The Palos Verdes Peninsula

The Palos Verdes Peninsula encompasses a beautiful, breathtaking area in the Southwestern part of the South Bay in Los Angeles. Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills, and Rolling Hills Estates are the small cities that encompass

this amazing area. It is a prominent area, and is known for very valuable property and homes as well as distinguished schools both public and private. I have a lot personal experience exploring the area as I live next to it in San Pedro, and I coach baseball and football up on “the hill” as Palos Verdes is referred to by local inhabitants. The map I included shows the original grant given of Rancho San Pedro and Rancho Palos Verdes. Rancho Palos Verdes eventually became our modern day Palos Verdes, containing the four cities that make up this area. It has existing roads on the map as well.
Palos Verdes is filled with mansions, nice high-end restaurants, an amazing coastline, and rolling hilltops with various wildlife living in the area (PV Chamber of Commerce). The coast is stunning, and has coves, beaches, tide pools, and other marine activity and wildlife that attract countless visitors each year. People come from all over to whale watch and see unique views and the amazing cliffs, lighthouses, and local geography that is unique to the local area. It is a very unique change of pace from the bustle of the city not more than ten minutes away in various towns in the South Bay and into Los Angeles. It tends to have its own laid back atmosphere, people have their own perceptions of it, and things are almost done at a different pace. It is hidden in its own little corner and along with San Pedro is unique because you can’t exactly drive through it because of its location; you have to drive to it. The Palos Verdes Peninsula has often been used to film commercials, TV shows, and movies because of its famous views, its proximity to the ocean, and because of its beautiful countryside and expensive homes (PV Chamber of Commerce). It is also well known for its expansive horse trails that roam across the hilltops, and even cross through the actual city streets and areas of commerce.

Portuguese explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, coming from Spain, was the first European to arrive upon the local area. On October 8, 1542 he sailed into San Pedro Bay (PV Chamber of Commerce). The vessels that traded at San Pedro anchored at a point on the northwest side of the area, near Point Fermin off the coast of Rancho Palos Verdes. The land which includes the entire Palos Verdes Peninsula, San Pedro, and parts of nearby Wilmington was part of the first Spanish land grant in California. Junipero Serra and other Franciscan padres began to establish a chain of missions from San Diego all the way to Sonoma at this time (Megowan, 2003). These original land grants were considered a permit to use the land and to occupy it at the time. Rancho San Pedro was the first private land grant in California, and was given to Don Manuel Dominguez. It included Redondo Beach and Long Beach, as well as the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

For almost three centuries the Palos Verdes Peninsula remained unchanged and the home of the local Indians, whose relics are still being dug up to this very day (Nicholson, 1998). The most recent Indians to live in Palos Verdes were members of the Tongva tribe. They did not use a written language only an oral one, but their stories and their vast knowledge of their environment were passed down from one generation to the next through tales and teaching (Nicholson, 1998). They adapted to the environment in their area. For example they built houses with frames made of willow poles because of the lack of large trees in what’s now Palos Verdes. The Tongva people also used logs that drifted in on the tides to make dugout canoes for various purposes (Nicholson, 1998).

They used these resources to fish in the coastal area, in which fish was plentiful and satisfying to the appetites of their people. They fished in places such as Abalone Cove for various fish, seals, sea otters, abalone, and other shellfish using their dugout canoes (Nicholson, 1998). They used rocks and tools found and made from resources at the beach and in the hillsides to hunt deer rabbits and squirrels found nearby to supplement their fishing (Nicholson, 1998). They tended to fish more during warmer weather and to hunt more during colder weather.
They apparently had some very unique beliefs. They worshipped one god called The-Giver-of-Life. They believed that this god had placed the world on the shoulders of seven giants. Whenever the giants moved, it caused an earthquake. They also believed that dolphins were responsible for swimming around the world to guard its safety and well being of the people who lived on shore (Nicholson, 1998). For a couple of hundred years the Spaniards occasionally met and traded with the local Tongva Indians. The Spanish started to permanently settle the Palos Verdes Peninsula area in the late 1700’s. The native animals and plants that the Indians relied on for their survival began to disappear soon after the foreigners new plants and animals influence arrived. The Spanish slowly began to convince the Tongva to give up their old way of life and move to the missions and ranchos to learn farming and cattle raising (Nicholson, 1998).

In 1827, Don Jose Dolores Sepulveda acquired a piece of the Rancho San Pedro Spanish land grant from Manuel Dominguez, and named it “Rancho de los Palos Verdes” which was used primarily as a cattle ranch. By the early 1880’s ownership of the land had passed from the Sepulveda family to Jotham Bixby of Rancho Los Cerritos, who leased the land to Japanese farmers. Soon most of Bixby’s land was sold to some New York investors who created The Palos Verdes Project. These men began marketing land on the peninsula for small horse ranches and residential communities in which they could gain the most value. These men used the beauty, natural resources, and other benefits of the local geography to market to buyers (Megowan, 2003).

In 1922, a real estate developer named H.G. Lewis acquired the Palos Verdes Project, which would have a overwhelming impact on the future of the Palos Verdes Peninsula surrounding area. The community was called Palos Verdes Estates and had decreased in development area by one-fifth, from the original 16,000 acres to 3225 acres (PV Chamber of Commerce). Much of the development was specified for single-family residential architecture. The purpose of this was to build a close-knit community that would form a stability and consistency as opposed to renters and lots that would be coming in and out throughout the years, hurting the local economy and what the whole foundation of the project was really about. It was about harnessing the benefits of the local geography and possibilities that arose from it and making Palos Verdes a very unique community compared to that of its neighbors.

Early in the history of Palos Verdes, the trustee deeded to the Palos Verdes Homes Association 800 acres of the 3225 acres. Basically the terms said the association had to use the property almost exclusively for public uses. Otherwise the property would go back to the trustee. From these 800 acres a golf course, a swimming club, and a few nice inns were built (PV Chamber of Commerce). The remaining portion was planted with trees, plants and flowers, which comprise the parks of Palos Verdes Estates and other planted areas even to this day. This was a huge landmark that would build the road that would shape what our modern day Palos Verdes would look like today (PV Chamber of Commerce).

As I see every day on the drive to work there is extensive landscaping and groves of trees which currently exist on the Peninsula. Surprisingly the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the 1920’s primarily consisted of coastal sage brush with very few trees (Megowan, 2003). The Palos Verdes Project in the 1920’s and 1930’s employed a large number of gardeners who planted huge amounts of trees and plants throughout Malaga Cove and other areas to encourage investors and potential home buyers to purchase property in Palos Verdes (Megowan, 2003). A very large nursery was constructed in Lunada Bay to grow plants to be used by the Palos Verdes Project. The idea was to give the appearance of these areas a real classy, fresh, and vibrant feel to the already beautiful landscape and geography on the peninsula. The ocean is almost always visible and Santa Catalina Island looks as though you can reach out and grab it. This original plan sparked investments by countless wealthy individuals and gave birth to this way of life, in which those in the South Bay know that there has always been money up on “the hill”.

Planning for the Project included all aspects including the street system, zoning, lot sizes, and planned landscaping. So obviously this had a large effect on the future of the geography in the area. Restrictions were put in place to establish and create a powerful Mediterranean design in the area for architecture and landscapes. This Mediterranean design has amazingly survived throughout the century to the present day. When you drive through the Peninsula today, you still see old street signs, older building designs of a European influence, and other effects of deed restrictions maintaining their place in the area.

Another factor that influenced design and organization of early Palos Verdes was a section of 1,000 acres being set aside for a University campus (Megowan, 2003). This was proposed in 1925, for the new southern branch of the University of California, which later became UCLA. This land was in the center of the Palos Verdes Peninsula where today Peninsula High School, the popular Peninsula Shopping Center, and the Avenue of the Peninsula is located. Also to be built was the construction of a grammar school and a model high school to be run by the University, a marine biological station and public aquarium, an art museum, a theatre seating, a boathouse at Portuguese Bend and a football stadium to seat 90,000 (Megowan, 2003). This was supposed to stimulate the local economy and give birth to a promising and prosperous community on the Peninsula. Obviously no UC campus was built there, and I cant imagine 90,000 people all making it up and down the hill for a football game on the smaller windy roads of Palos Verdes, much less the traffic and congestion that a modern UC campus campus promotes being successful on the peninsula. I think anyone would agree that Westwood was a better choice.
Various business centers were originally scheduled to be built throughout Palos Verdes. There was so much going on with the areas housing, structural, and other developments, that only in Malaga Cove, Lunada Bay, and Miraleste did business centers actually arise (PV Chamber of Commerce). I work part of the year directly next to the business center in Miraleste, and I would say that it is very small and simply accommodates local business and other needs as opposed to being a large economic factor in the area. Original plans in the late 1930’s also called for a private yacht club to be built just north of Palos Verdes High School, which was to bring vast amounts of money and business to the local area, but much like many other plans of the times never quite manifested (PV Chamber of Commerce).

Golf Courses and clubs, swimming and tennis clubs, and horseback riding also became part of the local scenery. The vast majority of people in this area had plenty of money, and memberships into these clubs and activities meant fun, leisure, and relaxation from the upper-class jobs that most of the inhabitants toiled at during the weekdays. Memberships supplied these wealthy individuals a place in the social atmosphere, as it also changed the outlook and geography of the landscape as each new building and structure was built.

Talking to family members who grew up in San Pedro in the 1930’s, said that the development on the hill was never quite as fast paced as down below. While in San Pedro and Torrance and even the beach cities things tended to develop and expand more rapidly, the Palos Verdes development expanded slower, but with better planning, more sophisticated, and with lots more money supporting it. Now where million dollar homes fill the hillsides along the coast and up into the roads taking you into the heart of Palos Verdes; my grandfather remembers walking as a kid with friends for miles along where Donald Trumps golf course is today to get to the beautiful secluded beach sitting at the bottom of the West side of the peninsula. At that time there were maybe a handful of houses for that entire stretch. The area soon became very popular and the demand for property in the area became extremely high over the years. It is today one of the highest housing markets in California, and one of the wealthiest areas in the nation.

Now I’d like to take a closer look at some of the detailed local geography in each of the four cities making up Palos Verdes. The Palos Verdes area’s four cities are all small components of, “the hill”. None of the cities populations are large when compared to their neighbors down below the hill. Palos Verdes Estates was designed by the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. According to the 2000 census, the population was 13,340, and P.V Estates was the 81st richest place in the U.S based on income. The city was incorporated in 1939 and amazingly has no traffic lights (PV Chamber of Commerce).

Rancho Palos Verdes is the largest of the cities on the peninsula and was incorporated in 1973. At the 200 census the population was 41,145 (PV Chamber of Commerce). It is mostly hilly but also goes all the way down to some flat lands that do not have views of the ocean connecting to San Pedro and Torrance. It has many businesses both small and large, and is the heart of the economy on the hill. It does not quite have the wealth as its Palos Verdes neighbors although the area is still much more well off than its neighbors down below. Older residents tend to live more here that anywhere else on the peninsula. Landslides have been known to occur at times in this area as well, which causes problems for residents from time to time (PV Chamber of Commerce).

Rolling Hills is the smallest of the Palos Verdes cities, at the 2000 census it had 1,871 people living within its boundaries and was the 21st richest place in the United States. Like Palos Verdes Estates it has no traffic lights, and its landscape is filled with rolling hills and land perfect for horse paths, which make up much of the city. Traffic roads are even built much wider for this accommodation, and many residents take advantage of it (PV Chamber of Commerce).

Rolling Hills Estates is the last city in the foursome, and had a population of 7,676 at the 2000 census. It was incorporated in 1957, and also has lots of horse trails. It rivals the economic success of Rancho Palos Verdes, but is comprised of a very different approach. Rolling Hills Estates is filled with high-end shops, expensive malls, and a finer taste. They don’t have the numbers to catch Rancho Palos Verdes, which is more blue-collar, with more realistic priced restaurants, smaller shopping centers, etc (PV Chamber of Commerce).

Overall I would say that Palos Verdes was well planned and constructed and that this greatly influenced the fact that it is well maintained today. The roads have succeeded despite the struggle with land levels changing on roads close to the ocean and the maintenance that goes along with that. The infrastructure is well equipped with buses for transportation both around the peninsula as well as to neighboring cities, the schools are some of the top you will find anywhere, both public and private; and the economy thrives due to money being spread all over. Crime is extremely low and residents throughout Palos Verdes are known to feel safe and comfortable. Because of these things Palos Verdes has not just survived, but has manage to thrive in every aspect of a society, maintain its old settlements, and flourish as more is added to the community, while managing to not over-build. Also they maintain a sense of a close-knit community as it has a good balance of individual and mom and pop stores in addition to big business.