Single-family home in Los Angeles, CA – 90003
Trulia Real Estate Search – Los Angeles
Single-family home in Los Angeles, CA – 90003
[Paving a street in Westwood during the Mattoon Act era. Photo courtesy of the LA Public Library.]
In 1939, a three day festival was held in the small Southern California community of Temple City. Events included a circus performance, a flower show, a children’s pet parade, and a pie eating contest. On Saturday, there was a grand parade featuring an equestrian show and something called a “phony money auction.” But this wasn’t your typical holiday festival. It was a bond-lifting jubilee, celebrating the city’s final freedom from the massive debt it had incurred as a result of a California law known as the Mattoon Act. In Temple City, the act had caused such chaos that the climax of the jubilee was a nighttime bond burning ceremony. And Temple City was not alone. Although it was repealed in 1933, the havoc the Mattoon Act wreaked on Southern California would be felt for years to come.
The Acquisition and Improvement Act—popularly called the Mattoon Act after its author, Los Angeles County Counselor Everett Mattoon—was passed by the California legislature in May of 1925. This sweeping bill promised to streamline and provide funding for the construction of needed public works. It made condemnation of property desired for public utilities quicker and easier. Most importantly, it gave enormous power to community authorities, including the right to create “improvement districts” that crossed city and county lines. For example, when a new sewer was needed in the eastern section of Pasadena and adjacent unincorporated communities, the area surrounding the sewer that would benefit from its construction was designated as an “improvement area” for that project. Bonds were then taken out to fund the construction of the sewer. Landowners in the improvement district would help pay off the bonds with a yearly ad valorem tax, and everyone’s toilets would be happy.
The passage of the bill was initially met with huge public support. Considered the “most constructive piece of legislation by this legislature,” the LA Times believed it would be the cure for:
Crowded roads, where one travels at a snail’s pace behind heavily loaded trucks, business districts crammed into narrow streets, subdivisions hastily and unwisely planned and great communities springing up without parks to provide breathing space or recreational facilities- which have been unfortunate by-products of the phenomenal growth of Los Angeles within the past ten years.
Millions of dollars worth of Mattoon Act Bonds were soon issued to pay for the construction of thousands of miles of new highways and roads in Southern California. The law was a boon for real estate developers, who used public funds to install street lamps, build parks, and widen and pave roads in their newly subdivided neighborhoods. For city councils, utility companies, and developers, the act was turning out to be a godsend.
But popular opinion quickly shifted. Buried deep within the legalese of the act were provisions inspired by the progressive, populist sentiment of the early twentieth century. These provisions, which were meant to foster community spirit, responsibility, and equality, soon backfired and gave power to a chosen few. Citizens in a given improvement area had no say in public works they were forced to pay for. Many homeowners found themselves in several improvement areas at one time and were required to pay taxes for them all. Even worse, if a landowner in a given improvement district failed to pay his ad valorem tax, it fell to the neighbors to pay the tax for him. Soon delinquent taxes were piling up on landowners all across Southern California. In October of 1926, a mass meeting was held at the Ambassador Hotel. It was filled with landowners residing west of Westlake who were furious that they were expected to shoulder two-thirds of the cost of widening Wilshire Boulevard, an improvement that would benefit the entire city of Los Angeles.
The act still had strong support from companies supplying raw materials and contractors who were making a killing off Mattoon-funded projects. But by 1928, many of the very industries that had supported the passage of the act had joined the public in calling for a change. According to the LA Times:
Objections to certain provisions of the Mattoon Act which have been voiced since the law was passed in 1925 have attained the proportions of a chorus of dissatisfaction in which the bankers, bond houses, building and loan associations, mortgage companies and real estate bodies are joining, each with their particular tune … The Mattoon Act has made some properties practically unsalable and financial houses refuse to make loans on the real estate coming under the act. Brokers are down to business this year in obtaining the amendments which their legislative committee has suggested. They will have headquarters in Sacramento where propaganda will be disseminated to obtain necessary amendments.
They had been swayed by the fact that smaller and newer communities like Lynwood, South Gate, Monrovia, Culver City, Inglewood, Temple City, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hawthorne, Bell, and Burbank found their growth dramatically slowed by excessive assessments. Delinquent taxes in the city of Monrovia skyrocketed between 1928 and 1929. In South Gate, homeownership “dropped from 90 percent in 1929, to 56.6 percent in 1930 and 54.6 percent in 1935.” Thousands of people lost their homes due to foreclosure caused by delinquent taxes. The stock market crash of 1929 only exacerbated an already bad situation. The feelings of frustrated homeowners were voiced in numerous letters to the editor like this one:
Too Much Mattoon Act
I live in a little suburban city, where we are cursed with excessive taxation, Mattoon Act and a quarrelsome city council. Our town is dead. Many have refused to pay taxes. Numerous 100-foot boulevards have been pushed through where they were not needed … I know a man who came here last week to buy a home. After riding over this beautiful country, said “this is fine.” After looking up the title, taxes, and street bonds and Mattoon Act, he said, “I will not buy a home or live in your town. You can’t give me a clear title. Too many liens will eat up the value of the property…”
Signed- THE OLD DOCTOR
Even Everett Mattoon, embarrassed to have the flawed bill associated with his name, called for the act’s reform as early as 1928. He eventually sponsored a bill calling for its repeal, blaming overzealous real estate promoters for abusing its contents. So angry were many in the LA community that when he rose to speak at one meeting regarding the act, he was almost not allowed to take the stage. Community action groups were formed and political careers ruined, yet it took years for the California legislature to adequately address the problem. Millions of dollars of improvements, including the expansion and widening of major thoroughfares like Atlantic Boulevard, Sepulveda Boulevard, and Manchester Avenue were completed under the act, even as the bonds used to pay for them remained unpaid.
The Mattoon Act was finally repealed, and bills were passed to help refund and relieve citizens and cities from excessive assessments and tax burdens. However, in 1935, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Mattoon Act had been valid, which meant that cities and tax payers were still obligated to pay off the bonds. Various targeted relief plans were put into action, including a gas tax that was used to pay off road bonds. Landowners were given final sums that they could settle with cash. These moves were considered urgent:
Rapid relief of districts which were burdened under the inequitable liens created under the Acquisition and Improvement District Act of 1925 … is a highly important factor in improving basic business conditions not only in the districts directly affected but also in the Los Angeles area as a whole.
By the late 1930s, many communities finally found themselves fully relieved of the debt incurred under Mattoon Act Bonds. It was reported that civic pride, lending for homeownership, and real estate values skyrocketed in areas once stigmatized as improvement districts. New real estate tracts were rapidly opened and, a few years later, the post-war boom would turn many of the small communities once stifled by the Mattoon Act into thriving cities. Niche improvement districts are currently legal in California for both business and tourism areas. But they have little to do with the freewheeling Mattoon Act, which has become an afterthought, a relic from a much more naïve and optimistic time.
— Special thanks to Paul Spitzerri at the Workman-Temple Family Homestead Museum
· My Blue Heaven by Becky M. Nicolaides
· How One Ohio Native Became the Mother of Hollywood [Curbed LA]
· The Rise and Fall of One Architect’s Modern Torrance Utopia [Curbed LA]
· Curbed Features [Curbed LA]
SELLERS: Benedict Silverman
LOCATION: New York City, NY
PRICE: $ 38,000,000
SIZE: 7,000-ish square feet, 7 bedrooms, 7.5 bathrooms
YOUR MAMAS NOTES: Listen, children, Your Mama has the in-laws in town so we’re a bit ocupado for most of the day but before we trot off to watch a whole bunch of professional tennis players whack a yellow ball around a green court we thought we’d offer the children a few snaps and the floor plan for a quardruplex penthouse in New York City that was once part of a much larger quintuplex penthouse created in the late 19-teens by lavish living newspaperman William Randolph Hearst.
In the early part of the 20th century Mister Hearst leased the top three floors of 137 Riverside Drive to use as a private residence overlooking the might Hudson River. He later requested the building’s owner for more space but he was rebuffed. So, like any self-respecting captain of industry with more money than he knows what to do with, he went ahead and purchased the entire building for $ 950,000 and—so the story goes—proceeded to add a copper mansard to the building’s top that was 100 feet long and 30 feet tall where displayed his vast collection of medieval tapestries and suits and armor and such. Mister Hearst, who b lost the building (and his five floor penthouse) in 1930 to foreclosure—by then the magnate had relocated to Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA—and the super-sized urban aerie was eventually broken up into smaller apartments.
In the 1990s about 7000 square feet of various units that once comprised Mister Hearst’s megamansion in the sky—along with about 7,000 square feet of private terraces—were bought up by real estate financier and art collector Benedict Silverman who, in case you like a little depth to your real estate story, a couple years ago made headlines in the art world when he began to exhibit and sell off his extensive collection of 20th-century German and Austrian artworks including paintings by Egon Schiele, Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Gustav Klimt. Impressive stuff. Anyways…
1411 sqft, 3 beds, 2 baths, single-family home in Los Angeles, CA – Jefferson
Trulia Real Estate Search – Los Angeles
[Original photo via Flying Pigeon]
Lists of ridiculous laws have probably been circulating since the invention of the internet, but somehow, this one’s successfully stayed below the radar (and mysteriously on the books). It’s illegal to “play ball or any game of sport with a ball or football or throw, cast, shoot or discharge any stone, pellet, bullet, arrow or any other missile, in, over, across, along or upon any street or sidewalk or in any public park, except on those portions of said park set apart for such purposes” in Los Angeles, Flying Pigeon bike shop co-owner/activist/blogger Josef Bray-Ali points out. (It’s also in the “public hazards” section of the municipal code.) So, basically, nothing fun is allowed in the streets or outside of specially designated park zones (e.g. sports fields). What is this, Footloose? Bray-Ali suggests that a “Legalize Playing” lobby be formed (“I can’t believe how ridiculous we are that we need a lobby to make playing legal in LA”) to convince the City Council to repeal the law. “It’s either that, or childhood remains illegal in Los Angeles.”
· Playing ball in Los Angeles is illegal [FP]
1394 sqft, 3 beds, 3 baths, single-family home in Los Angeles, CA – Cheviot Hills
Trulia Real Estate Search – Los Angeles
They’re digging up dead racehorses over at Inglewood’s Hollywood Park Racetrack, which closed at the end of last year so it can be bulldozed and replaced with a huge multi-use development. There are apparently a few great racehorses buried at the track; Native Diver was a black colt who won 34 stakes and still co-holds the record most Hollywood Gold Cup wins, according to the LA Times. He died in 1967, at the age of eight, from colic, and was buried at Hollywood Park beneath an enormous monument by prolific/fantastic Southern California artist/designer Millard Sheets. Richard Shapiro, whose grandfather owned Native Diver, says “You couldn’t leave a horse like this beneath a real estate development,” so he called in some USC archaeologists (and their students) and yesterday they got to digging. The remains and the monument will be moved to Del Mar racetrack in San Diego.
According to Blood-Horse, there are two other horses set to be moved from their graves at Hollywood Park: undefeated filly Landaluce will go to her birthplace, Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky, and Great Communicator is being claimed by his trainer, who hopes to move him to Santa Anita Park or Del Mar.
· A legendary racehorse will get a new resting place [LAT]
· Massive Hollywood Park Redevelopment Finally Beginning [Curbed LA]