Harrison Gray Otis (publisher)

Harrison Gray Otis (February 10, 1837 – July 30, 1917) was the president and general manager of the Times-Mirror Company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

Harrison Gray Otis
Harrison Gray Otis.jpg
Born(1837-02-10)February 10, 1837
DiedJuly 30, 1917(1917-07-30) (aged 80)
Occupationnewspaper publisher
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Eliza Ann Wetherby (m. 1859–1904, her death)
ChildrenLillian Otis McPherson
Marian Otis Chandler
Mabel Otis Booth
Parent(s)Stephen Otis
Sara Otis
RelativesMike Chandler (great-great grandson)
Marilyn "Missy" Brant Chandler (first great-granddaughter-in-law)
Bettina Whitaker Chandler (second great-granddaughter-in-law)
Norman Chandler (grandson)
Otis Chandler (great-grandson)
Dorothy Buffum Chandler (granddaughter-in-law)
Harry Chandler (son-in-law)


Early lifeEdit

Otis was born near Marietta, Ohio, on February 10, 1837, the son of Stephen and Sally (Dyar) Otis. His father was from Vermont and his mother, a native of Nova Scotia, Canada, came to Ohio from Boston, Massachusetts, with her family. The young Otis received schooling until he was fourteen, when he became a printer's apprentice at the Noble County Courier in Ohio.[1]

Otis and Eliza Ann Wetherby were married in Lowell, Ohio, on September 11, 1859, and they had three daughters, Lillian Otis McPherson, Marian Otis Chandler, who was secretary of Times-Mirror, and Mabel Otis Booth.[1]

He was a Kentucky delegate to the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for president in 1860. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he left his job as a compositor in the office of the Louisville Journal to volunteer as a private for the Union army. Otis fought in the 23rd Ohio Infantry. He was promoted through the ranks and was made an officer, a lieutenant, in November 1862 and left the Army in July 1865 as a captain.[1]

He was wounded twice in battle, was "twice breveted for gallant and meritorious conduct" and was promoted seven times.[2]


After the war, Otis was Official Reporter of the Ohio House of Representatives, then moved to Washington, D.C., where he was a government official, correspondent and editor.[1] In 1876, he and his family moved to Santa Barbara, California, which had a population then of about 3,000, and he purchased a local newspaper, the Santa Barbara Press, from C.W. Hollister, effective March 11 of that year.[3] He gave up journalism temporarily in 1879 when he was offered the post of chief government agent or special treasury agent[4] of the Northern Seal Islands, now known as the Pribilof Islands, in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the newly acquired territory of Alaska. He left that position in 1881 to return to Santa Barbara.[1]

Otis was editing his newspaper there when he went to Los Angeles—a larger city with a population of some 12,500—and agreed with the firm of Yarnell, Caystile & Mathes to take over editorial responsibilities at the Los Angeles Daily Times, now the Los Angeles Times. Beginning August 1, 1882, he was to "have the editorial conduct of the Daily Times and Weekly Mirror," according to an announcement in the Times.[5] Later the company was named Times-Mirror, and on April 6, 1886, it was reorganized, with Albert McFarland and W.A. Spalding as owners and Otis as president and general manager.[6] That was Otis's official title at the time of his death in 1917. The Times story about his demise noted that the Times-Mirror Company was "publishers [sic] of the Los Angeles Daily Times." The article called Otis the "principal owner" of the newspaper but never referred to him as publisher.[7][8] Eleven years earlier, however the Associated Press had called him "publisher of the Los Angeles Times."[9]

Otis was known for his conservative political views, which were reflected in the paper. His home was one of three buildings that were targeted in the 1910 Los Angeles Times bombing. During his time as publisher of the Times Otis is known for coining the phrase "You are either with me, or against me."

Later lifeEdit

Otis statue in MacArthur Park

When the Spanish–American War broke out in 1898, Otis asked President William McKinley for an appointment as Assistant Secretary of War. But Secretary of War Russell A. Alger did not want the conservative Otis serving under him. Otis thereupon again volunteered for the Army and was appointed brigadier general of volunteers. He served in the Philippines. He did not see any action against the Spanish, but commanded the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, VIII Corps during the Philippine–American War.

His support for his adopted city was instrumental in the growth of the city. He was a member of a group of investors who bought land in the San Fernando Valley based on inside knowledge that the Los Angeles Aqueduct would soon irrigate it. In 1909 the Suburban Homes Company, a syndicate led by H. J. Whitley, general manager of the Board of Control, along with Harry Chandler, H. G. Otis, M. H. Sherman and O. F. Brandt purchased 48,000 acres of the Farming and Milling Company for $2,500,000.[10] Henry E. Huntington, extended his Pacific Electric Railway (Red Cars) through the Valley to Owensmouth (now Canoga Park). The Suburban Home Company laid out plans for roads and the towns of Van Nuys, Reseda (Marian) and Canoga Park (Owensmouth). The rural areas were annexed into the city of Los Angeles in 1915.[11][12]On April 2, 1915 H. J. Whitley purchased the Suburban Home Company so that he would have complete control for finishing the development.[13]

Otis and his son-in-law Harry Chandler and others formed the Colorado River Land Company, which bought land in the Mexicali Valley of Baja California at the turn of the twentieth century when Mexico's President Porfirio Díaz encouraged foreign investment to develop the country. The company weathered the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), but the rich agricultural land held in foreign hands was expropriated by the Mexican government during its postrevolutionary land reform.[14]

On December 23, 1916, General Harrison Gray Otis, donated his spacious Wilshire Boulevard home across the street from MacArthur Park, known as the Bivouac, to Los Angeles County to be used “continuously and perpetually for the Arts and advancement of the Arts.” The Otis Art Institute of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art eventually became Otis College of Art and Design. The home was torn down in the 1950s, but the school built new buildings and occupied the space until 1997. It is now the site of a public elementary school.[15]

He died on July 30, 1917 at the home of his son-in-law, Harry Chandler.[16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Biographical Sketches of Distinguished Officers of the Army and Navy, New York: L.R. Hamersly, 1905
  2. ^ "Eliza A Otis." Magazine of Poetry: A Quarterly Review. October 1892: 375. Print. Vol. IV No. 4.
  3. ^ Ed Ainsworth, "Pair Honored by Press Had Interwoven Careers," Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1961, page J-1 A library card is required to access this link.
  4. ^ "Bering Sea Controversy," Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1892, page 6 A library card is required to access this link.
  5. ^ "Business Announcement," Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1882, page 2 A library card is required to access this link.
  6. ^ "Fourteen Years of Progress," Los Angeles Times, December 4, 1895, page 9 A library card is required to access this link.
  7. ^ "Gen. Otis Presents Candid Statement," Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1914, page II-1A library card is required to access this link.
  8. ^ "Gen. Harrison Gray Otis Is Suddenly Called by Death," Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1917, page II-1A library card is required to access this link.
  9. ^ "The Memorial," Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1896, page 1 A library card is required to access this link.
  10. ^ Mulholland, Catherine. The Owensmouth Baby - The Making of the San Fernando Valley Santa Susana Press, California, 1987; p. 18-20.
  11. ^ George L. Henderson (1 February 2003). California and the Fictions of Capital. Temple University Press. p. 199. ISBN 978-1-59213-198-3. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  12. ^ Judith R. Raftery (1992). Land of Fair Promise: Politics and Reform in Los Angeles Schools 1885 – 1941. Stanford University Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-8047-1930-8. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  13. ^ Special Collections-URL UCLA Library, Retrieved December 20, 1990, box 7.
  14. ^ Dwyer, John J. The Agrarian Dispute: The Expropriation of American-Owned Rural Land in Postrevolutionary Mexico. Duham: Duke University Press 2008.
  15. ^ "A Glimpse of the Past". Otis College of Art and Design. Otis College of Art and Design. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  16. ^ "Sudden Death Strikes Harrison Gray Otis. Owner of Los Angeles Times Noted for Hostility to Union Labor". New York Times. July 1, 1917. Retrieved 2010-08-05. General Harrison Gray Otis, president and general manager of The Los Angeles Times, died today at the home of his son-in-law, Harry Chandler.

External linksEdit