"I'm able to render a service to the public far beyond anything I could in any elected position."
(1864-1944) In 1980, Dorothy Chandler addressed the Los Angeles Times’ staff and reminisced about her father-in-law: “I think of Harry Chandler not as a publisher but as a land developer, a builder, a dreamer—bringing the Owens Valley water, creating the Los Angeles Harbor. His mind wasn’t on the newspaper—I hate to tell you—but on those things that have made Los Angeles as great as it is.”
Harry Chandler rarely granted interviews and was not, by nature, an introspective man. When asked to what he attributed his success, Chandler, who inherited the Times from his father-in-law Harrison Gray Otis, invariably answered by sharing two stories. Both had enough drama and sense of destiny to discourage further questions.
Story number one began with his reason for coming to Los Angeles. Chandler had just entered Dartmouth, not far from the New Hampshire town that he and his descendants had called home for more than two centuries. On a dare, he jumped into an ice-covered starch vat in a factory near campus. When Chandler developed pneumonia, doctors advised that his best chance at survival was to hurry to California and recuperate in the sunshine. Arriving in Los Angeles, he found lodging at a cheap boardinghouse but was ejected after one night because of the severity of his illness. Seventeen years old, homeless and despairing, he wandered aimlessly downtown until a photograph in a store window caught his eye. It was his own picture, taken a dozen years earlier for the cover of American Boy magazine. “I must be good for something if my picture is worth displaying,” he told himself. The thought gave him courage, and that’s why, he’d say, he always kept a copy of that boyhood photo in his top desk drawer at the Times.
Story number two began later the same day Chandler saw his picture in the store window. He met a doctor who, sympathetic to his illness because he was likewise afflicted, offered the young man room and board to work at his small orchard on the edge of the San Fernando Valley. Stripped to the waist to absorb a maximum of sunshine, “I gained strength and weight and burned so brown I was sometimes mistaken for a Mexican,” Chandler would later say. His appearance prompted an apology after land baron Isaac Newton Van Nuys had kicked young Chandler off his wheat fields for selling fruit to the immigrant threshing crews: “My foreman assures me you are not the Mexican who has sold liquor disguised as a fruit peddler. I’ll let you sell your peaches to all the labor camps here.” Three decades later, Chandler and his backers bought the 60,000 acre San Fernando Valley ranch for $2.5 million—$500,000 less than what another syndicate was willing to pay. Chandler would finish his tale by saying the elderly Van Nuys told him, “I don’t know these other people but I’ve known you ever since you were a fruit peddler and you’ve always kept your word. I’ll let you have the ranch at your figure.”
Eight years before his death, Chandler set up two trusts to protect his estimated $500 million fortune from inheritance taxes and infighting among his heirs and to ensure that Chandler descendants would maintain control of the Times Mirror Company.