Wilford Rensselar Holman
W. R. Holman, Business, Civic Leader, Dies at 97
Monterey Herald, December 31, 1981
Wilford Rensselaer Holman, who headed the family’s department store for 75 years and was one of the most influential persons in the history of his hometown of Pacific Grove, died at his residence late Tuesday night following a period of failing health. He was 97.
Services are pending at the Paul Mortuary.
Mr. Holman was born Aug. 28, 1884, in Sacramento. When he was 4 the family moved to Pacific Grove, where his father built the residence on Lighthouse Avenue that has been the family’s home ever since.
In 1905, Mr. Holman, assisted for a short time by the his brother, the late Clarence R., took over operation of the dry goods business which their father, R. L. Holman, had founded in 1891. Before long the store was converted to a department store, one which grew over the years to become known as the largest between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
When his brother dropped out of the business, “W. R.” took on full responsibility and served actively as head of the store until 1947. He retained the title of president until his official retirement early last fall. Even during his late years he maintained a close watch over the store and showed concern for his “family” of longtime employees.
Always an influence in political affairs affecting Pacific Grove, he led battle with the county Board of Supervisors in the 1920s to get a road built over the hill to connect his city with the highway linking Monterey and Carmel.
Fearing that Pacific Grove could be cut off from the rest of the Peninsula if the Presidio were closed “in case of trouble,” he began his campaign in 1923 for construction of the road.
Told at that time by County Supervisor L. D. Roberts that no highway would be built while he was in office, Mr. Holman set out on a successful drive to block Roberts’ re-election. Mr. Holman also threatened to block county bond issue if funds for the highway were not included.
During the struggle he once led a contingent of Boy Scouts, school marching bands and other concerned citizens to Salinas to lobby for the road before the Board of Supervisors.
The result was the opening of the road over the hill in 1930. It later became part of State Route 68 and in 1972 that section was officially designated by the state as the .R. Holman Highway.
Mr. Holman served on the Pacific Grove Planning Commission from 1943 until his resignation in 1957.
He actually first became involved in his father’s business while still a boy in knee-pants.
Years later he recalled those days: “I can remember each afternoon that as soon as I got out of school, I would get in a little spring wagon behind a gray horse, take a bag with the day’s receipts and drive from the Trove down to Monterey” to the bank.
“In the summers then, Alvarado Street was a cloud of dust, and in the winters the wagon axles dragged in the mud.”
During his long business career he oversaw the growth of his father’s dry goods business and for a time also operated a car dealership and the first automobile service station in Monterey County.
The two automotive enterprises were located on Central Avenue between Fountain and Grand Avenues, at the rear of the lot on which the present Holman’s Department Store building was opened in 1924.
During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, Mr. Holman defied gloomy predictions for the store’s survival, adding the third floor and solarium to the building. This both expressed his confidence in the business and provided needed employment for local workers.
He was known as a fine fisherman and an avid hiker. In his unflagging concern for preservation of natural resources, his daughters recall that he was responsible for the state setting a limited season for harvest of abalone to protect it from extinction by commercial fishermen,
The store was always a family enterprise and Mr. Holman was closely assisted for many years by the wife, Zena, whom he married in 1912 and who for some time was the store’s buyer of women’s fashions.
Over the years, the couple shared many interests, including the cultivation of a large acreage of English and Dutch holly on a ranch near Watsonville, and the collection of American Indian artifacts. These latter were presented by the Holmans to the state of California and are displayed in the Pacific Building State Historical Monument in Monterey.
A few years ago the Holmans also donated their collection of Eskimo artifacts and 20th century ivory carvings to the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art.
Mrs. Holman died in 1980. A half-brother of Mr. Holman, Rutter Holman, died in February of this year and a sister, Mrs. Warren Steven, in 1978.
Mr. Holman is survived by daughters. Mrs. Eugene (Patricia) O’Meara of Watsonville and Harriet Barter-Heebner of Carmel; six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.