Whittier is a city in Southern California in Los Angeles County, part of the Gateway Cities. The 14.7-square-mile (38.0 km) city had 87,306 residents as of the 2020 United States census, an increase of 1,975 from the 2010 census figure. Whittier was incorporated in February 1898 and became a charter city in 1955. The city is named for the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier and is home to Whittier College.
In the founding days of Whittier, when it was a small isolated town, Jonathan Bailey and his wife, Rebecca, were among the first residents. They followed the Quaker religious faith and practice, and held religious meetings on their porch. Other early settlers, such as Aquila Pickering, espoused the Quaker faith. As the city grew, the citizens named it after John Greenleaf Whittier, a respected Quaker poet, and deeded a lot to him. Whittier wrote a dedication poem, and is honored today with statues and a small exhibit at the Whittier museum; a statue of him sits in Whittier’s Central Park, and another representing his poem “The Barefoot Boy” used to reside by the City Hall and is now in front of the main library. Whittier never set foot there, but the city still bears his name and is rooted in the Quaker tradition.
Whittier’s roots can be traced to Spanish soldier Manuel Nieto. In 1784, Nieto received a Spanish land grant of 300,000 acres (1,200 km2), Rancho Los Nietos, as a reward for his military service and to encourage settlement in California. The area of Nieto’s land grant was reduced in 1790 as the result of a dispute with Mission San Gabriel. Nonetheless, Nieto still had claim to 167,000 acres (680 km2) stretching from the hills north of Whittier, Fullerton, and Brea, south to the Pacific Ocean, and from what is known today as the Los Angeles River east to the Santa Ana River. Nieto built a rancho for his family near Whittier, and purchased cattle and horses for his ranch and also planted cornfields. When Nieto died in 1804, his children inherited their father’s property.
At the time of the 1840s Mexican–American War, much of the land that would become Whittier was owned by Pio Pico, a rancher and the last Mexican governor of Alta California. Pio Pico built a hacienda here on the San Gabriel River, known today as Pio Pico State Historic Park. Following the Mexican–American War, German immigrant Jacob F. Gerkens paid $234 to the U.S. government to acquire 160 acres (0.6 km) of land under the Homestead Act and built the cabin known today as the Jonathan Bailey House. Gerkens would later become the first chief of police of the Los Angeles Police Department. Gerkens’ land was owned by several others before a group of Quakers purchased it and expanded it to 1,259 acres (5 km), with the intent of founding a Quaker community. The area soon became known as a thriving citrus ranching region, with “Quaker Brand” fruit being shipped all over the United States. Beginning in 1887, walnut trees were planted, and Whittier became the largest walnut grower in the United States. In addition to walnuts and citrus, Whittier was also a major producer of pampas grass.
For many years, the sole means of transport from this area to Los Angeles was on foot, or via horse and wagon over rough dirt roads, impeding settlement, development, and the export of agriculture. Thus in 1887 “enterprising and aggressive businessmen” contracted with the Southern Pacific Railroad to build the first railroad spur to Whittier, including a depot. The businessmen covered the $43,000 construction cost for the six-mile spur, which branched off from the Southern Pacific mainline at a junction near what is now Studebaker Road between Firestone Boulevard and Imperial Highway. By 1906, 650 carloads of oranges and 250 carloads of lemons were shipped annually by rail. In 1904, the Pacific Electric opened the trolley line known as “Big Red Cars” from Los Angeles to Whittier. In the first two decades, over a million passengers a year rode to and from Los Angeles on the Whittier Line. After World War II, Whittier grew rapidly and the sub-dividing of orange groves began, driven by housing shortages in southern California. In 1955, the new Civic Center complex was completed and the City Council met in new chambers for the first time on March 8, 1955. The city continued to grow as the City annexed portions of Whittier Boulevard and East Whittier. The 1961 annexation added over 28,000 people to the population, bringing the total to about 67,000.
The first Quaker meetings were held on the front porch of the Jonathan Bailey House. Eventually, as more Quakers arrived, the need for an actual Meeting House arose and the first Quaker meeting house was built on the corner of Comstock Avenue and Wardman Street in 1887. The meeting soon outgrew this 100-seat meeting house and a new larger building was erected on the corner of Philadelphia Street and Washington Avenue in 1902. By 1912, membership had grown to 1,200 and a third building was dedicated on the same site in 1917. With a capacity of 1,700, the 1917 meeting house featured a balcony and was constructed of brick with mahogany paneling and pews. The present meeting house, dedicated in 1975, features many architectural elements and materials from the 1917 building including the stained glass windows and mahogany interior. The Quakers also founded Whittier Academy (later Whittier College), and additional meetings met in East Whittier and at Whittier College’s Mendenhall. Both the Mendenhall meeting and the East Whittier meeting kept the silent meeting longer than the main church.
In 1887 the Pickering Land and Water Company set aside a 20-acre (81,000 m) parcel of land for the development of a college, but a collapse in the land boom stalled construction. Progress on developing a college was sporadic, but on July 30, 1896, the Whittier Academy, operating since 1891, officially changed its name to Whittier College with 100 students enrolled. The school mascot is “The Poet.” By 1906, Whittier College was an educational institution with laboratories, boarding halls, a large gymnasium and athletic fields. Due to an economic depression in the 1890s, the first bachelor’s degrees were not awarded at the college for 17 years.
The Mendenhall Building at Whittier College was donated by Leona May Mendenhall in honor of her husband Oscar. The Mendenhalls were among the founding families of Whittier. Oscar’s brother, Samuel Mendenhall, helped bring in the water system and post office. The Mendenhalls were large growers for Sunkist oranges and Blue Diamond walnuts.
Whittier was the first home to Azusa Pacific University, established on March 3, 1899, by the Quaker community and a Methodist evangelist under the name Training School for Christian Workers.
On October 1, 1987, at 7:42 a.m., the Whittier Narrows earthquake struck, the epicenter being six miles (10 km) north by northwest of Whittier. The seismic event, which registered 5.9 on the moment magnitude scale, killed eight people and damaged many of uptown Whittier’s historic buildings. Three days later, on October 4, 1987, at 3:59 a.m., a major aftershock measuring 5.2 caused further damage. Buildings and residential structures which were already borderline unsafe were now deemed unsafe or uninhabitable. In the years following the earthquake, the city’s deteriorating uptown business district became the focus of renewed development, which met with opposition from many Whittier citizens. The Whittier Conservancy was formed in 1987 in an effort to stop the demolition of many historic buildings and residences after the disaster. The city also created a Historic Resources Commission to oversee the approval of historic designations, historic districts and Mills Act proposals. The Whittier Narrows earthquake also destroyed The Quad at Whittier, a shopping mall which had to be rebuilt.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 14.7 square miles (38 km), virtually all land.
Whittier is bordered by the community of Hacienda Heights to the northeast, City of Industry to the north, and several other unincorporated communities in the San Gabriel Valley mostly along its northern sections. Pico Rivera lies at the west, La Habra Heights to the east, La Habra to the southeast and Santa Fe Springs to the south.
There are several neighborhoods in Whittier. The area centered around Philadelphia Street and Greenleaf Avenue is known as Uptown Whittier and contains the traditional central business core. Just north of Uptown Whittier are the neighborhoods known as Central Park and Hadley-Greenleaf. They have been designated historic districts by the city Historic Resources Commission, and together comprise most of the area of the Whittier Historic Neighborhood Association. These districts contain many Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival homes. In and abutting the hills north of the historic districts is Starlite Estates. The area surrounding Whittier College is known as College Hills and was also recently designated a historic district, as has a small cluster of homes along Earlham Drive. The area east of College Avenue is referred to as East Whittier. East Whittier was a separate agricultural community until the postwar era. The eastern parts of East Whittier, developed in the 1950s and 1960s, are known as Friendly Hills, which was developed at the same time as Murphy Ranch and Leffingwell Ranch.
Whittier is about 15 miles (24 km) inland of the Pacific Ocean, resulting in higher daytime temperatures, and since it lies at a higher elevation than the cities further west, cold air drains into the lower elevation of the Los Angeles Basin which results in warmer night-time lows, producing an example of thermal inversion. Winter daytime highs typically range from 68 °F to 80 °F (20 °C to 27 °C) with overnight lows dropping to about 43 °F to 54 °F (6° to 12 °C). In the summer highs range from 78 °F to 95 °F (26 °C to 35 °C) and corresponding overnight lows in the 58 °F to 72 °F (14 °C to 22 °C). Rainfall follows a Mediterranean pattern with most rain falling during the winter months, while summers tend to be rather dry. The mean annual rainfall is about 14 inches (360 mm).
The 2020 United States census reported that Whittier had a total population of 87,306 people with a density of 5,824.9 people per square mile. The racial makeup of the city was 48.7% White (24.5% Non-Hispanic white, 24.2% White Hispanic), 1.5% African American, 1.1% Native American, 5.3% Asian, 0.0% Asian Pacific American, and 8.4% from two or more races. Hispanic and Latino Americans were 65.8% of the population. 16.6% of the population were foreign born, and 3.1% of people were veterans.
There were 27,093 households, of which the average size was 3.07 persons. The median household income during 2016–2020 was $76,026, and 9.5% of the population was living in poverty.
The population was spread out, with 23.0% of the population under the age of 18 and 15.1% above the age of 65. Of all people aged above 25 years, 88.5% were high school graduates, and 26.7% had a bachelor’s degree or higher. 61.5% of people aged above 16 years were in the civilian labor force.
The 2010 United States Census reported that Whittier had a population of 85,331. The population density was 5,818.6 inhabitants per square mile (2,246.6/km2). The racial makeup of Whittier was 55,117 (64.6%) White (28.3% Non-Hispanic White, 36.3% White Hispanic), 1,092 (1.3%) African American, 1,093 (1.3%) Native American, 3,262 (3.8%) Asian, 123 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 20,848 (24.4%) from other races, and 3,796 (4.4%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 56,081 persons (65.7%).
The Census reported that 83,696 people (98.1% of the population) lived in households, 1,083 (1.3%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 552 (0.6%) were institutionalized.
There were 28,273 households, out of which 11,289 (39.9%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 14,152 (50.1%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 4,566 (16.1%) had a female householder with no husband present, 1,896 (6.7%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 1,770 (6.3%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 247 (0.9%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 6,096 households (21.6%) were made up of individuals, and 2,495 (8.8%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.96. There were 20,614 families (72.9% of all households); the average family size was 3.46.
The population was spread out, with 21,686 people (25.4%) under the age of 18, 9,198 people (10.8%) aged 18 to 24, 23,627 people (27.7%) aged 25 to 44, 20,819 people (24.4%) aged 45 to 64, and 10,001 people (11.7%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35.4 years. For every 100 females, there were 94.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.5 males.
There were 29,591 housing units at an average density of 2,017.8 per square mile (779.1/km), of which 16,207 (57.3%) were owner-occupied, and 12,066 (42.7%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 1.3%; the rental vacancy rate was 5.1%. 49,393 people (57.9% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 34,303 people (40.2%) lived in rental housing units.
During 2009–2013, Whittier had a median household income of $68,522, with 12.4% of the population living below the federal poverty line.
As of the census of 2000, there were 83,680 people, 28,271 households, and 20,468 families residing in the city. The population density was 5,719.4 inhabitants per square mile (2,208.4/km2). There were 28,977 housing units at an average density of 1,980.5 per square mile (764.7/km). The racial makeup of the city was 43.2% White, 1.2% African American, 1.3% Native American, 3.3% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 25.8% from other races, and 5.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 65.9% of the population.
There were 28,271 households, out of which 37.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.5% were married couples living together, 14.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.6% were non-families. 22.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.88 and the average family size was 3.38.
In the city, the population was spread out, with 28.3% under the age of 18, 10.0% from 18 to 24, 30.6% from 25 to 44, 18.6% from 45 to 64, and 12.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females, there were 94.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $49,256, and the median income for a family was $55,726. Males had a median income of $40,394 versus $34,223 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,409. About 7.8% of families and 10.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.7% of those under age 18 and 8.0% of those age 65 or over.
Whittier’s Redevelopment Agency has numerous projects underway to revitalize the community. This includes a $7 million project near the historic Hoover Hotel.
The Whittwood Town Center (formerly the Whittwood Mall) anchored by JC Penney, Target, PetSmart, Sears, Vons, and Kohl’s has made way for Red Robin and Chick-fil-A. The city still waits to attract more well known businesses and open new residential town homes with the revival of its Uptown district.
In addition, the agency is working on developing a 480-acre (1.9 km) project area near Whittier Blvd. The master plan was adopted in June 2005 by the City Council. In 2019, Whittier’s first food hall, Poet Gardens, opened in Uptown Whittier.
According to the city’s 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers in the city are:
On April 17, 1900, the Whittier Public Library Board of Trustees held its first meeting in Landrum Smith’s drugstore. With an initial collection of 60 books and 200 magazines, the library facilities began in the Woody Building as a reading room, maintained by Mr. Hester in exchange for space for his telegraph office. In 1907, a Carnegie grant funded the construction of the building at Bailey and Greenleaf that many Whittierites fondly remember. As the city expanded, a larger library was needed, and the Friends of the Library organized in 1956 to raise money for a new building. Through their efforts, and those of the board members, librarians, and citizen fund raising groups, the new library was completed at the Washington Avenue site in May 1959. In 1968, service was further expanded with the construction of the Whittwood Branch Library on Santa Gertrudes Avenue.
Whittier uses a council–manager form of government. Until 2014, all five city council members were elected at-large with the mayor being elected by the council. Following the 2016 elections, four members of the city council were elected in districts to four-year terms, whereas the mayor is directly elected to two-year terms. The council also appoints a city manager.
The current mayor of Whittier is Joe Vinatieri. The city council is currently made up of Fernando Dutra, Octavio Martinez, Cathy Warner, and mayor pro tempore Jessica Martinez. Brian Saeki is currently serving as the city manager, with Shannon DeLong as the assistant city manager.
In the California State Legislature, Whittier is in the 32nd Senate District, represented by Republican Kelly Seyarto, and in the 57th Assembly District, represented by Democrat Reggie Jones-Sawyer.
In the United States House of Representatives, Whittier is in California’s 38th congressional district, represented by Democrat Linda Sánchez.
The city of Whittier is served by the Whittier Union High School District, East Whittier City School District, Whittier City School District, Lowell Joint School District
Five high schools, California High School, La Serna High School, Pioneer High School, Santa Fe High School, and Whittier High School comprise the Whittier Union High School District. There is one alternative continuation high school Frontier High School and a homeschooling hq, Sierra Vista High School. Although they still have Whittier postal addresses, both California High School and Pioneer High School lie outside the city limits in unincorporated Los Angeles County. Santa Fe High School is located within the City of Santa Fe Springs. Adults may attend the Whittier Adult School, which belongs to the Whittier Union High School District.
The city also has three private Catholic elementary schools, K-8
The schools are operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles with one (St. Mary of the Assumption School) being one of the largest Catholic elementary schools in Los Angeles County. St Gregory The Great School has been Number One in their deanery for the Academic Decathlon two years in a row.
Whittier Friends School is a member of the Friends Council on Education and associated with First Friends Church of Whittier, the founding Quaker meeting of Whittier. Whittier Friends School includes a licensed preschool and an elementary school (TK-6th grade).
Trinity Lutheran School, a ministry of Trinity Lutheran Church, serves kindergarten through eighth grade.
Whittier Christian School, a ministry of Calvary Baptist Church, Association of Christian Schools International serves the Whittier community. They have an Elementary campus, two Preschool campuses, one Junior High, and one High School.
Plymouth Christian School, a ministry of Plymouth Church, serves preschool through sixth grade.
Higher education institutions in the area include Rio Hondo College, which lies just outside the city, Southern California University of Health Sciences, and historic Whittier College.
The local newspaper is the Whittier Daily News. Other area papers include the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the parent paper of the Whittier Daily News, the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register. Music fanzine Los Angeles Flipside published locally from 1977 to 1990. Former newspaper include: Coast Reporter, Whittier Californian, Whittier Graphic, Whittier Star Reporter, and more.
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services operates the Whittier Health Center in Whittier.
At one time the California Youth Authority operated the Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility. The center, which started operations in 1890, closed on May 27, 2004.
There are a variety of bus routes operating within the city with Metro, Foothill Transit, Montebello Bus Lines and the Norwalk Transit being the leading bus lines used within the city. Foothill Transit line 274 originates at Beverly & Norwalk, then proceeds north to Baldwin Park via Workman Mill Road and Puente Avenue. Foothill Transit line 285 travels through Whittier on Whittier Boulevard and Colima Road between La Habra and Hacienda Heights. Montebello Transit Line 10 originates at Whittwood Mall, then proceeds west to Montebello and the Atlantic L Line station via Whittier Boulevard. Montebello 40 originates at Beverly and Norwalk, then proceeds west to Montebello and Downtown Los Angeles via Beverly Boulevard and 4th Street. Montebello 50 travels through Whittier between La Mirada and Downtown Los Angeles. Metro Bus line 121 originates at Whittwood Mall and travels west to the Norwalk C Line station, then to the Aviation C line station via Imperial Hwy. Metro Bus line 270 runs through North, Uptown and West Whittier on its way between Monrovia and the Norwalk Green Line station. The Sunshine Shuttle is a circular serving Whittier and the unincorporated communities of South and West Whittier
The city also has a variety of roads. One freeway, the San Gabriel River Freeway (I-605) runs right along the northern end of the city. State Route 72 runs via Whittier Boulevard and forms part of El Camino Real. Other major streets in Whittier include Beverly Boulevard, Colima Road, Greenleaf Avenue, Lambert Road, Mar Vista Street, Mills Avenue, Norwalk Boulevard, Painter Avenue, Philadelphia Street and Washington Boulevard.
Law enforcement services are provided by the Whittier Police Department
There are three fire stations within Whittier city limits: Los Angeles County Fire Department Station 28 (Engine, Quint, Paramedic Squad, Mobile Aid, and the Battalion Chief), Station 17 (Engine), Station 59 (Engine and EST).
The Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility served as a state reform school for boys and girls until 1916, when the girls were moved elsewhere.
Opened in 1891 before Whittier was incorporated, Nelles was the longest-running state school for juvenile offenders in California and has been declared a California State Historical Landmark. It closed on May 27, 2004, and the facility was used as a television filming site. In 2014, Brookfield Residential Properties announced plans for a large retail, commercial and residential project on the site. Much of Whittier is built out so the 74 acres (30 ha) site brings a unique chance for growth in the city. Although over 50 buildings were demolished, discussions have focused on how many of the eight historic buildings should be preserved. The administration building that was constructed in 1928–29, has its own historical designation. Housing and commercial space are under construction on the site.
Various notable movies and television shows have been filmed in the city including: