Gurdon Wallace Wattles was born in 1855 in Tioga County, New York. His family moved to Iowa in 1868. He taught school and graduated from Iowa State University in 1876. He married Abigail Jane "Jennie" Leete in 1882 and started his banking career. Wattles moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1892, where he became a leading businessman. His career really took off with his success as the chairman of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in 1897. He organized the event which brought 2.6 million people to the state and elevated his presence in the Midwest. In 1905, Wattles bought ninety acres of land in Hollywood, California. He commissioned a house to be designed by Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey, architects of the Huntington estate, Pasadena Playhouse and the Beverly Hills Hotel. The house was completed in 1908. It was then that Wattles turned to creating his gardens. The gardens consisted of a rose garden, an Italian garden, an American garden and a Japanese garden imported from Japan. Sometime after the completion of their house, the Wattles adopted two sisters, Margaret Elizabeth and Mary Louise. The Wattles' first child, Frederick, died at the age of three and Abigail Wattles was instructed to not have any more children. Unfortunately, Mrs. Wattles only enjoyed her new house and adopted daughters for a few years. In 1916 she became very ill and died in May of that year.
After his wife's death, Wattles sent his daughters to a Massachusetts boarding school and he spent his time between Omaha and Hollywood. He was appointed the Federal Food Administrator for Nebraska where he met his future wife, Julia Vance. Vance was the director of the home economics department at the University of Nebraska and was in her late 30s. They were married in 1918. Gurdon and Julia Wattles moved to Hollywood in 1920, so that their child would be born in California. Gurdon thought that he would retire in California, but set up a side business with Henry Workman Keller. He later branched out on his own and faired rather well in the real estate business. He died in 1932, leaving a large estate to his wife and son, and trust funds for his two daughters.
Scope and Content
The manuscripts mainly consist of speeches or short pieces written by Gurdon Wallace Wattles regarding business practices, Nebraska, and his political views. It also includes scripts written by True Boardman. The majority of the correspondence is from Gurdon Wallace Wattles or addressed to him. These letters deal with his business matters in both Nebraska and California, family news and business, and there are many which describe the Wattles House and Gardens, especially the decorating of the Italian garden. There are also letters pertaining to the disposition of his will. Another set of letters describes Wattles' investment in a company which explored sound in film technology. The Ephemera section contains material relating to the Wattles family and their life in California. Among these materials are drawings for the Italian garden, weddings plans for the two daughters, membership cards, invitations to private and public events and photographs of the family on vacation and at the Wattles property. There are also materials related to the disposition of Wattles' will, some business papers and materials related to musicians the Wattles' supported. Participants include: Harry Chandler, Herbert Hoover, Henry Workman Keller, Robert Andrews Millikan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Gurdon Wallace Wattles, Jr., and the Republican National Committee. Subjects in the collection include: Beverly Hills Hotel; Los Angeles history; Los Angeles gardens; Hollywood, California; Motion picture industry in New York; Hot Springs, South Dakota; Los Angeles Newspapers; Omaha, Nebraska; Universal City, California; Herbert Hoover; Henry Workman Keller; and Wattles Jr.'s correspondence from World War, 1939-1945.