Murphy Ranch

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Murphy Ranch, located on the south slope of the Whittier Hills, was one of the best-known citrus properties in Southern California. It was developed by Simon J. Murphy, who acquired it in 1890, the same year he brought water to East Whittier from the San Gabriel River. Once water was available, he subdivided portions of the East Whittier district into 5- and 10-acre lots. The name Murphy is familiar to many Whittier residents, as Murphy Memorial Hospital was a gift to the city of Whittier by Simon J. Murphy, Jr.

Murphy Ranch Collection

Citrus was first planted at Murphy Ranch in 1910. As of 1941, when the transformation into 800-acre housing development Friendly Hills began, it was one of the largest citrus ranches in the state, with its own packing house, and fruit marketed through the California Fruit Growers Exchange. It had its own labs for soil analysis, pest control and research. Amenities of Friendly Hills originally included a ranch center with stables for horses, filling station, general store, blacksmith, machine shops, and homes for ranch workers. Bridle trails and roads in Friendly Hills were restricted to residents.

The sale of Friendly Hills was handled by real estate and insurance company Swain-Nanney Co. J. G. Swain was president, and L. C. Nanney was secretary-treasurer.

John G. Swain (1885-1965) was born in Kansas, and arrived in Whittier with his parents at the age of eight. In 1905, using money he had earned peeling peaches at Vernon Cannery, he began a wallpaper and paint business in Whittier, which he sold two years later. In 1906, he married Clara M. Heydenreich, a native of Pasadena. In 1907, he became assistant postmaster under C. F. Baldwin, a position he held for four years. He worked briefly as a bookkeeper at Whittier National Bank, then worked as assistant secretary at Whittier Home Telegraph & Telephone Company for seven years. In 1917, J. G. Swain began a real estate and insurance business, which he ran alone until 1921, when he partnered with L. C. Nanney, who had worked as a chemistry teacher at Whittier High School. Swain-Nanney was widely known for handling real estate sales in the Whittier area through the Post-War era.

Frank Garland Swain (1919-1965), son of John G. and Clara Swain and photographer of this collection, was born and raised in Whittier, and attended Whittier High School and Whittier College. In the early 1930s he worked for the Whittier News as a reporter, earning the nickname “Scoop”. He married Margaret in 1932, and worked in hospital administration at Santa Monica Hospital, where his father-in-law was president. In 1943, he and his family moved to Pico Rivera, to the Red Barn Ranch, and later to Balboa Island. He joined Swain-Nanney Realty Co. in 1946, working primarily as an appraiser. He reached the rank of senior appraiser with the Society of Residential Appraisers in the Los Angeles chapter.

It was in 1941 that Frank Garland Swain photographed Murphy Ranch for a photography class assignment. Many of the photographs in this collection are duplicates, as Swain was testing out various lighting and angles for his photography class. The collection of 35mm negatives was generously donated to the Whittier Public Library by F. Garland Swain’s daughter, Margaret Lewis.

MUR-185. Murphy Ranch, 1941. Donated by Margaret Lewis. Courtesy Whittier Public Library, Murphy Ranch Collection.
MUR-185. Murphy Ranch, 1941. Donated by Margaret Lewis. Courtesy Whittier Public Library, Murphy Ranch Collection.