The Highlands in Pacific Palisades: A Community Decades in the Making

By FRANCES SHARPE | Editor-in-Chief

“MOUNTAIN LIVING BY THE SEA”

This was one of the first marketing slogans used in 1972 ads in the Palisadian-Post to sell homes and condos in what was then an exciting new development in Pacific Palisades – the Palisades Highlands.

The dream of developer W. Charles “Chuck” Chastain, the Highlands currently has about 1,800 homes and condos, but it almost didn’t get built.

In the 1960s, Chastain, as community manager for Sunset International Petroleum Corporation (SIPC), had a vision for a residential community nestled in the hills within the Santa Monica Mountains.

The initial 1966 Sunset/Mountain Park master plan included a futuristic 7,200 unit “urban nucleus.” The Post later said the design resembled a “concrete octopus.” Source: Palisadian-Post
The initial 1966 Sunset/Mountain Park master plan included a futuristic 7,200 unit “urban nucleus.” The Post later said the design resembled a “concrete octopus.”
Source: Palisadian-Post

The Arkansas-born developer, who had won the Golden Glove award as a boxer in 1941, said he and his team closed escrow on 3,550 acres of land in the area on Sept. 11, 1964.

The land was purchased from the Lantain Mountain Park Corporation for a reported $14 million, according to archive articles in the Palisadian-Post.

Negotiations ensued and Chastain ended up donating about 1,500 acres of that land to city, state and federal parklands, leaving him with about 2,000 acres upon which to build.

“I was going to call it Sunset/Mountain Park and there was going to be a 22-acre man-made lake,” said Chastain, now 91, of his initial master plan in a 2015 interview with the Palisadian-Post.

A January 13, 1966 article in the Post entitled “Sunset International to Unwrap ‘New Town’” reported that SIPC had created master plans for a 7,200 unit “urban nucleus” on 3,550 acres for a $250 million “new town” for about 21,600 residents.

That initial futuristic design won a national award for the Los Angeles architectural firm Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall (DMJM), but it was scrapped within a matter of months. Post articles published later that same year said the design resembled a “concrete octopus.”

The plans were scaled down to 4,371 dwelling units, which would house an estimated 13,113 people.

Plans would eventually be reduced even further.

“HILLSIDE PROJECT WINS SCATHING CRITICISM” 

“The community and several of my developer friends thought I was crazy to try to build condos in the Santa Monica Mountains,” said Chastain, who had previously developed Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley.

Opposition to the Sunset/Mountain Park project was fierce, and according to an April 14, 1966 article in the Post, delegates from 16 homeowner and civic organizations had resolved to “dig deeper” into the project’s master plan.

Councilman Marvin Braude argued vehemently against the development and its ‘refinement’ efforts to scale back the size and scope of the project.

An Oct. 20, 1966 article in the Post reported, “Councilman Braude does not feel the so-called ‘refinement’ is in the public interest after consulting with various homeowner groups in Pacific Palisades.”

Despite Braude’s attempt to halt the development, “opposition to SIPC’s proposed subdivision procedures went down in public-hearing flames,” reported the Post on Oct. 27, 1966.

The Highlands area in April 1973 before development.  Courtesy of Beverly and Kimberly Gold
The Highlands area in April 1973 before development.
Courtesy of Beverly and Kimberly Gold

By December, the Los Angeles City Council had voted to adopt the ‘refinement’ proposal.

More battles loomed for Chastain and the project, however.

Chastain re-named the project the Palisades Highlands in 1966 and had to give up on his lake plans due to a potential downstream problem that could have possibly caused flooding.

Design of the long, winding Palisades Drive that starts at Sunset Blvd. and cuts a swath through the mountainous terrain proved to be a major undertaking, according to Chastain.

“Securing all the entitlements was a two-year process. We finally got everything in 1968,” said the developer who spent months at a time living in Sacramento trying to obtain the permits and entitlements.

The Highlands Summit development in progress. Courtesy of Beverly and Kimberly Gold
The Highlands Summit development in progress.
Courtesy of Beverly and Kimberly Gold

Construction on Palisades Drive began in earnest that year.

At the same time, corporate changes led to SIPC’s exit from the project. In its place, Headland Properties took over the development with Chastain in the top spot as president of the company.

With the road finally in place, development began in 1971 on the area’s first condos – the Woodies – and on single-family homes on Avenida de Cortez, Avenida de Santa Ynez and Palisades Circle.

By 1972, the Woodies condos hit the market with a starting price of $45,900. List prices for the new homes on Avenida de Cortez, Avenida de Santa Ynez and Palisades Circle started at $66,900.

Ads promoting the new homes began appearing in the Post as early as Sept. 7, 1972.

“There’s a newborn community in Pacific Palisades by the sea: Palisades Highlands. When you enter this land of green-mantled slopes, trees, wildflowers and ocean-cooled climate, you’ll hardly believe you are still in Los Angeles,” read one of the ads.

The first sale was in November 1972, according to Chastain.

“At that time, condos in the hills or mountains were unheard of and let’s just say people weren’t flocking in droves to buy,” Chastain said.

Once the Woodies started selling, however, and people began to realize the advantages of living in the Highlands, the area started earning a reputation as a desirable neighborhood.

One of the next tracts to be built was the Country Estates in 1976. This guard-gated community boasted 60 lots that sold for prices starting at $59,950 and going up to about $250,000. A large number of the lots were sold to developers Spielman Fond while some went to other spec builders as well as to individual owners.

Celebrities Chevy Chase, a former Honorary Mayor of Pacific Palisades, and James Worthy of the Los Angeles Lakers, moved in, signaling that the Highlands had finally arrived as a highly sought-after neighborhood.

In the late 1970s, Headland Properties’ plans to continue building hit a snag with the Coastal Commission.

Headland had tried to get the state legislature to exempt its project from the Coastal Commission’s control, according to an LA Times article dated April 20, 1986.

The attempts failed and Headland was required to build 100 units of affordable housing at the corner of Palisades Drive and Sunset in order to obtain Coastal Commission permission to continue to develop additional homesites and townhomes. Ever since, these particular housing units, officially named Casa Gateway, have been referred to as “The Affordables.”

Condos and homes on Michael Lane followed and by the mid-1980s, construction began on the Palisades Hills homesites.

“WHERE COMING HOME FEELS LIKE GETTING AWAY”

This was one of the first slogans real estate agent Beverly Gold used to entice buyers to homes and homesites in the Highlands in 1987 when the exclusive and final community, The Summit, was released for sale.

(L to r) Real estate agents Kimberly and Beverly Gold, who have been selling properties in the Highlands for nearly three decades, stand at the Highlands street sign that bears their name: Paseo de Oro (“oro” means “gold” in Spanish). Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
(L to r) Real estate agents Kimberly and Beverly Gold, who have been selling properties in the Highlands for nearly three decades, stand at the Highlands street sign that bears their name: Paseo de Oro (“oro” means “gold” in Spanish).
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

From a trailer that served as an office situated on Calle Victoria, a small gated cul-de-sac in the Estates lots at The Summit, Beverly notched sale after sale.

In 1988, she sold to developers 16 lots known as The Collection for a total of $12.5 million and another group of 20 lots known as the Pointe for $20 million.

“That’s when I won the admiration and confidence of Chuck Chastain and Headland Properties, and I went on to list every subsequent tract in the Highlands after that,” Beverly told the Post.

She had been working for Jon Douglas at the time. Her services were deemed so invaluable to Headland Properties that the company wrote into its contract with the brokers that if Beverly ever left, they would leave with her.

Eventually, that’s exactly what happened. Beverly walked and Headland Properties, as well as all the other developers she was representing – Alta Mira, Sea Call and The Peninsula – all followed her to Fred Sands.

In her early days selling properties in the Highlands, Beverly’s daughter Kimberly Gold, who was a student at Palisades High School at the time, was a receptionist at the Jon Douglas Palisades office answering calls with an old-fashioned switchboard and headset.

“In those days, when a call came in, I would have to take a handwritten message for each agent and leave it in their slot because voicemail didn’t exist,” Kimberly said.

“During my time working at Jon Douglas company, I developed an interest in real estate,” Kimberly added.

Two years after graduating college, Kimberly got her real estate license and joined her mother’s team in 1995.

In the early 1990s, newspaper articles were predicting doom and gloom in the real estate market, but that wasn’t the case in the Highlands.

Beverly said in 1991, people camped overnight for a chance to snap up one of the award-winning SeaRidge townhomes, which started at $375,000. The second phase started at $409,000.

“Don’t miss your opportunity to share in the California Dream,” read one of Beverly’s marketing brochures for SeaRidge II.

W.C. “Chuck” Chastain, the developer of the Highlands, is on the left in this front-page article from the March 3, 1966 issue of the Post. Source: Palisadian-Post
W.C. “Chuck” Chastain, the developer of the Highlands, is on the left in this front-page article from the March 3, 1966 issue of the Post.
Source: Palisadian-Post

Today, the lowest priced townhome in SeaRidge, which is located at the bottom of Palisades Drive near Sunset Blvd., is about $1.3 or $1.4 million.

It was also then that Beverly relocated her sales office to the “crown jewel of The Summit,” the exclusive guard-gated Enclave, the final phase of the Highlands master plan where homes are currently selling in the $3 million to $13 million price range.

Alta Mira was the first Highlands development Kimberly worked on in 1995. The 56 homes in that community started at $629,000 for a four-bedroom, 3.5 bath unit with 2,874 square feet and went up to $710,000 for a five-bedroom, four-bath home in 3,200 square feet.

The latest Alta Mira home to sell in the recent past went for $1.675 million. The highest priced home sale in that neighborhood was just shy of $2 million, according to Kimberly.

From there, the mother-daughter duo went on to sell the Peninsula, the 49 homes that started in the $900,000 range and are now selling for over $2 million.

The Summit was the final community developed in the Highlands and Chuck Chastain admitted that it is his personal favorite.

That’s where you’ll find the street bearing his name – Chastain Parkway – as well as several others that are named for his family members, including Calle Brittany and Calle Haleigh.

Chastain even named one street in The Summit in honor of the Golds – Paseo de Oro (“oro” means “gold” in Spanish).

One of the first ads promoting homes in the Highlands appeared in the Sept. 7, 1972 issue of the Post. Source: Palisadian-Post
One of the first ads promoting homes in the Highlands appeared in the Sept. 7, 1972 issue of the Post.
Source: Palisadian-Post

“Chuck became like family to us,” said Beverly, who with her husband tries to visit Chastain about once a month at his home in Santa Clarita.

In 1997, Chastain and Headland Properties sold the last remaining 27 homesites to MetLife, and his job was done. After completing his work with the Highlands, he worked on developments in Santa Barbara and Mammoth, among others.

Today, the retired Chastain remains alert as ever with a sharp memory and an even sharper wit.

Ask him where he grew up and he’ll say, “I’m not sure I ever did.”

“ABOVE THE CLOUDS”

After almost three decades of selling homes in the Highlands, the Golds are surprised that so many Palisadian residents and even real estate agents today aren’t familiar with the community.

“We’ll get a buyer in an open house and they’ll ask, ‘Why didn’t my agent tell me about this house?’” Kimberly said.

The pair said that many people who buy in the Highlands stay in the Highlands and simply move from one area of the Highlands to another, depending on their needs.

“We’ve sold some of the same homes three, four or five times,” Kimberly said.

“It just warms our hearts to have watched so many of our clients start their family in the Highlands and continue our relationship as they go on to become empty nesters,” the Golds said.

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According to the Golds, it’s easy to see why people love the Highlands.

“You get twice as much for your money,” Beverly said. “A 3,600 square-foot house in the Alphabet Streets sells for about $3.6 million. In the Highlands, you can get 6,000 square feet for $3-$3.5 million.”

Kimberly added, “Plus they are newer communities with recreational facilities, such as the Summit Club, which has tennis courts, a swimming pool, gym and children’s park. It’s always sunny. Some days you can even see the fog creeping up the canyon, but you’re still above the clouds.”

Beverly and Kimberly have formed a partnership, Properties By Gold, and are proud associates with Gibson International in Pacific Palisades.