and Whittier became the largest walnut grower in the United States. In addition to walnuts and citrus, Whittier was also a major producer of pampas grass.
Southern Pacific Railroad built the first railroad spur to Whittier in 1887. The railroad spur helped promote the boom of the 1880s. By 1906, 650 carloads of oranges and 250 carloads of lemons were shipped annually by rail. In 1904, the Pacific Electric opened the trolley line known as "Big Red Cars" from Los Angeles to Whittier. In the first two decades, over a million passengers a year rode to and from Los Angeles on the Whittier line. Groves of walnuts were planted in 1887 and eventually Whittier was known as the primary walnut growing town in the United States. After World War II Whittier grew rapidly and the sub-dividing of orange groves began, driven by housing shortages in southern California. In 1955 the new Civic Center complex was completed and the City Council met in new chambers for the first time on March 8, 1955. The city continued to grow as the City annexed portions of Whittier Boulevard and East Whittier. The 1961 annexation added over 28,000 people to the population, bringing the total to about 67,000.
Origin of name
In the founding days of Whittier, when it was a small isolated town, Jonathan Bailey and his wife, Rebecca, were among the first residents. They followed the Quaker religious faith and practice, and held religious meetings on their porch. Other early settlers, such as Aquila Pickering, espoused the Quaker faith. As the city grew, the citizens named it after John Greenleaf Whittier, a respected Quaker poet, and deeded a lot to him. Whittier wrote a dedication poem, and is honored today with statues and a small exhibit at the Whittier museum; a statue of him sits in Whittier's Central Park, and another representing his poem The Barefoot Boy used to reside by the City Hall. Whittier never set foot there, but the city still bears his name and is rooted in the Quaker tradition.
Quaker history in Whittier
The first Quaker meeting house was built on the corner of Comstock Avenue and Wardman Street in 1887. The meeting soon outgrew this 100 seat meeting house and new, larger building was erected on the corner of Philadelphia Street and Washington Avenue in 1902. By 1912, membership had grown to 1,200 and a third building was dedicated on the same site in 1917. With a capacity of 1,700, the 1917 meeting house featured a balcony and was constructed of brick with mahogany paneling and pews. The present meeting house, dedicated in 1975, features many architectural elements and materials from the 1917 building including the stained glass windows and mahogany interior. The Quakers also founded Whittier Academy (later Whittier College), and additional meetings met in East Whittier and at Whittier College's Mendenhall. Both the Mendenhall meeting and the East Whittier meeting kept the silent meeting longer than the main church.
In 1887 the Pickering Land and Water Company set aside a parcel of land for the development of a college, but a collapse in the land boom stalled construction. Progress on developing a college was sporadic, but on July 30, 1896 the Whittier Academy, operating since 1891, officially changed its name to Whittier College with 100 students enrolled. The school mascot is "The Poet." By 1906, Whittier College was an educational institution with laboratories, boarding halls, a large gymnasium and athletic fields. Due to an economic depression in the 1890s, the first bachelor’s degrees were not awarded at the college for 17 years.
The Mendenhall Building at Whittier College was donated by Leona May Mendenhall in honor of her husband Oscar. The Mendenhalls were among the founding families of Whittier. Oscar's brother, Samuel Mendenhall, helped bring in the water system and post office. The Mendenhalls were large growers for Sunkist oranges and Blue Diamond walnuts.
Whittier was the first home to Azusa Pacific University, established on March 3, 1899, by the Quaker community and a Methodist evangelist under the name Training School for Christian Workers.
Whittier Narrows earthquake
On October 1, 1987, at 7:42 a.m., the Whittier Narrows earthquake struck, the epicenter six miles (10 km) north by northwest of Whittier. The seismic event, which registered 5.9 on the Richter scale, resulted in eight casualties and massive damage to uptown Whittier's historic buildings. Three days later, on October 4, 1987, at 3:59 a.m., a major aftershock measuring 5.2 occurred, causing further damage. Buildings and residential structures which were already borderline unsafe were now deemed unsafe or uninhabitable. In the years following the earthquake, the city's deteriorating uptown business district, which suffered substantial damage in the earthquake, became the focus of renewed development, which met with opposition from many Whittier citizens. Out of the rubble of the earthquake the Whittier Conservancy was formed in 1987 in an effort to stop the demolition of many historic buildings and residences after the disaster. The city also created a Historic Resources Commission to oversee the approval of historic designations, historic districts and Mills Act proposals.
Whittier Narrows Earthquake also destroyed The Quad at Whittier, a shopping mall which had to be rebuilt after earthquake damage.