The history of the Huntington Palisades is a fascinating one and involves some of the most famous names in Southern California real estate development.
It really begins with Abbott Kinney. At the age of 16,the 6-foot 2-inch Kinney went to Europe, where he studied in Heidleberg, Paris and Zurich and became fluent in six languages. A walking tour of Italy took him to Venice and the Italian Riviera, a trek that had a profound influence on his later career in real estate development. Upon his return, he joined the U.S. Geological Survey team that mapped much of the western United States including Yosemite. In 1874 he joined his older brothers in the Kinney Brothers Tobacco Company in New York City but he 1876 he took off again, traveling to many parts of the world. Returning home he arrived in San Francisco and was unable to take a train to the east because of snow. So Kinney, an asthmatic, took a side trip to a Southern California health resort. Showing up without a reservation, he slept on a billiard table in the parlor, where he awoke the next morning free of asthma symptoms. Kinney stayed, served as the Chairman of the California Board of Forestry, became friends with John Muir, and established the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve, the forerunner to the Angeles National Forest. In 1887 Kinney established the nation’s first forestry station…in Rustic Canyon! One of the Rustic Canyon station’s first projects was to study the eucalyptus tree, newly introduced to Southern California.
In 1887 Kinney purchased 247 acres of land on the bluffs north of Santa Monica Canyon from the Marquez family to be developed as “Santa Monica Heights.” Kinney laid out streets in a grid fashion and gave them names such as Kinney, Breeze and Pacific which he would later use in Venice. He planted the streets with eucalyptus, which had been imported from Australia with the mistaken belief that they could also be used for railroad ties and construction. But as eucalyptus proved to be poor building lumber and unsuitable for railroad ties because it warped, coupled with the economic depression of 1888, Kinney abandoned his plans and sold the entire property to Collis Huntington, uncle of Henry Huntington, who had parlayed his railroad holdings into domination of the Southern Pacific railroad network.
Envisioning a great seaport at the mouth of Potrero Canyon, Huntington made plans to establish his private estate on the bluffs above Santa Monica Canyon. He built a wharf extending 4,720 feet out into the ocean , which handled more than 300 vessels during its first year of operation. When the decision was made to establish the port of Los Angeles in San Pedro and with the death of Collis Huntington and a deteriorating housing economy ,his heirs sold the entire 226 acres in 1926 to Robert C. Gillis.
A Canadian immigrant, Gillis was president of the Santa Monica Land and Water Company, whose large-scale land purchases set the pattern for subdivisions from Westwood to Pacific Palisades. Honoring the legacy of the Huntington family, Gillis named the new suburb “Huntington Palisades” and planned to transform it into a fashionable upper middle-class community. Gillis chose a romantic scheme of curved streets and landscaped boulevards. Concentric semi-circular drives surrounded an open park are (bounded by El Cerco Place) and intersected a broad entry street with landscaped central parkways (Pampas Ricas). The design reflected the high standards set by Gillis and Reverend Robert Scott (founder of Pacific Palisades and president of the Pacific Palisades Founders Association). The design included elements characteristic of the Olmstead brothers, who also laid out New York’s Central Park. The elder Olmstead brother, Frederick, had come to Los Angeles to help in planning Palos Verdes and he was hired to help in designing the Huntington.
Gillis divided the Huntington into various lot sizes and set minimum construction costs. He established rules and restrictions that prohibited property owners from using lots for other than residential purposes, erecting dwellings of more than two stories, growing hedges to more than five feet, and placing houses without regard to setback lines. Gillis extended these restrictions into perpetuity and established a property owners’ association to enforce them.
The development of the Huntington Palisades was left to Mark Daniels and W.W. Williams. Underground utilities were installed and ornamental light fixtures were provided, costing four times the normal amount for such services. Street names were chosen by the project engineer, W.W. Williams, who named them after famous places and people in Mexico, where he had spent much of his mining career. Alma Real was named for his lady friend, a singer and dancer from Mexico. Toyopa was the name of a lost mine in Sonora, Mexico. Chapala is the name of the largest lake in Mexico. Corona del Mar means “crown of the sea” in Spanish. The initial buyers of the various lots were also offered access to a three hundred foot stretch of private beach and membership in the new neighborhood association. The opening ceremonies for the development were held on January 20, 1926. The first home, a beautiful 12 room colonial located at 601 Ocampo Drive, was completed before the end of 1926 and is still standing today.
Source: Pacific Palisades: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea, Betty Lou Young (Pacific Palisades Historical Press, 1983).
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To learn more about the long rich history of Huntington Palisades and Pacific Palisades communities, visit the Pacific Palisades Historical Society for further details on how they came to be. It’s worth investigating!