“To live in Brentwood Park means to have the conveniences of city life brought to the doors of your country estate …. Mail and fresh eggs are brought to your home twice each day. Garbage is removed three times a week. Streetlights twinkle at night. There is a kindergarten in the Park and an autobus takes children to and from grammar school and Sunday school.”
So begins an ad in the April 19, 1907 edition of the Los Angeles Times, praising the newly developed residential community on the edge of Santa Monica Canyon. The suburb was graced with a panoramic view of the ocean from Santa Monica to Palos Verdes and looked east to the city of Los Angeles. Readers were cautioned not to miss this opportunity to live among “people of refinement” who “love Brentwood Park for its breadth of view – its variety of scene – its everlasting breezes – its naturalness.”
Brentwood Park had once been part of the Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica, a grant of over 30,000 acres of “mountains, mesa and shore land” given in 1839 to the Sepulveda family by Governor Juan B. Alvarado. After the Sepulveda heirs sold their holdings in 1872 – for less than $2.00 an acre – the property changed hands several times. The portion that eventually became Brentwood Park was bought by the Western Pacific Development Company, which created the subdivision in 1906.
The following year Western Pacific Development placed advertisements in local papers, heralding the selection of John McLaren, superintendent of Golden Gate Park, to supervise the layout of Brentwood Park. No evidence has been found to validate the claim of McLaren’s role in the design of Brentwood Park, but the image of a residential development laid out along the lines of that renowned wooded refuge in San Francisco must have been an attractive selling point.
Brentwood Park was one of the first subdivisions along San Vicente Boulevard. The developers boasted the investment of “cool half million for improvements.” They appear to have been quite serious in their attempt to create a woodland atmosphere, for they established guidelines to insure a natural and pastoral setting. “Everything that savors of a formal city street effect will be avoided and cement curbs and walks will be conspicuously absent.” The streets were wide, graveled and oiled, and they wound about, following the graceful, natural contours of the land.
The horse and carriage was still an important mode of transportation and the automobile was just beginning to be seen in the Southland. To assure easy access to the newly developing Westside, the Los Angeles-Pacific Railroad, which owned large tracts of land in Brentwood, extended Red Car service to the area by building the Westgate Line in 1906. This narrow gauge, double track, electric trolley ran down the center of San Vicente Boulevard to Ocean Avenue and then south, to connect with the Santa Monica Main Line. Lot sales throughout the area served by the Westgate Line multiplied, clearly encouraged by the twenty-five minute ride to the heart of Los Angeles. In subdividing the land into residential lots, the Western Pacific developers imposed a series of restrictions aimed at maintaining the Park as a neighborhood of quality. Those restrictions still in effect today include the prohibition of businesses of any kind; the distillation and
sale of alcohol; the erection of billboards and oil wells; and the construction of more than one residence per lot. Deed restrictions common in 1906 pertaining to race, color and creed, were ruled unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948.
But the spacious and verdant setting, so valued a part of the Park today, was a direct result of those specific restrictions that affected the width of the lots and their setbacks. Nearly all the lots had a minimum frontage requirement of one hundred feet. In addition, houses were required to be set back fifty feet to one hundred feet from the property line, depending on their street. For example, houses on Bristol were required to be set back one hundred feet while those on Cliffwood had to be seventy-five feet from the property line. Finally, all houses had to be placed a minimum of fifteen feet from the side property line and on corner lots, twenty-five feet from the side street. As the years have passed, these very deed restrictions, challenged time after time, have saved the Park from being carved into smaller and smaller parcels.
The original tract map recorded with Los Angeles County in January of 1906 shows Brentwood Park with thirty-two traffic circle islands, one at every intersection, and thirty-three larger traffic oval islands in mid-block between intersections. This was an extraordinary quantity of islands in one neighborhood, and all of them to be planted and maintained. But records indicate that only some thirty-four of the islands were ever constructed. Nevertheless, they created the illusion of meandering country roads.
Shortly after this idealistic beginning, Brentwood Park began to face a succession of threats. A financial panic in 1907 caused Western Pacific to cease its development efforts, and by August of 1909, after many of the original trees and shrubs had died of neglect, the company sold a large block of its stock to Dr. Herman Janss of the Braly-Janss Company. Dr. Janss discovered the beauty of Brentwood Park on a visit to view the Santa Monica Road Race, an annual road race that used San Vicente Boulevard as one leg of its course.
The next major event came in 1916 when, to obtain municipal services, the residents of Brentwood Park voted to be annexed by the City of Los Angeles. If they were also hoping for help in maintaining the thirty-four planted islands scattered throughout the Park, they were to be sadly disappointed. One of the conditions the city set for annexation was that it take charge of the streets, ovals, and circles. Just ten years later when Los Angeles installed storm drains and sewers, and paved and curbed the streets, it also exercised its rights as steward of the islands and removed all but eight of them (leaving four ovals and four circles). Of the four remaining circles, a very large one at Bristol and Sunset was lost in 1956 when Sunset Boulevard was straightened, cutting through the circle. The leftover portions of the circle were sold to developers who created five new lots. When the city removed the islands, it also straightened those gently curving roadways and deeded the circular street portion back to the adjacent lots, leaving most of Brentwood Park with straight roadways. When the straightening was complete, the city retained ownership of at least seventy-five feet, although most roadways were paved only twenty-five feet wide with large city owned parkways on each side landscaped by individual homeowners. Seven traffic islands remained until 1989 when an eighth island was added. Cleminshaw Circle, at the junction of Rockingham, Avondale and Marlboro, was planned and built through a cooperative effort of the city, the Brentwood Park Property Owners’ Association and generous neighbors.
Most of the street names in the Park duplicated street names already existing in Los Angeles and those names had to be changed to avoid confusion. The present day streets with their original counterparts are listed below:
Present Name Original Name
Ashford Street Oakwood Avenue
Avondale Avenue McKinley Drive
Bentel Avenue Bental Avenue
Bristol Avenue Grand Blvd.
Burlingame Avenue Terrace Drive
Chadbourne Avenue Dorsey Drive
Cliffwood Avenue Lincoln Drive
Evanston Street Florida Avenue
Hanover Street Euclid Street
Highwood Street Hillcrest Avenue
Marlboro Street Delaware Avenue
Parkyns Street Parkyris Avenue
Rockingham Avenue Canyon Drive
Sunset Blvd. Park Drive Avenue
Westboro Street Golden Gate Avenue
Streetlights on concrete standards, originally planned for the Park, were never installed; undergrounding the wires was considered too costly at $11.00 per foot. Today undergrounding is estimated at approximately $200.00 per foot. The installation of sidewalks was rejected because it would have necessitated the removal of too many trees.
At the time of annexation in 1916, only one-fourth of the property in the Park had been bought. Little was sold until 1922 when the firm of Shipley, Harrell and Trapp bought the remaining three-fourths. They immediately mounted an ambitious sales campaign, setting up a large tent at the corner of San Vicente and Bristol and inviting people from all over Los Angeles for a motor tour of the Park followed by lunch in the tent and an auction of Park properties. After the initial flurry of sales, interest lagged. At that point the salesmen began to offer half lots (fifty feet wide instead of the requisite one hundred feet). An owner of seven lots who was in the audience loudly protested the lot splitting, but was ignored. He proceeded to organize other Park property owners, sued to uphold the frontage restrictions of one hundred feet, and won. This was the first in a series of attempts at lot division that flouted the original deed restrictions and ultimately led to the formation of the Brentwood Park Property Owners’ Association.
The Brentwood Park Property Owners’ Association was incorporated on August 4th, 1942 as a direct response to the increasing threat of subdivision. Faced with rising land value, fewer available lots, and expiring restrictions on many original lots, the Association worked successfully to gain full reversionaryrights throughout most of the Park. Its energy and persistence finally led to a zoning change by the Los Angeles City Council, which substantially prohibited any lot division into less than 20,000 square feet.
In spite of clear restrictions against business, some colorful enterprises flourished during Brentwood Park’s early years. Much of the land in the northern part of the Park was leased to growers of barley and hay. There was also a plant nursery at Bristol and Parkyns. Kate Rolin, who has lived in her grandmother’s house on Cliffwood since 1913, remembers a pig farm just north of what was then Park Drive Avenue (Sunset Boulevard did not cut through the Park until 1926). She also remembers borrowing books from a lending library located in the clubhouse of a miniature golf course on the corner of Burlingame and San Vicente. One of the neighbors supplied her family with fresh eggs; another delivered fresh milk.
Betty Cline Branch, who grew up in the Park during the late 1920s and 1930s tells a tale of forbidden enterprise. Betty’s parents owned at least three lots on the northwest corner of Cliffwood and Evanston, some two acres of land. Part of that acreage was devoted to a fruit orchard. When Prohibition was enacted, Betty’s father, a law-abiding man, threw out all his liquor. Soon he discovered that many of his acquaintances had not done the same or were purchasing bootleg liquor to offer guests at dinner parties. Dr. Cline mentioned to his wife, in front of their housekeeper, that he too would like some alcohol to serve friends. The housekeeper, from an old Kentucky moonshining family, revealed that she had set up fermenting vats in the Cline’s cellar and had been making wines from the abundant fruit of their orchard. She would, she said, be happy to provide all the wine the Clines might need to meet their social commitments.
The Brentwood Country Club converted the original Western Pacific sales office at Bristol and San Vicente into its club-house. When the clubhouse was relocated to the south, its present location, the Hollywood Military Academy moved into the building and held afternoon and evening dance classes for the young people in the area. The Brentwood Town and Country School (now the John Thomas Dye School in Bel-Air) was then located on San Vicente near Twenty-sixth Street.
People who grew up in the Park from 1915 through 1950 recall a simple life in a rural setting. There were still large undeveloped areas where one could wander and explore without the supervision of parents. The most often repeated of their memories was that young people rode horses everywhere, down into the canyons and up into the mountains, often camping overnight near Mulholland Drive. Mandeville Canyon with its botanical garden, spreading oaks, and majestic sycamores was a favorite with riders and hikers.
Betty Cline Branch recalls riding her horse from her house on Cliffwood to Twenty-Sixth Street and San Vicente. There she tethered the horse in a vacant lot, caught the bus to school, and in the afternoon, rode home again. She and her friends delighted in galloping along San Vicente, racing the trolley. One year she and her brother organized a rodeo and invited young people from the area to participate. They awarded ribbons as prizes and donated all proceeds from admission tickets to charity.
The properties on South Rockingham, on the steep bluffs over-looking the polo fields in Santa Monica Canyon, served as con-venient spots for viewing the polo matches. When the equestrian events for the 1932 Olympics were held in the canyon, people in Rockingham gardens watched from the shade and comfort of gazebos along the rim. Even into the early 1970s young people would ride on horseback from stables in Mandeville and Sullivan Canyons, down Rockingham and Avondale Avenues, to buy ice cream cones at the local Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors ice cream parlor on San Vicente.
Brentwood Park was promoted as an area of country estates close to the heart of the city. One early ad claimed that “87,000 trees, palms and shrubs of 800 varieties were utilized” in laying out the Park. A few of the original palms, sycamores, California peppers and live oaks remain as our natural treasures.
Brentwood Park was seen from the beginning as a retreat from a rapidly growing city. The original concept of the Park as a wooded refuge created what is now one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Southern California. Remaining true to those early principles of ample setbacks and mass planting of trees will ensure the preservation of this park-like neighbor-hood in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world.