La Jolla Hermosa


On May 21, 1923 La Jolla Properties, Inc. filed Articles of Incorporation with the State of California. The company owned $220,000 in capital stock. Eleven local businessmen and developers became members of the Board of Directors.1 Each director purchased one share of stock at $100, totalling $1100, and proceeded to buy, develop, and sell real estate in La Jolla, California.
On June 17, 1923 La Jolla Properties, Inc. announced the opening of a new subdivision named La Jolla Hermosa. The Balfour Company became the exclusive sales firm for the tract, and the owners designated Frank Turnbull4 President and Tract Manager.
In October, 1923 Tract Engineer, Clarence P. Day, filed a map which outlined the locations of the lots for La Jolla Hermosa. The back of the map listed eight restrictions placed upon the buyer of a Hermosa lot.
In the six months following incorporation, La Jolla Properties, Inc. had already begun to develop and improve land purchased along the shoreline bordered by Bird Rock at the south, Via Del Norte to the north, and La Jolla Boulevard to the east. Land development throughout San Diego maintained a rapid pace. Encouraged by the success of the 1923 Mission Beach development plan of John D. Spreckels, and the resurgence of real estate sales, business interests throughout San Diego wanted a share of the profits. The eleven owners of La Jolla Hermosa harbored similar notions.
La Jolla Hermosa lots ranged from 75 to 80 front feet, extending some 150 feet in depth. The ocean-front lots sold for approximately $2,000. All lot prices included public utility access, paved streets, curbs, sidewalks, and alleys.
Hermosa lot owners had to comply with building restrictions. There would be only one house per lot. The residence could not cost less than $8,000 to construct. The building had to face the street. The property could not contain fowl, goats, cows, or other farm animals. All occupants other than servants or employees had to be Caucasian. The restrictions prohibited walls, fences, or hedges exceeding five feet. Construction would be done using only new materials, and the dwelling had to remain unoccupied until completion. All plans had to be approved by the tract architect.
Many responsibilities lay ahead for Tract Architect, Edgar V. Ullrich in 1924. The critical success of the Casa de Manana resort hotel advanced his reputation as an architect among those who lived in or visited the San Diego area. The hotel became a prototype for Ullrich designs. Ullrich designed the first homes built in Hermosa and landscaped much of the tract development.
Frank Turnbull had duties of his own. As Tract Manager, Turnbull oversaw the improvement installation plan. In April, 1924 a contract for 416,000 square feet of 4-inch concrete made headlines as the largest paving contract of one job in San Diego history. As a final touch, Turnbull planted palm trees along the newly paved streets of Hermosa.Tract improvements reached completion in November, 1924 and totalled $250,000.
La Jolla Hermosa hosted many visitors on October 4, 1924. One of several open houses sponsored by Balfour Company took place on this day. Visitors received color prints of the subdivision, suitable for framing. Public curiosity and knowledge of Hermosa heightened. Local newspapers reported the $25,000 purchase of 275 front feet of ocean-front property by a man from Long Beach, the largest individual sale of seaside property in the history of San Diego.
The newspapers also announced the construction of a San Diego Electric Railway substation near the Hermosa tract. Located at Mira Monte Avenue, the $50,000 terminal would be the first of many substations throughout San Diego patterned after California missions. The railway would stop at the San Carlos Station before completing the northbound journey at the downtown La Jolla terminal. When finished, a thirty minute ride separated the Hermosa tract from downtown San Diego.
The passengers left the rail car at San Carlos Station in September of 1925, walked from the platform through the freshly decorated waiting room, and stepped into the sunlight. The startled group saw little else than the Pacific Ocean. Granted, the gathering heard the distant echoes of hammers upon nails, and shouts of construction workers. But for a small cluster of homes on the distant waterfront, or for the palm tree-lined, sparkling concrete roads, they could have mistaken the Hermosa tract for wasteland. Only the planners would have known what lay on the drawing boards of some of the most prolific and sought after architects in California during the next decade. When homes designed by Edgar Ullrich, Thomas Shepherd, Clifford May, and Herbert Palmer appeared on the La Jolla Hermosa landscape, few people, including the same group of rail car passengers, could not help but take notice.
Edgar Ullrich designed more than fifteen homes in La Jolla Hermosa. Ullrich homes followed the Spanish Mediterranean and French Normandy style or a combination of both. He favored the Normandy influence and successfully "sold" this style to clients, according to early Ullrich draftsman, Robert Wilson. An artist by nature, Edgar emphasized color coordination in his designs. Ullrich designed the MacArthur Gorton home in the Normandy style and utilized red tile roofing and white adobe walls for the Mediterranean style home of Frank Turnbull. In July, 1925 a publication on California architecture labelled Ullrich work as the "purest and most representative in California."
Thomas Shepherd arrived in La Jolla in 1926, formed a short-lived partnership with Herbert Mann, and designed homes in La Jolla which followed a unique pattern. Shepherd claimed to prefer no singular style, but rather designed for the particular needs and tastes of the owner. He disavowed any regard for architectural conformity. Extensive travel throughout Japan and Europe allowed Shepherd further design possibilities. Many Hermosa designs incorporated these nuances.
Clifford May homes began to line the streets of Hermosa in the 1930s. May utilized the Spanish Hacienda and his own California Ranch House style in the Hermosa tract. His designs contributed to the Spanish Revival of the 1930s, proffering low, rambling dwellings, red tile roofs, and completely walled-in courtyards.
Herbert Palmer designed the Casa de los Amigos in 1927 for the Pilcher family, a home which typified the Spanish Mediterranean style. In July, 1926 Palmer remarked, "During the last three years there has been a marked improvement in the quality and stability of the community's architectural development. Although at present there is no co-operative plan that is truly La Jollan, or Californian ..."
Hermosa lots appealed to the original owners for many reasons, some more tangible than others. The Balfour Company sales agents dealt with a variety of people looking for year-round living accommodations. Originally from New York, the William Jackson family planned to settle in Santa Monica but found the ocean-front property overpriced. Greeted by Balfour sales agent E.D. Brooks, the Jacksons selected an ocean-front lot, commissioned Edgar Ullrich, and lived in Hermosa for approximately twenty years. James J. Podesta, owner of the Golden Lion Tavern in San Diego, purchased a lot on Avenida Cresta and forged ahead to build what Ullrich considered his least favorite home. Podesta dictated every stage of construction despite Ullrich suggestions. The result remains a rather striking example of Spanish Colonial Renaissance. Several owners of La Jolla Properties, Inc. built homes in Hermosa if only to reassure the prospective buyers of the imminent beauty of the tract.
The financial success of the subdivision became apparent as early as March, 1926. The first eight homes on the tract represented an average investment of $20,000. This figure did not include the railway station, tract office or the four homes in final stages of design. In May, 1926 the subdivision represented the largest finished residential project in San Diego. By the end of the year Hermosa had few lots available for sale.
From the outset, Balfour Company advertised La Jolla Hermosa in local papers. The number and scope of the advertisements grew dramatically in 1926. These proclamations varied in tone and perspective but strayed little from two themes. A La Jolla Hermosa lot offered a sound investment. And Hermosa furnished an exclusive living environment. The San Diego Union presented its readers with lavish information about the future popularity of owning a home in the San Diego area, the all-inclusive improvements, and the fact that property comparable to La Jolla Hermosa had already risen in value.
The appeal to wealth prevailed in Hermosa advertising. "A fine residential district, to remain fine. . . . should constitute a part of a larger distinctive residential section, so that its dwellers need not traverse unkemptness to reach it," said one ad. Other advertisements in 1926 referred to La Jolla Hermosa as "San Diego's socially correct spot to live," whose natural value 11 will materially be heightened by a social prestige lacking outside the district ..." In a March, 1926 issue of The San Diego Union, La Jolla Properties discussed a few accomplishments.
During the three years, the developers of La Jolla-Hermosa have seen their vision amply justified. They have seen San Diego reach out to the inimitable splendor of La Jolla as a creator leaps to art, as a strong man leaps to action, as a flower leaps to the sun. They have seen the most fastidious of earth's dwellers come to complacent harborage at La Jolla-Hermosa. See the San Diego Union, March 7, 1926, Sect. XR, pp. 8-9.
Theater played a role in the ad campaigns but the developers continued to offer somewhat more down to earth enticements.
In November, 1926 La Jolla Properties announced a business and community center for La Jolla Hermosa. The plans for La Jolla Hermosa Centro illustrated a mall-like shopping area located just off La Jolla Boulevard, on both sides of the San Carlos Station. La Jolla Properties proposed an increase in capital stock by $1,000,000 to fund the project. The community center sketch included an administration and fine arts building but a more significant and successful venture for Hermosa unfolded as the tract entered its fourth year of existence.
On January 16, 1927 La Jolla Properties announced the opening of the second Hermosa unit. Located across La Jolla Boulevard and bordered by Via Del Norte to the north, Camino De La Costa to the south, and the base of Mount Soledad to the cast, Hermosa Unit Two boasted 70 to 80 foot ocean view lots priced from $2,000 to $8,000, building restrictions, and increased design possibility because of the irregular-shaped lot designations. Hermosa Unit One and Unit Two now comprised 400 acres.
Once again Hermosa developers included improvements in all lot prices. The hilly terrain of Unit Two provided a challenge for Tract Engineer, Frank E. Dodge. Centered at the new community center site, Dodge designed a double horseshoe-shaped drive which circled the area along the foothills. The carefully contoured roads allowed for easy driving and accessibility. Along with the construction of a water and sewer system and the placement of 400,000 square feet of concrete paving, contractor L.B. Butterfield installed underground telephone and fire alarm service in April of 1927. Telephone poles lined the streets of the original Hermosa tract. The improvement totalled $300,000.
Construction of the $60,000 Administration and Fine Arts Building began in February, 1927, and it opened to the public in April, 1928. The Center planners envisioned the Spanish style building as the hub of activity for tract visitors and residents, an attraction for passing motorists, a public representation of the Hermosa community, and the beginning of a $500,000 assortment of retail shops, professional offices, and studios.
By January, 1929 Hermosa Unit One and Unit Two professed over $1,000,000 in public utility improvements. A rough sketch of a tennis and racquet club sat on the tract office drawing boards. An 80 foot Unit Two homesite sold for $3,000. The local newspapers tagged La Jolla Hermosa as the "Riviera District" in an apparent effort to distinguish the legion of new subdivisions now appearing on the San Diego landscape.
San Diego offered a variety of homesite locations in the late 1920s. The hills above La Jolla became the location of the Muirlands development. La Jolla Shores took to the coastline north of La Jolla. The Rolando tract sold lots in the flatlands of East San Diego. Lot sizes, prices, improvements, and restrictions varied. Hermosa celebrated its sixth anniversary in the company of several competitors.
While keen competition prevailed during 1928 and 1929, La Jolla Hermosa held its own. The quality and extent of the improvements paid off. In 1928 Ullrich designed, and contractors completed, the homes of Hollywood artist, Norman Kennedy, Major J.W. Peyton,  and local businessman, Karl Kenyon. The community-like atmosphere contributed to neighborhood sociability; dinner parties proved popular among residents during this period. The Hermosa region, between the rapidly expanding community of La Jolla and the City of San Diego, assured property value increases.
La Jolla Hermosa managed to remain solvent and profitable because the tract followed, and perhaps set, the rules governing subdivision success. James W. Muir spoke of an architectural pattern which defined the La Jolla community. "There is little display and people usually keep the magnificence of their homes inside. Many a wonderful inner court is there in La Jolla concealed by straight-sided exterior walls. A stroll past the Hermosa designs of Ullrich, Shepherd, May, and Palmer left little doubt of such a pattern. Restraint struck a common chord among real estate analysts. The San Diego Union attributed the success of the "comprehensive development and home building program" of La Jolla Properties, Inc. to the restrictions established in 1923. Muir said that limitation establishes property value. Frank Turnbull maintained in February, 1928 that financial and architectural restrictions guaranteed high investment value. In June, 1928 a large number of La Jolla residents appeared in social registers; the community boasted the highest "notability rate" per capita of any place in the nation. From the outset Hermosa advertisements focused on this sector of the public.
These tenets, established by the founders of La Jolla Hermosa, remained intact as the subdivision moved into the 1930s and beyond. Initiated by the triumph of the original Hermosa and the certainty of a profitable Unit Two, La Jolla Properties had valid reason in its attempt to enhance the stately reputation of Hermosa with a business and community center. The project never materialized beyond the Administration and Fine Arts Building for lack of funding. In October, 1929 the financial hardships wrought by the Depression greatly affected real estate in San Diego and La Jolla Hermosa.
La Jolla Hermosa generated profits for La Jolla Properties, Inc. The tract was and remains a textbook example of business acumen and understanding. Rapidly developed in 1923, Hermosa established an early lead in the competitive subdivision battles to follow. From the beginning, La Jolla Hermosa proved viable. The extensive improvement program, the building restrictions, the availability of the finest architects provided for a sound and feasible investment. La Jolla Properties targeted its audience. The advertisements appealed to a distinct class of people and higher lot prices virtually guaranteed purchase by upper income families. And finally, the development furnished only first class amenities. The seaside location, the 4-inch concrete paved roads and alleys, the carefully planted palm trees contributed to the excellent reputation acquired by the tract. La Jolla Hermosa proved to those in its wake the ability of a subdivision to establish community identity and reap financial rewards in the process.

SDHSThe San Diego Historical Society,