Monday, April 2, 2012

Willitts J. Hole -- 1907 West 6th Street

Many times the short biographies written about early successful businessmen sound almost too good to be true. Take Willitts J. Hole (1858-1936) for example--here's an extract from his 1921 biography:
"While his early experience was largely along the lines of manufacturing and contracting, he has shown what amounts to a genius in the handling and developing of immense properties, especially ranches, in California, and few men could claim a greater share of credit for the immense fruit and agricultural production than Mr. Hole."
Pretty heady stuff, no doubt--but maybe he really did live up to the hype.

Willitts grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, then attended and graduated from Chattanooga University, moving to Indiana to work in a chair factory. Taking notes, he three years later began a chair factory, planing mill, and lumber yard in another Indiana city, and later expanded into the general construction business (sounds like a developer!).

In 1893 he came to Southern California due to his wife Mary's (1865-1938) health. Their only child Agnes (1890-1966) completed the family. Upon arriving in California, Willitts went to Whittier and began buying land in the La Habra Valley, paying $25 to $35 per acre. Below is a photo of Agnes outside their La Habra home ca. 1897:

courtesy of

Not exactly downtown L.A, huh? And just how much land did Willitts buy? Enough to be known as the "father of La Habra Valley"--which according to the same biography stated he "eventually became owner of all the good land in that section, including Rancho La Habra of 7,500 acres" and two other ranchos totaling another 4,500 acres. That means he paid at least $300,000 for the land--and by 1921 it was selling at up to $4,000 per acre. He also ended up owning 17,000 acres in Riverside, known as Rancho La Sierra, where he would spend a lot of his free time. And he owned a one-fifth interest in the Belridge Oil Company, formed in 1911, which had eighty operational wells in Kern County by 1918.

You couldn't really expect the family to stay out in the country (see above image)--so they moved to fashionable West Sixth Street where by January, 1906 Mrs. Hole was entertaining Los Angeles society in their new, modern, colonial-style house (shown below):
1907 West Sixth St. in 1909

Note the wood structures in the median protecting the young palm trees.

Miss Agnes Hole
In 1907 the San Francisco Call takes note of the Holes traveling "by auto" with another family to Del Monte. That other family?  The Frederick Rindges, consisting of  widow Rhoda May, daughter Rhoda, and sons Samuel and Frederick, Jr. Another auto journey in 1908 to Del Monte also noted the families traveling together.

Something clicked somewhere because by April, 1910 the society pages of the L.A. Herald announced the engagement of daughter Agnes to Samuel Rindge. The article included a photo of Agnes, shown at right.

The Holes continue to live at 1907 W. Sixth throughout the 1910's, sharing their time with another bungalow house they had built on their La Sierra property outside Riverside. 
Passport Photo 1920

In the 1920's the Holes were traveling, and Willitts applied for a new passport, to replace his missing one from earlier. He noted his address as Arlington (the bungalow house) and the new passport came with photos of Willitts and Mary. One article notes that Willitts took up sailing and deep-sea fishing, that rejuvenated his health in the 1920's.

By 1923 the Holes had left the Sixth Avenue property, and it was soon demolished to put up the new Hotel Californian. Consisting of 201 rooms, the hotel supported the area first as a hotel, then over time it was offered as apartments as the neighborhood slowly became seedy.

By 1930 Willitts and Mary had purchased a large home a few blocks away from Agnes and Samuel near the Wilshire Country Club, but they continued to also reside in Arlington, where in 1936 Willitts died from a heart attack.  Mary was to pass away two years later--both were buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Riverside.

After Mary's death, Agnes gave her parents' art collection of paintings to UCLA, where it was recognized in the '60s and '70s, but seems to be non-existent on today's UCLA web site. A reference to the collection was found in the 1976 UCLA catalog.

And what happened to the Hotel Californian?

Hotel Californian in Happier Times

By 1994 the City of Los Angeles forced the owners to close the hotel, and demolition came to the site once again.Today all that's left is a neon sign near Griffith Park .

Today (2012) at 1907 W. Sixth St. (courtesy of
 The Hole Mansion is but a memory.

An update due to an alert reader--The Paseo at Californian, a 58-unit affordable housing complex, held its ribbon-cutting ceremony in March, 2017, with the Hotel Californian neon sign now restored and present on the rooftop.

The same corner today (with the neon sign back in place)
(a tip of the hat to Google Maps street view with its updated image)

Mrs. Mary Hole, 1909 
The Back Yard in 1913
Another Article about the Hotel Californian Sign


  1. I actually lived in the hotel when I was a teen we moved january of 1994.

  2. The original Hotel Californian neon sign that once graced the old building now sits fully restored on new low-cost housing structure on the same site, called the Paseo at Californian.


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