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Hollywood Heights-Santa Monica is Keeping it 100

The neighborhood celebrates its centennial with a home tour and gala that look back to its early days.
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The idyllic neighborhood has a history dating back to the 1920s. Courtesy Kim Leeson/Hollywood Santa Monica Neighborhood Association

The Hollywood Heights–Santa Monica neighborhood is straight out of a storybook with its rolling hills, tree-lined drives, and Tudor homes. “It’s like this little oasis you just found by either getting lost or by mistake,” says Ed Zahra, longtime neighborhood association board member. “But once you do arrive, you don’t leave.” This month, the East Dallas neighborhood will celebrate its centennial anniversary with a special home tour and gala that, fittingly, have been years in the making.

In the early 1920s, developer J.B. Salmon bought a tract of land in East Dallas, across from what is now Tenison Park Golf Course. Early city maps listed it as “Miss Martin’s Dairy.” He renamed the neighborhood Hollywood Heights and sold the first lot in June 1924. In 1925, just north of Salmon’s land, Bert Blair began developing the Santa Monica neighborhood. Both had California-inspired names and similar looks, considering their mix of Craftsman, Spanish, and stone-embellished Tudor houses. There were similar deed restrictions, too, such as 35-foot setbacks and height limits.

By the late 1970s, though, the old deed restrictions had expired. “All of a sudden, the developers had found East Dallas and demolition started,” Zahra says. Hoping to save the neighborhoods’ identities and preserve the homes’ façades, a coalition formed to combine Hollywood Heights and Santa Monica into one conservation district.

It was no easy feat. The city required significant paperwork, including documentation of each house. The biggest hurdle, Zahra says, was convincing the residents to relinquish some of their property rights for a relatively new idea; Dallas had decreed its first conservation district in 1988. But they got it done and the Hollywood Heights–Santa Monica Conservation District was officially formed in 1993, with deed restrictions close to the originals. The move, Zahra says, “saved our neighborhood from the wrecking ball.”

What hasn’t been preserved are the origins of the Hollywood and Santa Monica names. Volunteer neighborhood historian Jennifer Near says that the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles had just been built in 1923, and people were fascinated with the growing movie industry. As it turned out, the neighborhood ended up being the scene of plenty of silver screen-worthy moments. In 1938, a scorned lover placed a bomb in a suitcase and threw it through the window of the house where his ex-girlfriend was staying, destroying the Monte Vista duplex. Another home apparently had a secret speakeasy and bowling alley in the basement.

Most residents, however, were quiet middle-class families. There were firemen, dentists, and foremen. Because the front lawns were so deep, most residents made it a habit to sit out on their porches and chat with passersby. By the ’40s and ’50s, Near says, the neighborhood was generally considered to be “Vice President or Treasury Secretary Row,” housing not the company presidents (who lived on Swiss Avenue) but the next level down.

The Roaring ’20s-themed centennial celebrations hope to honor all that history. For three years, the neighborhood association has been designing new street sign toppers, picking the houses for the tour, and planning the final night’s flapper-forward gala at Times Ten Cellars. The tour features “a once-in-a-lifetime group of homes,” says neighborhood association president Juliette Smith. And the final party is “when we’re really going to celebrate our neighborhood’s birthday.”

Author

Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…
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