Los Angeles County
WILLIAM PAUL WHITSETT
William Paul Whitsett, one of the leading, influential and valued citizens of Los Angeles County, is chairman of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, with offices at Third Street and Broadway in the city of Los Angeles. He was born in Whitsett, Pennsylvania, December 27, 1875, his parents being Dr. Ralph C. and Emma (Ross) Whitsett. He comes of English, Scotch and Irish lineage and in the maternal line is a descendant of Betsy Ross.
In the acquirement of an education, William P. Whitsett attended the public schools of the Keystone state and the Southwestern State Normal School at California, Pennsylvania, and next pursued a commercial course at Farmington College of Farmington, Ohio. He became a coal operator of Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana, operating coal mines in these states and maintaining general offices in Chicago, Illinois. Following his arrival in California in 1905 he purchased and developed Walnut Lawn, near Huntington Park. In 1911 the acquired the Van Nuys town site and has developed that town into a community of approximately twenty thousand population in 1933. In 1922 he founded the Bank of Van Nuys, now merged with the Security-First National Bank. Three years later, in 1925, he founded the Provident Building-Loan Association, of which he is president. He is, moreover, chairman of the advisory board of the Security-First National Bank, Van Nuys branch, is actively engaged in farming and in the building of houses and, as above stated, occupies the important position of chairman of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
We quote the following article in its entirety: “There is an interesting parallel running through the life of W. P. Whitsett, attributable to the practical working out of a lifetime hobby. It is a hobby on a theme that Thomas Jefferson constantly preached during his lifetime—that the stability and security of America and of the American home rested upon the growth and success of farm life, and that great dangers and many pitfalls lay ahead for the nation if the unbridled growth of great metropolitan areas were permitted.
It is probable that Mr. Whitsett’s first interest in farm life as a secure and stable kind of existence was instilled into him as a boy by his thrifty grandfather, Ralph Whitsett, who shipped the first coke out of the Youghiogheny River section of Pennsylvania. When the coal mines were inactive, and there were lean periods of employment for those who worked in them, the elder Whitsett urged these employees to turn to the land for their living, preaching the same doctrines that his grandson, W. P. Whitsett, was later to put into practical demonstration out west in California.
During his lifetime Mr. Whitsett has had three great opportunities to put his theories into practice, and to demonstrate the success of the Jeffersonian idea—first in script panic of 1907; later during the lean years which preceded the World War and finally in the great world depression. Mr. Whitsett came to California in 1905 to regain his health. He purchased a walnut grove south of Los Angeles near what is now Huntington Park, with the idea of making a self-sustaining farm unit out of it. But the property was not suitable for a large scale ranch, and in a few months Mr. Whitsett found himself in the subdivision business, with his property cut up into parcels. He named the tract Walnut Lawn.
Although he did not know it then, he was starting this development just on the eve of the script panic of 1907 which was to put the real estate market into pandemonium. In this project, as in the other similar development enterprises, Mr. Whitsett was never strictly in the real estate business. He found himself undertaking the liquidation of properties in which he had invested and which had to be cut up and sold in smaller units for the sake of sound economy.
The independence of thought and action of this man, then scarcely more than thirty years of age, and his success and triumph over many odds attracted the attention of a group of pioneer Los Angeles capitalists and real estate developers, M. H. Sherman, H. G. Otis, H. J. Whitley, O. F. Brandt and Harry Chandler. They interested Mr. Whitsett in the purchase of several sections of land in the center of San Fernando Valley, where they were planning a community development. Mr. Whitsett was interested in their project, chiefly because he saw the soundness of their plans in the development of a great intensively cultivated small farm home region, where families could look to the land for part or all of their living.
In 1911 when he purchased the town site that was to be Van Nuys, Mr. Whitsett did not intend to get into the real estate business. He personally undertook the development of the community when it was apparent that there were stormy waters and hard times ahead, in the period preceding the World War. But again, it was Mr. Whitsett’s indomitable enthusiasm in the security of small farm home owners, and their ability to weather any storm of nation-wide depression and hard times by turning to the land for their sustenance, that saw him through. And while other developers were laying down on the job waiting until ‘conditions improved,’ Mr. Whitsett was building the town of Van Nuys, on a sound, permanent foundation.
Scattered over the floor of the valley around Van Nuys today, there are hundreds of the thrifty families he brought here in the period from 1911 to 1915 who have accumulated comfortable fortunes from the poultry industry which he launched during the early stages of development at Van Nuys. And there are many more of these pioneer families, who are still established on their land, and depend upon it for part of their living, thankful in the present period of depression that they learned the thriftiness of garden-acre life in a period of far less financial stress.
With the town site founded and well established, and his land nearly all sold, Mr. Whitsett’s attention was directed to the financial needs of the community. He established a bank and building and loan association to encourage home ownership and home building in the community which he had founded, and in the growth of which he took great satisfaction.
His intense interest in the problems of the small farm home owner, brought Mr. Whitsett to the attention of Mayor George E. Cryer, who on the 12th of July, 1924, appointed him as San Fernando Valley’s first member on the board of water and power commissioners, in order that the Valley, fast becoming a great factor in the water supply of Los Angeles, might have a voice in municipal water and power affairs.
And then came the great Boulder Dam project and the Colorado River Aqueduct. The keen interest which Mr. Whitsett had taken in the affairs of the board of water and power commissioners, and the experience and background which he had gained during his several years’ service on that commission, qualified him as one of the best fitted men in Los Angeles for a place on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which was to guide the destinies of the Colorado River Aqueduct. Mayor Cryer appointed him to a place on the board and a few weeks later he was elected chairman of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District.
The peak of the 1930 – 1933 depression found Mr. Whitsett’s building and loan association in Van Nuys one of the soundest and most stable in the state because it had catered to small farm home loans and the small farm home owner was the last to feel the effects of the depression because he had learned to depend upon the land for part of his living in more prosperous times. The depressed business conditions could have no effect upon the fertility and yield of the soil and the year round growing climate in San Fernando Valley. As in the panic of 1907 and in the hard times that preceded the World War, Mr. Whitsett was undaunted by the depression of 1930-33. Again he had proof of the practicability and soundness of the small farm home doctrines which he had always advocated.
To demonstrate the practical features of what he preached, in order that others might be led to enjoy a life of stability and security in small farm homes, Mr. Whitsett began the construction of garden-acre homes in groups of five or more when the depression appeared to be at its lowest point. Throughout the depression he continued this construction program, and when word came from Washington that the Roosevelt Administration foresaw that a part of the recovery program must include a ‘rural-industrial’ development, Mr. Whitsett placed a single order for the delivery of material for one group of twenty better class garden-acre homes. Just how completely he has demonstrated his back-to-the-land theories may be seen today in Van Nuys, where model colonies of these group plan garden-acre farms are in successful operation.”
On the 14th June, 1899, in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, Mr. Whitsett was united in marriage to Miss Sara Haddock, a native of Chicago, Illinois. Her parents, Frank Edward and Carolene Dow (Dinsmore) Haddock, the latter a native of New York, are both deceased. Charles G. Haddock, grandfather of Mrs. Whitsett, was one of the builders of Chicago after the great conflagration and conducted the first abstract office in the present great metropolis. Mrs. Whitsett is vitally interested in the welfare of children and in community advancement. By her marriage she has become the mother of two sons and a daughter, as follows: William Paul, Jr., who married Elizabeth Atkinson, of Hillsborough, California, and resides at Van Nuys, this state; Frank Ross, who married Mildred Walker and is also a resident of Van Nuys; and Katharine, who is the wife of Perry Wilton Still and lives in Van Nuys.
In politics Mr. Whitsett is a Republican. He is highly esteemed among his fellow members of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and the Hollywood Country Club, and both as a member of the Masonic fraternity and the Christian Church he lives up to high ideals of Christian manhood and citizenship.
Transcribed by V. Gerald Iaquinta.
Source: California of the South Vol. IV, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 731-736, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. 1933.
© 2012 V. Gerald Iaquinta.