Los Angeles County









     LETTS, ARTHUR, Merchant, Los Angeles, California, was born at Holmby, Northamptonshire, England, June 17, 1862, the son of Richard and Caroline (Coleman) Letts.  He married Florence Philp, August 25, 1886, at Toronto, Canada.  There are three children, Florence Edna, Gladys (now Mrs. Harold Janss) and Arthur Letts, Jr.

     His father was Richard Letts, a farmer and the eldest son of a Richard Letts, the same name having been bestowed on the eldest son for nine generations.  The farm was held by a Richard Letts four hundred years ago.

     Until 1874, when he was twelve years old, he attended classes at Rev. Hedges’ private school for boys, located near his home.  The next three years he spent at the Creaton Grammar School, England.  He finished his book education under a private coach, a Mr. Meredith.

     At the age of sixteen he was “articled,” the English term for apprenticed, to a good man, proprietor of a dry goods store in a small and bustling town of the neighborhood.  He served his time with credit, and for the fourth year was engaged at a salary.

     But he did not long remain in this position.  His imagination, and also that of his elder brother, had become fired with the word of the opportunities open to the young man in the new world across the Atlantic.  Lest they be persuaded to stay by the pleadings of their parents, they did not tell of their intention until they were abroad the steamer at Liverpool.  Arthur Letts got as far as Toronto, Canada, and found employment in a large dry goods store.  For several years he was with the same firm.

     When the Reil rebellion broke out in the Northwest of Canada, he volunteered, eager for a taste of outdoor life and the contact with the wilderness.  His position in Toronto was held open for him while he went with his regiment to the scene of the trouble.  He was awarded a silver medal and clasp for distinguished service, and a grant of land by the Canadian government.

     In the early nineties he went to Seattle, and went to work the day he arrived.  Three days later came Seattle’s great fire, and the firm he worked for was wiped out.  His buoyant spirit did not look upon the event as a calamity, and although he had not reckoned at once to go into business for himself, he got together a small stock and began to sell goods in a tent, later renting one of the first storerooms available.

     But he was not satisfied with results in Seattle.  By this time he was studying his field with a keener eye, determined to locate in that one spot that had the greatest promise.  Los Angeles seemed to be that place.  With only $500 in his pocket he arrived in that city in the year, 1896.

     Opportunity seemed to be waiting for him.  At the corner of Fourth and Broadway, then well on the southern edge of the business section, the firm of J. A. Williams & Co. had gone bankrupt.  No one in the city seemed to want either the stock or the location.  Business was then a half mile to the north. The stock inventoried at $8167.

     With the help of an influential friend, who was impressed with Mr. Letts’ knowledge of the business, a loan of $5000 was secured from the Los Angeles National Bank.  This amount was used as the first payment for the bankrupt stock, the balance to be paid in thirty days.  He gave the business the name of the Broadway Department Store, and opened its doors February 24, 1896.  At the end of the first week the adjoining store caught fire and the stock of the new department store was seriously damaged by fire.  With the insurance money of $1000 the undiscouraged Mr. Letts began business again.

     Then followed a growth more phenomenal than the growth of the city.  By 1899 the Broadway occupied the entire ground floor of the Pirtle & Hallet building.  In 1901, the adjoining Hellman building was bought; in 1905 the upper floors of the Pirtle & Hallet building were acquired, and in the ensuing year the Slauson building, adjoining the Hellman. The stock and trade of the store are now among the largest on the Pacific Coast.  Mr. Letts is sole owner of the great establishment.

     He has always been interested in education and in the welfare of young people.  In his own store he has maintained a school for the younger employes (sic).  He has been a liberal giver to the Los Angeles Y. M. C. A., which now has one of the finest buildings in America, and is its president.  He is a trustee of the State Normal College, and this is the only political office he has consented to hold.

     Horticulture is his chief hobby.  His home, Holmby House, Hollywood, is surrounded by a magnificent garden of 30 acres, so filled with a collection of rare and beautiful trees and plants that the United States has made of a section, that devoted to cactus, a substation.  He has ransacked the world, in his travels, for specimens.  He has of late become an art collector and already has a number of precious marbles, which he has placed in his home and garden.

     His business interests and property holdings outside of the Broadway Department Store are known to be heavy, but he prefers to keep his name out of the directorates of other concerns.

     He is a member of the California Club, Los Angeles Country Club, Automobile Club, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles Realty Board, Municipal League, Hollywood Board of Trade, Federation Club, all of Los Angeles, and of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco.  He is president of the Young Men’s Christian Association; president Retail Dry Goods Association; member International Committee, Y. M. C.A.; member Hollywood Lodge, F. and A.M., and a Knight Templar.


Transcribed 6-25-08 Marilyn R. Pankey.

Source: Press Reference Library, Western Edition Notables of the West, Vol. I,  Page 81, International News Service, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta.  1913.

© 2008 Marilyn R. Pankey.