By 1882, ownership of the land had passed from the Sepulveda family through various mortgage holders to Jotham Bixby of Rancho Los Cerritos, who leased the land to Japanese farmers. Frank Vanderlip, representing a group of wealthy east coast investors, purchased 25 square miles of land on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 1913 for $1.5 million. In 1914, Vanderlip vacationed at Palos Verdes in order to recover from an illness, and he was astounded by scenery he compared to "the Sorrentine Peninsula and the Amalfi Drive." He quickly initiated development of Palos Verdes. He hired the Olmsted Brothers, the landscaping firm of John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., to plan and landscape a new subdivision. The Olmsted Brothers contracted Koebig & Koebig to perform engineering work, including surveying and road planning. However, the project stalled as World War I started, and Vanderlip accepted a chairmanship to the War Savings Committee in Washington, D.C. in 1916.
By 1921, Vanderlip had lost interest in overseeing development of Palos Verdes and enticed Edward Gardner Lewis to take over the project with an option to buy the property for $5 million. Lewis was an experienced developer, but lacked the capital to purchase and develop Palos Verdes. Instead, he established a real estate trust, capitalizing the project through the sale of notes which were convertible to Palos Verdes property. Under the terms of the trust, Lewis sought to raise $30 million for infrastructure improvements, effectively borrowing from investors for both the land and the improvements. He succeeded in attracting $15 million in capital, but far short of the $35 million needed. The trust dissolved and ownership of Palos Verdes reverted to Vanderlip.
Vanderlip established a new real estate trust to purchase 3,200 acres from his land syndicate and establish the subdivision of Palos Verdes Estates. The new trust assumed not just the land, but also the improvements made by Lewis. They were not complete, but they were substantial: improvements included many sewers, water mains, and roads; landscaping, parks, and a golf course. They opened Palos Verdes for public inspection in June 1923. Palos Verdes Estates was organized and landscaped by the Olmsted Brothers and in their planning, they dedicated a quarter of the land area to permanent open undeveloped space.
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