The Wicked Past of Whiting Woods
The little neighborhood of Whiting Woods is one of the most sedate and beautiful areas in the entire Valley. Its shaded streets wind up and around a beautiful canyon tucked into the folds of the green Verdugo Mountains. Native oaks and sycamore trees shade the large rambling homes built there. Two architectural gems are located in Whiting Woods, a Richard Neutra house, and another by John Lautner. Whiting Woods is a great place to live – but that wasn’t always the case. It has a history that covers nearly every vice of 20th
Whiting Woods is named for Perry Whiting, a self-made millionaire who bought the little canyon as a place to enjoy nature and solitude. He left us an autobiography that gives us the ugly details of the origins of Whiting Woods.
When Whiting first encountered the property in 1915 it was the home of the “Pasadena Mountain Club,” a lofty title, but in reality just a bar and whorehouse. There was a small “clubhouse” where the booze was served and 10 tiny individual shacks in back for the other “club activities.” For 50 cents a customer could buy a club membership, which allowed one to drink at the bar in the clubhouse and use the club’s facilities. We can assume the other on-site “business transactions” were performed by “independent contractors.”
The club was closed by the district attorney under the Red Light Abatement Act and, as Whiting held a lien on the property, he was able to acquire the “club grounds” (the east side of the canyon).
An interesting side note: The Historical Society recently found a mislabeled photo from 1914 of the old clubhouse and its 10 shacks, the first photo of it we’ve ever seen. Also, a resident of Whiting Woods whose home sits near the site of the old clubhouse reports the discovery of scores of old whisky bottles buried in their yard.
Whiting probably thought the old clubhouse might make a good getaway spot. So it was with consternation that he noted an ad in the newspaper reading that an eastern investor had plans to subdivide 415 acres on the opposite side of the canyon, with the intention of establishing chicken ranches on the gorgeous wooded slopes.
Ever the savvy businessman Whiting was able to block the development plans and pick up that acreage for $14,000.
At this point, in 1918, Whiting, having business elsewhere, rented the old clubhouse/bar to a man to operate as a restaurant. In reality, it was run as a roadhouse speakeasy, as were other “restaurants” tucked away in our canyons during prohibition kept well-supplied by the many moonshiners that operated in CV. It was at this speakeasy that one of the more spectacular murders in our local history took place, in which a black man, working for both the moonshiners and as a police informant, shot down a white man during an exchange of racial slurs and threats of revenge for the informant’s double-dealing. Next week’s column will detail that incident.
The last piece of the canyon that Whiting needed in order to own the whole thing was the canyon floor itself. This 260 acre lush meadow was owned by an old Chinese man named simply John.
John had some vegetable gardens, well watered from the Verdugo Creek that ran through the meadow, as did other Chinese truck farmers up and down the Verdugo Canyon. But his business was also opium sales, presumably to the other Chinese farmers and laborers in the valley, and the odd American hooked on “chasing the dragon.”
In 1922 Whiting was able to convince John that he could retire back to China in luxury if he were to sell his land. John wisely did, and Whiting owned the whole canyon.
Whiting now had his little piece of paradise, and in 1926 built the classic “big white house on the hill.” In the ‘50s, the Whiting Woods development took shape around the old mansion.
You can view photos of old Whiting Woods at www.whitingwoods.org.