Mr. President: We Saved Your House

As reported in The Whittier Daily News, the proposed demolition of a significant historical home of Richard Nixon has been stopped!!!

The Whittier City Council recently denied an application to raze the tiny home at 15844 Whittier Boulevard, Whittier, California (“Nixon Home”).

As a real estate attorney, I am very much in favor of property rights. At the same time, there is a need to preserve certain historical and culturally significant properties to remind us of our history. This is the case with the Nixon Home. 

Richard Nixon’s parents, Frank and Hannah, developed the Nixon gas station and store along with their residence in East Whittier at the corner of Santa Gertrudes and Whittier Boulevard (adjacent to the Nixon Home). When Frank Nixon initially opened his gas station, there was nothing between Whittier and La Habra. As Frank Nixon’s gas station grew, so did the East Whittier Friends Church (across the street), and when a new church was built, Frank moved the old church building across the street and converted the building from church to a store. What had been the belfry became Frank’s office.

Then a business area began to develop when “Slim” Craddick opened a fruit stand next door, and neighbor Samuel Horney, a barber, opened a shop where he cut the Nixon boys’ hair for twenty-five cents. This area was Nixonville as it developed based on Frank Nixon’s gas station. The Nixon Home soon followed.

Through the years, as their family enjoyed financial success, Frank and Hannah purchased the property on Worsham Drive in College Hills in 1939. However, within a few years they found that the house was too ostentatious for their style. Ultimately, they settled at the Nixon Home by 1945. At the time, Richard Nixon was serving in the United States Navy, stationed on the East Coast following his service in the South Pacific.

In the summer of 1945, a group of Whittier Republicans and others from the Congressional District joined together to form the Committee of 100, a group of party loyalists seeking to recruit a candidate to defeat five term incumbent Democrat Jerry Voorhis. Herman Perry, the manager of the Bank of America located in the Bank of America building, (who was the father of long known Whittierite Hubert Perry) was a leader of Committee of 100. Herman wrote to Nixon inquiring as to whether he was interested in running for Congress. After Nixon replied in the affirmative, arrangements were made for Richard to return to Whittier to meet with the Committee of 100.

On November 1, 1945, Pat and Richard Nixon arrived in Whittier, staying with Frank and Hannah and Richard’s younger brother Eddie at the Nixon Home. Richard spent the afternoon in Eddie’s bedroom in the back corner of the house preparing his remarks for his presentation. When Eddie arrived home from high school, Hannah cautioned him “Richard is studying. Don’t bother him right now. He’s back in your bedroom just reading up a storm and making notes.”

That evening Richard Nixon met with a group of Whittierites to break bread at the Dinner Bell Ranch, then appeared the following day before the Committee of 100 at the William Penn Hotel, where Nixon was selected as the congressional candidate. After his appearance before the Committee of 100, Pat and Richard returned to the East Coast so Nixon could finish his war time service. It is significant to note that the first political speech that was ever given by Richard Nixon as a prospective political candidate was prepared at the Nixon Home.

In January 1946, Richard and Pat (who was 8-months pregnant with their first child) returned to Whittier, moving into the Nixon Home with Frank, Hannah, and Eddie.

After Pat Nixon gave birth to Tricia on February 21, 1946, at the Murphy Memorial Hospital, Pat and Richard, along with Frank and Hannah, realized that the Nixon Home, with three bedrooms and one bathroom, was too cramped for the growing family. After Richard ran into his local barber, Weymeth Garrett, he rented Weymeth’s property on Walnut in Whittier. But they returned to the Nixon Home as the setting for a photograph of Richard, Pat and Tricia Nixon in front of the Nixon Home, and this is the first campaign photograph ever utilized by Richard Nixon.

Pat, Richard & Tricia in their first campaign photograph, 1946.

Richard Nixon won the congressional election in 1946, and Frank, Hannah, and Eddie continued to reside in the Nixon Home until 1947 when they moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to Washington, D.C. At that time, Richard’s younger brother Don moved into the Nixon Home with his wife Clara Jane and their children.

In 1948, Richard Nixon ran for re-election. While running for re-election to Congress in 1948, Pat and Richard, along Tricia and with their newborn daughter Julie, arrived in September 1948 for an extended stay to campaign for re-election. They stayed with Don and Clara Jane in the Nixon Home. Richard, Pat, and their daughters lived in one bedroom, Don, Clara Jane, and their children lived in another bedroom, and Pat’s sister Niva, moved in to lend a hand and stayed in the third bedroom.

Richard won re-election in November and returned to Washington DC. But before he and his family departed to the East Coast, Richard called his friend Donald Fantz, who owned Don Fantz Appliance Co. in Whittier. Richard told Fantz: “Pat and I are staying out at Don’s. You know, he hasn’t got any heat in that place. It’s cold, boy it’s really cold. I wonder if you’ll do me a favor. Will you go out there and look it over and see what it needs, see what you can put in there in the way of some floor furnaces or some heat, or something, to make it warm and comfortable for them. They have done so much for Pat and me and we are staying there, and we cannot do anything for them. This is one way that I can kind of pay them back a little bit for what they have done for us. That is the only way I know that I can do something for Don.” Not surprisingly, Don’s wife Clara Jane loved the new heater – even using the floor vent to dry clothes on rainy days!

Don and his family continued to reside in the Nixon Home until 1960. Throughout those years the Nixons often visited and stayed at the home.

In 1960, Don and Clara Jane and their family moved to Newport Beach. At that time, Hannah moved back to the Nixon Home where she resided until she could no longer live on her own and moved to a nursing home.

In 1960, while Hannah was residing at the Nixon Home, Richard lost one of the closest presidential elections in US history to John Kennedy. Hannah was devastated by the loss and received letters of support from around the world. Her pastor Reverend George Ball of the East Whittier Friend’s Church, located across the street, was shocked when he stopped in on Hannah one day and found her responding to these stacks and stacks of letters in long hand and offered to write a simple generic response. Hannah refused, telling the Reverend “No, they took the time, and they wrote to me, so I have to write to them.” Hannah was so popular with the media and received so many telephone inquiries, that the telephone service to the Nixon Home had to be re-wired to the home of Whittierite Evlyn Dorn (Nixon’s legal secretary at the Bewley Law Firm, a great supporter of Nixon who continued to assist him in all of his campaigns) so she could screen Hannah’s calls.

There can be no doubt but that the Nixon Home is a significant part of the Nixon family history in Whittier. Richard Nixon had a meteoric rise in America politics, going from freshman Congressman to Vice President within 6 years, based on his first campaign launched from the Nixon Home. Because he continued to register to vote at the Nixon Home until after 1960, Richard Nixon voted for himself at the nearby home of Roger McNey at 10651 Avonbury Avenue.

After he voted for himself, Nixon had a plan. Other than Pat, he was with John DiBietta from the LAPD and James Hughes, his military aide as Vice President.

Once Pat and Richard voted, as the press was milling about, Pat and Richard split up, with Richard, DiBietta and Hughes taking off in a separate car. As the press tried to follow, they made a couple quick turns and saw an open garage which they pulled into as the press continued down the street.

Once they lost the press, the three of them headed south to spend the day in Tijuana before returning to see the election returns come in. Richard Nixon is the only US presidential candidate to vote for himself to lead this country, then go have cocktails in a Tijuana, only to return later that same day. This would not have occurred, but for the Nixon Home.

The Nixon Home is absolutely “particularly representative of a distinct historical period, type, style, region or way of life.”

Unfortunately, other than the East Whittier Friends Church, the nearby Eldo West residence at 15935 Russell Street (where Nixon’s cousin Jessamyn West wrote Friendly Persuasion), and the Nixon Home, no other structures from Nixonville still exist.

The Nixon Home is inextricably linked to Richard Nixon. He wrote is debut political speech at the home on November 1, 1946. He frequently stayed there, even having new heating installed as a thank you to his brother. This is significant because many authors have written about what they contend is a strained relationship between Richard and Don Nixon, But the Nixon Home stands for the opposite – two brothers sticking together and supporting each other in every way they could. Richard Nixon continued to own the Nixon Home until 1975, when post-resignation financial pressures required him sell the longtime Nixon Home.

I am so pleased we could save the Nixon Home! Happy Birthday Mr. President!!

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