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Community Profile: Rolling Hills

November 01, 1996|MAKI BECKER

The founder of Rolling Hills wanted to name the three-square-mile city, tucked away on the tip of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, "Folded Hills." But that was in 1936, after the devastating 1933 Long Beach earthquake that lent grim overtones to anything "folding."

So the city settled for "rolling," although its geological problems have lately been characterized by slippage. The wealthiest town in America, an exclusive gated community that guards its privacy behind gates featuring "no smoking" signs, has a singular menace: a 90-acre wedge of unstable land dubbed the "Flying Triangle," which has, since 1979, moved 100 feet and is still inching its way toward the sea.

But the rest of the city's real estate is only moving up, in value and status. Rolling Hills, where the average selling price of a home is more than $1 million, was founded in 1936 as a dude ranch by landscape architect and developer A.E. Hanson--"the Southern California green thumb" and designer for such luminaries as actors Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and oilman Edward Doheny.

Hanson's 50-acre ranch was wittily called Rancho Elastico because it began as a simple 1880s bunkhouse and grew into an estate; others say the ranch derived its name from the tents the early ranchers used, which could be moved and enlarged, or stretched, like elastic.

During the Depression, homes on five-acre lots, selling for less than $15,000, were touted as "country homes for city people." Because that was still a bit steep for most, Hanson subdivided an area "for those who must budget their incomes." There, architect Paul R. Williams designed 14 homes, each on 1 1/4 acres and selling for $8,750. Since the community incorporated in 1957 out of fear of being gobbled up by adjacent cities, Rolling Hills' residents, of whom there are fewer than 2,000 living in its 684 homes, have kept up its 23 miles of equesrian trails and 26 miles of tree-lined streets with no sidewalks or street lights.

In 1978, five years after a blaze sparked by fireworks destroyed 13 homes, city officials declared the place a forested area to preserve the rugged wilderness and restore the once-abundant wildlife. That same year, city officials banned any outdoor smoking, making Rolling Hills perhaps the only city in the nation where people can light up only inside their homes. (The rule is based on a Los Angeles County code prohibiting smoking in areas considered to be fire hazards.)

It has been loosely enforced, and until 1994 guards at the city's three gates only warned visitors against smoking during fire season. Then officials sought a crackdown on violators, who could be slapped with a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. No one has yet to be prosecuted.

The hilltop town of the rich if not necessarily famous--and that's the way they like it--has neither a bank nor an upscale shopping street. In fact, it has no commerce at all. But it recently earned the distinction of being the wealthiest town in America. The peninsula, with its panoramic Pacific views, was a big winner in Worth magazine's survey, with three nearby cities also on the list of 300.

By the Numbers


Date incorporated: Jan. 24, 1957

Area in square miles: 3

Number of city parks: 0

City employees: 4 fulltime, 3 part time

1996-97 operating budget: $619,154.00


Latino: 4%

White: 84%

Asian: 10%

Black: 1%


Population: 1,871

Households: 637

Average household size: 3

Median age: 45


Median household income: $166,176

Median household income/LA County: $34,965

Median home value: $737,300

Employed (16 and older): 889

Percentage of women employed: 42%

Percentage of men employed: 76%

Self-employed: 141

Car-poolers: 56


Married couple families with children: 31%

Married couple families with no children: 48%

Other types of families: 7%

Nonfamily households: 13%


Total stores: 0

Total employees: 0

Annual sales: $0 million

Source: Claritas Inc. retail figures are for 1995. All other figures are for 1990. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

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