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The Trick That Landed UCLA in Westwood in the 1920s

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Unreal Estate by Michael Gross comes out today, dishing all the dirt on the births of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and Holmby Hills. (POM Wonderful owners/book subjects Stewart and Lynda Resnick have already denounced it, saying Gross has "an axe to grind" with the wealthy and calling it "fiction.") To celebrate, we'll be sharing some of the most fun and juicy stories all this week.

We begin in Westwood, part of the former Rancho San Jose de Buenos Ayres. In 1919, Englishman and Broadway Department Store founder Arthur Letts bought "the most sought-after 3,296 acres in west Los Angeles," and in 1920, he transferred the land to his son-in-law Harold Janss's Janss Investment Co. (which also included father Peter and brother Edwin--that domed building in Westwood Village was eventually built as their headquarters). In the early twenties, Janss Investment started subdividing and selling lots in modern-day Westwood, but since the area was pretty much boondocks at the time, they decided they had to lure UCLA, which could bring jobs and a ready-made population. Take it away, Gross:

There are several versions of the story of how they won the school, but they differ only in detail. "It was probably Harold because Ed wouldn't have been this clever and conniving," says [great-grandson] Larry Janss. "He had a friend, Tanner, who owned a livery company. He'd got wind that the regents were looking for property for a second university and they were coming to look at one in Pasadena and one in Palos Verdes, both superb. So Mr. Janss concocted a plan and called Tanner, who'd be providing limousines, and plotted to rent them for the day. Tanner provided uniforms, Janss provided drivers."

En route to Pasadena, the driver interrupted the regents, and told them how wise they were to choose Pasadena, where the weather was great nine months a year. What about the other months, the regents asked. Summers are really hot, said the driver. "Then on to Palos Verdes," says Janss, where the driver explained that winters there were cold, blustery, and foggy. "The turd was floated in the punch bowl," says Janss. En route to the train back to San Francisco, the driver suggested the regents might want to stop at the Letts ranch. The only difference there, he said, "the sun shines at just the right angle so the weather is perfect twelve months a year," Larry Janss continues. "The driver asked if they wanted him to find out who owned it now and the hook was set." Thus UCLA came to the Rancho San Jose de Buenos Ayres. · Flyover and Gossip in the Golden Triangle [Curbed LA]


405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA