In 1917, Culver City founder Harry Hazel Culver (1880-1946) helped start a country club near where he would live in Castle Heights. Initially called the “Culver City Country Club,” it would cover over 100 acres of Francisco Higuera’s allotment of Rancho Rincón de los Bueyes previously holding the John D. Hawes Ranch. The club would change hands at least a few times, and it changed names, as well: to California Country Club (1917-1940), Cheviot Hills Country Club (1940-1943), Rolling Hills Country Club (1944-1945), and back to California Country Club (1945-1951). It hosted business leaders, star entertainers, and the world’s best golfers, including John Byron Nelson Jr. (1912-2006) and William Ben Hogan (1912-1997). In 1950, the club’s owners – actor/director Frank Borzage (1894-1962), actor/singer Fred MacMurray (1908-1991), Hollywood manager Bö Christian Roos (1903-1973), and actor/filmmaker Marion Robert Morrison (1907-1979), better known as John Wayne – sold to hotelier Sanford Dennis “Sandy” Adler (1909-1991), who developed the California Country Club Estates subdivision in its place.
Culver City Country Club (1917-1919)
The Culver City-based social group decided to establish their country club and golf course in the hills of Palms (Los Angeles), overlooking Culver City from the north, on what had been the John D. Hawes Ranch. The ranch had belonged to Chicagoan John Dunham Hawes (1876-1923), who was a Yale graduate and lawyer when he married Detroiter (and daughter of a former Detroit mayor) Edna Ora Grummond (1882-1933) in December 1905. They moved to Los Angeles on January 1, 1906. John engaged in real estate.
On April 29, 1917, the Los Angeles Times reported that the “Culver City Country Club, an organization perfected during the past week, has leased 105 acres of land in the rolling hills just north of Culver City and plans to at once build a clubhouse and lay out a golf course.” “The club has obtained a twenty-year lease of the property secured …. Plans for the clubhouse, which will stand upon a high knoll commanding a sweeping vista of the city, the valley and the ocean, are now being drawn by A. S. Heineman.”
The paper told the story of a picnic on the grounds at which officers were elected: George W. Somerville (c. 1858-1937) would be president; Culver City founder Harry Culver was elected vice-president; Harry W. McNutt (c. 1874-1932) was to be secretary; and Edwin Hampton (“E. H.”) Allen (1885-1942), would serve as treasurer. Seven directors were also chosen: Harry H. Culver, Charles Rossiter Stuart (1881-1974), H. W. McNutt, George W. Somerville, J. F. Haight, E. H. Allen, and John D. Carson. The club’s “18-hole golf course opened in 1917 with Jack Stone and Hutt Martin as professionals.” (Golf Historical Society, “California Country Club, Culver City, California.”)
The club’s founders were well-known at the time – though Harry Culver is the only one whose name is usually attached to the club, which is understandable, since his name is attached to a nearby city. See, e.g., Golf Historical Society’s “California Country Club, Culver City, California.”) Charles R. Stuart was a “prominent Hollywood financial figure.” (LA Times, Nov. 1, 1925.) H. W. McNutt (c. 1874-1932) was an attorney; George W. Somerville; and Edwin Hampton (“E. H.”) Allen (1885-1942) was a producer and actor. Architect and contractor Arthur Seelman “A. S.” Heineman (1878-1972) (who was said to be drawing up the clubhouse plans) would provide those services to club officer and director (and Culver City baker) J. F. Haight. (Southwest Builder and Contractor, Jan. 11, 1918, p. 16.)
On June 22, 1917, the aforementioned Los Angeles Trust & Savings Bank filed a “notice of non-responsibility for any improvement on the John D. Hawes Ranch, sometimes known as the Culver City Country Club.” Thus, work could go forward on the new club without any construction liens against the bank. (Southwest Builder and Contractor, June 30, 1917, p. 33.)
The club’s founders described finding the site for the Culver Country Club, which would open as the “California Country Club”:
In August 1919, the Los Angeles Times dedicated nearly a full-page to covering the nascent country club, under the heading “When Rancho Turns Country Club“:
California Country Club (1919-1940)
In October 1919 the club’s name changed to California Country Club.
In January 1920, the Los Angeles Times reported that “The club grounds and golf course comprise a site of fifty-seven acres just off the National boulevard at the outskirts of Los Angeles.” “The plans, prepared by H. H. Whitely, call for an expenditure of approximately $45,000.” “The officers and directors of the California Country Club include Harry H. Culver, president; Watt L. Moreland, vice-president; George D. Bavin, vice-president; H. W. McNutt, secretary; Mrs. C. J. Jeffries, assistant secretary; John D. Carson, treasurer; and D. A. Hamburger, J. D. Carson, William McSchane, G. D. Bavin, H. W. McNutt and H. H. Culver, directors.”
Reed Heustis (1882–1957) covered the club for the May 10, 1920, Los Angeles Evening Herald, penning a humorous piece accompanied by a Wyn Barden (?-1937) cartoon. (Heustis and Barden worked on a number of Herald articles together; Heustis also wrote for the movies.)
Heustis reported that Frank McGregor, “a canny Scotsman,” was club steward and Jack Stone was the club professional.
The California Country Club formally opened on March 12, 1921. The Times reported that the Spanish mission style clubhouse and the sixty-by-eighty-foot swimming pool were under construction. Two dining rooms, a drawing room, and the mezzanine provided space for over 600 members and their guests who dined and danced. That evening, Harry Culver called their attention to the “unusual view of the surrounding country” from “a high hill one mile from Culver City proper” where clubhouse windows overlooked a nighttime “panorama of scintillating lights and sky reflections on all sides.” Culver also said that the club, which had existed for three years, had reached it 500-person limit, including “many prominent businessmen of Los Angeles and Culver City especially those who are ‘addicted’ to golf.”
The club’s ranks were filled with Los Angeles’ luminaries. Harry H. Culver was president. Vice-president Watt Loren Moreland (1879-1959) had founded the Moreland Motor Truck Company. Treasurer John D. Carson (at least in 1920) was “Assistant Trust Office in Charge of Subdivisions, Trust Department, Los Angeles Trust and Savings Bank” (L. A. Times, Nov. 15, 1920). Director David Asher “D. A.” Hamburger (1857-1944) was a Harvard-educated lawyer who “joined his brother and father in A. Hamburger & Sons, which in 1881 opened The People’s Department Store in downtown L. A., catering to working-class customers. Not just a merchant and real estate developer, David Hamburger also was a columnist and Jewish community voice, writing several editorials for the B’nai B’rith Messenger.” (Jewish Journal, Aug. 30, 2017.) Director William Andrews (“W. A.”) Clark, Jr. (1877-1934) was a Los Angeles-based philanthropist and the youngest surviving son of copper baron and U. S. Senator William Andrews Clark, Sr. (1839-1925). Clark founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic and helped fund the Hollywood Bowl. He also built UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. Director Dr. Thomas Jefferson “T. J.” Ruddy (1876-1972) was a renowned osteopath. Director George Washington Somerville (c. 1855-1937) had been a Minnesota senator and was a judge.
Shortly after the opening dinner dance, a rumor spread that the club would be sold for oil development.
The club was a featured amenity as neighborhoods grew up around it. In 1922, the Castle Heights development was advertised as “Adjoining the California Country Club.” In 1925, Monte-Mar Vista’s developers promoted their location: “Direct entrance to the California Country Club on the southern border.” In 1939, the Leimert Company, promoting its Cheviot Knolls subdivision, touted the “Famous California Country Club and the Westside Tennis Club with a membership of champions and motion picture stars adjoin these gently sloping hills, with Rancho Public Golf Course 5 minutes away.” As late as 1949, Beverlywood-area builders Weber & Diller boasted that their houses were “nearby California Country Club and Rancho Public Golf Course.”
The club hosted frequent community events.
In 1934, club president, Fred Ussher, announced “an initiation fee for membership.” (L. A. Times, Oct. 26, 1934.)
Cheviot Hills Country Club (1940-1943)
The Cheviot Hills Garden Clubhistoryrecalled that, in 1940-1941, “Plans were under way to organize the Cheviot Hills Country Club to take over the California Country Club which had gone under financially.” Reorganization as the former was reported in December 1940. The September 28, 1941, Los Angeles Times told that, even with the change, there were still problems:
The United States entered World War II just over a month later, so the membership drive could not have gone well. Plus, Hurst, “an early member, past president and an honorary life member of the California Country Club,” would die a couple of years later. Edward Randolph Hurst (1880-1943) was a local realtor – the primary seller of the Cheviot Hills and Cheviot Knolls tracts. He “was stricken at a Mexico City golf club where he had played the previous day.” Hurst “became associated [in 1929] with Harold G. Neff, with whom he developed the Cheviot Hills residential section, of which he was an early resident.” (L. A. Times, Nov. 14, 1943.) In 1934, he lived at 3049 Queensbury Drive when the Canadian native became a naturalized citizen. He left a widow, Margaret Lenore “Nora” (Kellogg) Hurst (1878-1959), at 10327 Cheviot Drive.
In June 1943, the public Cheviot Hills Country Club “folded” due to “financial difficulties.” (L. A. Times, Feb. 6, 1944.)
Rolling Hills Country Club (1944-1945)
In February 6, 1944, the Los Angeles Times covered the club’s reopening as theRolling Hills Country Club:
John Shepard Kelley (1903-1945) and John Montague (nee LaVerne Moore) (1903-1972) were the public faces of the reorganized club and reportedly owners. But it appears that Kelley and Montague had partners from the start: Bö Roos and his entertainment industry clients –Frank Borzage (1894-1962), Mitchell Leisen (1898-1972), Fred MacMurray (1908-1991), and Marion Robert Morrison (1970-1979) – better known as John Wayne – operating through Roos’ Beverly Managment Corporation.
Winifred Kelley (John Kelley’s widow) and John Montegue would later allege that, on November 1, 1943, John Kelley, Montague, and the Roos group agreed to buy the California Country Club for $250,000: “Club buildings were to be remodeled and refurbished … and then sold, with Montague and Kelley each to receive 25% of the net profits.”
John Montague was a colorful character and possibly a con man. Here’s part of what an obituary said:
Bö Roos was famous in his day, too. The New York Times carried his obituary:
A Rolling Hills clubhouse gambling arrest got coverage in 1944, with the press reporting “Thirty-five men were taken into custody … when they were found assertedly engaged in five stud poker games at the Rolling Hills Country Club, 3100 Club Drive, West Los Angeles.” (L. A. Times, April 14, 1944.) “John Montague, the widely publicized trick golfer, was proprietor of the club but was not present.” “Lt. J. R. Steward, night chief of the Los Angeles vice squad, said he and Sgt. F. E. Durham “visited the club several days ago and talked to Montague about its operation. Late [that] night they returned in plain clothes with five other officers and watched play for 10 minutes before taking the men to the station.” (Ibid.) “One $50 pot and a slot machine were taken for evidence.”
Bail of $100 each was promptly posted, and the case was resolved days later. The attorneys for the “32 physicians” and one undertaker, “told the court the doctors had engaged the club for a dinner and lecture and that afterward some of them got up a ‘friendly little game of penny ante.’ The court, remarking that there was no evidence of commercialized gambling, dismissed a Penal Code count and on the plea of guilty to violation of the municipal ordinance sentenced the defendants to $10 or five days in jail each.” The undertaker paid the fines – as he had the bail). (L. A. Times, April 18, 1944.) The latter report did not mention the slot machine.
California Country Club (1945-1951)
The name-change back to California Country Club came in August 1945, around the time of John Kelley’s separation from the club and not long before his death. “John Shepard Kelly, 41, restaurant owner” “until recently … part owner of the Rolling Hills Country Club” died on November 16, 1945. (L. A. Times, Nov. 21, 1945.) On August 12th, the Times referred to “California Country Club (nee Rolling Hills).” Days earlier, on August 3, 1945, the paper had reported on Frank Borzage’s initial celebrity tournament at the “Rolling Hills,” So, the name apparently changed that week.
John Montague remained associated with the club in some reports (an August 18, 1945, article calls Montague the club pro). However, after 1946, the Bö Roos group, particularly Borzage, would become more prominent in the coverage, while Montague’s name disappeared.
The club held its annual celebrity tournament on May 23, 1948.
Later in 1948, the club celebrated a “Silver Jubilee Week beginning Nov. 28 [to] commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the California Country Club.” Festivities included a dinner dance emceed by “Toastmaster General of the United States,” George Albert “Georgie” Jessel (1898-1981). Fred Ussher was still (or again) club president. (L. A. Times, Nov. 19, 1948.) How 1923 was determined to be the founding year is a matter for conjecture.
In his personal and informative book, Westside Stories (The Americas Group, 2017) Michael Harris tells of his caddying at nearby Rancho Golf Course, “When the Rancho Park Golf Course opened as a public facility in 1948, you had to be 13 years old to play or caddie. …. So the local kids vied to carry the golf bags.” “The green fees for an 18-hole round was $3.” (Harris, pp. 35, 139.) (The Harris book’s introduction is from an earlier, now updated/corrected, iteration of this website.)
On February 29, 1951, the Los Angeles Times reported on the club’s “fade-out.”
Two days later, on March 2, 1951, a Los Angeles Times sports columnist shared the news that the club remained open: “The boys at the California Country Club wish it known that they are NOT closing down their golf course for some time to come and even when and if building starts on the proposed subdivision nine holes with two tees each will be available, along with the clubhouse.”
Subdivision documents were filed days after the Los Angeles Times’ report. On April 4, 1951, Tract 15299 was recorded with the County of Los Angeles, and a Declaration of Restrictions – establishing the California Country Club Homes Association and restricting uses of buildings, their size and character, etc. – was made on April 12th. (Tract 15593 was recorded on October 19, 1951, and the associated Declaration of Restrictions on November 13th.)
The documents reflect Beverly Management deeding the “larger parcel” to Country Club T.H. Corp. on December 15, 1950. Albert E. Marks (1896-1978) (an attorney who appeared with Marks in the case of Estate of Arstein (1961) 56 Cal.2d 239) would sign the “Declaration of Restrictions” as president of the corporation. Sydney J. Dunitz (1917-1991), the corporation’s vice president, notarized the document. (Like Adler, the Dunitz family was from Detroit.) Eleanor Coburn was the corporation’s secretary.
The club’s laundry equipment was auctioned on May 8th, 1951. The club house went a couple of weeks later, when “California Country Club’s swank clubhouse, scene of many a golfing party through the years, was peddled by Sanford Adler to a wrecking company for $3000.” (L. A. Times, May 27, 1951.) The news report said, “It is not being demolished …. Nine holes of the course remain, at least temporarily, with Jack Gage operating it as a public links ….” In May, June, and July 1951, the apparent remains of the club’s buildings – lumber, skylights, hardwood flooring, ventilators, and even reinforced glass – were advertised for sale at “Former California Country Club, 2929 Club Dr.”
The course was open through, at least, July 2, 1951.
The $325,000 lawsuit by John Montague and by John Kelley’s widow Winifred alleging they were cheated from their share of the sale profits settled for $4,000 in February 1952. “The defendants contended that Montague and Kelley already received $16,500 for their interest in the deal but Atty. Stevens Fargo [1906-1989], who represented Roos and the film men, said $4000 more had been agreed upon to avoid a prolonged trial.” (L. A. Times, Feb. 20, 1952.)
A mid-20th century Cheviot Hills resident, Edward Lawrence (1905-2000), wrote of the country club in “A Bit of Nostalgia” which his widow Helen Elizabeth (Ashby) Lawrence (1908-2012) contributed to the Fall 1998 Cheviot Hills Homeowners’ Association newsletter: