By Mark Gutglueck
Albert S. White was one of those figures from San Bernardino County’s history who is most closely associated with that section of San Bernardino County no longer within its jurisdiction, i.e., Riverside County.
Indeed, though he was at one time one of San Bernardino County’s elite and a member of its establishment, ultimately he proved a traitor to the county when he joined with the forces that saw Riverside County removed from it.
Though he resides in infamy in San Bernardino County, he is celebrated in Riverside County as one of its founders.
San Bernardino County, which was itself formed when it was de-annexed from Los Angeles County by a legislative act on April 26, 1853, was itself cut up in 1893, when Riverside County gained its independence.
Albert Starett White was born in Belfast, Maine, in 1840. He moved to New York City while still a child. He was mercantilist there during his early manhood. Ill health forced him to leave the metropolis for a more moderate climate. In January 1876 he crossed the continent and sampled several of the well known health resorts along the Pacific Coast. The coastal climate did him no good; indeed, it seemed to worsen his condition. He ventured inland, seeking a higher altitude and drier climate. Riverside suited him well. He spent the entire winter there, regaining his strength.
At that point, Riverside numbered fewer than 400 people. He purchased 40 acres of land along what is now Magnolia Avenue. He returned to New York to settle his business affairs there and headed back to California, arriving in Riverside again in the fall of 1876.
With zeal, he undertook the improvement of his barren ranch property, planting there the choicest varieties of fruit trees and vines which he had brought with him from the East Coast.
He established himself as an expert horticulturist and built up one of the most productive nurseries in the small Riverside colony.
Together with a man with the last name Rudisill, Albert White organized the first citrus fair in Riverside. That effort proved a success and he undertook a fundraising campaign to build a suitable structure in which to hold future fairs.
The Citrus Fair Association and the erection of a pavilion was the result of his labors and in all succeeding expositions Mr. White was the leading principal, devoting time, energy and money to the fair’s advancement and success.
Among the endeavors he devoted himself to were the building of the Universalist Church and the Arlington School House. He was a founder of the Library Association and was a library trustee for many years. He had a leading role in the construction of the Carnegie Library Building. White was also the organizer of the Citizen’s Water Company and its successor, the Riverside Water Company, and he served as a director on each board and as president for one term. He was for several years the vice-president of the Riverside Land Company and was a director at the time of his death. White was one of the original incorporators and directors of the Riverside and Arlington Railway Company. When the State Board of Horticulture was organized, he was appointed to that board for two years by Governor George Clement Perkins as the representative from Southern Californa. White was for four years a trustee of the city of Riverside and for part of that time was president of the board and acting mayor.
In 1887, Mr. White associated himself with Frank A. Miller and entered the real estate and insurance business, in which his firm enjoyed a great success. He was one of the promoters of the Riverside Improvement Company, which, conversely, proved a disastrous failure and his reserves were seriously eroded in trying to make good that enterprise’s indebtedness. One of his most successful enterprises and one which recouped for him some of his previous fortunes, was the White’s Addition Subdivision. White was the pioneer on the east side of the canal, having realized early on the great potential for the development of that section of the city. His addition to Riverside, comprising eighty acres originally owned by the North family, was one of the means by which the borders of the city were enlarged. That part of the city was laid off with sidewalks added and a strip of land specially reserved for shade trees on each side of the street and on the outer side of the sidewalk. The street trees were also planted by White and his associates – W.A. Hayt and C.W. Sylvester. Everything was thus ready for making a very attractive addition to the town in conformity with the movement that in later years became the policy of the city authorities in regard to the planting and care of street trees.
White was elected to the office of San Bernardino County Third District supervisor, which included the town of Riverside, serving from January 5, 1885 to January 7, 1889. He was again elected in 1891. It was at this point that his perfidy with respect to San Bernardino County reached its zenith, as he actively militated to have Riverside County secede from San Bernardino County. He served as supervisor from January 12, 1892 to August 14, 1893, when Riverside County was officially formed. He continued as supervisor, this time south of the county limits, serving his new county. During his latter term of office the Box Springs Road on the way to Perris and the eastern part of the county was built. At the time the road was finished, it was one of the best in California.
When the road was planned, White insisted that it run in a straight line from the head of Eighth Street to the front of the grade, as there was at the time a site for a town laid off on the level land to be supplied by water from a tunnel fun into the hill near the original Box Springs. The idea of a town was abandoned when the supply of water proved inadequate.
A monument to White was created with Albert S. White Park, which occupies part of the four blocks situated between Eighth and Tenth, Market and Chestnut Streets.. White donated the land for the park. A deed from the Riverside Land and Irrigating Company contained conditions about it being improved as a park, and White spent several of the last years of his life seeing that its conversion to a park was fulfilled. . He laid the park out, planning its design and landscaping it. There were features to the park that would have been difficult to duplicate elsewhere, the most noted of which was one of the largest collections of cacti to be found anywhere.
White was the first president of the Rubidoux Hotel Association. In 1889 he was a director of the Loring Opera Stock Company, which gave Riverside the most elegant opera house in Southern California. He was a member of the Huntington Park Association, which had the first auto road installed to the top of Mt. Rubidoux in 1906. He was one of the founders of the Knights of Pythias Lodge in Riverside. White was one of the city of Riverside’s park commissioners. He died on June 21, 1909, while still serving in that capacity. Unmarried, Mr. White was survived by various cousins and their families.
By Mark Gutglueck