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Girard's Dream Became Woodland Hills

VALLEY 200: To commemorate the bicentennial of the San Fernando Mission and the San Fernando Valley, for 200 days we will feature people --some famous, some notorious-- who left their mark on the area.

May 10, 1997|STEPHEN BYRD

In 1923, Victor Girard dreamed of selling small pieces of California living to harried city dwellers back East and throughout the Midwest.

"I'll tell you what I see: a Greater Los Angeles solid to the Pacific and reaching back into the adjacent valleys," he said in a 1939 news story.

So he formed a development company, bought 2,886 acres of San Fernando Valley hillside at the current junction of Ventura and Topanga Canyon boulevards and subdivided it into nearly 7,000 lots selling for $500 to $10,000.

No paragon of modesty, Girard planted more than 120,000 trees, built a country club and named the community after himself. Then he waited for the land rush.

In the next five years, the community of Girard flourished. Dozens of bungalows and vacation cabins were built, but buyers began to complain that some of the lots were too small to build on. They also suspected Girard of misrepresenting the area in his advertising and sales pitches.

To convince skeptical lot owners that big things would happen on Ventura Boulevard, Girard showed large buildings lining the street. It was later discovered that the "buildings" were nothing more than facades.

The stock market crash in 1929 halted Girard's Boulevard Land Co. speculation in its tracks. As the Great Depression rolled in, hundreds of lot owners failed to make payments or walked away. By 1931, lawsuits had bankrupted the Boulevard Land Co.

Girard's population shrank to 75 families, but eventually rebounded as the economy improved. In 1941, residents adopted the name of Woodland Hills, partly to distance the community from its eccentric founder and partly because of the area's vast number of trees.

Girard died in 1954 at 74, but he had seen his dream become a reality. By 1950, Woodland Hills had nearly 4,500 residents.

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