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Sherman Left Mark and Name on Area

VALLEY 200: To commemorate the bicentennial of the San Fernando Mission and the San Fernando Valley, for 200 days we will feature people --some famous, some notorious-- who left their mark on the area.

September 02, 1997|MAGGIE BARNETT

The man who gave his name to two streets and an entire community in the San Fernando Valley was a 19-year-old New York schoolteacher when he headed west in 1873 seeking a geographical cure for his ill health.

Moses Hazeltine Sherman arrived nearly penniless in Arizona, where in 17 years he built such a vast fortune in real estate, banking, ranching and railroads that he was the greatest taxpayer in Phoenix.

He became known as "General" M.H. Sherman, an honorary title stemming more from his friendship with Arizona's governor than any exploits in battle.

Looking to expand his railroad holdings, Sherman came to Los Angeles to co-found the Consolidated Electric Railway Co. in 1891. By 1893, the company was operating 35 miles of electric line, which eventually became the famed "Red Car" system that ran from Pasadena to Santa Monica and down to Redondo Beach.

The iconic "Hollywood" sign is a relic of a real estate syndicate he founded in 1901, beckoning buyers to the large subdivision called "Hollywoodland." A second syndicate that Sherman was involved in bought 47,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley.

Critics accused this syndicate of conspiracy in connection with the Owens Valley water project, which turned the Valley from a dry riverbed into a garden oasis, greatly multiplying the original investment.

Although the syndicate had originally agreed not to name developments after themselves, they did. Sherman Oaks, Sherman Way and Hazeltine Avenue testified to the general's involvement.

The Times obituary following his death on Oct. 9, 1932, praised Sherman for his philanthropy, citing the "immense sums in personal aid" he had routinely given to a "long list of worthy unfortunates." But his greatest contribution was an uncanny ability to attract money to the region.

One biographer claims that investors sometimes ran in fear when they saw him coming, afraid they wouldn't be able to resist his powers of persuasion.

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