Fashioned from 400 acres of the original 2,000-acre Wolfskill Ranch, which wealthy retailer Arthur Letts bought for $100 an acre, Holmby Hills was developed by the Janss Investment Co. and billed as "the Ultimate in Residential Estate Development."
The community, bordered to the west by Beverly Glen Boulevard, to the east by Beverly Hills and straddling Sunset Boulevard, featured lots up to 4 acres. Zoning was implemented to guarantee large lot size, and electric and telephone poles were buried beneath the wide, tree-lined streets to help preserve the landscape.
After the initial shock of the 1929 stock market crash subsided, and with the cost of materials and labor reduced by the Depression, grand homes were built on the large properties. Among them was a 20-room American Colonial-style masterpiece built in 1936, complete with an exquisitely tiled swimming pool featuring the signs of the zodiac over a splashing sunburst pattern.
Throughout Holmby Hills are English-style street lamps, designed in the 1920s. Created exclusively for the Holmby Hills neighborhood, the handsome lamps are a reminder of an elegant era.
Lush landscaping and enormous private estates have attracted the rich and famous since the Letts brothers built their own mansions there in the late 1920s. Perhaps best known is the granite-facade, Tudor-style home of Arthur Letts Jr., which was purchased by Hugh Hefner in 1971 for $1,050,000. Walt Disney and his wife, Lillian, built their dream home in the 1950s that featured a 300-foot-long train track for Disney's personal model train, complete with a 90-foot-long tunnel and S-curve to make the ride more interesting.
Besides grand homes, the neighborhood has two parks ringed by mature sycamore trees.
Holmby Park is south of Sunset Boulevard, and the quaint De Neve Square is to the north. Holmby Park has two playgrounds, a nine-hole putting green and classic lawn bowling. The Armand Hammer Golf Course is named for the founder of Occidental Petroleum, who lived just up the block and enjoyed the greens. The Holmby Park Bowling Club was established in 1927 and calls itself the official lawn bowling club of Los Angeles.
Despite highly restrictive zoning, residents are worried about overdevelopment.
"People who live in the area recognize how precious the use of the land is and want to keep this area idyllic," said Marcia Selz, Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Assn. president. "We are not opposed to development but believe the zoning should be upheld."
The expansion of Harvard-Westlake Middle School farther into the neighborhood, conflict over land use and the demolition of a Paul Williams-designed home have fanned heated debate.
The Holmby Hills Homeowners Assn. serves the area "limited on the east by the city of Beverly Hills, on the west by Beverly Glen Boulevard and Bel-Air and on the south by Sunset Boulevard," according to the association's website. The Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Assn. serves the portion just south of Sunset.
Good news, bad news
In an effort to slow traffic, speed bumps have been installed on several key streets. Residents' concerns about the loss of property value due to the traffic-control efforts have subsided as home prices have continued to rise throughout the area.
Only a few properties are for sale, including a traditional-style home built in 1951 with three bedrooms for $5.5 million on a large lot and an estate with 12 bedrooms and 13 baths for $23 million. Recent sales include a 20,000-square-foot villa with a projection room and wine cellar that was listed for slightly more than $24 million.
Holmby Hills residents are served by Warner Elementary School, which scored 932 on a scale of 1,000 on the Academic Performance Index for 2003. Emerson Middle School scored 638. University High School scores were unavailable.