In 1913, Frank A. Vanderlip, Sr., then a successful banker based in New York, purchased the land of Palos Verdes. Though the peninsula had been utilized for crops and cattle since the 1880s, Vanderlip envisioned the rural farming community of Palos Verdes as a location with great potential for development as a residential city by the sea even more magnificent than those on the Italian coastline. The green-patched hills, sweeping ocean views, and ranches that dotted the coastline catalyzed Vanderlip’s excitement and his vision. “Yet the most exciting part,” he later said about his acquisition of Palos Verdes, “was that this gorgeous scene was not a piece of Italy at all but was in America, an unspoiled sheet of paper to be written on with loving care.”
To protect this utopian landscape, resident homeowners, and future property values in the area, an Art Jury was established in 1923 to monitor all building specifications and property changes to the developing peninsula. With architect Myron Hunt at the helm of the organization as the Art Jury’s first president, a precedent for “controlled growth” was established. By this time, city planners had set aside 4000 acres for parks and playgrounds, 100 acres for a university campus, and space for 120 miles of paved roads. Within the first year of the Art Jury’s existence, twenty houses were under construction across the six-hundred residential lots that had already been purchased.
Hunt, a prolific, innovative architect who designed over 400 building across California throughout his career, wrote about the beginnings of the Art Jury in California Southland in 1924:
The first six month of the Jury’s work was devoted to weekly meetings that lasted all day and often far into the night. At these meetings, the current work of the Olmsted Brothers, the landscape architects in charge of laying out the project, and of H.C. Cheney, city planner, was discussed and criticized. Then Mr. Olmsted and his partner, with Mr. Cheney and their chief assistants would join in the Jury’s general discussions. They made many most helpful suggestions in the drawing and making of restrictions.
Under Hunt’s guidance during his seventeen years as Art Jury president, a California style of architecture was established in Palos Verdes, characterized by stucco and adobe, light colors, and tiled roofs. Hunt himself designed one such archetypal Palos Verdes building, the Malaga Cove Library.
By 1925, the first store building in Malaga Cove Plaza was completed. Storm drains, electricity, and a community water system had been installed in preparation for city residents. Roads were nearing completion, and 100,000 trees and shrubbery had been planted. With the opening of a post office, the Palos Verdes community became an officially recognized city. Homes construction continued across the area, with lots in the Valmonte area selling in the $600 range and contraction costs for an average home falling between $6,000-$12,000.
Today, the Art Jury and the Palos Verdes Homes Association continue to oversee building and landscaping across the city. Ninety years’ worth of logistical and aesthetic decisions showcase both the natural beauty of Palos Verdes and the cohesive, beautiful communities that the early planning and architect pioneers worked so hard to achieve.