Issue: Discover Hollywood Fall 2019

Hancock Part: A Place Apart

Keldine Hull

The year was 1848, and the dust from the two-year Mexican-American War had just settled. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo saw the addition of 525,000 square miles to United States territory, including the land that made up present-day California.                                                             

Although the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo assured that Mexican-era land acquired before the onset of the war would be honored, Congress passed the California Land Act in 1851 to review the validity of land titles. Hearings continued for five years as rancho owners had to prove their legal right to vast amounts of land once sectioned off by boulders, trees or streams.

On June 6, 1828, the Mexican government granted Rancho La Brea, first discovered in 1769 during the Portola Expedition, to Antonio José Rocha, Mr. Gordon, and Nemesis Dominguez, who transferred his share to Antonio José Rocha. Antonio passed away, leaving behind a widow, two sons and a daughter.

After failed attempts to prove their claim to the 4,400 acres that made up Rancho La Brea, the Rocha family enlisted the aid of lawyer and surveyor, Henry Hancock. The Rochas eventually won their claim to the Mexican Land Grant, but years of legal expenses took a financial toll on the family. José Jorge Rocha, son of Antonio José Rocha, deeded two-thirds of Rancho La Brea, which included what would be later known as the La Brea Tar Pits, to Henry Hancock in 1870. His brother, John Hancock, had also acquired deeds to portions of Rancho La Brea throughout the 1860’s. By 1877, John Hancock was formally granted 1,200 acres, and 2,400 acres when to Henry Hancock.

To compensate the former US Senator Cornelius Cole for successfully litigating the land grant title before the Supreme Court, he was deeded one-tenth of the property—500 acres. United States Senator Cornelius Cole received 500 acres for his legal services during the litigation process. Cole named his share Colegrove which was land from Sunset Blvd to Rosewood and Gower to Seward.

Following Henry Hancock’s death in 1883 at the age of 61, his wife, Ida Hancock, was left with 2,400 acres of land steeped in debt. American born with royal roots, Ida’s determination saved her family and the ranch from financial ruin. In 1900, Ida secured a 24- year drilling lease with the Salt Lake Company, and her son, Captain George Allan Hancock, joined the company.

With financial help from Ida, George Allan started   his own oil company, La Brea Oil. By 1907 the company was bringing in $1,000 a day in revenue. Ida became the wealthiest woman in Los Angeles and known for her philanthropy.

It was George Allan who was the driving force behind the subdivision and development of Rancho La Brea and preservation of its tar pits for scientific use. In 1910, new homes in Windsor Square and Fremont Place neighborhoods began to take shape. By 1921, the Hancock Park development from Rossmore west to Highland formed one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

Today, Hancock Park rests unfazed by the growing, commercialized cities that surround it. Lush trees and sweeping, idyllic homes with front yards and porch lights make up a charming community set apart from almost any other neighborhood in Los Angeles.  

According to Richard Battaglia, president of the Windsor Square—Hancock Park Historical Society, “As the city moved west from busy and commercial downtown, some of the mansions that lined Wilshire Boulevard were moved to Hancock Park and Windsor Square. The houses were cut in half and moved on wheels to the new location.”

While many homes were moved to Hancock Park, most of the homes were designed by some of the most prolific and sought-after architects of the day such as Raymond Kennedy, who designed the Chinese Theatre and Bullocks Wilshire’s Jon and Donald Parkinson. In 1923, Paul Revere Williams was the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Williams became well- known for designing thousands of homes throughout Los Angeles, including homes for legendary entertainers as Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra.

Hancock Park’s diverse architecture and ties to some of California’s most powerful families went hand in hand. “The Getty family had a few homes in the area including what is now used for the Mayor’s residence on 6th and Irving,” Battaglia continued. The Getty House was built in 1921. Through the years, John Barrymore and Dolores Costello, silent screen star rented the home. In 1958, the Getty Oil Company bought the property. Among the tenants was Lee Strasberg, Artistic Director of the Actors Studio and the mastermind behind “method acting.” In 1977, the Getty Oil Company donated the property to the City of Los Angeles to serve as the main residence for the mayor. Tom Bradley was the first mayor to live at the Getty House from 1977 to 1993.

In addition to the Getty family, the Dockweilers, Duques, Chandlers, Ahmansons and Bannings also had early ties to Hancock Park, ushering in a long line of prominent Angelenos.

Abul KM Haque was the first Bengali to move to Los Angeles prior to Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in the early 1970’s. He was a highly-revered member of the Bengali community, paving the way for others to follow and helping to establish their lives in Los Angeles. Haque was an accountant for the Ambassador Hotel and in 1985, moved his family into a spacious home near Larchmont Village.

His youngest son, Munir Haque, reminisces about growing up in Hancock Park. “I would ride my bike around the neighborhood with my friends, and it was really cool to see this old Los Angeles architecture that you didn’t really see outside of Hancock Park. It was this pocket community where time stood still.”

Haque also recalls when he and his father ran into Natalie Cole at the bank and struck up a conversation with her. Haque continues, “After she left I said, ‘Dad, how do you know Natalie Cole?’ He said, ‘Everyone knows Natalie Cole.’”

Home to numerous celebrities throughout its history, Hancock Park’s ties to Tinseltown go as far back as the rise and fall of the silent film era and beginning of talkies. Its connection to central Hollywood to the 1800s.

Other celebrities and entertainers who called Hancock Park home include Judy Garland, Howard Hughes, Patricia Heaton, Shonda Rhimes, Sean Hayes, Leonard Cohen, Kathy Bates and Megan Markle. Nat King Cole moved into Hancock Park in the late 1940’s, integrating a neighborhood that at one point intentionally excluded blacks and Jews. A milestone at the time.

As the city changes, Hancock Park remains the same, defined by its ties to the past in a time when more and more of the city’s history is being replaced with high rises and parking lots. Neighborhoods tell stories, and Hancock Park will always have a story to tell. “You see your neighbor, you see the kids that your kids went to school with who are now adults and you can’t believe it,” Battaglia continues. “There’s a continuity within the neighborhood.”   DH