It’s hard to tell from appearances whether there’s a lot of history in Playa del Rey. Some buildings look old, most do not.
I feel like I shou ld be able to tell the difference having spent the greater part of my undergraduate years studying architecture history.
It’s undeniable that if there’s a lack of history in Playa del Rey, quaintness makes up for it.
“Where Mayberry meets the sea,” is what long-time resident and Playa del Rey property manager, Mark Schroeder said about our Playa.
I have seen some architecture that looks historic. One of the first buildings that caught my eye after moving here is the two-story building at 200 Culver Blvd. It’s beige stucco and sits right at the corner of Culver Boulevard and Vista del Mar.
According to Michael Choy, manager of Outlaws Restaurant, which shares a parking lot with the 200 Culver Blvd. building, it is, in fact, on the register of National Historic Landmarks.
I’ve also heard that the oldest house in Playa del Rey is planted on the hill that overlooks Culver Boulevard at the intersection of Vista del Mar.
The house in question is covered with wooden clapboards and topped with a peaked, A-line shingled roof. It looks positively Colonial and perfectly Craftsman with oversized picturesque windows that look out over the beach and downtown Playa del Rey.
I imagine it was probably the only thing out here when it was built. Now it is just one of many houses clustered on the crowded hillside.
I went searching for the history of the reputed oldest house in Playa del Rey.
My first stop was the offices of ERA Matilla Realty in the shopping center across Culver Boulevard from the first old building I mentioned, which is where I met Mark Schroeder.
I figured if anyone would know about houses in the area, historic or otherwise, it would be a realty and property management company.
Schroeder, who shares an office with Janis Matilla, of the husband and wife Matilla team, is a veritable historian of Playa del Rey. Not only has he taken a keen interest in the history of the area, but he has also lived in Playa del Rey since the 1960s.
Schroeder told me that Playa del Rey has changed a lot in the last 50 years. He remembers when neighborhoods still lined the hills south of Westchester Parkway as you’re driving south on Vista del Mar.
He remembers when the homes and businesses were bought in a land acquisition deal to develop Los Angeles International Airport and subsequently torn down, including Schroeder’s high school.
And the only remnants that are visible to me are the overgrown grass and the cracked pavement, which used to be residential streets.
When I asked about the oldest house in Playa del Rey, Schroeder gave me a brief history lesson of the smaller of the two oldest houses, which sits on the hill just yards below the oldest house in Playa del Rey.
According to Schroeder, Howard Hughes once owned the house, which he bought along with a thousand acres of undeveloped land, which encompasses current day Playa Vista and parts of Playa del Rey.
According to Schroeder and local historian D.J. Dukesherer’s book on Playa del Rey, there is a rich history of the area that began with the native Americans who settled, farmed and grazed cattle on the expansive wetlands. That history continued with steady housing and business development through the 19th and 20th centuries with such notable figures as Howard Hughes acquiring vast tracts of land for later development.
According to Schroeder, there is no shortage of history here. Before I left the ERA Matilla Realty offices, he pointed to an old photograph on the wall near the front door, dated from the 1920s, depicting my favorite two-story stucco building across the street in its original glory with its original façade.
Coincidentally the original business housed in that building was a real estate company called Dickinson and Gillespie, which sold some of the original Playa del Rey properties to the original homeowners.