1923 Advertisement : Lots of Takers, but Land Is No Bargain

Times Staff Writer

For those who act quickly, the ad says, there are big lots available in the heart of Monterey Park for $25 down, $10 a month and $495 full price.

Too good to be true?

Perhaps, but at least 20 readers of Monterey Park's city newsletter thought it was worth a call to the advertiser, the Loftus Land Co. Only then did potential buyers discover that they had not acted quickly enough--they were 63 years late.

The ad, announcing the pre-opening sale for a land development called Monterey Park Terrace, ran in a 1923 edition of the Monterey Park Progress and was reproduced in the current city newsletter to illustrate a story on Monterey Park's 70th anniversary.

City Manager Lloyd de Llamas said the city staff did not bother to give the ad an explanatory caption in the newsletter because they thought readers would recognize it as a bit of nostalgia, rather than a current offer. After all, the staff members reasoned, the ad is not without clues to its date, since it promises "graded and oiled streets" and assures buyers that deeds come with "race restrictions."

Same Company, Different Location

And contrary to what the ad says, Loftus Land Co. is no longer at 420 Pacific Finance Building, Los Angeles, nor does it maintain two tract offices on Garvey Avenue in Monterey Park. But the company still exists, as a real estate investment firm in Whittier.

Some readers tried to find Loftus Land Co. through the city library. "We got four of five calls from citizens who took it as a serious ad," said Brian Smith, assistant librarian.

Smith said most of the callers had pronounced foreign accents, so their misinterpretation of the ad was understandable. A couple of the callers "laughed at themselves" after the ad's history was explained, Smith said.

But the ad also fooled some people who seemed fluent in English, said Janet Andersen, a secretary who answers calls at Loftus Land Co. She said the company received at least 20 inquiries from people who apparently looked up the company in the telephone book. Several callers became upset when they were told the company knew nothing about the land offer, she said, and insisted on buying lots at the advertised price. The size of the lots offered at $495 is never mentioned in the advertisement.

"Some people said they were going to call the Better Business Bureau," she said.

Linda Rodriguez, 20, of Monterey Park, said she thought the ad in the newsletter was a genuine offer and drove over to look at the purported lot sites. "We looked around and there was no land over there, just condos," she said.

Then, when she tried to find the tract offices, she said, she found nothing but stores. Another Monterey Park resident, Mason Seto, said he lives near the area in question and knew there was "something fishy" about the offer of cheap land, but he called Loftus Land Co. anyway, thinking it was a current ad.

Date on Another Page

The only line in the newsletter that gives the date of the ad as 1923 appears on another page in a list of photo credits.

The ad says, "Dozens of Monterey Park people have made large profits by buying lots from us and selling them later to Los Angeles buyers."

Edward Loftus, whose father founded the Loftus Land Co. in the 1920s, said the company had several subdivisions in Monterey Park but he doesn't know how successful the projects were.

Judging by the response from the newsletter, however, he noted, he could certainly sell plenty of lots for $495 today.

Loftus said he is surprised that people would think that lots could be available at that price. "It's just too good to be true," he said.

The lots listed in the advertisement are three blocks south of Ynez School, near the current civic center. The City Council this week approved the purchase of two lots for civic center expansion, but paid far more than $495 apiece. In fact, the two lots and what were identified in a city report as "two substandard dwelling units," cost $204,000, or $15 a square foot.

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