Week 201: Palos Verdes Estate Stairs

February 16, 2020

L.A. Walks: Make these stairs on the Palos Verdes Peninsula your BFF, 2 miles

Barbara and I initiated our series of hikes up and down hidden stairs, so when Charles Fleming published this new-to-us staircase find in the January 24, 2020 L.A. Times we were in! The long drive from the Valley down to the Palos Verdes Peninsula gave Mother Nature time to lift the morning fog, and by the time we reached our starting point at Palos Verdes Drive West and Paseo Lunado, the day was clear and sunny. A quarter of a mile or so into the neighborhood, we located the RR-tie staircase tucked between houses, that led us up into the hills for a dramatic view of the ocean. The well-tended path between steps was lovely, surrounded by early Spring blooms and, in places, canopied by tree limbs. While we usually practice a bit of fantasy house-shopping, this neighborhood was unique in its sameness...single family, one/two story contemporaries with ocean views, obviously expensive but without much architectural variety. Odd, to us. To understand why, it took some digging into the history of the Palos Verdes Estates. Like every SoCal location, Tongva Indians occupied the land until the Spanish arrived. In 1784, the peninsula became part of a Spanish land grant. In 1846, José Dolores Sepulveda (son of the original CA Sepulveda) and José Loveto received a Mexican land grant for a section of the peninsula and named it Rancho de los Palos Verdes "ranch of the green sticks," a cattle ranch and sometimes whaling station. Ownership had passed through multiple hands by 1882, when Jonathan Bixby leased sections to Japanese farmers. East coast investors purchased 25 sq. miles in 1913, and in 1914, NY financier Frank Vanderlip initiated development. WWI stalled the project and it wasn't until 1923 that Palos Verdes was established as a subdivision—90% of the 3200 acres set aside for single-family homes master-planned by architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.—one of the earliest master planned communities in the US. Aha! Olmsted had rules laid out in sales brochures: no bars, no cemeteries, no polluting industries, and an "art jury" that reviewed the plans for the white-owned homes. Palos Verdes Estates was incorporated in 1939, the oldest of the four cities on the Peninsula. The racial limitations were declared unconstitutional in 1948, but the Art Jury still exists, maintaining the style of architecture we hiked past today, some but not all characterized by stucco and adobe, light colors and tiled roofs. Despite its sameness, several homeowners express their creativity with creative mailboxes (our winner pictured); and one homeowner dared to build a backyard treehouse with a killer view of the ocean. Another staircase took us back to the flatlands and the car. We liked the bonus cardio from stair-climbing and really enjoyed the incredible seascape, but with its challenging, rolling hills, this area seems more suited for biking than hiking. 

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