Palos Verdes History

Palos Verdes (excerpts from The Palos Verdes Story by Delane Morgan)

There are many theories as to how the city came to be called Palos Verdes. According to W.W. Robinson, the author of Ranchos Become Cities, the name Palos Verdes originated in the Canada de los Palos Verdes, a valley shown on old maps, green with grass and willows, the valley was located between the present Sepulveda and Lomita Boulevards, east of Vermont and west of Figueroa (now intersected by the Harbor Freeway).

Palos Verdes is a historic Peninsula. Many of the names on the Peninsula recall its historic past. A certain mystique always belonged to the Palos Verdes Hills, but in 1922 the community of Palos Verdes was only a dream uninhabited except from some vegetable fields and the Japanese farmers who cultivated them and people who lived on ranches with their cattle. The Rancho de los Palos Verdes, originally owned by the Sepulveda family, was partitioned into seventeen portions at the conclusions of a law suit in 1882. The largest share, 16,000 acres which constituted the Palos Verdes Peninsula, was awarded to Jotham Bixby. In 1894, Harry Phillips became the Ranch Manager and thus first resident of the Peninsula. He brought farming to the Peninsula and planted many of the eucalyptus trees. The rural, farming community began to change in 1913 when the Bixby family sold the land to internationally known banker, Frank A. Vanderlip, Sr.

Born in Kane County, Illinois, Vanderlip became the president of National City Bank in New York in 1909 and by 1910, when he was 46 he was a millionaire. He was a man of vision; recognizing the strategic position of Palos Verdes- the only undeveloped section of coast in the center of a rapidly growing region, he dreamed of a magnificent residential city by the sea.

As early as 1914, architects were hired to draw up plans for its development but WWI prevented Vanderlip from carrying out his plans. The only achievement of the first few years was the building of the “Old Ranch Cottage” in 1916, now known as the “Cottage” and occupied by Vanderlip’s youngest son, John Mann Vanderlip.

Vanderlip planned to develop the area above Point Vicente lighthouse as an Italian hillside village to be occupied by craftsmen who would live, work, and sell their wares on different levels of the same building but the stock market crash prevented the fulfillment of Vanderlip’s dream.

When the Palos Verdes Project was planned, many civic needs were anticipated. Over 4,000 acres were reserved for parks and playgrounds, and two recreational areas were established in the new community, La Venta Inn and Palos Verdes Golf Club. In order to dispense news about the Project to the lot owners and subscribers, the mangers began to issue monthly bulletins. By the time the fifth issue of the Palos Verdes Bulletin was published in March 1925, each edition numbered 8300 copies, mailed to every state in the union and to foreign countries all over the world.

The roads in Palos Verdes were designed to fit the natural contours of the land. The men who laid out the roads sought the most beautiful use of the property in their charge. Reducing ugly cuts and fills provided better lots. In keeping with the principle that produced the use of curved roads, signs were strictly regulated. Billboards were not allowed. The street signs, chosen by the Art Jury, were suspended from a wooden standard, stained brown, with brackets of wrought iron. The signs were carved redwood with raised gilded letters. Business buildings were curtailed as to their use of signs.

The United States Government established a lighthouse on Point Vincente in 1875. The present structure was built in 1926 and the spelling of the name was revised to Vicente.  Before the days of the lighthouse, ships were warned away from rocks by huge fires built upon the point. Between Point Fermin and Point Vicente lies Portuguese Bend, a place that owes its name to its history.

in 1925, after two years of construction, Palos Verdes became a community. Residents were urged to trade in Palos Verdes, now that the new grocery and meat market had opened, and to encourage the early coming of the drug store, merchandise store, tailor, restaurant and other stores which were needed.

The Palos Verdes Transportation Company was established in 1925, operating buses between Redondo Beach and Malaga Cove Plaza. The buses carried Palos Verdes children to Redondo schools and later to the Palos Verdes school. The fare cost 10 cents to Redondo and 5 cents within the Estates. Children were charged half fare.

In 1925, the first Palos Verdes School Board was elected. The first Palos Verdes School opened September 8, 1925. Classes for twenty-four children were held in a room in the Gardner building until the Malaga Cove School Building was finally completed the following spring. The Malaga Cove School included three classrooms, a kindergarten, a principal’s office, and an auditorium with a seating capacity of 294.

Several general provisions were written into the restrictions: “There shall not be any saloon, founder, brickyard, cemetery, asylum, gun powder or fertilizer factory, slaughter-house, tannery, oil refinery, or fish cannery.” Ninety percent of the lots were zoned for single-family dwellings, designated in Zone A. In addition, architectural restrictions were worked into the process. Requirements were established to provide enough space between dwellings and proper set-back from the street, varying with the lot from five to 60 feet. Trees over 20 feet were specified. Consultation with the Art Jury before building was required in order to assure the maintenance of certain minimum standards. The builders of Palos Verdes were building for permanence. Their dream of a better place to live influenced the development of the entire peninsula and made possible the beauty we see today.

Two recreational centers were established in the new community, La Venta Inn was built first in early 1923, and quickly became a popular spot for dining. Situated high on the hill, the Inn was a landmark visible for miles around. It was the designation of many sightseeing trips made by visitors to the Los Angeles area, and by residents of the Beach Cities, Hollywood, Pasadena, Los Angeles, and Long Beach. Although some people chose to stay the night at the Inn, it could only accommodate a few overnight guests. The Palos Verdes Golf Club opened on November 15, 1924. The 213-acre golf course and golf park was highly rated and all but four holes had views of the ocean.

A marble fountain and statue of Neptune, the Roman god known as the King of the Sea, was installed in the Malaga Cove Plaza in 1930. The figure of Neptune was considered appropriately symbolic for the city by the sea. The fountain is a replica of the bronze fountain of Neptune in Bologna, Italy.

Despite the financial turmoil resulting from the Depression, many elements of daily life in Palos Verdes remained unchanged. Despite the scarcity of money, the forms of entertainment enjoyed remained the same. Because the residents of Palos Verdes loved their beautiful Peninsula, they had worked together to establish an ideal community. They had started with many built-in advantages, for which the designers of the Project were responsible: a community swimming pool, stables, a golf-course, landscaped parks, a plaza for shopping, a school, a homes association, and strict building restrictions. Gradually, they added many other facilities and institutions. By the late thirties, the residents of Palos Verdes had their own library and newspaper. Three schools, two public (Malaga Cove and Miraleste) and one private (Chadwick Seaside School), educated their children. A parent council had recently been organized within the public schools, and many parents also attended the family relations class conducted by the school district. The Post Office in Malaga Plaza was the social center of Palos Verdes.

Because of the strategic location of the Peninsula, many WWII soldiers were stationed here during the war. The largest military establishment was Fort McArthur at San Pedro.  Three smaller camps were located along the coast, one on Long Point, on on Resort Hill (Lunada Bay), and one at Bluff point (the crest of Montemalaga). The army hospitals received their share of attention from the women of Palos Verdes throughout the war. Red Cross Gray ladies frequented the Fort McArthur Hospital.

The Wayfarers’ Chapel, near Abalone Cove in Rancho Palos Verdes, sometimes referred to as the “Glass Church,” was built as a national monument to Swedenborg- one of Sweden’s most famous citizens.  In 1954, the 59-foot bell tower was erected, and in 1959 the library and museum building and the Cloister were constructed. A hillside near the chapel was contoured in steps and planted to form a natural amphitheater for the performance of Biblical plays. A garden was later planted with the flowering plants and trees mentioned in the Bible. With the building of Wayfarer’s Chapel, the early period of the modern history of the Palos Verdes Peninsula comes to a close. The 1950’s began a period of rapid real estate development that changed the course of history. In one year, 190 new residences were built in Palos Verdes Estates and 55 other building permits were issued. On the rest of the Peninsula, an average of 148 homes were under construction each month during that year. Following the Chapel’s construction was the opening of the Marineland in 1955, the establishment of the cities of Rolling Hills Estates in 1957 and Rancho Palos Verdes in 1978, after many years of debate the Portuguese Bend Landslide in 1956 and the Abalone Cove Landslide in 1978, the unification of the Palos Verdes Peninsula School District in 1960, and the continued explosive growth to the Peninsula that has led to a recent property evaluation of three billion dollars.

The communities of Palos Verdes Estates, Miraleste, Portuguese Bend, Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, and Rancho Palos Verdes form the Palos Verdes Peninsula, an entity loved by all its residents. According to the consensus of opinion, the factors that brought families to Palos Verdes were the beauty of climate and scenery, the security of a planned and protected community, and the opportunity for simple outdoor pleasures. All of which are still true and offered in Palos Verdes today. A community based upon beauty, Palos Verdes Estates soon received a reputation as a paradise.

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