Librarian Monique Sugimoto looking back 100 years
True to founder’s vision – The 100th anniversary of Frank Vanderlip’s vision will be celebrated across the Peninsula
by Elka Worner
In 1923, visionary banker Frank Vanderlip, Sr. and the Palos Verdes Project held a car rally in Malaga Cove to entice potential property buyers to an area covered in coastal sagebrush and agricultural fields.
“That rally launched the modern-day Peninsula development, and put Palos Verdes on the map as one of the nation’s first planned communities,” Palos Verdes Library District Archivist and Local History Librarian Monique Sugimoto said.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the car rally, the Palos Verdes Library District is coordinating a daylong celebration on Saturday, June 17 called “Doors Open Peninsula 2023: Celebrating 100 Years of History on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.”
“It’s a chance for the public to experience the rich history, architecture, cultural institutions, people, and open spaces in celebration of this milestone date,” Sugimoto said.
Sugimoto said she has spoken with people who have grown up on the Peninsula who were unaware of such historic sites as the former Nike Missile silo at the Rancho Palos Verdes City Hall site.
Commemorative brochures for DOP will be available at all three libraries and the Malaga Cove School, the main gathering site for the day. Each “passport” will feature a map with routes and sites so individuals can personalize the experience.
“We are turning the real estate rally of 100 years ago into a ‘stamp rally’ — a program modeled on the National Parks passport program – where participants collect stamps in a commemorative booklet from the sites they visit throughout the day,” she said.
The free event will include about 50 sites, including the Malaga Cove Library, La Venta Inn, Point Vicente Lighthouse, the Salvation Army College for Officer Training at Crestmont, and the George F. Canyon Nature Preserve. The sites will offer guided tours and printed materials. “It’s a day to create your own adventure for your family,” Sugimoto said. “Do you want to focus on open space, or do you want to look at different architecture?”
Above all, the 100-year anniversary is a time “to reflect back and take a look at how the Palos Verdes Peninsula has developed,” Sugimoto said.
It all began with visionary developer Frank Vanderlip, Sr. who had grandiose plans for the Southern California site.
A decade before the real estate rally, a consortium assembled by Vanderlip purchased 16,000 acres on the Peninsula, known as the Palos Verdes Project. It now encompasses Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills Estates, Rolling Hills, and Rancho Palos Verdes, and pockets of unincorporated areas.
Vanderlip hired architects and planners to draw up a master plan. He wanted the area to resemble an Italian hillside village with craftsmen who would live and work there.
“To plan the village, he even brought out a meteorologist to look for the foggiest and warmest places on the land,” Sugimoto said.
The original plans included a golf club on the bluffs overlooking Portuguese Bend. The golf club featured a clubhouse, 150 guest rooms, a large swimming pool, tennis courts, polo grounds and a yacht club with a concrete pier.
The new development was marketed to buyers across the country and showcased at the June 17, 1923, real estate rally on the grounds of what is today Malaga Cove School.
A sepia toned photograph of the rally shows dozens of Model Ts lined up in the dirt. Another photo shows men, women and children walking in the nearby fields. An estimated 32,000 people attended the rally, according to a 1923 Los Angeles Times article. Within a year, more than 3,000 homes were sold.
“It wasn’t just large, palatial estates,” Sugimoto said. “There was a small homes division, which was for people of more modest means.”
Vanderlip’s plan to build a village that resembled the Amalfi Coast was never realized. The Stock Market Crash of 1929, and the subsequent Depression made it difficult to raise capital. But that didn’t stop development on the Peninsula. Palos Verdes Estates was incorporated in 1939, Rolling Hills, and Rolling Hills Estates in 1957, and Rancho Palos Verdes in 1973.
St. Francis Episcopal Church will open the doors of its historic chapel, built in 1952 and designed by Walter Swindell Davis, the Southern California apostle of Mediterranean architecture who also designed the La Venta Inn.
“A lot of people like its size and coziness, and its stained-glass windows,” said parishioner Anna Eakins Kozaki. “I hope they feel a sense of peace and welcoming.”
Rolling Hills Estates City Manager Greg Grammer will lead tours of city hall and the council chambers. “I’m a history and architecture buff, so this is right up my alley,” he said.
Grammer said the 1974 post and beam city hall has walls of glass, and was constructed with Palos Verdes stone. Another draw is a carved folk-art panel by renowned mid-century artist Evelyn Ackerman.
To highlight the Peninsula’s military history, Rancho Palos Verdes will provide tours of their civic center grounds, a former military site that housed Nike and Hercules missile silos during the Cold War.
“Most people don’t even know it’s there,” Deputy City Manager Karina Bañales said of the former silo site. By 1974 the missile sites had become obsolete and were shut down by the federal government.
The city will also provide information on the region’s Japanese American farming legacy by focusing on the Hatano Farm, which was recently designated a California Point of Historic Interest.
The Palos Verdes Estates Police Department will provide tours of their communications center, jail and shooting range.
“In 1929, we were operating out of a one room station in Malaga Cove,” said the department’s Community Relations Officer Merlin David.
A 1954 police car will be parked out front and black and white photos will be exhibited, including a 1929 shot of Palos Verdes Chief Bill Woolsey with a group of elementary school students.
After touring the sites, Sugimoto hopes participants will have gained “a little more knowledge and appreciation” of the area.
“If they leave thrilled, and curious about learning more, I think that’s the best thing they could walk away with,” she said. Pen