Westside Village Civic Assn., Inc.

Westside Village History

From Rancho Ballona to Mar Vista and Westside Village

From Rancho La Ballona To Mar Vista Community and Westside Village

180 years in 2 ½ pages


No marks, no signs of coming change showed on the oak groves, on the hills and mesas, or on the banks of the creek where Madrilleno Indians sought healing from sacred waters. Nothing hinted of the vibrant life to come for the 55,000 people of today’s Mar Vista community. It was Spanish land and it apparently didn’t attract any notice from Spain until Mexico, to the south, got restless and there was increasing appearance of Yankee traders and smugglers in the new La Reina de Los Angeles pueblo. The creek and its surroundings west of the pueblo was called La Ballona. There was enough flat or gently-rolling land for some farming, water from the creek for another community, a nearby bay perhaps useful as an anchorage, making it a place for another pueblo. So the king of Spain granted a piece of that area to a pair of brothers named Machado in 1820. It was immediately split up and the western and northern sections became El Rincon de los Bueyes, the Little Valley of the Oxen. That little valley and its hills and mesas were eventually transformed into portions of Palms, West Los Angeles, and part of Santa Monica, with no more oxen.

The land lay at peace for decades following Mexican acquisition of Calfornia in 1822 and statehood in 1850. But interest in the outskirts of growing Los Angeles caught up with the two ranchos in the sudden expansion after the Civil War, and almost 14,000 acres were sold off to outsiders in 1968. We could have bought a 500 acre parcel at that time for $50.00 an acre, and if you or I had missed out on that, a few months later we could have bought the land at $75.00 an acre. There are those among us in our community today whose family did just that.

John Charnock of County Lancaster, England, whose name in the old country meant ‘churning oak’, left England for Canada in 1843. He then moved to Wisconsin, prospered, moved to Minnesota, prospered, and then to California in the 1860’s where his son George took up the reins and began a career as a farmer in what is now Palms. It was clear to them at this time that land was desirable around bursting Los Angeles. Rancho La Ballona and Rincon de los Bueyes, without any oxen, were split up, with the triangle of Washington Boulevard, Overland Avenue, Manning Avenue, forming Palms, sold to developers for $40,000.

It is not known what George Charnock and his son, George Bancroft, paid for the thousands of acres they eventually owned all over Southern California, but they had a street named for the family, Charnock Road. Among other areas, they owned parts of Topanga and over 900 acres including the land that becaume Douglas Aircraft, now Santa Monica Airport. And in addition, they owned today’s Westside Village.

George Bancroft Charnock, an accomplished singer as well as a property owner and farmer, raised lima beans and grain hay on the land that became Westside Village in the late 1930’s and 1940’s. Their ranch house was built in 1901 on what became Greenfield Avenue. George Bancroft’s son Edward Charnock and his family lived in that ranch house until 1953 when they built a new home on adjoining property. The family lives in that home today.

Not everything was peaceful in the sea-breeze washed western area we live in, however. Even the Charnock family had problems. The attached 1890 letter from John J. Charnock threatened a Machado family descendant of the original land grant holders with legal proceedings for trespassing on that Santa Monica Airport part of Charnock’s land.

The developer Fritz Burns’ first residential neighborhood was fortuitous. Placement squarely between MGM Studios in Culver City and Douglas Aircraft at the time of sudden explosion of aircraft construction and movie activity in the late 1930’s and 1940’s made Westside Village’s modestly-priced houses immediately desirable to workers in both locations. With its informal countryside atmosphere without curbs or sidewalks (unless buyers ponied up the dollars themselves for those amenities) the rural feeling was quite an attraction. And for those who preferred views and the quiet of hillside living, the Village had those as well. This attracted professors from nearby fast-growing UCLA. And for artists and writers who either couldn’t afford or disliked the display of Bel Air and Brentwood, Westside Village looked good. Many of them settled here, including such world-renowned figures as writers Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell and librarian-writer Lawrence Clark Powell, for whom UCLA’s Powell Library is named.

But Westside Village was not always looked upon as a promising development. On leaving the service after World War II, I finished college at UCLA. Living in the Naples area of Long Beach, and without a car, my visits home depended on either hitchhiking or on my family for a return to the campus. Driving back to Westwood with my dad one day, we mounted a hill on Sepulveda Boulevard and noticed men framing in rafters on a number of small houses. My father, a former developer and builder, took a look and snorted, “Who would be stupid enough to live in one of those cheap little places?”

My wife and I have now lived in one of those “cheap little places” for over 40 years. The house is no longer so little and cheap! The Charnock family knew a good thing in property. I’m glad we took the same view, with also a view of the city, and found the Charnocks among our wonderful Neighbors.



Written by Ray Harder (310) 839-3819 or fax 838-8671

Thanks to the Charnock family for their help with this article.





Posted by gregors on 01/31/2004
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