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Now Celebrating Its 70th Year : Firm Planned Hollywoodland

June 07, 1987|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

Engineering Service Corp., one of Los Angeles County's oldest civil engineering and land planning firms, is sharing in the celebration of Hollywood's centennial, with good reason.

"Our firm may not be quite as old as Hollywood, but we were the original planners of the Hollywoodland residential development in the heart of that community and we staked out the legendary HOLLYWOOD sign that was shortened from Hollywoodland," said Jack R. Newville, chairman of the board.

"In the early '20s, the project known as Hollywoodland was 30 minutes by automobile to downtown Los Angeles and five minutes away from the center of Hollywood," Newville said. "We were commissioned by developer S. H. Woodruff to lay out the entire area and create the official maps.

"The promoters of Hollywoodland had an ambitious project and even formed an architectural committee to pass on each house to be built in the exclusive new development.

"We laid out miles of winding bridle trails through the hills connecting to the bridle paths of Griffith Park--then the eastern boundary of the development--to Mulholland Highway, which traversed crests of Hollywoodland for more than two miles, and to Lake Hollywood, which formed Hollywoodland's western boundary."

The Hollywoodland Riding School, where saddle horses could be hired, the Hollywood Stables, where horses could be boarded, tennis courts, a children's playgrounds, swimming tank, wading pool, a recreation club with auditorium and tea court fronting Beachwood Drive, were all part of the planners' vision of the Hollywoodland subdivision.

Beachwood Drive was and still is the main thoroughfare to the area that rises from Franklin Avenue to where it joins with Belden Drive.

There still are vestiges of its grand entrance--a stone tower in the style of a medieval lookout, and the intended community spirit prevails in the intimacy of its country-like cafe and family-owned neighborhood market.

In 1920, subdivider Woodruff felt the time had come for greater expansion and decentralization of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. "With Los Angeles destined to be a city of millions," he once stated, "Hollywoodland is so situated that home sites purchased today will be worth fortunes."

"The car was definitely the new avenue for Hollywood's growth and profit," believes ESCO's Newville, who, in 1927, at the age of 17, drove his mother and grandmother all the way from Michigan to California in their Hupmobile.

sh Automobile Influx

"About that time it was estimated that 2,500 automobiles, with from three to five passengers each, entered the state of California every day of the year," Newville said, recalling some of the facts contained in early real estate brochures which his firm turned over to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for inclusion in the centennial time capsule.

Currently marking its 70th year, ESCO has pioneered techniques in support of California land developers, from its first completely planned hillside development in Hollywood to master-planning services for entire communities since the 1950s.

The firm is co-owned by Newville's son, J. Kenney Newville, its president, and by Robert R. Sims, vice president in charge of marketing and planning. Its Los Angeles headquarters are in the Fox Hills Business Park in Culver City.

The firm's early Hollywood clients included silent-screen star Norma Talmadge, a major property investor, who moved her land development activities to San Diego. "We went down there to do the work on Talmadge Park, a beautiful old San Diego subdivision and opened a company office in that area," recalled the senior Newville.

sh Subdivided Land

ESCO also did the master planning and engineering design for Grandview Palos Verdes and the Lakewood community for developers Ben Weingart and Lou Boyer. Superior Oil Co., which owned and developed the Westchester area, was a major client, Newville added.

"After World War II, the oil company decided to subdivide the land and sell it to home builders. We were hired to do the master planning and engineering and had already recorded the map of the area overlooking the Hughes Aircraft plant and its runway, when we got a call from Howard Hughes to arrange to meet him on the bluff.

"I remember him as a tall, slim good-looking young man with hair slicked down to a patent-leather shine. He said he didn't want anyone interfering with his flight pattern and was prepared to buy up some of the land. I showed him where we had planned the streets. He paused for a moment and, pointing to the map, said decisively:

'I'll buy everything up to here'. And that ended the meeting."

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