Cheviot Hills

Abraham Lincoln King & Frankie King – subdividers

In 1912, prominent Palms husband and wife Abraham Lincoln (A.L.) King (1866-1927) and Frankie Lenore (Leforge) King (1870-1966) recorded Tract 1938, a 127-acre subdivision of “a portion of Lot 1, Tract of Francisco Higuera” in the Rancho Rincón de los Bueyes – an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County.  They had bought the land in 1896 for $7,000 (about $250,000 in 2023 dollars).

In March 1923, voters added Tract 1938 (and other lands) to Los Angeles city limits through the “Ambassador Annexation” (a.k.a. Ambassador Addition).  The following December, the Kings filed another tract map, Tract 6741, a “subdivision” of Tract 1938, which was coextensive with the earlier tract.  The Tract 6741 map shows only two streets:  Motor Avenue and Cheviot Drive.  (In 1942, Cheviot Drive’s name was extended south of Manning Avenue to replace the block long Abbottson Road in the Country Club Highlands tract.) The Kings soon sold their undeveloped subdivision to Frans Nelson & Sons for $2,100 an acre: $266,700 (about $4.7 million in 2023 dollars).

Frans Nelson & Sons – developers

​​Frans Nelson & Sons “opened” Cheviot Hills on August 19, 1923 and started offering lots for sale starting November 11, 1923 – which was nearly a year before the City of Los Angeles approved the tract map. On May 12, 1924, Frans Nelson & Sons filed a subdivision map for Tract 7264 (coextensive with Tracts 6741 and 1938 discussed above) which would be marketed as Cheviot Hills.  Frans Nelson & Sons, Inc., was listed as owner; A. L. King was listed as mortgagee. Frans Oscar Nelson (1859-1948) (pronounced FrAHns), acknowledged the Kings (at least Mr. King) in a November 1923 newspaper article he wrote to promote Cheviot Hills:  “Twenty-seven years ago, a westward pioneer by the name of A. L. King purchased this tract of land, which consists of 127 acres, for the mere song of $7,000.” (L. A. Evening Express, Nov. 3, 1923.)

The Los Angeles City Council approved the tract on June 10, 1924, with the next order of business being approval of Monte-Mar Vista tract. In approving the latter, the City imposed the City Engineer’s two conditions: that Dumfries Road “be dedicated so as to give actual frontage on the boundary line of the tract” and “that a walk be substituted for Wicklow Road” (at Wicklow, north of Glenbarr Avenue). That “walk” is one of the strangest aspects of the layout – since it is a “walk to nowhere,” dead-ending half way across the block.

“Wicklow Walk” – the eight-foot wide “public walk” required by the city engineer – shown on the approved tract map.
“Wicklow Walk” shown on 2023 Los Angeles County Assessor’s map. It ends at lot 14.
“Wicklow Walk,” on the right, as seen in 2016 on Google Street View.

Since Cheviot Hills’ promotion came before its approval, some early statements in the press did not come to fruition. For instance, in an article for the December 1, 1923, Los Angeles Evening Express, Erskine Edwards “E. E.” Mix (1893-1952) wrote that one block would be “devoted exclusively for a neighborhood business center.” (Mix’s byline said he was of “the E. E. Mix Engineering and Construction Company who are putting in all the improvements at Cheviot Hills for Frans Nelson and Sons, subdividers.”) On a smaller scale, Mix’s projection of a Ballantrae street (for a Scottish golf course) did not come to be, either.

Frans Nelson & Sons, Inc., was listed as owner; A. L. King was listed as mortgagee. Frans Oscar Nelson (1859-1948) (pronounced FrAHns), acknowledged the Kings (at least Mr. King) in a November 1923 newspaper article he wrote to promote Cheviot Hills:  “Twenty-seven years ago, a westward pioneer by the name of A. L. King purchased this tract of land, which consists of 127 acres, for the mere song of $7,000.” (L. A. Evening Express, Nov. 3, 1923.)

Frans Nelson (c. 1927) pictured in his biography.
Like the Hollywoodland development, Cheviot Hills had its name in lights as can be seen in this picture from the August 22, 1923, L. A. Evening Express Article subheaded “Oat Fields Few Weeks Ago, Now Scene of Great Activity.”

Construction chief E. E. Mix oversaw a “small army of men and 40 mules working overtime” to transform a barley field into a “high class residential section.”  (L. A. Evening Express, Dec. 8, 1923.) (“E. E. Mix” is stamped on some Cheviot sidewalks.)  Frans Nelson, the Swedish-born retired Nebraska banker turned real estate developer (he had developed north Long Beach’s 560-lot “Fair Acres” subdivision), recounted in his biography that, even out in the “sticks,” empty lots were sold as quickly as they could be made ready: 

To a cynical, “Wasn’t Cheviot Hills part of the West Los Angeles ‘sticks’ at that time?” Frans continued his half-amused recital.

“Yes, it was pretty far out then. We had to spend over $400,000 in improvements such as sidewalks, curbs, streets, electroliers, water and gas mains, and power lines. But as fast as the utilities went in the homes went up. We also built a clubhouse [Palomar Tennis Club] near the properties complete with plunge and tennis courts.”

The developer advertised the subdivision was named for its “natural rolling knolls that are so similar to the Cheviot Hills which separate England and Scotland.”  As the development was rolling out, Engineer E. E. Mix wrote, “All roads and drives in Cheviot Hills have been named after famous roads in Scotland.  The reason for this is because the lay of the land is almost a replica of the famous Cheviot Hills which separates England and Scotland.  It was for this reason we carried out the Scottish idea.” (Dec. 1, 1923, Los Angeles Evening Express.) Decades later, Frans Nelson’s friend and biographer, Carroll Everard “Deke” Houlgate (1905-1959) (another former Nebraskan), told a more elaborate story:

“When we got ready to put this new property on the market, my sales organization numbered about thirty, each of whom was nearly as enthusiastic as were Harvey, George, and I.  

“We decided to let them help select a name for the new subdivision and I arranged a contest among them for that purpose. Each salesman was asked to submit a name and upon those turned in we held a
contest. Final balloting determined our choice – Cheviot Hills!”

A natural question of, “Why Cheviot Hills?” drew a whimsical smile and the answer:

“One of our salesmen was a Scotchman by the name of Simpson. He turned in the name of a district in his homeland and when this name, Cheviot Hills, was finally selected offered the further suggestion, producing a map of Scotland, that the streets be given Scotch names.

Frans Nelson, A Biography (by Deke Houlgate) (The Pueblo Press 1940) questions the naming story: “I found no Simpsons on the company’s roster, so the story might be hogwash, but the moniker suited these golf course-adjacent hills and the Nelsons heavily played up the Scotland theme, with streets named after Scottish locales – Cheviot Drive was the first – and even bagpipers performing at sales events.”

Frans Nelson’s sons, Harvey (dark suit) and George pictured in November 10, 1923, L. A. Evening Express article.
November 10, 1923, “Grand Opening” advertisement in the L. A. Evening Express.

The “& Sons” of Frans Nelson & Sons were George Alfred (G. A.) Nelson (1885-1924) and Harvey Frans (H. F.) Nelson (1893-1972).  His residence, under construction, is shown in the lower left corner of the above advertisement; George would die of a sudden illness in January 1924 before moving in. 

“Heed the Call of Cheviot Hills! November 17, 1923, Los Angeles Evening Express advertisement.
From December 1, 1923, L. A. Evening Express article.
December 8, 1923, advertisement (L. A. Evening Express)

In April 1927 article, “Whippets to Race Today,” showing Frans Nelson’s own house in Cheviot Hills, reported that “although Cheviot Hills has been developed only a short time, 80 per cent of the property has been sold and already seventy-one homes, ranging in value from $10,000 to $50,000, have been erected.” (L. A. Times, April 10, 1927.)

The new neighborhood was touted for its proximity to the Rancho Golf Club and California Country Club; Hillcrest Country Club, with a mostly Jewish membership, was never mentioned. Also noted were nearness to movie studios and “convenience to Los Angeles and the beach.” Lots in the “finest residential district between Los Angeles and the sea” were advertised from $1780, with homes beginning at $10,500. 

January 9, 1926, advertisement (L. A. Evening Express).

Frans Nelson & Sons put temporary restrictions on setbacks, fence height, etc.  And they required that homes built on Motor Avenue or facing the country clubs would cost no less than $7,500 to build, while others would cost at least $5,000.  (Monte-Mar Vista, to the north and east, started with a higher minimum at $12,000, reduced to $4,000 during the Great Depression.)  The building restrictions ran into the 1940s.  But the developer also applied permanent racial restrictions to the homesites.  Title to the property mandated that:

no part of any of said lots shall ever, at any time, be used or occupied, or be permitted to be used or occupied by any person other than one of the White or Caucasion race, except such as are in the employ of the owner or tenants of said lots residing therein.

Our nation’s highest court held such racial restrictions unenforceable in Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 US 1 (1948).

Neff & Hurst – realtors

Harvey Nelson’s boyhood friend, Harold Grant Neff (1894-1981), was one of Cheviot Hill’s preeminent promoters. Harold was Harvey’s classmate at Omaha High School (class of 1913) and his best man when Lt. Harvey Nelson married Marian Norris (daughter of Nebraska Senator George W. Norris (1861–1944)), in Washington D.C. in 1918.  Neff worked for the United States Geographic Survey Service in D.C. in 1920, the year he came to Harvey’s sister Bernice’s wedding in Nebraska. Beginning in 1929, Harold Neff partnered with Edward R. Hurst (1880-1943) to form the real estate office “Neff & Hurst.” Hurst was a Cheviot Hills resident and “an early member, past president of the California Country Club.” He would go on to be a director of the Los Angeles Realty Board and the Southern California and California Golf Associations. From offices at 3017 Motor Avenue, Neff & Hurst was the primary seller in the Cheviot Hills tract.  The Los Angeles Times reported that, during 1931, Neff & Hurst did over $400,000 in business in Cheviot Hills:  “Sixty homes were bullt and nearly all occupied.”  By 1935, the Evening Star News’ Cheviot Chatter column called Neff the “‘mayor’ of Cheviot Hills.”  Later, when the Walter H. Leimert Co. developed the adjacent Cheviot Knolls subdivision, Neff & Hurst (by then at 3131 Motor Avenue) were the exclusive selling agents.  

Cheviot Hills did not sell as quickly as its developers might have wished.  Four years after it went on the market, Frans Nelson was still promoting it, for example, with whippet races for which he provided the trophy.

April 3, 1927, advertisement for Whippet Races featuring a home for sale (L. A. Times)
“Whippets to Race Today” article appeared on race day, April 10, 1927, reporting “80 percent of the property has been sold” and “seventy-one homes, ranging in value from $10,000 to $50,000, have been erected.” (L. A. Times)
Laurel & Hardy’s 1929 Bacon Grabbers filmed at 2980 Haddington Drive and 10341 Bannockburn Drive.  Arthur Stanley “Stan” Laurel (1890 –1965) lived nearby at 10353 Glenbarr Avenue.
Los Angeles Times (June 25, 1935) “Cheviot Hills ‘Boom’ Told” reported that Realtors Neff & Hurst sold homes in this “restricted area” (meaning whites only) which was common in those days.  Neff & Hurst were selling are homes from 3017 Motor Avenue as late as June 1955.

Over the years, several subdivisions surrounding Cheviot Hills (such as Country Club Highlands, Monte-Mar Vista, and Cheviot Knolls) have lost their individual identities and collectively been called Cheviot Hills, with the original sometimes called “Old Cheviot.” The Cheviot Hills subdivision is distinguished by “Frans-Nelson & Sons” stampings in streets, sidewalks, and curbs and by (CD 803 – style electrolier) concrete lampposts.

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