Whittier to the White House

Nixonville, Part 3

Tour Stop #12

Eldo West residence at 15935 Russell Street, Whittier

Across the boulevard from the Nixon service station and market, less than two blocks up Russell Street, sits the Eldo West residence. Eldo married Grace Anna Milhous, and they had two children, Jessamyn and Merle (second cousins to the Nixon boys).

The Nixon and West families lived near each other in rural Yorba Linda before Frank and Hannah moved their family to Whittier in 1922. The West family moved to East Whittier, building a ranch house on ten acres.

One of the earliest pictures of the Nixon Birthplace in Yorba Linda comes from the West Family collection:

Early photograph of the Richard Nixon birthplace

The Nixon and West cousins were close. In Yorba Linda, Frank Nixon was Jessamyn West’s Sunday School teacher. Jessamyn later described Frank as a “a fiery persuasive teacher.” In East Whittier, Eldo West was Richard Nixon’s Sunday School teacher. Eldo was known to declare to his children about young Richard: “He’ll be president.”

In his youth, Richard Nixon frequently walked the two blocks to the West residence where he and cousin Merle delighted in playing carroms on the front porch. The West family also had a piano which Richard enjoyed playing for the family.

In her youth, Jessamyn was ill with tuberculosis, which at that time was often a fatal illness. Richard Nixon’s younger brother Arthur died of tuberculous meningitis in 1925 and his older brother Harold died of tuberculosis in 1933. For a year, Jessamyn was bedridden in front bedroom on the second story of their East Whittier residence. To pass the time, Jessamyn’s mother told her tales of her life growing up as a Quaker in Indiana. Years later, these stories were the foundation of Jessamyn’s acclaimed novel The Friendly Persuasion, which was made into a motion picture of the same title starring Gary Cooper, and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture.

Behind the Eldo residence is one of the few remaining barns in Whittier, a remnant of its orchard history. When kids gathered in NIxonville, then always enjoyed playing in these barns. Cousin Martha Cato recalled: “Everybody had barns, so we always had our Halloween parties in the barns.”

The old red barn still stands behind the Eldo West residence

Merle and his sister Jessamyn remained close with the Nixon boys their entire lives. Merle made his mark in the carpet industry, even becoming president of the National Institute of Rug Cleaning in the mid 1960s, where Richard joined him at his national convention.

Richard Nixon and cousin Merle West in 1966.

Late in life, Jessamyn astutely reflected on her cousin Richard: “I am a democrat and have always been. I was a socialist when I was very young. There are some people who write of Richard as if he were a kind of colorless, grim, self-contained person. I find him enormously quite different from that; quite funny, quite open. Far from being the cold or prim or restrained fellow that people have Nixon pegged as being, he is a man full of passion, a man full of feeling.”