The Historical Area – Windsor Square and Hancock Park
The Windsor Square-Hancock Park Historical Society is fortunate to represent one of the most beautiful—and historic—parts of Los Angeles.
Rancho La Brea
The Rancho La Brea area was discovered by the Portola Expedition in 1769. Antonio Jose Rocha was given a land grant of 4,400 acres in 1828 by Mexican Governor Carrillo. Purchased by Henry Hancock, most of it was later subdivided and developed by his surviving son, Captain G. Allen Hancock, into one of the most desirable and affluent residential communities in Los Angeles. The construction of the homes in Windsor Square and Fremont place began in 1910. The Hancock Park development started on Rossmore and moved west to Highland in 1921.
In 1885 a group of men formed a syndicate called the Windsor Square Land Co. and bought 200 acres of the Plummer Homestead, bounded today by Plymouth, Bronson, Wilshire and Beverly for $400 an acre. They sold it in 1911 for $5,000 an acre for a total of $1,000,000.
The buyers comprised another syndicate, The Windsor Square Investment Company, headed by Robert A. Rowan. The firm of R. A. Rowan and Company was selected to market the tract.
The older part of the tract was bounded by Irving Blvd., Plymouth Blvd., Third Street and Wilshire Blvd. It had a linear street layout with wide streets, wide parkways, elaborate electoliers and trees for which $200,000 was expended. The ornamental light standards were erected with the trademark “WS” at the base. All streets were paved, utilities were underground, long term deed restrictions did not expire until 1965. $7,500 would get you a lot in Windsor Square.
The area to the west of original Windsor Square, which includes Lucerne and Arden from Third to Fifth streets, was a different tract. This small tract was owned as of 1913 by the Wilshire Hills Land Corp.
You can tell where the Wilshire Hills addition and the Windsor Square addition join. At the back lot lines behind Plymouth and Lucerne across 4th and 5th, you will notice that the street surface changes from concrete to asphalt which indicated that different developers laid out the streets. Also, the street lamps on the boulevards in the Wilshire Hills addition are stone, not metal, as in the original Windsor Square tract.
The older section of Windsor Square opened in 1913 and New Windsor Square opened in April 1920. The area north of Third Street was marketed by Tracy E. Shoults and Company.
New Windsor Square
New Windsor Square consisted of land bounded by Third, Larchmont, Beverly, Plymouth down to First and over to Irving and then back to Third. This tract was laid out on contour with meandering streets and irregular lots. This new idea residential community was labeled by the marketer as “A subdivision without mistakes.”
The entire Windsor Square area really comprises two distinct tracts and philosophies: Pre- and Post- WWI. The architecture of New Windsor Square took on a less formal look. It was as though the Edwardian era of Old Windsor Square gave way to the roaring ‘20s of New Windsor Square. Windsor Square has managed to retain its promise of fine living, long after many other areas have fallen from favor.
Hancock Park owes its name to developer-philanthropist G. Allan Hancock who sub-divided the property in the 1920’s.
Hancock, born and raised in a home at the La Brea tar pits, inherited the 440 acres which his father, Major Henry Hancock, had acquired from the Rancho LaBrea property owned by the family of Jose Jorge Rocha.
A 23-acre site where the Hancock family home stood was donated to the County in 1923 and is called Hancock County Park. This land is also now the site of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Page Museum.
Nine years later Hancock subdivided the property from Rossmore to Highland avenues
between Wilshire Blvd. and Melrose Ave. into residential lots. He leased 105 acres to the Wilshire Country Club with an option to buy. Hancock also insisted that his master plan include concrete streets and the location of utility lines at the rear of each development, out of sight of homeowners. Another condition was that homeowners build no less than 50 feet from the curb.
He also gave $100,000 to the Los Angeles Railway to extend its tracks along Third Street (which stopped at Larchmont Blvd.) west to La Brea Ave.
Architects such as Paul Williams, A.C. Chisholm and John Austin were hired to design homes for many of the city’s pioneer families including the Dockweilers, Duques and Bannings.
Hancock, whose many talents included scientist, musician, financier and engineer, died in Santa Maria in 1965. To learn more about the area’s namesake visit the Hancock Foundation building on the USC campus.
Hancock Park boundaries are: Rossmore to Highland Avenues; Melrose Ave. to Wilshire Blvd. There are approximately 1200 homes.
Fremont Place in 1921, looking north. Wilshire Boulevard and Rossmore Avenue are at the top of the picture. Photo courtesy of www.HollywoodPhotographs.com
Touted as “sightly and excusive” well before plans had been announced for construction of prestige residences, this subdivision was announced in 1911 when an article in the Los Angeles Times designed to create interest in the tract, described its elaborate gates. “There will be four of these gateways - one at each intersection of the north and south drives. Each gateway will be of granite construction 76 feet in width and 18 feet in height. The entrances, designed by J. Martyn Haenke, will cost $12,000.”
Prior to 1913, the city expanded to the southwest and northwest, but the district along Wilshire Blvd. remained virtually undeveloped. At the time, Wilshire had a rutted, two-lane dirt road lined with fences and eucalyptus trees.
The Pacific Electric Railway built carlines along Wilshire Blvd. and development of residential areas, including Fremont Place, proceeded rapidly. Seeing the opportunity, developers bought 50 acres bounded by Muirfield Rd., Olympic, Lucerne and Wilshire boulevards.
Agents for the tract, which contained less that 50 home-sites, were the Charles B. Ingram Co., David Barry & Co., George H. Briggs and S. R. Barry. They were competing with the R.A. Rowan Company, who were representing the Windsor Square development.
Employing the best engineers and landscape architects, the developers created the tract with beautiful landscaping and broad, winding drives.
The first home was built in Fremont Place in 1915.
Fremont Place’s homes exemplify the best period architecture and the residents have maintained the neighborhood as it was intended.
Freemont Place boundaries are Muirfield Rd. and Lucerne Blvd. between Wilshire and Olympic boulevards.
Brookside, first known as Windsor Crest, was carved out of the original Rancho Las Cienegas (Ranch of the Marshland), owned by Mexican native Don Francisco Avila.
Bounded by Wilshire and Olympic Boulevards, Highland Avenue and Muirfield Road, the area is known as Brookside. The neighborhood got going in 1921, when the Rimpau Estate Company began to sell home sites to L.A.’s wealthiest families.
The most luxurious properties were along Longwood Ave., where the developers laid out deep rear lots bisected by a natural underground stream known as El Rio del Jardin de las Flores. Surfacing briefly on its journey from the Hollywood Hills to Ballona Creek, the stream wanders from one side of Longwood to the other.
Not wanting the stream to run on only one side of the street, the planners developed around it, preserving some of the natural arroyos, barrancas and hills of the original tract - still there to this day. An old development plan notes that Windsor Crest is the highest elevation on Wilshire Blvd. west of Western Ave., in what is recognized as the most desirable home section of Los Angeles.
According to the plan, two-story homes on Longwood north of 9th St. would cost “at least $10,000,” while homes on the south side would set the would be homeowner back $5,000 to $7,500.
Brookside boundaries are Wilshire to Olympic boulevards; Highland Ave. to Muirfield Road.
Throughout the 1920s, Windsor Village served as Los Angeles’ Westside. Located to the southwest of Hancock Park, the community is bounded by Wilshire, Olympic, Crenshaw and Lucerne boulevards.
A close-knit, quiet enclave of approximately 900 residents, Windsor’s mix of housing characterizes the well-tended neighborhood, where older homes and bungalows blend in with apartments and condominiums of more recent vintage.
Windsor Village is home of The Ebell of Los Angeles clubhouse and Wilshire Ebell Theater at 4400 Wilshire Blvd. as well as the Ruskin Art Club, the oldest women’s cultural club in the state.
Also within its boundaries is Harold A. Henry Park, established through the efforts of the late councilman. A statue in Henry’s memory was dedicated to the park in May of 1970.
Windsor Village boundaries are Wilshire to Olympic, Crenshaw to Lucerne boulevards.