Rancho Los Alamitos
The area we call “Park Estates” was not always the beautiful 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 II, 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 an entrepreneur 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. Whaley 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, Whaley 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 II was ending, Whaley saw the opportunity to provide housing for thousands of GIs returning from the war who wanted to settle down and start families.
The owner of Rancho Los Alamitos, Susan Bixby Bryant, passed away in 1947 and left an estate that had numerous tax issues. Whaley seized this opportunity to implement his vision for a new Long Beach residential community. 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 building and selling new 2 and 3 bedroom homes for between $8,000 and $12,500. 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.
Lloyd Whaley and L. Deming Hilton envisioned a 205 acre portion of Los Altos that would have larger lots, tree lined streets and custom built homes instead of the smaller lots and tract homes of the rest of the development. This area was to be the “exclusive” segment of eastern Long Beach. Beginning in late December 1948, Tract 14674 was recorded with the first 194 lots averaging 6,500 sf of land each. (For comparison, the lot sizes in the other Los Altos tracts averaged around 5,500 sf, 1,000 sf less.) These lot sizes allowed the houses to be both bigger and farther apart, increasing value and privacy. Tract 14673 with the next 66 lots was recorded a few weeks later. Tract 14675 followed in March 1950 with 105 lots. Tract 15836 was next in June 1951 with 71 lots. These first four tracts accounted for over 80% of the properties north of Anaheim Road and over half of all of properties in Park Estates. They also shared the same basic Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions (CC&Rs) with only minor changes due to specific lot requirements or exceptions. These CC&Rs also set up the basic structure of the Los Altos Homeowners Association, the forerunner of the Park Estates Homeowners Association (PEHA), and the Architectural Review Board (ARB). As you will see later, the ARB oversight of development was instrumental in creating the look and feel we currently enjoy.
What few people know is that though Tract 14673 was initially laid out for single family homes along Anaheim Road, a deal was made between Whaley and the brand new Los Angeles-Orange County State College in early 1949 that got mostly apartment buildings built instead. Though the new campus was to be built on land donated by the Bixby-Bryant family east of Bellflower Blvd., there was an immediate need for temporary college facilities until the campus could be designed and built. Thus, Whaley arranged to have the apartment buildings built instead. Some apartments were converted into classrooms, while others were used to house the students and faculty. The first temporary college buildings on the campus weren’t completed and ready for use until the fall semester of 1951. However, students still rented these apartments and continue to do so. Thus, Park Estates was actually CSU Long Beach, or rather Long Beach State College, as it was called then, for about two years.
The next part of Park Estates to be developed was the area south of Anaheim Road from Bellflower Blvd to La Pasada Street, affectionately referred to by some as “Baja Estates.” The 91 lots in Tract 17908 were recorded in October 1952, followed by 47 lots in Tract 15545 in September 1953 and the 6 lots between them as Tract 19845 in August 1954. This area was quickly followed by the 69 lots in Tract 20000 east of Bryant Road north of Anaheim Road. Lloyd Whaley saved the last two tracts for himself, somewhat. The 7 lots in Tract 22718 and 16 lots in Tract 22774 were recorded in June 1956 and January 1957, respectively. It is important to note that, though all of the tract maps had been recorded with properties available for sale almost continuously from 1948 to 1957, many purchased lots remained vacant for years while home owners worked their way through the approval process. To illustrate this point, one of the last original lots sold in Park Estates was a relatively large parcel in Tract 15545. It was purchased in 1969 and the house was built in 1970, over 17 years after the tract map was approved.
The first four sets of CC&Rs were some of the first ones developed for a planned community, so clarifications and alterations were likely to be needed no matter what. Unfortunately, the CC&Rs for Tract 14673 were never updated to reflect the different types of buildings and ownerships that resulted from building apartments instead of single family homes. (This is why the parking issues along Anaheim Road have never been fully addressed and why enforcing the provisions in their CC&Rs is so difficult. They were not written with apartments and/or condominiums in mind.) Additionally, the CC&Rs for the last 6 tracts did not follow the same format as the original ones. As the years had passed and people brought their plans into the ARB for review and approval, Whaley and his attorney and others now involved in the process could see that there could be a benefit to having less specific CC&Rs and rewrote the newer CC&Rs differently. So different in fact that each new tract’s CC&Rs were a bit different than the one approved just before it, losing the very consistency that is necessary to properly run an HOA. On top of this, or possibly because of it, while Lloyd wanted everyone else to follow rules, he did not want to follow those rules himself. He loathed the idea that the ARB would have control over the design of his personal 3.3 acre estate or the estate of his attorney, so he had those properties excluded from the CC&Rs for those two tracts. Moreover, one of Lloyd’s friends had a son who was an up and coming architect, so Lloyd excluded the condominiums just north of the Los Altos park as well so that architect could have free reign over the design. Clearly, it is good to be King, the one writing the rules. Or at least be really good friends with him.
Ted Brodeur, 2016