Harris, Philip (1869 – 1939)

ONE of the most widely loved citizens of the community is Philip Harris, presi­dent and founder of the Harris company, and a man who has given his heart to his town. Business sagacity has made him a leader among the city’s merchants; his keen vision, broad sympathies and gracious personality have earned for him a distinctive place in the affections of its people.


For the past 30 years, during which he has built his store from modest beginnings to its present eminence, no project for the city’s welfare has lacked his enthusiastic support and generous contribution.


He has been a director of the Chamber of Commerce for 26 years, and a perusal of the minutes of that organization will find him on every important committee. “One of the finest, most tolerant men I have ever known,” is the tribute of A. E. Isham, with whom he has been intimately as­sociated during his entire life in Redlands.


“I went to him in grief and distress,” states Mrs. George E. Mullen, in describing his invaluable services to the Redlands Com­munity Music association, “and he never failed me. He has been my father confessor and advisor. Without his encouragement I couldn’t have gone on.”


At the first rumor of a Baptist university in Southern California, he caught the vision of what it would mean to Redlands and la­bored long and untiringly until he saw his efforts crowned with success.


At a later date, when the university needed a $3,000,000 endowment fund and the mat­ter of raising $ 50,000 locally was brought to the Chamber of Commerce, a feeling of pes­simism took hold of the meeting. Philip Harris stood up and said, “I, for one, am ready to get to work,” and turned the tide.


Feeling strongly that Redlands should have a diversity of industries, he has been in the forefront of many campaigns conducted with that end in view. He was a leader on all local war work drives, an active member of committees for Redlands’ four magnificent pageants, and a prime factor in keeping Red­lands in the Orange Show at one time when there was a tendency to quit.


In the early struggles to get an automobile road into Mill Creek Canyon he was a leader, and one of 200 business men who went out and wielded a pick and shovel, building enough of a road to make it possible for cars to get into the mountains. The main line station on the Southern Pa­cific railway is another matter of civic im­provement to which he contributed freely of his time and energy.


He was born in Lautenberg, Germany, on Feb. 23, 1868. His father was a naturalized citizen of the United States, having first come to America in 1850. At the age of 15, Mr. Harris arrived in Santa Ana, and went to work for relatives in the mercantile business. This was in 1883, when an important part of keeping a store was bartering with ranchers, and his first job in America was the stacking of hides and handling of tallow.


In a few years he felt ready to go into busi­ness for himself, and the early ’90s found him in the dry goods line in Bakersfield. He was also interested in mining and oil activities in that locality.


The turn of the century found him in the mining camps of the Tehachapi mountains, keeping store. Because his stock of merchan­dise included patent medicines, he became known as “Doc” Harris. Some of the miners and ranchers got the impression that he was really a doctor and this often led to serious difficulties when he protested against minis­tering to the sick.


One stormy night a man came to him and tried to force him, at the point of a gun, to bring a baby into the world. Mr. Harris had a hard time convincing the woman’s husband that he wasn’t a doctor.


In 1905 came the inception of the present Harris company. That year Mr. Harris joined his brother, Herman, in a small dry goods business in San Bernardino. This modest new venture was started in a small store, 25 feet wide and 100 feet long, at 462 Third street, the present location of the Louis Wolff cloth­ing store. Three employees comprised the sales force. The, business prospered and an­other brother, Arthur Harris, joined the firm.


In February, 1908, the Merriman, Randall dry goods store, then located at 217 Orange street, was purchased and the Harris Co. be­gan its 30-year period of activity and useful­ness in Redlands. In 1915 the store moved to its present lo­cation on State street. Several years later, the room occupied by Smith Brothers Oriental art store was taken over, giving the Harris Co. its present 80-foot frontage on State street. A disastrous fire destroyed the store in Sep­tember, 1926,  but it was immediately rebuilt and the present fine establishment was re­opened in May, 1927.


Mrs. Philip Harris, formerly Leah Steinart, is a member of a pioneer California family, born in Downey. She was formerly active in the Contemporary Club, the Eastern Star, the Y.W.C.A. and on the board of the Redlands Day Nursery.


Mr. and Mrs. Harris occupy a lovely home on Grand View drive. Their sons are Leslie I. Harris, general manager of the San Bernar­dino store; Harold C. Harris, at present mana­ger of the Redlands store, and Melville D. Harris, promotional manager in San Bernar­dino. Leslie and Melville live in the neigh­boring city, Harold in Redlands. All are mar­ried and have children.


Mr. Harris’ fraternal affiliations are Red­lands lodge No. 300, F. and A. M., the Scot­tish Rite Masons and the Shrine. He is a charter member of the Rotary club and serves on the board of directors of the Redlands Community hospital.


Source: Redlands Golden Jubilee, 1938, p. 31.