Canadian born Hobart Johnstone Whitley came west by way of Chicago. He had a vision for development. Almost every town he created had a bank and hotel as its foundation. His simple plan was to followed the railroad. Whitley married his second wife in 1886, and they honeymooned in Southern California. The experience piqued his imagination. Upon return, he opened a jewelry store on Spring Street in Los Angeles. Soon after, he began buying land. One parcel, the Herd Ranch, included 480 acres above the Cahuenga Valley. In 1889 the purchase was finalized. HJ and his bride renamed it Whitley Heights. Not one for small gestures, Whitley planted 10,000 trees and invited 1,000 people to a barbeque. This established him as an early founder of Hollywood.

In 1902, along with two other investors, Whitley opened the elegant Hollywood Hotel on Highland Avenue. He was already a principal in the Los Angeles Pacific Boulevard and Development Company. The following year he erected the first structure in Whitley Heights, a Mission Revival bandstand in the style of the Hollywood Hotel. Looking southwest from this site one could see citrus groves all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The Hollywood Bowl band shell opened almost two decades later.


Whitley saw the end of Victorian culture and believed Mediterranean architecture would be more compatible with Southern California climate and landscape. An avid traveler himself, he hired architect Arthur Barnes to tour Europe and study architecture and landscaping. In 1918 Whitley began to subdivide the hill. Concerts were held to entertain prospective buyers of the tracts. The majority of the houses were built before the stock market crash of 1929. Barnes trained a cadre of young assistants to carry on his work, creating homogeneous yet individualistic homes.


Silent screen stars gravitated to this secluded hillside setting and its easy commute to RKO Pictures, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Chaplin Studios. Early residents included Rudolph Valentino and his wife Natacha Rambova, Barbara La Marr, Francis X Bushman, Blanche Sweet, Eugene O’Brien, Marie Dressler, Charlie Chaplin, Louise Brooks, and Gloria Swanson. Some stars transitioned into talkies. As the Golden Age of film approached, Bette Davis, Tyrone Power, Carole Lombard, William Powell, Maurice Chevalier, Donald O’Connor, Barbara Stanwyck, and Rosalind Russell moved into  Whitley Heights. William Faulkner wrote several screenplays on the hill. In the early 60's Vance Colvig bought a home. Colvig is better known as Bozo the Clown.


After 1930 other styles of architecture were introduced. Watsonia Terrace is named after developer Arthur Watson, who hired set designer Harry McAfee to design his Normandy cottage on Milner Road. German expatriate Kem Weber trained at Bauhaus. Kern was an industrial designer before designing the Walt Disney Studios and private residences.


The Hollywood Freeway began construction in 1946, dividing Whitley Heights. This development impacted dozens of significant homes. Rudolph Valentino’s residence on Wedgewood was destroyed. Harold Lloyd’s home was moved to Iris Circle. After the Topside estate was demolished, the Whitley Heights Civic Association sought to retain the character of the neighborhood. Community involvement led to the inclusion of Whitley Heights on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1982. It was added to Historic Preservation Overlay Zone in 1992.

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Whitley Heights Civic Association

P.O. Box 1008

Hollywood, CA 90078


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