Palos Verdes Estates was established as a subdivision in 1923, with 3,200 acres carved out of the former Rancho Palos Verdes property of over 16,000 acres. Frank Vanderlip established both a land syndicate holding the Palos Verdes peninsula, and a real estate development trust for the Palos Verdes Estates subdivision. The Commonwealth Trust Company filed the Palos Verdes Protective Restrictions in Los Angeles County in 1923. These restrictions established rules for the developer and all land owners. The developer was required to set aside half of the land for common use, including roads and parks, but also built bridle paths, a golf course, and retained several miles of coastline free of development. No less than ninety percent of the remaining land was required to be used for single-family homes.
The designers of Palos Verdes Estates, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and Charles Cheney, used deed restrictions as a method of controlling development of the subdivision, even after many of the lots would have already been sold. The deed restrictions prohibited nuisance businesses, such as polluting industries, but also bars and cemeteries. None of the lots or homes could be sold to or rented by a non-white. An art jury reviewed all building plans, regulating any structure in regard to style, material, and even small details like color and the pitch of the roof. The construction of fences and hedges were subject to evaluation by the art jury.
At the time of the city's incorporation in 1939, the business and shop area around Malaga Cove had most of the Peninsula's earlier buildings. The Malaga Cove Plaza building of the Palos Verdes Public Library, designed by Pasadena architect Myron Hunt, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Palos Verdes Estates was one of the earliest masterplanned communities in the United States.
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