Mandeville Canyon’s history begins with two indigenous peoples, the Chumash and the Gabrielleno-Tongva, who inhabited the Santa Monica Mountain area prior to the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors. In 1769 Spanish occupation of California began under King Carlos III. Shortly thereafter, a group of 60+ monks and soldiers led by Gaspar de Portola were dispatched to explore the Los Angeles area. In 1781 the city of Los Angeles was founded. King Carlos III was very generous with property and gave the city several thousand acres of his land. He was not, however, quite so generous with his workers. He did not pay them in cash, but instead made the following agreement: "Work for me and I will see that you get a grant of land." The king's definition of a grant was that he would lend the subject the use of the land for an unspecified length of time.
California was ruled by Spain until 1822 when Mexico assumed jurisdiction. One of the King's soldiers, Don Francisco Sepulveda, made a petition to the King for a grant through the Viceroy of Mexico City. In 1839, Sepulveda was granted a substantial amount of property - 30,000 acres of “mountains, mesa and shore land” by the Governor of the Californias, Juan Alvarado. The property was called the Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica (the Ranch of Saint Vicente and Saint Monica). Sepulveda was granted use of the land only; he could use it in the name of the King for as long as he and the King had the arrangement. However, Sepulveda also petitioned the government of Mexico for confirmation to the title of his property. Mexico, as you might imagine, was happy to grant title to land that had been "loaned" by the Spanish king. Consequently, Sepulveda and his family became the first known non-sovereign owners of the land and inhabited the property for another 33 years.
Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica included Mandeville Canyon and consisted of all the property above what is now Pico Boulevard out to the ocean, north to the Santa Monica Mountains towards what is now Encino, east along what is now Ventura Boulevard, and south down to Pico Boulevard. To give you an idea of how generous Don Sepulveda’s grant of land was, the rancho next door (on the other side of Sepulveda Blvd.), The Rancho de San Jose de Buenos Aires (the Ranch of Saint Joseph of the Good Breezes), consisted of only 4,400 acres.
As Spain gave up on its rights to California, many US settlers began arriving, creating conflict between Mexico and the US. In 1846, hostilities erupted between the two countries and lasted two years, until California came under US control. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo made California a U.S. territory.
In 1872, the Sepulveda family decided to sell their property for $55,000 (less than $2.00/acre) in gold coin to U.S. Army Colonel Robert S. Baker and his wife Arcadia Bandini Sterns de Baker, who thought it would make an excellent sheep ranch. (The city of Bakersfield was named after Baker. The city of Arcadia is named after his wife.) The Bakers owned the 30,000 acre property for only two years and in 1874 sold a 3/4 interest in the land for $162,000 to the millionaire gold-and-silver miner (of Comstock Lode, Nevada fame) John Paul Jones. John Paul Jones later went on to become a U.S. Senator.
Mandeville Canyon at that time was known as Casa Viejo Cañon. An 1881 map using this name shows the Casa Viejo Creek running down the middle of our canyon. Records show that the creek carried water year-round, fed by springs in the upper canyon. The name Mandeville Canyon first appeared on a map in the early 1900s as “Mandiville Canon.” The origin of the name is unknown.
In 1904, Baker and Jones formed the Santa Monica Land & Water Company and sold it to Robert C. Gilllis. At the time, Mandeville Canyon’s lush oaks and sycamores and spring-fed creek were reported to be virtually untouched. In 1917, Gillis formed a subsidiary company, the Santa Monica Mountain Park Company, to handle the development of the mountain portion of the acreage.
In 1920, The American Appraisal Company appraised the value of the 260 acres in lower Mandeville (from Mandeville Lane to Chalon Road) at $65,000! From Sullivan Canyon (the Canyon immediately west of Mandeville Canyon ) to the San Diego Freeway and from a half mile north of Sunset to Mulholland Drive (5,050 acres) not including lower Mandeville, the valuation was $253,000.
In the early 1920s, the Los Angeles Athletic Club (L.A.A.C.) decided to build a country club community in the Brentwood area. Consequently, the Riviera Country Club was born, as were some of the homes surrounding the golf course. The L.A.A.C. also built three championship polo fields on the site of what is now Paul Revere. Jr. High School. In the ensuing decades, the Beverly Hills Polo Club, a project of oil magnate Russell Havenstrite, gathered crowds for matches every Sunday during polo season at the L.A.A.C. fields. Polo players such as C.D. LeBlanc and thoroughbred breeders, including Elizabeth Whitney of Kentucky, bought property in Mandeville and Sullivan Canyon and built houses and stables for their ponies.
In 1926, the Santa Monica Mountain Park Company sold the block closest to Sunset on Mandeville to the L.A.A.C as an extension of its Riviera property and sold most of Lower Mandeville, from Mandeville Lane to Chalon Road, to Garden Foundation, Inc. To encourage sales of the newly subdivided land, Garden Foundation designed and built an elaborate botanical garden with plantings from all over the world, many of which are still in evidence. On the slopes surrounding this garden, they hoped to develop and sell homes. Movie stars dedicated many of the special plantings with commemorative plaques (some of which are still in existence). Two ponds were also built, one of which surrounds the Japanese house at 1900 Mandeville Canyon Road. The second pond is adjacent to the property at 1888 Mandeville.
Development of the botanical garden slowed down during the Great Depression and by 1935 all building ceased. Bondholders of Garden Foundation, who held the original pre-depression mortgage of $4,000,000 for the entire 3,500 acres in Mandeville Canyon, restructured as the Garden Land Company and became the new stockholders. The canyon floor was subsequently subdivided as far as Chalon Road and the first homes were started. Headquarters and sales offices for the Botanic Garden Park was located at 1727 Mandeville Canyon Road. This address later became the home and gardens of the well known actor Richard Widmark.
During the first half of the 1900s, Mandeville Canyon had a reputation as beautiful riding and hiking country, with its spreading oaks, majestic sycamores and new botanic gardens. Many long time Brentwood residents still remember riding horses into the canyons and mountains, often camping overnight near Mulholland Drive, during those years. Also, it was very close to more regimented riding facilities at the L.A.A.C. This reputation was further solidified during the 1932 Olympics as several equestrian events were held in the Canyon, as well as at the L.A.A.C polo fields.
In 1938 a major flood hit the Mandeville Canyon area, ravaging particularly hard the lower Mandeville area. The damage was so extensive that the Garden Land Company remained inactive for the next sixteen years. However, beginning in the early 1940s, centered mostly around horses, Mandeville Canyon started to become a canyon neighborhood with rustic homes for the well-to-do, including at various times the families of Donald Douglas Jr. of the Douglas Aircraft Company, Robert McClure, owner of the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, composer Meredith Wilson, and actors Robert Taylor, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Mitchum, Ester Williams and others. Polo players such as Jack Martin Smith and other neighbors would exercise their horses, riding daily across the canyons to play polo at Will Rogers or just down the canyon to the L.A.A.C.
In 1954 Garden Land resumed development and began building homes again. The first large tract included approximately 300 homes built in 1957-1958 in upper Mandeville. At the end of the 50’s came other developments known as Westridge and Westridge Terrace on the bulldozed western slopes and hill crests of the canyon.
In 1963 Garden Land relinguished its holdings to Link Builders, Inc. and Seacrest Co. The late 60s brought Linkletter Schwartz developing several hundred more properties in the upper canyon, still single-family dwellings but on smaller filled lots. A plan to develop 3,400 more properties in areas stretching up to Mulholland Drive stopped when the cost of utilities and traffic on the canyon were considered and deemed too great.
There have been two noteworthy fires in recent Mandeville Canyon history. In September 1961, a large fire in Bel Air spread to Mandeville Canyon burning no more than two homes in Upper Mandeville. The second significant fire occurred in October 1978 when a large two mile-wide brush fire erupted on Mulholland Drive and swept into Mandeville Canyon. Despite heavy Santa Ana winds of up to 50 mph, the LA Fire Department prevented any homes from burning.
Mandeville Canyon remains today a beautiful, tree-lined cul de sac with a friendly community and easy access to the beautiful Santa Monica Mountain wilderness and the restaurants, shops and culture of Los Angeles. Our canyon is part of both the city of Los Angeles and the community of Brentwood.
Brentwood itself is neither a town nor a city. It is a “section of West Los Angeles,” ZIP code 90049, just west of the 405, between UCLA and Santa Monica. (There is a city called Brentwood, in Northern California.) Our inclusion in the city of Los Angeles dates back to 1916 when the citizens of Los Angeles voted to include in Los Angeles all of the area from Beverly Hills to the sea.
Image #1: H.C. Oakley (pointing) gazes out over Mandeville Canyon with businessman Frederick W. Taylor in 1927. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.
Image #2: A woman admires the cactus garden at the California Botanical Gardens in Mandeville Canyon in 1928. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
Image #3: H.C. Oakley (left) reviews plans for the California Botanical Gardens in Mandeville Canyon with botanist E. D. Merrill, the Gardens' director. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Collection, US C Libraries.