The San Fernando Valley was the breadbasket of Los Angeles growing citrus, wheat, corn and cattle as the city expanded.
That changed in the 1920s with the town of Girard, an ambitious subdivision by the self-proclaimed "human dynamo" Victor Girard. Equal parts visionary and scoundrel, the not-so-modest land developer saw big potential and even bigger profits in the agricultural fields of the southwestern San Fernando Valley. In 1922, Girard set out to create his namesake and transform a cow pasture into a Moorish-themed country getaway with nothing more than a promise and other people's money.
Girard recognized the same potential in the San Fernando Valley and organized the Boulevard Land Company to purchase a section of land in the southwestern corner of the Valley in 1922. Tucked into the Santa Monica Mountains at the intersection of Topanga Canyon and Ventura Boulevards, its location was perfect. Both roads were already established routes and frequented by sightseeing Angelenos driving up the coast from Santa Monica, through Topanga Canyon and back along Ventura Boulevards.
In planning the new community, Girard wanted to step away from the area's agricultural past and create "small hillside country estates." Small was the key word in this description as he proceeded to carve 6,828 lots out of 2,886 acres during a time when the typical Valley lot was no less than 80 acres. Never one for modesty, he named the new community after himself and declared "San Fernando cities [welcome] with open arms the new town of Girard."
The buildings and towers were designed in a Moorish style because he "desired to give the old Mission style of architecture a rest." The buildings straddled Topanga Canyon and extended along the south side of Ventura Boulevard. But this "Turkish City" was a mirage, many of the buildings nothing more than false storefronts. Basically sets, the buildings were empty and were only constructed to give those driving by the illusion of a busy town center.
Would-be buyers could purchase an undeveloped parcel for as little as $500, or choose from a small selection of houses that would be constructed on the lot of their choice. With an advertised "marvelous view," $1,625 bought a four-room house that could be designed in the Moorish style Girard loved so much. However, the most common pick was a small cabin that sold for $985.
Sometimes placed on lots as small as 50 by 125 feet, the cabins were in line with Girard's standards and thus constructed with cheap materials and wooden foundations that sat directly on the ground. The sales team shared Girard's approach and used whatever methods necessary to close the deal. They accepted nearly anything for a down payment, even watches. Frequently salesmen sold the same prime lot as many as 15 times to unsuspecting buyers, who were later surprised when they received the deed for a different piece of land. Yet somehow the small community took hold and began to grow in its first two years.
Development in the San Fernando Valley and Woodland Hills exploded after World War II, and over the years most of Girard's contributions have disappeared, except for a few of the original cabins and the renamed Woodland Hills Country Club. Victor Girard laid low following the fall out, eventually (and improbably) returning to real estate and developing properties until his death in 1954.
Although he never again developed anything as large as Girard, he continued to prophesy the future of real estate in Los Angeles. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in 1939, he predicted, "I'll tell you what I see; I see a Greater Los Angeles solid to the Pacific and reaching back to the valleys."