1890s: Farms and Estates
The transcontinental railroads reached Los Angeles in the 1880s, transforming it seemingly overnight from a dusty, brawling pueblo at the end of the trail to a bustling, prosperous town on its way to being one of America’s great metropolises. Neighborhoods grew up around the old pueblo, including the town of Hollywood, about six miles west of Los Angeles. A vast interurban railroad was also constructed across the region, including westward lines to Hollywood and the beach town of Santa Monica.
At the intersection of Santa Monica and San Vicente Boulevards, railroad entrepreneur Moses Sherman built a train yard that served as the service stop for the trolleys and as his corporate headquarters. A small town grew up around the yards which came to be known as Sherman, now known as West Hollywood. Family farms dotted the rolling hills north of Sherman, where the principal crops were avocados, poinsettias and melons. Today, the Sunset Strip cuts through that former farmland.
Two of the farms were quite large — big enough to be called country estates. One of these was due north of Sherman and straddled the present-day site of the Sunset Plaza commercial district midway along the Strip between Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The estate was owned by Victor Ponet, an emigrant from Belgian who became a wealthy banker, real-estate investor and developer. In the 1920s, Ponet’s heirs, the Montgomery family, developed Sunset Plaza which they still own and operate today. The original Ponet mansion, which was demolished long ago, sat in the northeast corner of Sunset and Sunset Plaza Drive.
The second estate occupied a tract north of Sunset Boulevard at Laurel Canyon Boulevard, about a mile east of the Ponet estate. Built in the late 19th century by Charles F. Harper, a Mississippian who moved to Los Angeles after the Civil War and made a fortune selling hardware, the family called the estate Cioela Vista but is generally remembered today as the Harper Ranch.
Charles Harper’s son, Arthur Cyprian Harper, who later inherited Cioela Vista, was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 1906. He was forced to resign in 1909, however, when he was threatened with a recall over corruption charges, including allegations he speculated on sugar and that he spent too much time in brothels.