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From Sherman Library's Collections

Articles highlighting Sherman Library's collections and the history of Sherman Library & Gardens.

M. H. Sherman, Arnold Haskell, and the Hollywood Sign

Paul Wormser - Wednesday, September 06, 2017
What does the Hollywood sign have to do with Sherman Library & Gardens?  Quite a lot, as it turns out.  The Hollywood sign started out as the Hollywoodland sign, an advertising gimmick designed to attract buyers to a new luxury housing subdivision: Hollywoodland.  Dubbed “the supreme achievement in community building,” the subdivision land was owned by Moses H. Sherman, namesake of Sherman Library & Gardens.  In 1922, Sherman put together the Hollywoodland syndicate (as business partnerships were often called then) which included his business partner and brother-in-law Eli P. Clark, Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, and developers Tracy Shoults and Sydney H. Woodruff.  The Hollywoodland sign cost the syndicate $23,501.32. While the sign proved popular, sales of lots in Hollywoodland were lackluster.  The cost of building in the Hollywood hills was too high for many and the Great Depression ended any hope of making money from the deal.  In 1933, the syndicate dissolved and the unsold land, including the Hollywoodland sign, became property of the M. H. Sherman Company.
 
Promotional photograph for
Hollywoodland, ca. 1923.
Sherman Library Collections 

Increasingly in disrepair, maintenance of the sign became a problem for Arnold Haskell, future founder of Sherman Library & Gardens –  and after Sherman’s death in 1932 – president of M. H. Sherman Company. The sign was expensive to maintain, but it was not generating any revenues. On September 19, 1936 the left most “O” in the sign fell down.  Two days later Haskell had a report detailing the structural problems of the sign – letter by letter.  But the cost was too high considering how few lots were selling.  By 1938 the condition had worsened to the extent that Hollywood Citizen-News published a letter from a reader who wrote, “I wish that during the Easter vacation some of the public-spirited Hollywood High School students would get [the] necessary equipment and go up to the ‘HOLLYWOODLAND’ sign on Hollywood Mountain and replace two or three of the letters that have blown down.”  In early 1939, the company bowed to public pressure and repaired the sign at a cost of $2,177.43.  But the company continued to look for ways to rid itself of the sign – even negotiating, but never signing – a deal with the producers of the film Wilson to use the sign’s superstructure to mount advertising for the movie’s opening, in return for removing the entire sign afterward. The solution finally came in the form of a gift. In 1945, the M. H. Sherman Company donated 455 acres, including the sign, to the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, as an addition to Griffith Park.  Later the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce paid to repair the sign and remove the “LAND” portion.

Founding Sherman Library & Gardens

Paul Wormser - Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Sherman Library & Gardens’ origins can be traced to one day in April 1914. On that day, Moses Hazeltine Sherman approached Arnold Haskell,  a young man working as a clerk at the reception desk of the Mission Inn in Riverside, with a job offer.  Years later Haskell recalled, “The General [Sherman] came in and he said, ‘Arnold, do you want to work for me?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ He said, ‘Well, the train leaves for Los Angeles at four o'clock this afternoon.’ Years later, Arnold Haskell would honor the man who hired him by naming Sherman Library & Gardens after him.

 


 
A Young Arnold Haskell at work, ca. 1920
Sherman Library 

In 1914 when Sherman hired Haskell, Sherman was a highly successful and well-known businessman.  More than forty years before, as a young man, Sherman had moved to the Arizona Territory to teach school.  In the coming years, he would rise in prominence, becoming the first Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Later, he was appointed, and then re-elected, Adjutant General of Arizona, in charge of the territorial militia – thus earning the honorary title “General.” He also manifested a talent for finance and investment – in mines and real estate initially.  He eventually owned the Phoenix Street Railway, had a controlling interest in the Phoenix Water Company and owned considerable land in Phoenix, even donating the land on which sits the State Capital building.  By 1890 he was looking to expand his investments.  He chose Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, Sherman began acquiring street railroads to created the first network of electric street cars, the Los Angeles Consolidated Electric Railway. He then built the first interurban in Southern California, the Los Angeles and Pasadena Railway.  While building his railroads and investing in land, Sherman was also making friends.  Most prominent among these were Harrison Grey Otis, founder of the Los Angeles Times; Harry Chandler, Otis’s son-in-law and publisher of the Times; Otto F. Brant, a founder of Title Insurance and Trust Company; and Hobart Whitley, sometimes known as the “Father of Hollywood.”  In 1909, these men formed the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company, which acquired 47,500 acres of farmland in the San Fernando Valley and subdivided it following the arrival of water through the Los Angeles Aqueduct, creating Canoga Park, Van Nuys and Encino in the process. In 1912, members of this same group purchased the Tejon Ranch, which encompassed more than 275,000 acres at the top of Tejon Pass.

Thus, when Arnold Haskell signed on with Sherman, he was agreeing to work for one of the most prominent and successful businessmen in Los Angeles.  When Sherman hired Haskell, there was no negotiation over salary or responsibilities.  Haskell did not know what his duties would be or how much he would be paid.  He could not have known that he would stay in the Sherman’s employ for the next eighteen years, becoming his almost constant companion, closest confidant and eventual successor to his business interests.

Haskell became Sherman’s personal secretary, working with him on every aspect of his businesses.  In the years that Haskell worked for Sherman, he continued to launch new enterprises.  For example, Sherman became one of the founders of the Los Angeles Steamship Company, a passenger line with routes to San Francisco and Honolulu. He also created a partnership that developed Hollywoodland, and subdivided 1,000 acres of his San Fernando Valley holdings to create Sherman Oaks.

Sherman passed away in 1932. The last couple of years of his life, in ill health, he retreated to a home on Bay Island, in Newport Harbor.  Sherman’s illness and the effects of the Great Depression left his estate deeply in debt, despite valuable land holdings.  In the first few years following Sherman’s death, Arnold Haskell worked with extraordinary tenacity and intelligence as trustee of the estate and president of the M. H. Sherman Company to turn around the investments. Haskell then focused on expanding his real estate portfolio, acquiring prime land in Los Angles, Newport Beach and Dana Point.  By 1951, he felt he was successful enough to launch a new career as a philanthropist.  With Sherman’s two daughters – Lucy and Hazeltine –  Haskell created the Sherman Foundation. 

In its first 15 years the Foundation functioned as a grant-making institution, but that would eventually change.  In 1955, Haskell moved his business offices from Los Angeles to Corona del Mar after buying a parcel of land at the corner of Coast Highway and Dahlia from Norman’s Nursery.  The lot had a small adobe house dating from the late 1930s which Haskell used as an office.  In 1956 he added additional office space.  Both the adobe and office addition are now occupied by Sherman Library.

Arnold Haskell then started buying more property on the same block. He had to do this quietly to  keep the sellers from raising prices.  It took him more than a decade to acquire the land that is now Sherman Library & Gardens.  Having done so, the Sherman Foundation shifted its focus from grants to creating to creating a research library and public gardens. Planning began in earnest 50 years ago.  It was not until 1974 that construction of Sherman Library & Gardens was complete

So why did Arnold Haskell name Sherman Library & Gardens after his mentor?  In 1974, Haskell said:

[Sherman] was a heck of a good teacher, too; he taught me everything I know about business …  But one thing the General wanted: he wanted his name to be perpetuated. Now I never cared for that. In 1951, when I founded the Foundation, the attorneys wanted me to call it the Arnold Haskell Foundation, because they felt that, being alive, I could accomplish more with it than if it was named after somebody that nobody knew. But I thought, well, this is the opportunity… to carry on the General's name.

 

 
Arnold Haskell and founding Gardens Director Wade Roberts cutting the ribbon at the opening of the South Gate, 1972
Sherman Library