Rolling Hills is a tiny, three-square-mile city on Southern California’s Palos Verdes Peninsula, where each home lives large, occupying one to five acres of land. And while it’s a city located on the southwestern tip of Los Angeles County, less than an hour’s drive from Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and Hollywood, there are no commercial or industrial buildings to be found.
The city is a paradise for horse lovers, sporting 30 miles of horse trails, some on the adjacent canyons and many of them overlooking the ocean. There are wide equestrian paths along streets and property lines that lead to the various trails that travel through wildlife, trees and running streams. The city even requires owners to maintain property on their lots that could accommodate horses if a new buyer happens to want to build a stable. Many of the homes do own horses and keep them in paddocks adjacent to their residences. The people that move to the area are often lured by the views. Its wide-open vistas give it a big-country feel from its place atop a South Bay bluff and overlooking Catalina Island and the Pacific Ocean.
You can get a taste of this exclusive California lifestyle at Rolling Hills villa, one of the 663 homes in the wealthy enclave, where the median home value is $3.5 million, according to Zillow. Many homeowners appreciate the privacy associated with living on such a large plot. “I don’t feel like I have any neighbours,” said the villa owner, adding that the location, value and sense of security attracted him to Rolling Hills.
The history of Rolling Hills goes back to Beverly Hills landscape architect Archibald Elexis Hanson, who had previously designed some of the most prestigious gardens in Southern California. Archibald had been a large orange-grove developer, who saw a unique opportunity. It was two years after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 when he was approached by New York financier Frank A. Vanderlip, who had acquired 16,000 acres of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 1913 and wanted to monetize it.
Hanson had first attempted to turn the land into a type of dude ranch for vacation property owners, but that idea fell flat. So, he decided to develop one-story luxury homes, with room enough to keep and ride horses. With a volatile real estate market, he decided to not sell land to any speculators and had his salesmen target affluent urban dwellers; they would only be allowed to build residential properties on the large plots.
The pitch was about getting away from the urban hustle and bustle, this being prior to the birth of the suburb. Ad campaigns emphasized living in the country with city conveniences: be out in the fresh air, where residents don’t have to be exposed to the sounds of neighbors or garbage trucks in the morning.
The horses were used as part of the original advertisements, with one ad carrying a head-shot of a horse named Banjo and the headline reading “I’m probably the world’s happiest horse.” Banjo describes the life of his family in Rolling Hills from his point of view. You hear about the rides he takes with the family’s two children, the happy scenes he sees and the laughing he overhears from his stables.
The development was a success and, by 1957, Rolling Hills was incorporated as a city. All houses back then were white – and still are today – because Hanson wanted them to “fit in with the emerald green of the new spring and harmonize with the bare earth after the hay was baled in the fall.”
Though it’s not easy to tell, Rolling Hills villa is one of the newest homes in the area, it was not built back in the 1930s but rather in 2000. The spacious five-bedroom and six-and-a-half bathroom villa boasts 9,600 sq-ft of interior living space and was designed by the firm Stamps & Stamps to resemble a 19th-century Virginia farmhouse. Many of its features are Hampton style, from the shingle roofs to the transom windows, country interiors and large open-concept kitchen.
The home has many classic country touches. Its kitchen has bead-board shaker cupboards, a full brick wall behind its double stainless steel oven and backsplash, and lots of tasteful decorative items exposed on the shelving. The living room has a stone fireplace wide-plank wood floors and exposed A-frame beams, decorated with big comfy chairs and lots of cushions and Persian-style area carpets. Warm colors stand out in the large formal dining room, thanks to polished terracotta tiles on the floor and walls painted the color of a pink sunset.
A series of French doors open onto a wide white wooden clapboard overhang, which looks onto the backyard and ocean view. That outdoor sitting area uses rattan furniture with cloth covered seating and colorful cushions for sitting and trellises of vines to act as dividers.
The backyard’s in-ground pool and hot tub are framed in flagstaff stone and laid out on a swath of lawn that resembles an English park – if English parks had pools and hot tubs. The yard is nestled on one side by a group of mature pear trees, while the hill on the other side of the house is about three times its height. There is a horse trail just a quarter mile away. There is a front courtyard as well, with a stone path surrounded by a cacophony of flowers that leads up to the front door and onto another deeper porch where you can dine.
With so much to do in the area, like walking through Catalina Island’s Two Harbors resort village, driving to that oft-filmed architectural wonder, the Griffith Observatory, experiencing Disneyland or taking in a classic Southern California hangout like Redondo Beach, a completely residential place like Rolling Hills provides a welcome retreat for vacationers, as well as for some horses.