Named for a poet, beset by earthquake and resilient in the face of a favored native son becoming president and later resigning, Whittier remains a quiet community, if not exactly as quiet as its founding Quakers were.
The city, 15 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, might have remained known primarily for John Greenleaf Whittier's stanzas had Richard Nixon not been the local boy who rose from humble beginnings to the White House, only to become mired in a scandal that led to his resignation.
When the town was founded in 1887, it was just a scattering of tents and shacks. Among them was a tent set up by a man who brought in liquor barrels and erected a bar.
But one day soon thereafter the fledging local newspaper screamed "Foul Murder!" in Whittier--and a team of vigilantes, holding liquor somehow responsible for the homicide, forcibly whisked the saloonkeeper out of town. Then the Quakers pulled down the saloonkeeper's establishment and poured out the bubbling barrels of mash. A permanent bar did not open its doors in Whittier for nearly 70 years.
Until the 1960s, Whittier was known as "the city of trees," for the 40,000 that graced its streets, yards and parks. But after Nixon became president, city signs and official letterhead proclaimed it "Home Town of Richard Nixon," a designation removed after Nixon's 1974 resignation.
The city's neighborhood charm drew filmmakers, not always with happy results. After child star Jane Withers made "Checkers" there in 1934, a newsletter remarked dourly: "City leaders made it clear they had no tolerance for 'wild movie people.' "
Nearly 50 years later, movies were still being filmed in Whittier, although one, in 1982, shocked the town--an R-rated feature called "Private School" whose scenes, including nude ones, were filmed at Whittier College. The blaring headlines in the Whittier Daily News made town leaders wince.
Then, at 7:42 a.m. on Oct. 1, 1987, the town's worst shake-up came--from Mother Nature. A 5.9 temblor battered the city, destroying or severely damaging hundreds of homes and businesses, and inflicting about $90 million in damage. No one died in Whittier, but about 60 residents were treated for injuries. At the time it seemed to many people that the heart of the city, known as Uptown, would never recover. But after the dust , the city began to rebuild, preserving its village-like collection of historic buildings, tree-lined streets and wood-frame bungalows.
* NAMESAKE: Among the Quakers' first priorities in the new town was to set aside parcels of land for a church, a school (which later became Whittier College) and the personal use of the acclaimed poet. But at 83, Whittier declined to move west. Instead he wrote a poem: "Whittier, I Give Thee My Name."
* PRIDE: In 1968, Whittier and Yorba Linda settled a spat over which was Nixon's hometown. Whittier, where the Nixon family moved when Richard was 9, would be known as his "hometown," and Yorba Linda, where he was actually born, as the "birthplace," and later home of the presidential library.
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WHITTIER Inside Out / By the Numbers
Incorporated: Feb. 19, 1898
Square miles: 13
Number of city parks: 19
City employees: 409 fulltime, 216 part time
1996-97 operating budget: $57 million (capital and restricted funds excluded)
Average household size: 3
Median age: 32
MONEY AND WORK
Median household income: $38,020
Median household income / L.A. County: $34,965
Median home value: $209,300
Employed workers (16 and older): 39,061
Women in labor force: 56%
Men in labor force: 75%
Married couple families with children: 28%
Married couple families with no children: 28%
Other types of families: 16%
Nonfamily households: 28%
1989 HOUSEHOLD INCOME:
$0 to $14,999: 15%
$15,000 to $24,999: 15%
$25,000 to $49,999: 35%
$50,000 to $74,999: 20%
$75,000 to $99,999: 7%
$100,000 or more: 8%
Total stores: 622
Total employees: 5,237
Annual sales: $679 million
Source: Claritas Inc. retail figures are for 1995. All other figures are for 1990. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.