Must admit I had not known of the old, now-dry Girard reservoir until the L.A. City Nerd blog mentioned it recently. Now the Daily News and the Los Angeles Times both have stories today about residents in Woodland Hills trying to block a condominium development on the adjacent Nicholson Ranch property. Their strategy is to nudge the city Department of Water and Power to sell the former reservoir for parkland within the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy realm. The city, however, says the site may be needed for a DWP tank to boost low water pressure for homes in the area.
Whatever. I just like that there is another reminder of old Girard, the plucky 1920s subdivision that planted thousands of trees and weekend cottages in what was then a dry, dusty almost shadeless corner of the West Valley. From The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb:
Developer Victor Girard did his part to improve the appearance of the far west Valley—and his legacy remains on the winding streets south of Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills, where thickets of tall eucalyptus and pepper trees provide some of the densest shade in the Valley. Girard’s subdivision in the barren west end of the Valley needed to be dressed up, so he planted 120,000 shade trees and shrubs—seven varieties of eucalyptus, five kinds of acacia, Arizona elms, Monterey pines. On the corner of what today are Ventura and Topanga Canyon boulevards, he built false storefronts and garish Turkish-style mosque towers to make the community look more established.The town of Girard was born on February 4, 1923, on 2,000 hilly acres broken off from the Brant dairy. Its founder, born Victor Girard Kleinberger, had come to Los Angeles from Louisville about the turn of the century as an ambitious 18yearold who would develop towns all over the county. He was called a “devious genius . . . a natural dreamer and big spender.” His dream for the west Valley was possibly loony. There was no streetcar access to Girard, as there was to other Valley towns; to reach the 6,000 lots that Girard hoped to sell, motorists were expected to negotiate Cahuenga Pass and a dozen miles of twisty Ventura Boulevard, passing a gauntlet of other beckoning real estate ventures.
Among the more conveniently located competitors, Hazelhurst, a quarter mile outside North Hollywood, advertised itself as “truly a dream spot . . . [with] freedom from all pools, mud, washes or flood conditions.” The Hollywood Country Club, south of Ventura where Coldwater Canyon Boulevard now rises into the hills, called its neighborhood around the Valley’s first grass golf course “America’s Most Beautiful Suburb.” Adjacent was Holly Heights, “one of the scenic beauty spots of the San Fernando foothills.” Clearly, free barbecues wouldn’t be enough to get people out to Girard.
To lure prospects, Girard ran ads emphasizing that his town was closer to the beach than any place in the Valley—since there was a winding road through Topanga Canyon. He published the Girard News, built stables and a riding club, and opened the Girard Country Club and golf course with a championship-size pool and tennis courts. “Sucker buses” brought potential buyers out to the far end of the Valley, where teams of sales agents put on the pressure.
The Girard subdivision did not work out, the victim of its geography and suspicions that its developer’s tactics were unethical, if not illegal. Choice pieces of land were reportedly sold over and over in a bait-and-switch scheme, and the subdivision was financed by a lien on the properties that proved a burden to the early buyers. After the 1929 stock market crash, many who could escape Girard did so, and by 1932 there were fewer than 100 families left.
Girard Reservoir is located west of Topanga Canyon Boulevard on the north side of Mulholland Drive. I do hope the residents there have better luck preserving the old scene than people around the former Tarzana Ranch at Reseda Boulevard and Tarzana Drive. The hill there, first planted with exotic trees by long-ago Times owner Harrison Gray Otis then ranched by Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan fame, is being developed beyond recognition.
Photo of Girard Reservoir snagged from Windows Live Local.