Thursday, February 7, 2008

Hooray for Whitley Heights?!?!?

This librarian's from Oregon. That's where I was born and that's where I grew up. At 6-7-8-9-years-old it was hard for me to get my head around the fact that my home state shared a border with California. Truly, during these formative years, California took on fabled, even mythical proportions - a land where it NEVER rains, where stars can be seen at every street corner, the residence of Mickey Mouse, and, of course, it was the home of Hollywood.

My mother made sure that I visited Mickey when I was nine. I can remember feeling different, more energized, when our train - the Pacific Coast Star Light - crossed the California/Oregon border, and I was disappointed when palm trees didn't suddenly appear and when I couldn't see Lee Majors as the Six Million Dollar Man jogging in his red, polyester sweat suit.

This has significance, for without the advent of a place called Hollywood, my high expectations would have had no place from which to launch themselves. Hollywood was Shangri La, Samarkand, a place of magic, a place where dreams come true. So, while kids become adults, this libarian has learned that California is immense, diverse and so much more than pixy dust and mouse ears. Nonetheless, Hollwood - even just the name - has an allure, and few places have a history so rich and electric.

Enter Gaelyn Whitley Keith, the great grandaughter of Hobart Johnstone Keith, the essential "Father of Hollywood." She wrote a book called, aptly enough, The Father of Hollywood, and spoke to patrons on the evening of the February 6th in the Sacramento Room about her fascinating relative.

H.J. Whitley came to California in the 1880s with an eye on real estate. Along the way, he purchased 500 acres of land, located to the north of Los Angeles proper. It was here that Whitley would develop a residential community, laced with Meditteranean-style homes and a state-of- the-art road system. While it would claim the original title Whitley Heights (complete with hillside sign), it morphed into Hollywood. Whitley's powers of persuasion got monolithic names like Jean Harlow and Rudolph Valentino to appear on Whitley Heights mailboxes.

On principle, I can't tell you how it got its name, but you can certainly read as much in the book, which will be on SPL shelves soon. What was once just Eucalyptus Trees and Orange Groves (really no holly to be found), was built on the back of a fellow named Hobart and his great grandaughter told a lucky group of patrons his story at the library. Look for future programs to be held at the Central Library by going to or by calling 264-2920.


Anonymous said...

I attended Gaelyn Whitley Keith's presentation. I was impressed with the detail that she knew about the information presented. She told about the life and times of man and woman who named and created the City of Hollywood. Senses then I have purchased a book and I have read this compelling book. I recommend the book.

historylady said...

I love everything about Hollywood. It is great to learn such interesting and informative information about the founders of Hollywood. Thanks for sharing the news with us.