Monte-Mar Vista Tract

On June 13, 1924,  Tract 5713 was registered with the City of Los Angeles,  which had annexed the area from the County a year before.   The 409-lot Monte-Mar Vista (Mountain Sea View) tract opened for sale in April 1925.  It was notable for concrete streets and underground utilities.  Restrictive covenants in deeds to the lots limited the area to expensive, single-family homes.  Initially, homes had to cost at least $12,000 to build.  During the Great Depression, with about a quarter of the lots still unsold, that was lowered to $4000.  That change accounts for the predominance of larger homes on the earlier-sold lots primarily east of Motor Avenue.  Cheviot Hills deeds required homes to cost at least $5000.  Both tracts' deeds limited occupance to  whites – except for servants.

McConnell, Forrester & Hayes of Beverly Hills were the first developers and agents.  Ole Hanson (1874-1940) (who is better known as the Mayor of Seattle (1918-1919) and for founding San Clemente (1925)), was also associated with the development – but when is uncertain, since the story was told decades later by  a grandson of Cheviot Hills developer, Frans Nelson, a friend of Hanson's.  The McConnell, Forrester & Hayes firm exited in early 1928, if not sooner, when sales were taken over by noted developer Frank Meline Company.  During the Great Depression, the Capital Company (which may have taken the land in foreclosure) was in charge.  

Fred W. Forrester, whose own "Terrace View" home remains one of the great houses in the neighborhood, helmed the Angeles Mesa Land Company when it developed Angeles Mesa.  In 1913, he touted the inherent value of view lots on Angeles Mesa's high land, as he would a decade later for Monte-Mar Vista.  Forrester's father E. A. Forrester (1832-1917) was " one of the pioneer realty operators of Los Angeles " and also a county supervisor.  E. A., Fred, and Arthur Forrester ran "a general real estate and subdivision business under the name of E. A. Forrester & Sons part of the family operation," which included the Westlake tract including Westlake Park, Porter Ranch, Simi Valley, an area around Calabasas, and the 1907 Forrester Building which remains at 640 South Broadway in Los Angeles.  

The Monte-Mar Vista developers advertised location:  "surrounded on three sides by country clubs [Hillcrest, Rancho, and California], thus assuring ample protection to homeowners of a delightful place in which to live, and free from future undesirable encroachments."  "The fourth side is bounded by a high-class residential district" – the Cheviot Hills and Country Club Highlands tracts.  ( Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1925 .)   Pico Boulevard was close at hand, yet far enough to allow freedom from the noise and confusion.”  The Times also reported  its "suitable restrictions" for the construction of homes, the minimum cost being $12,000. Promotion included illuminated Monte-Mar Vista letters (illuminated at night) of the sort erected in 1923 to tout the Hollywoodland development.  The developers also sponsored a Saturday night KFWB radio show through Summer 1925, which sometimes featured the "Monte Mar Vista Orchestra" or the "Monte Mar Vista Syncopators."  
Landscape architects Cook and Hall's general plan of Monte Mar Vista (1924) had different street names than the eventual ones. East Vista Drive became McConnell; Corona became Club; Cresta became Forrester. Inset key map shows Monte Mar Vista in relation to Wilshire Boulevard, Pico Boulevard, National Blvd., Los Angeles Speedway (1920-1924), and adjoining country clubs. (Courtesy UCLA Library Digital Collections ; thanks to Tim Doyle for sourcing.)
John McNamee, contractor, placed this February 10, 1924, Los Angeles Times advertisement announcing that it would be proceeding with the improvements in Monte-Mar Vista, including concrete streets and underground utilities.  Based on stampings in the streets and sidewalks, Claude Fisher Co., Contractors had taken over by 1927.  Or maybe Fisher was yet another contractor.


Developers advertised proximity to Pico Boulevard:  “close at hand, yet far enough to allow freedom from the noise and confusion.”  With “concrete winding boulevards” and “not a pole in sight – utilities are underground,” homes on streets such as McConnell and Forrester were “priced for quick sale at $3900 and up.” 

Promotion included illuminated Monte-Mar Vista letters (illuminated at night) of the sort erected in 1923 to tout the Hollywoodland development.  The developers also sponsored a Saturday night KFWB radio show through Summer 1925, which sometimes featured the "Monte Mar Vista Orchestra" or the "Monte Mar Vista Syncopators."
This advertisement ran on April 19 and 26, 1925.
April 26, 1925, Los Angeles Times advertisement.
May 10, 1925, Los Angeles Times advertisement.
May 17, 1925, Los Angeles Times advertisement.  The paper carried an article  profiling the development the same day.  
May 31, 1925, Los Angeles Times advertisement.  
June 14, 1925, advertisement.
May 30, 1926, Los Angeles Times depiction of Fred W. Forrester's "Terrace View" home.  
Advertising in the Los Angeles Times (and the KFWB radio show sponsorship) apparently stopped between Summer 1925 and mid-1926.  Then, on May 30, 1926, the Times profiled the residence of developer Fred W. Forrester:  "Fifty-Thousand-Dollar Old English Home."  The February 2, 1926, building permit shows it valued at $41,000, not $50,000.  It was to be built by Commercial Construction Company.  In January 1926, the company's president, Eugene Webb, Jr.,   announced he would build his novel steel home in Monte-Mar Vista.

Forrester's home set a standard noted by the Los Angeles Department of Planning in its 2011 "SurveyLA":  " Given the affluence of the area’s residents who had the financial means to retain top architects to design their homes, known architects who designed properties in the area during the 1920s and 1930s include John L. DeLario, Roland E. Coates, and Eugene R. Ward.  Developer Forrester designed his own house in the district in an elaborate Tudor Revival style.  Despite the moderate to large lots, some of the houses are so expansive that they extend across several parcels. "  Forrester's home, covered two lots.  It was later the residence of actress Agnes Moorehead .

The next week, on June 6, 1926, the Times carried another Monte-Mar Vista advertisement and article.  It noted homes built by Commercial Construction Company and roads built by Fisher Construction Company.
June 6, 1926, Los Angeles Times advertisement. 
June 6, 1926, Los Angeles Times article. 
​​The tract was still being developed in 1927, when Claude Fisher, Co., put its stamp in the sidewalks.  
The tract was not completely surrounded by what the Los Angeles Times called a "high-class residential district" and country clubs.  Immediately to the east was a working farm (formerly the Arnaz Ranch) owned by the Marblehead Land Company.  (Marblehead was owned by the Rindge family, which also owned Malibu.)  As Nathan Masters tells it in " Monte Mar Vista: Luxury Homes With a View (of an Oil Derrick ," in 1927, the Rancho's owners started an oil-drilling operation.  The city of Los Angles (which had annexed the area only 4 years before) promptly passed an ordinance prohibiting oil-drilling; it was upheld in court in 1931 .  With the Great Depression on, land-rich/cash-poor  Marblehead was bankrupted, and, by 1939, the Arnaz ranch was held by investors who would build Beverlywood .
Oil rig on the Arnaz Ranch as seen from a Monte Mar Vista home (1927).  Huge hay bales are on the eastern horizon.  (Courtesy of USC Libraries - Dick Whittington Photography Collection .)
The Finishing Touch (a short comedy silent film starring Laurel and Hardy and produced by Hal Roach) was shot in November and December 1927 in Monte-Mar Vista.  The hospital was a house at 2728 McConnell Drive, and the house at 2839 Forrester Drive appears as well.  (Courtesy the Laurel & Hardy Picture Gallery .
Among the developers associated with the tract, W.R. McConnell and Fred W. Forrester are the only ones to have their names attached to streets – and to a lawsuit , when the the advertising manager (John R. Case, Jr.) and sales manager (Brockett) sued them and Bank of America (which held the land in trust) for unpaid commissions.  The case reports refer to a March 15, 1927, Amended Declaration of Trust; it is unclear when the trust arrangement began.  What is clear is that the original developers were out by February 1928.  

Frank Meline was an architect and the first sales agent in Bel-Air for developer  Alphonzo Bell (1875-1947).  Meline subdivided Pacific Palisades’ California Riviera neighborhood, where some streets also bear the Claude Fisher Company seen in Monte-Mar Vista.  Meline was a prominent developer "who in 1912 formed his hown Los Angeles construction company, which he expaneded in 1919 to a full-service real-estate development and sales opertion with (by 1924) eighteen branch offices throughout the Los Angeles basin.  As a broker, Meline sold half the homes urchased in Beverly Hills before 1930."  
(Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920s, by Kevin Starr.)

On February 12, 1928, the day that  Los Angeles Times reported that Frank Meline and Company had taken over Monte Mar Vista , the following advertisement appeared.
In this February 12, 1928, Los Angeles Times advertisement, the Frank Meline Company forever banished the hyphen from Monte-Mar Vista.
Photograph showing 2739 Motor Avenue sales office (at right) in 1928, taken for Fred Forrester.  (Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Dick Whittington Photography Collection .)
As had the earlier developers, the Frank Meline Company used radio station promotion – this time with Radio Station KHJ:  "This is Bob and Betty's Dream Home" in 1929.  (Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Dick Whittington Photography Collection .)
​​A 1931 Los Angeles Times account has Fred Forrester as "exclusive agent for Monte Mar Vista" when he reported several sales.  One was to A. T. Schaber, owner of Schaber's cafeteria at 620 South Broadway, south of the Forrester Building , with the Palace Theater in between.  Another sale was to  "capitalist" Claude Fisher, whose company built dams, commercial buildings, and streets – including in Monte-Mar Vista, for a $50,000 home.  E. J. Campell of the Blue Bird Laundry bought a ninety-foot corner at McConnell and Cresta (2740 McConnell) for a "ten-room home of the Spanish type."

The Great Depression - The Bank is Selling

​​A new round of advertisements began in 1937 (during the Great Depression) with the Capital Company, a Bank of America subsidiary that apparently handled foreclosed properties.  ​​

On March 14, 1937, in an article entitled, " Monte Mar Vista Opens Up 100 New R esidential Sites ,"  the Los Angeles Times reported that the Capital Company's sub­division department, through its "general broker" Harry T. Hudson, would offer 100 homesites.  The article also reported that less expensive homes would be allowed – apparently down from the original $12,000 to $4000:  "Protective building restrictions have been modified so that in certain sections one-story mod­ern homes of the rambling farm­house or early California types may be built." 
March 21, 1937, Los Angeles Times advertisement.
Possibly, the "typical lot" featured in this April 18, 1937, Los Angeles Times advertisement (10290  Cresta Drive) did not sell at the time, since a  building permit for the lot was not pulled until 1947.
August 8, 1937, Los Angeles Times advertisement.  Lots for sale:  10220 Club Place ($3025), 2740 Club Drive ($2425), 2746 Club Drive ($2425), 2758 Club Drive ($2425), 2764 Club Drive ($2250), 2770 Club Drive ($2250), and 2776Club Drive ($3025).
This December 17, 1938, Los Angeles Times advertisement shows the Capital Company still selling in Monte Mar Vista (among other tracts throughout Southern California).

Building Restrictions and Redlining

​​The Capital Company (Bank of America) advertisements shown above say "BUILDING RESTRICTIONS are reasonable and protective," "HOME BUILDING financing on easy terms arranged under F. H. A. standards," and "F. H. A. Approved Properties."   Those restrictions, standards, and approval meant that the federal government was helping ensure racial segregation. ​​

The National Housing Act of 1934 created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to increase the market for single-family homes.  The FHA’s strict lending standards, contained in the FHA Underwriting Handbook, governed whether mortgages were eligible for National Housing Act insurance.  The Handbook restricted the kinds of properties for which it would approve mortgages based on (among other factors) racial and ethnic composition.  It favored restrictions including "Prohibition of the occupancy of properties except by the race for which they are intended" (1938 FHA Underwriting Manual, sec. 980 (3)(g)).  

Around the same time, the federal government established the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) for refinancing mortgages that were in default in order to avoid foreclosures.  HOLC created maps and area descriptions along the same lines as the FHA Manual.  Maps were shaded from green to red, the latter being undesirable.  Those maps are the basis for the term " redlining ."

The Monte-Mar Vista tract rated highest with HOLC and met the FHA standards:  "Negro O%."  "Slight infiltration of American Jewish families noted."  "Deed restrictions limit improvements to single-family dwellings of a minimum $4000 and protects in perpetuity against subversive racial elements."  The maps also portray the area's development:  "This subdivision was platted and placed on the market some 15 years ago; its growth after the initial promotional effort was erratic until about 4 years ago when activity began to increase."  "Plans are under way for immediate development of . . . Cheviot Knolls."

Maps and more information about HOLC are available through " Mapping Inequality, Redlining in New Deal America ."