Whitsitt’s: “The House that Hats Built”

For over fifty years a single woman had an enormous effect on the fashion sense of San Diego. This woman was Mabel Whitsitt (1880?-1962) the owner of Whitsitt’s, a specialty shop also known as The House that Hats Built.

Mabel Whitsitt

Ms. Whitsitt came to San Diego in 1912 after a number of jobs as milliner and millinery buyer for stores in Oklahoma and the old Hamburger store (which then became the May Company) in Los Angeles. From 1912-17 she worked for Holzwasser’s located at Fifth and Broadway. When Holzwasser’s fired her, she went into business and opened The Five Dollar Hat Shop directly across the street. At the Five Dollar Hat Shop, she recalled opening with very little stock and no money for the second month’s rent. She claims she made enough in the first day to pay the rent and allow her to buy additional stock from wholesalers. Both a milliner and a buyer herself, Ms. Whitsitt’s shops have combined work made on the premises, as well as the best work of other California and national designers. As business blossomed she moved to 630 C Street and opened up a wholesale business in addition to her storefront. A bad business venture in the late Twenties caused her to go broke and for a brief period in 1929-30 she was employed as a buyer for Marston’s. In 1930, she managed to raise the capital to purchase the La Jolla hat shop of Ann Milander. Ms. Whitsitt was in business at 1020 Prospect from 1932/33 through 1950. In 1950 she relocated down the street to 1264 Prospect, the recently renovated Green Dragon Colony shops, where her business remained until 1966. Her shop in La Jolla and a branch location in Swan’s at Fifth and Maple put her at the fore of San Diego specialty shops. During the decades when the hat was the all-important fashion statement, Ms. Whitsitt hats were both stunning and individual and yet socially acceptable. Even fifty years later, San Diego women remember with fondness the hats they purchased at Whitsitt’s.

Mr. Schneider’s artistic shots graced the pages of San Diego Magazine, both as reportage and in the advertisements. He was the photographer of choice for the advertisements for Whitsitt’s. A bouquet of his work is illustrated below.

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