west lake park 1895
Wilshire’s real estate investment strategy was to purchase land just outside the edge of the city and in the direction of growth and sit on it while until the city spread out to meet it. Seeing that they had missed the big land boom in Los Angeles, Henry and William traveled to Long Beach to search for opportunities in this developing area. There was a rumor of a potential harbor there and if the railroad line was extended that would increase property values many times over. Even though Henry was not trained in city planning, surveying or as an engineer, despite the lack of bona fide qualifications he began mapping out the city of Long Beach. Henry made sketches of roads lined with trees and lampposts. His natural social charm befriended him with key city leaders. His enthusiasm catching the city commissioned Henry to work in conjunction with the city engineer. The Wilshire brothers held investments in Long Beach until 1889. A fire burned down the Long Beach Hotel, which they were living in, and the market in Long Beach was starting to drop.
Henry and William moved further south to Orange county. A chance meeting with Edward and George Amerige lead to a lucrative investment in the burgeoning town of Fullerton. The Amerige brothers had struck a deal with railroad agent George Fullerton to give the railroad some of their acreage in return for laying tracks through their land on a the route to San Diego. It probably helped their chances that they were proposing to name the city Fullerton.
Henry married an attractive Welsh women he met at the California Club named Hanna Owen in 1889. She was a fiery anarchist and William didn’t care much for her. William returned to San Fransico in 1890 after their father George passed away. Groerge left nearly all of the family fortune to his second wife Sarah who disliked Henry. Henry sued her, but was laughed out of court. Sarah eventually gave Henry $200,000 to shut him up.
That same year the Socialist Labor Party decided to run a candidate for Congress. The party members selected Henry as their candidate in the Sixth Congressional District, making him the first socialist to run for national office in the United States. Henry advanced the socialist message in a public forum. He was beaten quite badly in the election, only receiving 200 votes- however it was considered a success from members within the party. Henry used some of inherentence to start The Weekly Nationalist. The paper lost money, but Henry was passionate about spreading the socialist message. His wife Hannah wanted to move back to London and convinced Henry to join her. They stopped for a while in New York.
The Socialist party asked Henry when there to run for Attorney General. He ran, and in November 1891 Henry lost, receiving less than 2,000 votes. Nobody expected him to win and again it was considered a success for spreading the socialist message.
Henry moved to London and many of the prominent socialists of the time. Syndney Webb, George Benard Shaw, Henry George, The Countess of Warwick, and HG Wells. In 1893 after Henry became a dual citizen, the British Socialist Party ran him for parliament. He lost again. Henry became increasingly more moderate in his views about socialism, which conflicted with his wife Hannah who believed violence was necessary in order to make change. Henry liked the finer things in life- his whole life he always lived in fine homes, wore fine cloths, and hob knobbed with the social elite. He wasn’t suggesting that everyone would all become farmers. Hannah and him split up and he moved back to Los Angeles to figure out how to make more money- to continue to live the high life and further his socialist ideas.
Returning to Los Angeles Henry discovered a lot had changed since he left. The population had grown to over 50,000 and the city had grown to meet his parcel on the edge of town. When Wilshire bought the property Westlake Park was a city dump. In 1887 private funds enabled the land to be converted into a park (and renamed for World War II General Douglas MacArthur Jr. in 1942). Gaylord Wilshire told the city that in order for him to permit a street to bisect the property, the boulevard must be 120 feet wide and must bear his name. His street ran between Westlake Park and Lafayette Park. The 16 miles of Wilshire Boulevard which stretch from Downtown to the ocean is the main reason Henry is remembered to this day.
Wilshire returned to Los Angeles in 1895. Wilshire was one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Country Club at Pico and Alvarado, which moved westward in 1910 to its present day location in Century City.
Henry filed subdivision papers for the parcel December 21, 1895. The lots sold well- the first person to purchase a lot was Colonel Harrison Gray Otis. This was ironic because the Colonel ran the Los Angeles times and was very conservative, and disagreed with Wilshire’s political views. The colonel built Bivouac, a Spanish-Moorish style mansion, with portico and Ionic columns in front, a red clay tile roof and a carriage port.