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Goliath vs. Goliath in Battle to Expand School

Wealthy supporters say Harvard-Westlake needs to be updated, while opponents fear impact on neighborhood.

October 08, 2004|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

The Holmby Hills campus looks quite different from the architecturally unified site that opened in the 1920s. Over the years, earthquake-damaged buildings have been razed and new structures have been built for classrooms, athletics and performing arts. Much of the campus is hilly and wooded, with stone benches and fountains where students meet to have lunch or study.

Plans call for increasing space by 85,000 square feet, to a total of 225,000. Once it is built out, the campus would consist of about 15 acres, half of it usable for buildings and athletic fields. (By contrast, a public middle school with a comparable enrollment would be required to have about 18 acres of usable space, said William Delvac, an attorney for Harvard-Westlake.)

Subdivided in the 1920s, Holmby Hills was billed by Janss Investment Co. as "the ultimate in real estate development," straddling Sunset Boulevard west of Beverly Hills. Many homes feature tennis courts, swimming pools, guesthouses and sloping lawns on lots ranging from 1.5 to 9 acres.

The campus predates the residences. In 1928, Janss granted the property for $10 to the founders of the Westlake School for Girls, a day and boarding school that had been established in 1904 across from Westlake Park (now MacArthur Park), near downtown Los Angeles. Later that year, the school moved into its new home, operating in a cluster of buildings designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style.

The female students often attended dances at the Harvard School for Boys, founded in 1900 as a military academy and later moved to the former Hollywood Country Club in Coldwater Canyon.

Harvard and Westlake merged in 1991.

The Westlake campus became a middle school for grades 7 through 9, and the North Hollywood campus became the upper-grade school.

Among famous alumni of Harvard-Westlake and its predecessors are Gray Davis, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Candice Bergen, Sally Ride, Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, and Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University.

Lourd, the Hollywood agent and a school neighbor who supports the proposal, said his daughter, a Harvard-Westlake seventh-grader, "has never been happier."

"Anything that will make it better" is worth the inconvenience, he said.

"The better the school is, the better the neighborhood is, the better the city is."

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