Yes, Suh! A slice of Old Virginia is being reborn in Rolling Hills…the spirit of 18th century Virginia architecture is being authentically recaptured in the creation of fourteen charming homes, each on a full 1 ¼ acre view site. Not just a place to live —but a way of living.
A.E. Hanson designed advertising brochure for Williamsburg Lane in the Rolling Hills Development, circa 1930s.
America’s romance with historic architecture persisted through the start of WW II. Tens of thousands of Spanish-revival buildings, Gothic-style banks and half-timber English cottages were built in towns and cities across the country. In 1926 a new “historic imagery” became popular when William A.R. Goodwin, a professor at the College of William and Mary, convinced Standard Oil Company heir, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to restore Virginia’s decaying Colonial capital at Williamsburg. The resulting restoration furthered many of Rockefeller’s personal philosophies as well as the oil company’s goal to increase the use of petroleum products by encouraging automobile travel. The restoration became a cultural phenomenon. Hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles were written and Williamsburg appeared on printed maps as one of the country’s “must-see” educational stops. Colonial Williamsburg became the inspiration for furniture, fabrics, assorted home accoutrements and residential architecture at every price point. Now considered a sanitized version of 18th century life, early promoters heralded it as a “great undertaking calculated to impress on the American people an important and authentic picture of Colonial life and culture.” (Arts & Decoration. May 1940)
Pioneer landscaper A.E. Hanson began his career in Southern California in the early 1920s as a “tree mover.” Combining innovative planting techniques with product guarantees, he quickly became the go-to-person for large residential projects for the nouveau riche of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. (Geraldine Knight Scott, Oral History, University of California, 1976) In 1932 Hanson expanded his range by becoming the General Manager for the Palos Verdes Corporation. His projects now included the newly developed Rolling Hills and Hidden Hills communities.
During the Great Depression initial sales in Rolling Hills and Hidden Hills were disappointing but Hanson quickly developed a new sales strategy. In 1938 he and company president, Frank A. Vanderlip Jr., crossed the country in a well-publicized airplane trip “to gather data as to trend of realty and building conditions.” (Los Angeles Times. November 13, 1938) This fact-finding trip included Williamsburg, which Hanson trumpeted as a “seventh heaven…living history every American family…with children could have the opportunity to travel…and see how America really started.” (A.E. Hanson. Rolling Hills: The Early Years, 1978) Hanson decided to capitalize on the country’s growing fascination with Colonial history and approached Paul R. Williams to recreate a “village lane” of 14 small Williamsburg inspired homes for Rolling Hills.
When Hanson shared his concept for Williamsburg Lane with Williams, the architect was already known for his proficiency in adapting historic styles for modern California living. Hanson and Williams had collaborated on a number of large high-end residential projects and the men trusted each other’s work ethic and aesthetic. (Architectural Resources Group, Inc. Garden Apartments of Los Angeles. 2013) During his visits to Williamsburg, the developer had taken hundreds of detailed photographs and asked Williams to design a unified street plan and four prototypes using these details. Each house was to be constructed of wood and painted white. Though the entire length of the lane was only 1,400 feet, each house would sit on a 1-1/4 acre lot. To further the Colonial theme, Hanson dictated that a white picket fence be included along the entire length of Williamsburg Lane.
Each of Williams’ final designs incorporated scores of the Colonial elements Hanson captured in his original inspiration photographs. The styles were described in promotional brochures as having “the air of quiet dignity, of harmony and beauty” and was so faithful to the originals it “might have been transplanted in its entirety from historic old Williamsburg.” Like many of his estate size projects, Williams carefully sited these smaller homes to have unique views of the surrounding countryside from every window. With FHA financing and a cost of $8875 for the land and home, all the lots were under contract within a short time. Hanson’s strategy had succeeded.
The W.D. Bower family was one of the earliest to move to Williamsburg Lane. An up-and-coming bank manager, Bower was part of the new wave of middle–class home owners emerging from the Great Depression that Hanson appealed to as buyers. These new consumers shopped for value, modern conveniences and the security of an historic style. The Bower's three bedroom, two bath home was a reflection of these new social aspirations. Early sales pamphlets pictured the family of three gardening or sitting comfortably in the living room. The Bowers described their home as “a charming adaptation of traditional type” reflecting the “needs and luxuries appropriate to these modern times.”