The Hundred-Year History of Whiting Woods – Part 1
Yes it’s true, Whiting Woods is a century old this year. In 1916, Perry Whiting purchased his first parcel of land in Henderson Canyon, one of the larger canyons of the Verdugo Mountains facing the Crescenta Valley. Perry Whiting was a turn-of-the-century self-made millionaire who as a young man in 1893 had come to Los Angeles from Michigan. He was a wheeler-dealer in a time of great growth in Los Angeles.
After various capitalistic adventures, he started a very successful wrecking business in 1898, the Whiting-Mead Company, selling salvaged building materials. Interestingly, the business survived until just last year when it finally went under.
In 1913, Whiting ended his 24-year marriage in divorce. But by 1915, Whiting had married for the second time. The couple had a fine house near downtown L.A., but his new wife longed for a place in the country. It just so happened that the “Pasadena Mountain Club,” a thinly disguised whorehouse in the Crescenta Valley, had just been closed down by the police. The Whiting-Mead Company held a lien on the property, as did others. Whiting outmaneuvered the other lien holders and was able to acquire the “clubhouse” situated on the east side of the canyon and 44 oak-covered acres around it for a mere $9,000. After some renovations, the couple moved in.
Very soon after they had settled in, Whiting caught wind that 415 acres on the west side of the canyon were up for sale. Negotiating a purchase were developers intending to subdivide the property and sell it as small chicken ranches. Fearing his little paradise would be compromised, he tried to interdict the sale and get it for himself. After negotiating unsuccessfully for a couple months, he jumped on a train and showed up at the door of the property’s owner in Wisconsin with $14,000, sealing the deal and shutting out the developers.
Sadly, very soon after this Whiting’s new marriage fell apart, and he left his home for the bachelor sanctuary of the Jonathan Club in Downtown L.A. It was during this period, the teens and early ’20s, that Whiting acquired more land up the canyon from a Chinese man named John who reputedly made his living selling opium. He gave John $20,000 for his 260 acres, and John returned to China to live like a king.
It was also during this period that the house was rented out for various purposes, in one case as a roadhouse/speakeasy. It was there that Whiting’s black caretaker shot a white man who threatened him. It was a sad dilemma for the black man. He had been forced by the authorities to turn in some local moonshiners who vowed revenge. His act of self-defense nearly got him lynched by the good citizens of CV. The house burned down soon after. But Whiting now owned the whole canyon, the area we think of today as Whiting Woods.
Perry Whiting fell in love once again, with Marita who was a widow he met through mutual friends at the Jonathan Club. He took it slow this time around, and they let their love blossom from a friendship over the course of seven years. They were finally married in 1926. Together they planned a new home in the 670-acre parcel that Whiting had put together over the past decade.
Whiting built on the west side of the canyon this time, on the slope directly across the canyon from the charred foundations of his first house. This was a palatial home, 5,000 square feet, two stories, flat roofed, in a Mediterranean style. A five-car garage, workshop and stables completed the mansion. Perry and Marita lived here happily for a few years, during which time Whiting wrote his autobiography. Most of the info here was culled from that book, titled, “Perry: Experiences of a Pioneer,” published in 1930. Sadly we don’t know what happened next as we see no other references to Whiting’s property until 1933, when the land and house appear to be used for other purposes, which I’ll cover next week.