W. C. Hanawalt and the Hanawalt House
- Published on Saturday, 04 April 2009 15:12
A Pennsylvanian educator who came to California more than a hundred years ago left an enduring legacy for La Verne.
He brought his family here, kept a college going, and built a rather solid home.
The saga began in 1887 when I.W. Lord, a Los Angeles entrepreneur, bought land from Hispanic ranchers, and had it surveyed and divided into building lots. It was the time of ‘boom towns’ sited near the railroad lines
That May, bands went up and down streets in Los Angeles and Riverside telling of a land auction. Potential buyers took a free train ride here to enjoy a barbeque and bid on building lots for the new town of Lordsburg, which Lord modestly named after himself.
Part of the promotion was to build a large hotel on the block south of 3rd and west of D streets. It was, of course, named the Lordsburg Hotel, but as the real estate boom soon collapsed, the hotel never had a paying guest. Lord and his backers were left with a white elephant on their hands.
Several years later, members of a church known as the German Baptist Brethren bought the large building and opened Lordsburg College, actually more of an academy. Teachers and students lived in the large structure where classes were taught.
In 1902, after some ups and downs and great personal sacrifice, the trustees had to close the school. Some income had come from the church, which rented an assembly room for services, but this ended when they built a church at the corner of 4th and E streets.
W. C. Hanawalt, a school superintendent in Pennsylvania, heard about the situation, and took a train to Lordsburg to see if he could help. He saw reopening the institution as a challenge and convinced the trustees that he could do it.
Hanawalt went back to Pennsylvania and resigned his position there, then returned to Lordsburg in September 1902 with his wife, two children, and a young teacher named Grace Hileman, who became famous as Grace Miller.
Hanawalt leased the Lordsburg College for six years. He cleaned and repaired the building, organized a curriculum emphasizing secondary education, and provided dynamic leadership. He revitalized the institution. Without his backing and leadership the school may not have survived.
Hanawalt bought land for a home across from the college. His half-brothers Russell, Ross, and Harvey joined him in Lordsburg and used a cast-iron hand-operated machine to make concrete blocks for construction.
The home was one of the earliest private homes in California to be built of such blocks. It is two-story, with a wide porch to the north and east, and a hexagonal tower at the northwest corner.
Hanawalt enjoyed running the college. He was piqued when the lease ended and trustees decided to turn the work over to the church district. Lordsburg College became La Verne College, and is now the University of La Verne.
Hanawalt rented out the house in 1908 and moved. His wife passed away and he remarried, farmed and served as a federal loan appraiser.
Two similar homes were built in Chino and McFarland using the concrete block machine.
Harvey and J. Ross Hanawalt became leading contractors. Many of the homes here have foundations built of their concrete ‘Hanawalt blocks.’ The two supplied cement and construction expertise when the church group built the enormous Church of the Brethren in 1930.
Hanawalt farmed in Pennsylvania for ten years, coming back in 1945 to retire here. He remained interested in the college, but still rankled at his treatment. He passed away in 1953.
His wife Pearl lived in the home another twenty years, then sold it to the University of La Verne. It served as a child care center, then campus offices.
A bronze historical marker was ready to site when in December 2004, the historic old home caught fire and was badly damaged.
Our community solidly backed the decision of university officials to restore the structure for office use. Restoration is now complete. The building is ready for another hundred years.
Early in May the Hanawalt House is scheduled to be reopened. The bronze marker will be placed to honor the home and its builder.
W. C.’s nephews Wayne, Clair, and Dwight Hanawalt and others of the large Hanawalt clan should be at the ceremony.
It will be a time to look back and pay tribute to W. C. Hanawalt and the accomplishments of the Hanawalt families in La Verne.