A Brief History of Neighborhood Church
A Brief History of Neighborhood Church
John Joseph Haggarty was a wealthy department store owner who immigrated from England in 1887. He founded the New York Cloak and Suit House (dba Haggarty's) in 1905. In 1912 he built a mansion at 3330 West Adams, which was the hub of Los Angeles high society at the time, and later built a weekend house on the shore in Long Beach at 1800 East Ocean. Not satisfied with just two houses, in the mid-1920's he heard about this new development called Palos Verdes and purchase 5 lots along the bluff on a dirt street called Paseo Del Mar. He retained a then well-know architect named Armand Monaco to design a 15,000 square foot Florentine villa that included 4 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, a 6 car garage, 2 waterfalls, a large pool, a pier, and servant's quarters. Permits were granted on January 21, 1928 and construction began. Believe it or not, the place was completed the following October at a cost of $750,000, which was a chunk of change in 1928. It was lavishly decorated with antique tapestries and hand-painted murals on the walls and ceilings.
Unfortunately wife Bertha never liked the place -- it was simply too far from all her friends in West Adams, and tho they came 4 times during construction, they never moved in. Then the Depression hit, Haggarty's business went downhill rapidly, and he was forced to sell the place in 1931. Something went awry with that sale and he took title back a few months later and, in 1933 sold to one John Thistle, who immediately purchased the two lots to the west of the original 5. In 1936 Thistle sold to one Harvey Wheeler, a principal with the London Exploration Company out of Chicago. What London had to do with Chicago remains a mystery. Meanwhile, J J Haggarty passed away in 1935. There are credible rumors that he hung himself no doubt due to depression at his reversal of fortune.
Harvey Wheeler (we knew him as Harry) also never moved into the house, but kept his extensive art collection in it. Just after World War II Mr Wheeler died and the place went on the market for the then huge price of $250,000. By this time it had been neglected and was in disrepair. There were no takers.
The first church in Palos Verdes had been founded in the late 1920's and had been meeting in the homes of local residents. They referred to it as The Neighborhood Church. In the late 1930's it outgrew the homes and began meeting in the auditorium of Malaga Cove School. After the War, the Church began to grow rapidly, as did Malaga Cove School, which in 1949 announced a plan to turn the auditorium into classrooms, thus rendering it unusable as a church sanctuary. So the Church began looking for a permanent home. Many sites were considered, but the old mansion down on the bluff was still sitting there unsold. In 1950 the congregation had a meeting and tour of the mansion to decide if they wanted to try to buy it. The congregation approved by a narrow vote, and members who could afford to ponied up money for a down payment. Notable members who participated were were Cecil DeMille's costume and set designer Ralph and Lois Jester, first PVE City Councilman Dennis and Hazel Smith, Judge Donald and Gracie Armstrong, and others. Dennis Smith mortgaged his house on Via Palomino to come up with $10,000 to contribute. My parents threw in $500, which would have made their house payments for a year. They were able to raise $60,000 and an offer was put together with the $60K as downpayment and the London Exploration Company carrying the balance. A few months later, a reply was received that they would take the $60K as payment in full, and the Church now owned it.
There were then two issues: a) the place was a real fixer, and b) the zoning was residential. Immediately after escrow closed, the City sent word that they would not allow its use as a church. This was not good, but there were some very influential members in those days, among whom were Ralph Jester, Ethyl Barrymore, and City Councilman Dennis Smith, and Gracie Armstrong, and the arm-twisting began. Meanwhile there was a huge (as you can imagine) estate sale at the mansion, at which most of the furnishings and the borderline pornographic "art collection" of Harvey Wheeler were sold off to raise money to fix the place up. Remember this was right after the War and few people had much money. The two lots to the west were also sold at this time.
In the late summer of 1952 the City finally relented and passed a Conditional Use Permit allowing the building to be used as a church. On December 5, 1952, the first service was held at the now-iconic Neighborhood Church.
Dana Graham, real estate expert, historian, PV Native and you can find Dana at www.danagraham.com