March 22, 2008


Upscale Latinos find a home: Once known for its Quaker past and links to Richard Nixon, Whittier is coming to symbolize a new set of aspirations. (Hector Becerra, 3/22/08, Los Angeles Times)

Decades before the couple bought the 12,500-square-foot home, back when it was still the old Reilly estate, Whittier's most famous resident, Richard Nixon, attended social events in some of these rooms. When it was built in 1927, the mansion represented everything Whittier aspired to. John B. Reilly was a powerful local Republican, an oilman who years later helped Nixon make his first run for political office. When he became president, Nixon provided one of Reilly's daughters with a Cabinet position.

Now the Reilly estate has become the Zapanta estate, and it stands as a monument to a new set of aspirations.

The Zapantas are fourth-generation Mexican Americans from East Los Angeles, part of a wave of doctors and lawyers, small-business owners and school administrators who are remaking Whittier into a center of upper-middle- class and upper-class Latino life in Southern California.

Like Reilly years before, the Zapantas host political events at the spacious mansion. But their preferred candidates are Latino Democrats. They have held two fundraisers for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and one for former presidential candidate Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico. Once a year, they offer tours of their vast collection of Mexican art.

The last U.S. census counted Whittier's population at 83,838. Latinos constituted 23% of Whittier residents in 1980; they were 56% as of 2000 and that number is presumed to be more than 60% by now.

The city's neighborhoods reflect a range of economic levels, with working-class and middle-class residents tending to live in the flatlands and the affluent higher in the hills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 22, 2008 8:18 AM
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