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The Sudden Demise of Dwight Whiting

A newspaper tribute to the founder of El Toro reveals several ironies.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s a writer by the name of Richard Lamparksi wrote a series of books called Whatever Became of . . . ?, chronicling what had happened to celebrities in their post-fame years.

While researching those who pioneered and populated old El Toro, I've often wondered the same thing. After they made their mark, whatever happened to all those folks whose names appear in A History of El Toro by  and in ’s four books about old El Toro and the Saddleback Valley?

For the most part, they seem to have dropped out of recorded sight.

Such seemed to be the case with El Toro founder Dwight Whiting, who is  mentioned only as having moved to Los Angeles. But what year? Why? And whatever happened to him? 

So, with the help of—who else—Herb Abrams of the Genealogical Department at the Mission Viejo Library, the first person I decided to trace was El Toro founder Dwight Whiting.

Within 24 hours of my emailed request, Herb zapped me the following obituary from the May 1, 1907 edition of the Los Angeles Times, section II, page 6:

SON WILL CARRY OUT HIS WISHES

Late Dwight Whiting Leaves Forestry Instructions

Elder Boy to Be Educated Here and In Germany to be Specialist In Trees—Friends From Many Parts of State Attend Funeral—Bishop Johnson Officiates

, forester, general authority on eucalyptus culture in America, and one of the pioneers in placing this class of forestry on a commercial scale, whose funeral was held yesterday at St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, made ample provisions before his death for the carrying on of his forestry work by his oldest son, Dwight Whiting, Jr.

The boy, who is now 15, is to receive an education in this country especially fitting him as a specialist in forestry, and then is to receive a special course in the University of Leipzig, Germany.  It was the wish of his father that he and his brother retain control of the vast eucalyptus grove at El Toro, and that yearly plantings be added to the forest already established.

The funeral of Dwight Whiting was attended by friends from many parts of Southern California.  Bishop Johnson conducted the services, assisted by Reverend Henderson Judd. The pall-bearers were old-time friends of Mr. Whiting: Judge A. W. Hutton, J. W. McKinley, Hancock Banning, , Major H. T. Lee, Major E. E. Klokke, Irving Ingram and Frank Walker. 

The body was cremated at Rosedale Cemetery in accordance with the wishes of the deceased.

Dwight Whiting came of old Revolutionary stock, being the youngest son of Nathaniel Whiting, one of the old-time Boston merchants. He was born at Watertown, near Boston, in 1854, and his early life was spent in and around Boston.

He was educated in the Boston Technical School, taking a course in mineralogy, and then he traveled extensively through Europe and spent some time down in Africa. Returning to Boston, his health failed and he came to California in 1874, living with his sister, Mrs. William Howard. He returned East, but came back to California in 1887.

In 1888 he was married in Santa Barbara to Miss , and to them were born three children, Natalie, who died seven years ago; Dwight Whiting, Jr.; and George. The two sons are with their mother at the family residence, No. 627 St. Paul avenue.

Mrs. William Howard, the only surviving sister of the deceased, was present at the funeral. Her home is in Boston, but she had been spending the winter at Coronado, and was on the point of returning to the East when a message came announcing the death of her brother.

Death resulted from injuries received on a Santa Fe train while Mr. and Mrs. Whiting were returning from Los Angeles from the El Toro ranch with a party of friends. Mr. Whiting was walking down the aisle of the car when the train gave a lurch and he was thrown against the corner of one of the seats, the impact causing internal hemorrhages.  The accident at first was not considered a serious one, and a day or so after it occurred the injured man was able to make a trip to Santa Barbara, but while there he became much worse and returned to his home, where he soon died.

While deeply interested in the study of forestry, Dwight Whiting made a special study of eucalyptus culture and its adaptability to the conditions prevailing in Southern California.  He believed that there is a great future for eucalyptus forestry in this State, and that its extension is certain to make the acreage of Southern California double in value in a short time.

As an evidence of his faith, he purchased the , or “ranch of the sycamores,” near El Toro, and there began his tree planting. At the time of his death he had 960 acres set to the most desirable varieties of Eucalyptus.  Trees which have been planted only three years have attained a height of forty feet.

It was his intention to continue this tree planting on the ranch until there were 4000 acres set to eucalyptus.  This plan will be carried out by his son.  There will be planted during the present year 100,000 young trees, and 600,000 will be propagated for future planting.

After two and a half years of the many business cares of Mr. Whiting decided him [sic] to remove to this city, and the family was established in the residence purchased from General Adna Chaffee at Figueroa and Adams street. For a short period the family lived in Boston, but the call of California was stronger than old family ties, and the Whitings returned to the land of sunshine.

was a member of the Pacific Union Club in San Francisco and of the California Club in this city.  He was an Episcopalian and a member of St. Paul’s parish.  His charities were extensive but entirely through private channels.  Often, it is said, his donations through charities were made without the recipients ever knowing who was their benefactor.

A man of wide business experience, cultivated mind and genial manner, his circle of friends was a wide one, extending to many parts of the state. His [illegible] work for the State in demonstrating the possibilities of intelligent forestry is one that can never be overestimated.

**********

So, aside from wondering about that indeciperable word in the last paragraph, what do you think?

Here are my own thoughts: 

  • Given that he was instrumental in bringing the to El Toro, I find it ironic that Dwight Whiting's death was caused by an accident on that very line.
  • Dwight and Emily's eldest son is referred to as Dwight Whiting, Jr. Typically, however, I've seen him identified as Dwight Anson Whiting . . . never Dwight Jr.
  • Likewise, the name of Dwight and Emily's daughter, Nathalie—probably a feminized version of her paternal grandfather's first name—is recorded as Natalie. 
  • Did “Dwight Whiting, Jr.” really get around to taking “a special course [at] the University of Leipzig, Germany"?  If you know something about this, let me know. As yet, I can find no evidence of it.
  • The obituary leads the reader to believe that "eucalyptus culture" will be the deceased's greatest legacy. As it turned out, however,  was sadly misplaced, for eventually it became all too apparent that California-grown eucalyptus produces inferior lumber.
  • On the plus side, however, the eucalyptus remains a signature image of today's Lake Forest and justifies the second portion of the city’s current nomenclature.
  • After some Googling, I've come to the conclusion that the Whitings' first Los Angeles home, originally owned by legendary U.S. Army General Adna Chaffee, does not appear to have survived into the 21st century. Fortunately, many grand Victorian mansions in that area did prevail, and the neighborhood is now known and celebrated as Historic West Adams.
  • After more Googling, it seems probable that the Whitings' second Los Angeles home at 627 St. Paul Avenue, like the Chaffee home, was not preserved and mostly likely fell victim to urban renewal. 

By the way, the photo accompanying this story may be one of the very last photos taken of Dwight Whiting. He's the portly gentleman, smoking a stogie and seated in back next to fellow south Orange County entrepreneur . A friend, Robert Denis, sits up front; the spiffy-looking gentleman at the wheel is identified as a car salesman.

Did he make the sale? Hard to say, so for the time being let's just add it to our list of Old El Toro mysteries!   

Mike Smith July 30, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Hi, you don't know whether the house built in El Toro was made of eucalyptus timber do you? That might account for its demise. BTW - am reading Bill Bryson's excellent At Home - a Short History of Private Life. In it, he mentions how many classic houses in the early US didn't survive because they were built of (untreated?) wood. I do a newsletter called Forest Information Update and will use a link to your item in the news section. Cheers, Mike Smith
Carol Grams July 30, 2012 at 07:11 PM
I always enjoy your articles, Janet.
Janet Whitcomb July 30, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Hi Mike, Funny you should mention Dwight Whiting’s El Toro home, Mike . . . . I’m in process of learning more about it from a Prothero family grandson! As I understand it, his grandparents purchased the home from the Whiting family and resided there until the property was sold and the home and orchards torn down to accommodate redevelopment. I don’t believe the house was built from eucalyptus, but I will be certain to ask when I next communicate with the grandson. The Bennett family home is the one of the few old El Toro homes that survives; it was relocated to Heritage Hill Park in the 1970s. Also it should be noted that the home of actress Helena Modjeska—built around a homesteader’s structure, and designed by famous architect Stanford White—also has made it into the 21st century, and in fact can be visited during docent-led tours by calling Heritage Hill at 949-923-2230 for reservations. The home was largely built of redwood, which may be one of the reasons for its longevity. And here is the address to an El Toro & More installment about Modjeska: http://lakeforest-ca.patch.com/articles/the-actress-back-in-the-canyon Janet
Janet Whitcomb July 30, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Thank you so much, Carol! Janet

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