Jack Robert Wheatley, a former Palo Alto mayor and major real estate developer whose firms helped develop Stanford Industrial Park and the surrounding city during the 1970s, died of heart failure on Oct. 31. He was 92.
Wheatley died at his Salt Lake City home, his son, Charles Wheatley, said.
An ex-military man who graduated from West Point Military Academy and served in the Korean War as an engineer, Wheatley moved to Palo Alto with his wife, Mary Lois Sharp, in 1956 as the area was witnessing the early beginnings of what would become Silicon Valley.
"He came just as it was starting to take off. … There was no Stanford Industrial Park," Charles Wheatley said.
Wheatley got into the real estate industry after joining his brother, Leon, in running a construction company under the family namesake. According to Boyd Smith, a longtime business partner who spent years managing Stanford University's real estate, the two brothers focused on building houses and schools during a time when the Midpeninsula was experiencing rapid growth.
Wheatley expanded their development operations in the late 1960s through a partnership with his former employer Jacobsen Construction, a prominent Salt Lake City-based general contractor. The alliance was initially formed to build the Oakland California Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a project too large for the Wheatleys to take on by themselves, Smith said.
Soon after, Wheatley's company became responsible for developing a large part of Stanford University's campus, including the Faculty Club, Maples Pavilion and Escondido Village. When Smith joined the partnership in 1972, forming WSJ Associates, Wheatley moved further into the commercial side of the development sector.
"He was a very hard-hitting, competitive builder for commercial buildings," Smith said. "In a tough business, you have to have tough people."
WSJ pursued multiple commercial development projects, Smith said, including the 200,000-square-foot office complex at 1500 Page Mill Road.
The firm also supported philanthropic causes and created the California Family Foundation in September 1984 to provide educational opportunities for low-income families. The foundation's largest endeavor was establishing and funding Beechwood School, a Menlo Park-based private K-8 school that serves about 170 students from Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.
When it came to determining the style of buildings, Wheatley had a philosophy that they should fit the look and feel of the city's landscape, Charles Wheatley said. As a result, the developer often turned to Spanish tile roofing.
Wheatley's interests weren't just focused on development: In 1967, he turned to politics and joined the Palo Alto City Council as a more conservative member of the governing body when the city was experiencing civil unrest from protesters against the Vietnam War.
It was a difficult position to manage for him at times, his son said, recalling multiple bomb threats sent to the family's house and infighting between council members. Amid the conflicts, the council appointed Wheatley mayor in the final year of his term in 1970.
"He would have never been elected now, that's for sure," Charles Wheatley said, in reference to his father's more conservative stance in what has become an even more liberal city. "But somehow he was selected at the time."
Born on Jan. 31, 1928, in Robin, Idaho, Wheatley spent much of his early childhood on a 650-acre wheat farm, helping his father milk cows, according to a story about Wheatley that appeared in the Weekly in 1999.
His parents, Michael Wheatley and Maude Agnes Norton, raised Wheatley and his four siblings in a devout Mormon household that emphasized hard work and education. Eventually, this would guide Wheatley's many philanthropic pursuits and his service as a leading figure in the local Mormon church.
"All of his roles in the church were (positions) that he did not seek," Wheatley's son said. "He was asked to do things, and he agreed to do them."
In 1949, while still a cadet at West Point, Wheatley met Mary Lois Sharp, who was an art student enrolled at The Art Students League of New York. Wheatley married Sharp in 1952.
"If opposite personalities and talents can combine to create something great, this was the result of the union of Jack and Mary Lois," the family wrote in Wheatley's obituary. "Jack often commented that many of his greatest accomplishments were a result of Mary Lois' influence on his life."
During his three decades in Palo Alto, Wheatley was very much involved in the development of the community outside of his real estate firm: He served as the president of the Stanford Area Council of Boys Scouts of America, sat on the board of the Stanford University Hospital as director and trustee and was the director of San Jose's Tech Museum in 1986. Wheatley also served as a bishop for the local Mormon Church that once sat on Addison Avenue and Guinda Street, Charles Wheatley said.
Wheatley was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Lois Wheatley; and siblings, Leon and Wayne Wheatley and Helen Caldwell. He is survived by his six children, John Wheatley of Riverton, Utah; Victoria Schmidt of Sandy, Utah; Elizabeth Lambert of Palo Alto; Robert Wheatley of Los Altos Hills; Charles Wheatley of Holladay, Utah; Mary Margaret McQuinn of Holladay; 34 grandchildren; and 59 great-grandchildren.