Now Celebrating Its 70th Year : Firm Planned Hollywoodland

Times Staff Writer

Engineering Service Corp., one of Los Angeles County's oldest civil engineering and land planning firms, is sharing in the celebration of Hollywood's centennial, with good reason.

"Our firm may not be quite as old as Hollywood, but we were the original planners of the Hollywoodland residential development in the heart of that community and we staked out the legendary HOLLYWOOD sign that was shortened from Hollywoodland," said Jack R. Newville, chairman of the board.

"In the early '20s, the project known as Hollywoodland was 30 minutes by automobile to downtown Los Angeles and five minutes away from the center of Hollywood," Newville said. "We were commissioned by developer S. H. Woodruff to lay out the entire area and create the official maps.

"The promoters of Hollywoodland had an ambitious project and even formed an architectural committee to pass on each house to be built in the exclusive new development.

"We laid out miles of winding bridle trails through the hills connecting to the bridle paths of Griffith Park--then the eastern boundary of the development--to Mulholland Highway, which traversed crests of Hollywoodland for more than two miles, and to Lake Hollywood, which formed Hollywoodland's western boundary."

The Hollywoodland Riding School, where saddle horses could be hired, the Hollywood Stables, where horses could be boarded, tennis courts, a children's playgrounds, swimming tank, wading pool, a recreation club with auditorium and tea court fronting Beachwood Drive, were all part of the planners' vision of the Hollywoodland subdivision.

Beachwood Drive was and still is the main thoroughfare to the area that rises from Franklin Avenue to where it joins with Belden Drive.

There still are vestiges of its grand entrance--a stone tower in the style of a medieval lookout, and the intended community spirit prevails in the intimacy of its country-like cafe and family-owned neighborhood market.

In 1920, subdivider Woodruff felt the time had come for greater expansion and decentralization of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. "With Los Angeles destined to be a city of millions," he once stated, "Hollywoodland is so situated that home sites purchased today will be worth fortunes."

"The car was definitely the new avenue for Hollywood's growth and profit," believes ESCO's Newville, who, in 1927, at the age of 17, drove his mother and grandmother all the way from Michigan to California in their Hupmobile.

sh Automobile Influx

"About that time it was estimated that 2,500 automobiles, with from three to five passengers each, entered the state of California every day of the year," Newville said, recalling some of the facts contained in early real estate brochures which his firm turned over to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for inclusion in the centennial time capsule.

Currently marking its 70th year, ESCO has pioneered techniques in support of California land developers, from its first completely planned hillside development in Hollywood to master-planning services for entire communities since the 1950s.

The firm is co-owned by Newville's son, J. Kenney Newville, its president, and by Robert R. Sims, vice president in charge of marketing and planning. Its Los Angeles headquarters are in the Fox Hills Business Park in Culver City.

The firm's early Hollywood clients included silent-screen star Norma Talmadge, a major property investor, who moved her land development activities to San Diego. "We went down there to do the work on Talmadge Park, a beautiful old San Diego subdivision and opened a company office in that area," recalled the senior Newville.

sh Subdivided Land

ESCO also did the master planning and engineering design for Grandview Palos Verdes and the Lakewood community for developers Ben Weingart and Lou Boyer. Superior Oil Co., which owned and developed the Westchester area, was a major client, Newville added.

"After World War II, the oil company decided to subdivide the land and sell it to home builders. We were hired to do the master planning and engineering and had already recorded the map of the area overlooking the Hughes Aircraft plant and its runway, when we got a call from Howard Hughes to arrange to meet him on the bluff.

"I remember him as a tall, slim good-looking young man with hair slicked down to a patent-leather shine. He said he didn't want anyone interfering with his flight pattern and was prepared to buy up some of the land. I showed him where we had planned the streets. He paused for a moment and, pointing to the map, said decisively:

'I'll buy everything up to here'. And that ended the meeting."

The firm since has done extensive work in the Santa Clarita Valley for Kaufman & Broad; in Canyon Park for American Beauty Homes and Larwin Co., and in the Bouquet Canyon for Shapell Industries; Other projects include 4,700 units in the Newhall area near the Interstate 5 for Dale Poe Development; the Valley Circle Estates in Woodland Hills, and all land planning on Mission Oaks in Camarillo for Pardee Construction Co.

sh Country Club Projects

In addition, the firm has done work on major country club developments in Palm Desert, and on PGA West for Sunrise and Landmark near Indian Wells.

A recently approved project for Leisure Technology, at the south end of the Santa Clarita Valley, was particularly challenging for the firm. It involved an oak grove with more than 700 trees, among them several more than 100 years old.

"There was great public concern to save as many of the existing oak trees as possible and our design was done to accommodate the trees, reducing the project's estimated 227 units to 92 units," recalled ESCO's vice president Sims.

"We also are very proud of engineering service work in the Los Angeles portion of an early subdivision in Marina del Rey in the vicinity of Ballona Channel.

"After extensive environmental evaluation of the 37-acre property, the 275-unit Silver Strand project won approval from the (California) Coastal Commission and the courts. It took our firm eight years of representation on behalf of the consortium of owners to accomplish that."

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