Hobart Johnstone Whitley, also known as H.J. Whitley (October 7, 1847 – June 3, 1931), also nicknamed "The Father of Hollywood," named and developed the area today known as Hollywood, California.
Hobart Johnstone (HJ) Whitley was born in Toronto
, the seventh and youngest son of Joseph Whitley and Eleanor Johnstone. He attended Toronto Business College. HJ became naturalized citizen of the United States
in the 1870’s. Whitley moved to Chicago
and owned a hardware store and candy store. He became interested in land development and was elected to the board of directors of the Chicago Rock Island Railroad
. HJ married his second wife, Margaret Virginia Whitley
(Gigi) in the Spring of 1886.
Whitley became one of the nation's most successful land developers. During the westward construction of frontier railroads from the late 1870s to the early 1890s he founded scores of towns in the Oklahoma Territory
, Dakotas, Texas and California. HJ was a good friend of Theodore Roosevelt
while in the Dakota Territory
. HJ was at the first Oklahoma Land Run of 1889
, April 22 where he clamed property. He build the first brick block building in the territory and was asked by the local people to be the first Governor of Oklahoma
. Whitley traveled to Washington D.C.
where he persuaded the U.S. Congress
to allow the City of Guthrie, Oklahoma
to be the new capitol of the state of Oklahoma. It is estimated that Hobart Johnstone Whitley founded over 140 towns in his lifetime.
Besides his land developments he was also the President of the National Loan & Trust Company, Guthrie, OK, Vice President of Home Savings Bank, President of First National Bank of Van Nuys, State Bank of Owensmouth and Bank of Lankershim; General Manager of the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company, principle in the Bank of Hollywood, The Whitley Land Company and owner of HJ Whitley Company (Jewelers).
HJ donated large parcels of land and money for civic use. The donations were used to finance public schools
, libraries, parks, landscaping, streets, transportation, lighting and churches.
In the mid 1880's HJ arrived in Southern California. He was well known as a land developer and many tried to follow on his coattails. By the early 1900s he had taken the area of Cahuenga
and created the town of Hollywood
. The area had languished unsuccessfully previous to his arrival in the 1880s. Whitley made it a flourishing city even before the coming of the movie-makers. He and his wife Gigi, coined the name Hollywood while on their honeymoon in 1886. HJ was instrumental in motivating the movie industry to move to his new town of Hollywood.
Hobart Whitley built a hotel and a bank as the foundation most every town he developed. The most prominent hotel that he built was the Hollywood Hotel
on the corner of Hollywood and Highland Boulevards.
HJ Whitley had a quest of make a very fine residential developed on the hill of his Hollywood property. He had to bring new ideas to create a development on the side of the hill in the fast changing times. This was at the end of the Victorian culture. Homes were built with the living up stairs for the views of the ocean and valley. He employed architects to go and study the hill development of Spain and Italy. HJ sought to create a master piece of architecture to be preserved for all times. This is where the early Hollywood rich lived. The U.S. Government has set aside the area of Hollywood, Whitley Heights
, to create the first and foremost National Historic District in Hollywood.
San Fernando Valley
From the moment Whitley saw the San Fernando Valley
, he began discussing it with his friends in Los Angeles
business community. By 1909 Whitley had pulled together a group of the most powerful men in the city. Together they purchased from wheat magnate, Isaac Newton Van Nuys
the ranch comprising nearly the entire south half or the San Fernando Valley
. The price was $2,500,000 - just under $53 an acre. From this land he built the towns of Van Nuys
(formerly Marian) and Canoga Park
HJ Whitley took the lead in building the city of Corcoran, California
. He purchased 32,000 acres to start the development and moved a member of his real estate firm, J. W. Guiberson, to the area. HJ named all the city streets Avenues. The main street of the community is named in his honor. During a visit to the area in 1905 he would have see a blacksmith shop, small store, scattered homes and a lush, untapped vista with herds of grazing wild hogs, horses and steers.
Whitley’s last development was never finished. He bought thousands of acres and started the town of Whitley Gardens. It is about ten miles east of Paso Robles, California
HJ and Gigi Whitley traveled seventeen times to Europe
, the Middle East
for business and pleasure. One time he brought back the coveted Egyptian cotton
seed to be planted in Corcoran, California
. He bought precious stones and jewelry to be sold in his Los Angeles City jewelry store, HJ Whitley Company.
Whitley died on June 3
at the Whitley Park Country Club near Hollywood
. He was buried in the Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery
, today named Hollywood Forever Cemetery
, Hollywood Forever Memorial Park. On his grave site it is inscribed "The Father of Hollywood".
- Gaelyn Whitley Keith, The Father of Hollywood: The True Story, ISBN 1419641948