The Francis Land Company
Maria Jesus de Los Reyes Dominguez de Francis (1847-1933), or Reyes, as she was called, was the youngest of the six sisters who inherited the historic Rancho San Pedro in 1883. In 1892 Reyes married John F. Francis, a transplanted Iowan whose inherited wealth grew through his canny investments in Los Angeles banking and real estate. The fortune Francis left Reyes upon his death in 1903 made her wealthy, and with the discovery of oil on her Rancho properties in the 1920s, Reyes became one of the richest women in the United States. As she reached her 80s, Reyes grew uncomfortable with her great wealth and weary of the constant demands family and others made upon it. She turned to her personal lawyer, celebrated Los Angeles attorney Henry O’Melveny, to find a way to dispose of it. Her original intention was to give it away to family and friends so that she could see them enjoy it during the last years of her life.
O’Melveny, who had managed Reyes’s affairs throughout her widowhood, consulted tax attorneys and found that the direct gifts Reyes imagined would create a tax nightmare for the family. Instead, he decided to form a holding company to manage Reyes’s wealth in a way that would minimize taxes, and the Francis Land Company was incorporated August 1, 1928. Though the Articles of Incorporation would list a number of potential areas of business, its main purpose was the first one listed in the Articles: “to take, acquire, buy, hold, own, maintain, work, develop, sell, convey, lease, mortgage, exchange, improve and otherwise deal in and dispose of real estate and real property or any interest and rights therein.”
Following Reyes’s death in 1933, the Francis Land Company continued to manage her holdings, and in terms of its primary purpose, it became more active, becoming interested in purchasing and developing Tract 11556, an attractive West Los Angeles property adjacent to the already-developed Cheviot Hills. Though the properties immediately surrounding Tract 11556 had been successfully developed, and it was colored in the all-important “green” on HOLC maps, this was a new enterprise for the Francis Land Company. It desired to move forward quickly with surveying and building the subdivision, but first it had to establish a very important partnership.
Walter H. Leimert
The Francis Land Company began negotiations with probably the best-known developer in the business, Walter H. Leimert. Leimert had gotten his start developing neighborhoods in the San Francisco area, before moving his business to Los Angeles in the 1920s. He developed a number of neighborhoods on the east side of the city before starting development of his namesake South Los Angeles subdivision, Leimert Park, in 1928. This made him famous as a developer of the planned neighborhood – one where houses, streets, and landscaping would have a largely predetermined “look,” and that those who signed deeds to live there would abide by certain rules and regulations to maintain the look, and the value, of the neighborhood. After a brief negotiation, on March 8, 1938, Leimert officially entered into a partnership with the Francis Land Company. With the purchase of Tract 11556, the partnership was to give Leimert one-fifth ownership of the Cheviot Knolls tract as it was subdivided and developed.
The addition of Leimert gave the Francis Land Company more than an experienced developer. Leimert and the neighborhoods he already developed were well-known and admired, and stood as stellar advertisements for each new development project. As the planning on the project progressed, Leimert’s name was featured prominently in advertising for Cheviot Knolls, marking it as an attractive option for house buyers, even before a single home was built.