"perpetual and binding forever"
Race and the Creation of a
Los Angeles Subdivision


Cheviot Knolls, located in West Los Angeles, is a cozy, 120-home community, as picturesque as the other subdivisions that share the Cheviot Hills location. Its modest, classic homes and tree-lined streets make it a frequent location for film and television productions. It has been a highly desirable place to live from the time homes were first built there 80 years ago.

The creation of Cheviot Knolls is the subject of this exhibit. The property, then known as Tract 11556, was purchased in 1938, with home construction starting in 1939. The number one factor in ensuring the success of the subdivision was for the developers to gain the approval of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHA approval meant that it would insure the mortgages banks might issue on new homes. This was as important to the developers of Cheviot Knolls as it was to hundreds of other subdivisions and growing neighborhoods across the country. Even as the country was dealing with the worst financial crisis in its history, the FHA made home ownership possible for countless Americans. But, overwhelmingly, those American were White Americans, and the subdivisions and neighborhoods were nearly all one hundred percent White. This was engineered by the FHA, and the FHA made sure that these neighborhoods would stay that way forever.

The FHA came into existence only a few years before Cheviot Knolls. Along with its sister organization, the Home Owners Loan Corporation(HOLC), the FHA essentially weaponized the federal government's long-held and pernicious racial attitudes, extending and deepening inequalities and segregation. The FHA seemed to find any non-White race suspect, but it had a particular animus toward African Americans. The effects of these attitudes, and particularly the policies, have been long-lasting and devastating to communities of color.

There is little evidence of any neighborhood publicly or privately objecting to these attitudes, nor to crafting the restrictions the FHA demanded. The developers of Cheviot Knolls are no exception. They are business people, doing what is right for business. It is the very embodiment of systemic racism.

This exhibit is based largely on documents in the Rancho San Pedro Collection, located in the Gerth Archives & Special Collections at California State University, Dominguez Hills. The Francis Land Company, the developers of Cheviot Knolls, are one of the many Dominguez family-related companies that grew out of the Rancho San Pedro, one of the first of the great Spanish ranchos.  As with many archival collections, some parts of the story exist in great detail, while other parts are missing or sketchy at best. These have been supplemented with other primary and secondary sources, primarily to show the context in which the Cheviot Knolls subdivision came into being. While it attempts to be an accurate and representative picture of the process and the time, some may question the analyses and conclusions. All comments, commentary, and corrections are welcome.

A note about the materials: many of the documents are office copies, usually carbon copies. As such, they are not always of the most legible quality. Also, the only practical way to display them is in PDF format, which may not always show well in certain browsers. If it appears that the document is not there, please mouse over the space where it should be. An indicator will display with a note for Source File. If you click on that, it will open the document in your PDF viewer, where you can also enlarge it to make it more legible.

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