In the South Bay area of Los Angeles, an address on “The Hill” is a home on the Palos Verdes Peninsula--a terraced prow of land at the southwestern tip of Los Angeles County that is rural, by Southland standards, and affluent by any standard.
What homeowners buy on The Hill is a relaxed, low-key lifestyle, open spaces zealously guarded from overdevelopment, isolation from the urban mainstream, an idyllic climate and a close sense of community.
The peninsula’s 75,000 residents live in four cities--Palos Verdes Estates (incorporated in 1939), Rolling Hills (1957), Rolling Hills Estates (1957) and Rancho Palos Verdes (1973)--and in two small unincorporated areas spread across a diverse physiography that was once submerged under the Pacific Ocean.
Rising slowly to become an island during glacial times, then wave-cut into terraces by the sculpting force of the sea, the gap that separated the island from the Upper Los Angeles Basin was eventually filled in by sedimentation from the mountains to the north.
Today, the 27.3-square-mile region of steep, rocky cliffs, rolling hills, canyons and wooded glens is one of the Southland’s most eagerly sought, and expensive, residential areas. The median peninsula home price is $695,000; average yearly household income is $94,425.
“The most recent multiple listings . . . for the peninsula showed a one-bedroom, 700-square-foot unit at $147,000 in Rancho Palos Verdes as the least expensive condominium, said Coldwell Banker real estate agent Edna Steel.
The lowest-priced single-family home listed was a three-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot residence for $429,000 in Rancho Palos Verdes, where, Steel said, the least expensive homes are more likely to be found.
On the high-end price range is a $5.2-million, 8,000-square-foot, six-bedroom home with an indoor racquetball court on 2 1/2-acres in Rolling Hills. A close second, for $5.1 million, is an estate on the bluff’s edge at Malaga Cove in Palos Verdes Estates, featuring three koi ponds.
Once the habitat of Gabrielino Indians, the peninsula’s beauty and wonders were first described by Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542.
Its colorful history harks back to the days of Spanish dons and is closely linked to the Dominguez and Sepulveda families, whose vast land holdings--Rancho de los Palos Verdes and Rancho San Pedro--formed the bulk of the peninsula territory.
One of the first developers to settle in Palos Verdes during the 1920s was New York financier Frank A. Vanderlip, who envisioned the verdant region as California’s Riviera, with uncluttered vistas, seaside villages and red-tiled villas rimming the Pacific.
Vanderlip was instrumental in bringing to the peninsula the noted Olmsted brothers, leaders in landscape architecture and designers of New York’s Central Park.
Frederick Law Olmsted transformed the northern entrance to Palos Verdes Estates into an all-year garden and the slopes behind Malaga Cove into 55 acres of public parklands, enhanced with masses of eucalyptus, pine and cypress.
In the 1920s, the Palos Verdes Peninsula was isolated from Los Angeles and was considered a summer resort destination. But, after World War II, it became the favorite year-round residential choice of executives in the aerospace industry.
In the proud equestrian tradition of the Southland’s caballeros, residents continue to maintain their riding clubs, tack shops and 60 miles of horse trails that crisscross the landscape, and for the most part the area still is a haven for the horsy set.
However, one resident observed, “It seems the tennis court is now gradually replacing the old corral.”
During the 1980s, large numbers of Asian residents were attracted to the area by its favorable climate and highly rated schools.
The Palos Verdes School District, which serves the entire peninsula, has an 8,900-student enrollment in its eight elementary, two intermediate, three high schools and a continuation school. The private Chadwick School and Marymount College are also on the peninsula.
This enrollment figure, however, reflects a steady decrease during the last 10 years, in spite of the fact that 90% of district students have gone on to higher learning, district spokesperson Nancy Mahr said.
“We believe this is due to the high cost of housing. Also, due to Proposition 13, senior citizens are remaining in the area and not selling their homes and moving on to retirement communities as they once did. The overall peninsula population now reflects a higher percentage of seniors than before,” Mahr said.
“In the past 10 years we have also seen a change in the number of students from multicultural backgrounds. Right now, we must have just about every major country represented in our student body.
“About 32% of our students are non-Caucasian and the second language of these students is predominantly Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Spanish, in that order. Of the 8,900 students in our district, 145 are black,” Mahr said.
Law enforcement for Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes is provided by the Lomita Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“Our most recent figures show a reduction in major crime as well as a decrease in the number of traffic accidents,” said sheriff’s Lt. Joseph Lista.
Palos Verdes Estates has had its own police department for 50 years.
“For us the main problems are with thefts and burglaries,” Police Lt. Ed Jaakola said. “But what’s significant to our residents, is the quick response time by our officers--3.1 minutes for priority calls and an average response time to all calls for assistance in all categories of 6.8 minutes.”
Palos Verdes Estates
On entering Palos Verdes Estates, the northwest portion of the peninsula, from Hawthorne Boulevard, the visitor is treated to a dramatic change--transported from that congested traffic approach to a pastoral setting with sweeping views of the ocean.
Trees line the curving stretch of Palos Verdes Drive North on the way to Malaga Cove Plaza--a quaint courtyard with its ornate marble fountain, a general store, market and offices. Except for a small shopping area at Lunada Bay along Palos Verdes Drive West, the plaza is the only commercial center in the city.
With a population of 15,000, Palos Verdes Estates maintains a preference for Mediterranean-style architecture; 25% of the city’s 3,038 acres are dedicated to parklands.
Robert and Mary Cooper live in a home that Mary Cooper describes as “not spectacular by any means.” What counts, she said, “is the beauty and relaxed lifestyle of this area.”
The Coopers, whose six children were graduated from Palos Verdes High School, have benefitted from the soaring appreciation in peninsula property values.
“Our first purchase was a nice tract home on a quarter of an acre in the Rancho Palos Verdes area. It cost us $35,000 in 1960. We sold it for $80,000 in 1973; today it’s worth about $650,000,” said Mary Cooper, executive director the Palos Vedes Chamber of Commerce.
“Our present home in Palos Verdes Estates was purchased for $90,000 in the mid-'70s and its value has risen to about $700,000.”
Dan Wiesel, a new resident in the area, closed escrow in February on a 2,600-square-foot home, which he plans to renovate with his bride-to-be, Alysa Binder.
“The house was built in the ‘60s, looks really tired but has a lot of potential,” said the 34-year-old Wiesel, adding he was able to purchase it in the $800,000 range, at the low end of values in his neighborhood.
“Houses located above Malaga Cove like Dan’s, with . . . views of the Santa Monica Bay, are hard to come by and sell for a minimum of $1 million to about $5 million,” said Jackie Crosby, the listing agent.
Wiesel, who owns a jewelry store in Redondo Beach, lived on the Westside before moving to Palos Verdes Estates.
“On the whole, property values in Palos Verdes Estates are comparable to those on the fringes of Beverly Hills, in Cheviot Hills and Westwood, but in terms of its semi-rural setting and beautiful views, I feel the peninsula has a lot more to offer,” he said.
Larry Arman, broker/owner of RE/MAX Rolling Hills Realty, has seen increasing residential property acquisition by Asian homeowners as well as investors. “I would venture to say that 15% to 20% of the peninsula is now Oriental.
“More than half of our showings on higher-priced properties on the peninsula are regularly scheduled for various groups of Orientals,” Arman said. “Recently, a Tokyo bank picked up the tab on a chartered flight that brought in 40 prospective buyers to look over our listings throughout the peninsula.
“We showed them homes listed between $2.5 million and $5.2 million,” Arman said.
Realtor Betty Marler has a sticker on the windshield of her car that permits her to enter Rolling Hills by one of its four guarded entrances and allows her to represent property buyers and sellers within the city’s 3 square miles.
The 2,110 residents of the community live among the hills and canyons in rambling country estates surrounded by white rail fencing.
“Rolling Hills has 26 miles of privately owned streets, 23 miles of equestrian trails and 668 individual properties on 1- to 5-acre sites,” Marler noted. The house must be painted the “approved” white dictated by the rules of the homeowners’ association, she said.
Rancho Buenaventura, home of Harriett and Carl J. Ghormley for the past 30 years, is a ranch-style, two-story main house and guest quarters on a 5-acre hilltop site.
“With few exceptions, homes in Rolling Hills are only one story high,” said Harriett Ghormley, whose life centers on family and community activities and the operation of a wedding floral business.
“But our home was built as a two-story farmhouse long before the one-story requirement became effective. We love this old house. It’s our little island of quietness.
“Our neighbors are friendly but our fences are far apart, so we’re rarely seen chatting over our back yard fences.”
Rolling Hills families have traditionally kept horses on their properties and the community has spawned a crop of champion equestrians. But, said realtor Marler, now less than half of the families own horses.
Old-timers still remember the advertising of the 1930s when Rolling Hills developers lured buyers from Long Beach, San Pedro and Los Angeles.
“For only $15,000,” the ads read, “prospective buyers can build a home on five acres, have orchards, stables, corral and landscaping.”
Today, a 1-acre parcel in Rolling Hills priced at $900,000 would be considered a rarity. “And, more than likely, would be a tear-down. Most properties here are selling in the millions,” the realtor said.
Philip Chen, a native of China, and his wife, Jennie, are soon to become residents of Rolling Hills, after they complete the renovation of a 3,200-square-foot home they recently bought there.
Chen, formerly with Xerox Corp. and now a consulting engineer for Pacific Rim firms, lives in a home he purchased in Rancho Palos Verdes in 1985. He had previously owned another home in the area for which he paid $49,000, “before Rancho Palos Verdes was incorporated.
“The peninsula has always appealed to us. Each time I was transferred and then returned to California, I always came back to The Hill.
“I particularly wanted to live in Rolling Hills because the environment is so totally different--it is rural and the security of a gated community is a plus. One also gets the feeling of privacy and serenity.”
He paid $1.2 million for the Rolling Hills property and expects to spend another $1.3 million by the time the home is completed.
“It’s not quite what you might call a fixer, but as a businessman, I consider both my properties here as an investment, and I’m convinced that the value of all properties on The Hill will continue to appreciate,” Chen said.
Chen, who also had resided in Taiwan, has seen a dramatic increase in the Asian population on the peninsula.
“The trend among Taiwanese newcomers has been to settle in Monterey Park and in Alhambra until they gradually realize that there are other places with perhaps more advantages. The prices are much lower here compared to properties in Taiwan, where an average condo sells for $300,000.
“I’ve also noticed that many Japanese executives that used to rent are now buying because so many major Japanese firms have established American subsidiaries on the West Coast.”
Rolling Hills Estates
Rolling Hills Estates, bordered by the city of Torrance to the northeast and surrounded by the city of Rancho Palos Verdes to the southeast, may be the only Southland community where City Hall has a hitching post for the convenience of its constituency.
The city has some of the same characteristics and equestrian lifestyle as Rolling Hills, with the difference that it encompasses the Peninsula Center, the major commercial area of Palos Verdes, with 1 million square feet of office and retail space.
Peninsula Center was built in 1960, between Hawthorne and Crenshaw boulevards, Silverspur and Indian Peak roads, and has since been extended to include the Shops at Palos Verdes, and Courtyard Mall, site of Bullocks Wilshire, the May Co., an Ice Capades ice rink and a nine-plex movie theater.
But a stroll along Strawberry Lane, just off Palos Verdes Drive North, gives the feeling for what the residential side of Rolling Hills Estates is all about--a country road lined with pepper trees, no sidewalks, no street lights and ranch-style homes that typically reflect the rustic lifestyle of its 8,000 residents.
Steve and Priscilla Regur, owners of a sports store in the area, live in a two-story, four-bedroom ranch house on a small private road.
“Our family hobby is horses. Katie, our 15-year-old, attends Rolling Hills High School and is a serious equestrian competitor. Our son Andy, 14, attends Malaga Cove intermediary school,” said Priscilla Regur, member of the Equestrian Committee, an advisory group to the City Council.
“This area is just what we like, with 18 miles of equestrian trails, off-road bicycle and jogging paths, a view of downtown and the San Pedro harbor, a closeness to Abalone Cove and Torrance Beach, and small enough that we can all participate in the decision-making affecting our community.”
A startling change, Regur observed, has been the decline in the enrollment in schools. Only 15% of the population is of school age, because young families, she noted, cannot afford to live there.
“Land is at a premium and home prices have risen drastically. We paid $145,000 for our home in 1978. It is now worth close to $1 million.”
Ray Taylor, the city manager, said lots in Rolling Hills Estates average half acres and have an agricultural/residential zoning designation. “The city has 2,700 households, mostly single-family, ranch-type dwellings, no apartments and only a few condo units.”
Like other communities on the peninsula, Taylor said, Rolling Hills Estates contracts for law enforcement, fire services and public works from the county and city of Los Angeles.
Rancho Palos Verdes
With its abundance of flowers, fruit and vegetables, Annie Ishibashi’s roadside stand, operating for the last 47 years across from the glass-enclosed Wayfarer’s Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes, is a “must” stop for peninsula residents.
To reach it, you take the southernmost peninsula route along Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes’ main thoroughfare, which hugs a 7.5-mile coastline, taking in such landmarks as Point Vicente, Abalone Cove Beach and all of Portuguese Bend, and the former site of Marineland of the Pacific, which awaits the city’s decision on a proposed luxury resort hotel.
It’s not uncommon in Rancho Palos Verdes as well as other cities on the peninsula to see wild peacocks perched colorfully on the rooftops, although the presence of the birds apparently is not quite as appealing to local residents, who consider them “noisy and a nuisance.” The peacocks were first imported to the region by early developers.
Rancho Palos Verdes, the peninsula’s newest and largest city, is home to a population of close to 46,000, living in single-family and multifamily dwellings in a 4 1/2-square-mile area.
Annie and James Ishibashi are part of a much earlier community of Japanese families who first came to The Hill in the 1920s and ‘30s to farm. They have strong memories of the past and, said one local resident, “Annie and James Ishibashi are the peninsula. They are part of the natural, unspoiled image we all want to preserve.”
The Ishibashi farm, consisting of 30 acres of leased land, is part of the Portuguese Bend slide area that James Ishibashi describes as “not buildable but growable.”
Ishibashi’s father, Tomizo, was among a group of Japanese brought in from Japan in the early 1900s to work on the railroads and eventually joined his brother, who was already farming on the peninsula. “They grew the best tomatoes in the world,” Ishibashi recalled, and were shipped all the way to Chicago and New York by refrigerated freight car.
Ishibashi believes his vegetables are so tasty because of the soil, and where it came from. “The whole peninsula was submerged thousands of years ago and it contains all sorts of natural elements from the sea that are good for growing,” he said.
At one time, all the land of Rancho Palos Verdes was unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, according to Curtis Williams, the city’s planning administrator.
“But as plans for several large developments began to surface, residents in the area rallied, pushed for incorporation and won. Today, 91% of housing in Rancho Palos Verdes is in single-family homes, 5% in apartments and 4% in condominium units.”
Williams and his wife, Elaine, both in their 30s, are typical of young couples with double incomes who live in apartments in the area.
The going rent for two-bedroom apartments is between $900 to $1,500. Home prices range from the mid-$400,000s to the$650,000s.
“Condos, but not too many of them, are priced at just under $350,000, so it’s not always feasible for younger people in our age bracket to start out owning a home on the peninsula,” Williams said. “But we love living here.”
“One of the advantages of living on The Hill is that the freeways are about 10 miles away,” Williams noted. “The limited access to the peninsula has been a plus because we find ourselves sharing its facilities and therefore developing a closer relationship with our neighboring cities.”
ROLLING HILLS ESTATES AT A GLANCE Population
1990 estimate: 8,102
1980-90 change: 5.2%
Median age: 38.5 years
Per capita: 30,055
Median household: 74,638
Less than $15,000: 3.7%
$15,000 - $30,000: 6.6%
$30,000 - $50,000: 15.6%
$50,000 - $75,000: 24.4%
$75,000 + 49.6%
PALOS VERDES ESTATES AT A GLANCE Population
1990 estimate: 14,905
1980-90 change: 3.7%
Median age: 42 years
Per capita: 40,582
Median household: 98,891
Less than $15,000: 3.1%
$15,000 - $30,000: 3.8%
$30,000 - $50,000: 9.7%
$50,000 - $75,000: 16.9%
$75,000 + 66.6%
RANCHO PALOS VERDES AT A GLANCE Population
1990 estimate: 41,069
1980-90 change: 12.3%
Median age: 39.1 years
Per capita: 31,320
Median household: 81,110
Less than $15,000: 3.4%
$15,000 - $30,000: 5.8%
$30,000 - $50,000: 12.7%
$50,000 - $75,000: 22.5%
$75,000 + 55.4%