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A History of La Habra Heights—part five in a series by Leila Langston

LHH: ‘The Second Beverly Hills’

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F. Harshton home on Kanola; and the Edwin G. Hart, Laura Scudder and O.O. Allen homes on Reposado. All of these home owners were respected leaders in their fields. Herman Smith founded Smith Industries International, Inc., and was known throughout the oil industry. Dema Harshbarger spearheaded such NBC programs as The Fred Allen Show and later became Hedda Hopper’s press agent. Harshbarger, originally from Chicago, stated that she came to the Heights after reading a National Geographic article citing La Habra Heights as one of the three most beautiful living spots in the world alongside locations in Italy and Africa. And, of course, Laura Scudder was “the potato chip and peanut butter queen.” Other celebrities who came to the Heights included author Kirby Page; Frank Church, the fight promoter who backed Fidel La Barba; Western film star Jack Holt; and fighter Todd Morgan. Of course, not all homes in the Heights were mansions and not all people living there were celebrities. But the people who came to La Habra Heights all displayed one strong characteristic: they wanted space and privacy, a fresh horizon of trees, mountains and valleys to contrast with crowded suburban tracts and city streets. Homes ranged from summer cottages and modest farmhouses to estates on spectacular view sites. Nearly all of them were custom-designed, and many were concealed in the irregular tree-covered terrain and accessible only by private roads. By the end of the 1930s, La Habra Heights had become known as a fine residential community. Approximately 2,000 of the original 3,500 acres owned by Hart had been divided into groves and spacious home parcels owned by about 1,800 residents from all parts of the United States. Sadly, in December 1939, Edwin G. Hart, the guiding force in the development of the Heights, was struck by an automobile in downtown Los Angeles and killed. Earlier that year, Hart had met with community leaders to make plans to assure the continued orderly development of the Heights and protection of its wonderful rural ambiance. However, from then on it would take consant vigilance to maintain the Heights’ unique character.

n 1930, Edwin G. Hart wrote this in a real estate brochure for La Habra Heights: “The Second Beverly Hills has started—already it is dotted with numerous suburban homes of the very finest type.” The brochure’s cover touted “suburban home and income lands only 45 minutes from 7th and Broadway.” Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, Hart subdivided and offered for sale parcels ranging in size from about two acres up to 20-plus acres. And he wasn’t exaggerating when his brochure advertised suburban luxury: these parcels were meticulously laid out so that each had a home site with sweeping views—city lights, hills, canyons, mountains or the ocean—with some locations offering views of both the mountains and the sea. Around 1930, the prices for these properties ranged from about $900 to $2,000 an acre, with buyers putting 20% down and paying the remainder in five equal annual payments. As a result, some magnificent homes were built in the Heights in the late ’20s and early ’30s, many of them constructed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style popular at the time. These showcases included the Herman and Delphine Smith house on La Riata; the Dema Harshbarger house on Avocado Crest; the P. J. Weisel and G.W. Beck homes on Fullerton Road; the Z.

Above: The drive leading to the Herman and Delphine Smith estate on La Riata (off West Road), circa 1929. Below: The home of key LHH developer Edwin G. Hart on Reposado, circa 1931.

Material for this article came from A History of La Habra Heights (1968) by the La Habra Heights Improvement Association and “La Habra Heights: Suburban Home and Income Lands,” a sales brochure prepared by Edwin G. Hart around 1930. Top left: Laura Scudder (seated; also see inset), the “potato chip and peanut butter queen,” relaxes in the living room of her Heights mansion, built in 1935. Bottom left: the sala de siesta in the John A. Smith home, constructed in 1934. All photos courtesy of the La Habra Heights Historical Society. 8

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LHH: The Second Beverly Hills  

A history of La Habra Heights

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