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Harry was born in Landaff, New Hampshire to Moses K. and Emma J. (Little) Chandler. He attended Dartmouth College, and on a dare, he jumped into a vat of starch that had frozen over during winter, which led to severe pneumonia. He withdrew from Dartmouth and moved to Los Angeles for his health.
In Los Angeles, while working in the fruit fields, he started a small delivery company that soon became responsible for also delivering many of the city’s morning newspapers, which put him in contact with Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis. Otis liked this entrepreneurial young man and hired him as the Times’ general manager. Harry’s first wife had died in childbirth and he went on to marry Otis’s daughter, Marian Otis. Upon Otis’s death in 1917, Harry took over the reins as publisher of the Times, transforming it into the leading newspaper in the West and at times the most successful: for three straight years in the 1920s, under his leadership, the Times led all other American newspapers in advertising space and amount of classified ads.
Much of his boundless energy and dreams were however directed to transforming Los Angeles. As a community builder and large-scale real estate speculator, he became arguably the leading citizen of Los Angeles in the first half of the 20th century. Chandler was directly involved with helping to found the following: the Los Angeles Coliseum (and bringing the 1932 Summer Olympics to L.A.), the Biltmore Hotel, the Douglas Aircraft Company, the Hollywood Bowl, The Ambassador Hotel, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the Automobile Club of Southern California, KHJ radio station, Trans World Airlines, the San Pedro Harbor, the Los Angeles Athletic Club, the California Club, The Pacific Electric Cars, the Los Angeles Art Association, the Santa Anita Park racetrack, the Los Angeles Steamship Company, the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, and the restoration of downtown’s Olvera Street and Chinatown.
As a real estate investor, he was a partner in syndicates that owned and developed much of the San Fernando Valley, as well as the Hollywood Hills (Hollywoodland). The Hollywoodland sign was used to promote the development. Chandler's other real estate projects included Mulholland Drive, much of Dana Point, the Tejon Ranch (281,000 acres (1,140 km²) in Southern California), the Vermejo Park Ranch (340,000 acres (1,400 km²) in New Mexico), and the C&M ranch (832,000 acres (3,370 km²) in northern Baja, Mexico). At one point these investments made him the largest private landowner in the U.S., while at the same time, he was an officer or director in thirty-five California corporations, including oil, shipping, and banking.
He and Marian had eight children;, his oldest son, Norman, followed him as publisher of the Times.
Harry Chandler died on September 23, 1944 from a heart attack. He and Marian are buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard. Harrison Gray Otis's memorial is nearby.
Chandler Boulevard, a major street in the San Fernando Valley, is named for Harry Chandler.
- George Chandler (1883). The Chandler Family. pp. 1215–6.
- Gosney, E.S. (1929). Twenty-eight Years of Sterilization in California. Pasadena, California: The Human Betterment Foundation. p. 38.
- The Powers That Be, David Halberstam, Dell Books, 1986
- Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty, Dennis McDougal, Perseus Publishing, 2001
- The Ancestry of Harry Chandler by Gwendolyn Garland Babcock