Huntington Palisades McCormick Estate History

By Michael Edlen
Special to the Palisades News

In 1928, a 13-acre site at the southern end of Alma Real was sold for $365,000, supposedly the highest price ever paid for a residential lot in the United States.

Actually, the parcel consisted of 14 separate lots overlooking the ocean and Potrero Canyon. The buyer was Virginia McCormick, the eldest child of Cyrus and Nancy McCormick, who controlled the International Harvester Company. Virginia’s primary residence at that time was in Pasadena, and the Palisades site was to be a “summer home.”

The eventual complex included 100 rooms in six buildings, maintained by a staff of 30 people. Connected to the main house by extensive gardens and paths were a theater, complete guest house, gardener’s cottage, garage with servants’ quarters, a laundry and a large swimming pool.

McCormick loved music and engaged local and European musicians to perform in her theater. She even hired full orchestras to appear at private concerts.

Music was so central to her life that she hired a young lady from Santa Monica to play specific pieces on one of the five grand pianos each evening, with instructions to begin at the exact time Miss McCormick came down the stairs for dinner.

The property above the mouth of Potrero Canyon was unstable even in the 1920s. Even though engineers made creative and costly efforts to remove moisture from the soil below this site, it suffered from land- slides by 1932. Some of the main structures did survive and were gradually sold off as a few separate properties many years later.

McCormick had never married, had no children, and was said to have been mentally unbalanced from the age of 19. When she passed in 1941 without leaving a will, administrators auctioned her furnishings to settle the estate.

The property was valued at $1.75 million in 1944 when the United States Shipping Board took it over with a one-year lease, and turned it into a rest home for 69 merchant seamen.

Within a few months of the announcement of the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, the government closed the facility.

Most of the walls along Alma Real still remain today, as do many of the trees planted in the 1929-32 period.

(Editor’s note: Much of this information was derived from Randy and Betty Lou Young’s book, Pacific Palisades: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea.)

Michael Edlen has been following the history of the Palisades for decades and tracks market trends and statistics in an effort to educate the community and his clients. He has worked with over 1,300 buyers and sellers and earned more than $1.5 billion in home sales. He can be reached at (310) 230-7373 or michael@michaeledlen.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *