A LITTLE PARK ESTATES HISTORY, PART 1

A LITTLE PARK ESTATES HISTORY, PART 1

While it might surprise some of you, the area we call “Park Estates” was not always the beautiful and tranquil place it is today with upscale homes and tree lined streets. In fact, up until the mid-1940’s, this area was just part of the huge Rancho Los Alamitos tract that was owned by Susan Bixby Bryant, one of the remaining relatives of the storied Bixby family. This family owned large swaths of the land in what is now Los Angeles and Orange counties beginning in the mid-1800s. Up through the first half of the 20th century, the area east of downtown Long Beach was mostly undeveloped farmland leased to farmers to graze sheep and cattle and to grow fruits and vegetables. In fact, up until just after World War 2, the area bounded by Spring Street to the north, Clark Avenue
to the west, PCH to the south and the Seal Beach Boulevard to the east was a combination of farmland used to grow beans and marshland created by the overflowing San Gabriel River. That was until the area caught the eye of one of the most prominent developers in Long Beach history, Mr. Lloyd S. Whaley.
Lloyd Whaley was a self-built man with great vision. He grew up on the farms of Nebraska and went to Iowa State College during the Great Depression. He moved to north Long Beach in 1935 looking for work. He was 29 years old, single and educated, but could only find work as a laborer in the port’s lumber yards. However, he gained a lot of experience and made the contacts and connections that were necessary for his future success as a lumber and real estate tycoon. Lloyd was driven to succeed and willing to take big risks, hoping they would pay off in the end. And pay off they did. After designing a couple of spec homes, he saw a future in residential development. Two things are essential for building homes: land and lumber. So at 33 years of age, Lloyd started the Home Investment Company and the Whaley Lumber Company. Though he first developed homes in the Wrigley Heights and Country Club Manor areas of northwest Long Beach, as World War 2 was ending, Lloyd again saw an opportunity to provide housing for thousands of Gls returning from the war who wanted to settle down and start families of their own.

Around this time in 1946, the State of California was looking to build a new state college in the area and both Long Beach and Downey were finalists in the competition. When the Bixby Land Company donated land east of Bellflower Boulevard and north of 7th Street for the school, Downey lost out and Long Beach State University was borne. Shortly thereafter, Susan Bixby Bryant passed away in 1947 and left an estate that had numerous tax issues. That is where Lloyd’s vision for a new Long Beach community came to fruition. He bought the portions of the Rancho Los Alamitos from Bryant’s financially strapped heirs and called it Los Altos, Spanish for “The Hills”. He then hired a noted socialist and regional planner from the Berkeley area named L. Deming Hilton. Together, they designed one of the first planned communities in the country. The Los Altos Association included 25 tracts with plans for over 10,000 single family homes and set aside space for retail stores, schools, churches and parks. It was the largest planned community in the country. Whaley was a smart businessman and
knew the federal government was going to underwrite home loans as part of what would later become the VA. Whaley had Hilton develop Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions (CC&Rs) for the planned housing in each tract with minimum and maximum house sizes, lot coverages, setbacks, and so on, starting with Declaration No.1 in 1947 which is recorded as Document No. 1744 in Book 28640. Whaley then built several different model homes and
started selling and building new 2 and 3 bedroom homes for between $8,000 and $12,500. (My, how things have changed. That’s around what most of us pay YEARLY for property tax.) The first homes to go up in the Los Altos community were northeast of Atherton and Clark and the building continued north and east from there.
As things the sales started picking up, Whaley and Hilton developed plans for a small section of Los Altos that would have larger lots, tree lined streets and custom built homes instead of the small lots and tract homes. This is where our story really begins and will be in the next PEN.

By Ted Brodeur

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