Bill Hillman's
Volume 008

Tarzana Ranch
On March 1, 1919, ERB purchased a 540 acre country estate in the San Fernando Valley in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. He promptly christened the scenic, sprawling ranch, with its many hills and canyons, Tarzana. Plans were soon underway to make the ranch self sufficient by raising goats, Berkshire hogs, dairy cattle and chickens. Next would come a golf course, swimming pool, tennis court, ballroom, movie theatre, movie location facilities, zoo, and riding stables. ERB and Emma -- and the kids -- Joan, Hulbert, and Jack -- took immediately to the invigorating outdoor living and enjoyed many happy days at Tarzana Ranch. Later, after many farming failures, ERB, the jaded Gentleman Farmer, subdivided most of the property and created the town Tarzana. 

The estate, created by Gen. Otis near the close of his life ... comprises approximately 540 acres lying along the south side of the State highway (Ventura road) and toward the western end of the San Ferando Valley. (The hill on which the estate house stands) comprises about fifteen acres and is set out to a great variety of rare shrubbery and plants. The world was combed for the greenery on this knoll, hundreds of the plants coming from Asia and Africa. ---Los Angeles Sunday Times, March 2, 1919

ERB calls his country estate Tarzana Ranch. The home is a modern castle -- set on the top of a wind-swept hill, looking across immense valleys to the purple peaks of the Santa Monica mountains in the hazy distance, all a part of the “ranch.”

There were bridle paths and innumerable trails through those hills, for Mr. Burroughs is an ardent horse-lover, an expert equestrian. A ride through the hills at daybreak when the tang of the mountains is strong in the air is usually a part of his program. Then back to breakfast -- and to work.

Tarzana Ranch is near Los Angeles ... A drive circling through rose bushes past a private golf course brought me to the top of the hill, where a ball room, a theatre and a garage containing half a dozen high-powered cars met my view. I went past terraced lily ponds, grape arbors, a flower and vine-clad pergola and a wide tiled verandah, bringing my car to a stop near a marvelous swimming pool I approached the writer’s study.... 

The critics have panned “Girl from Hollywood.” They said that no ranch such as I described in the story ever existed. The joke of it was that I merely described my own ranch! 
In the back pasture of his Tarzana Ranch were the remains of the motion picture set for the movie RIO RITA, starring John Boles. ERB had rented his land to the studio with the understanding that the set be left intact so that he could lease the facilities to other interested studios. I believe ERB and my brother were the only ones (except vandals) to use the set.

                                        ...Hulbert Burroughs -- ERB-dom #58 
The ranch itself (a large Spanish-type home on a hilltop) was a marvel of quaint architecture, priceless carved furnishings, huge fireplaces bricked to the ceiling, inglenooks, and a sunny library and schoolroom where the children were properly tutored. Outside, through a vista of flowers and vines was a swimming pool and the gum; down an odd Indian-rugged stairway, the ballroom and theatre. The patio was filled with foliage and flowers about which the ranch house encircled itself with a high iron gate which rose early in the morning and closed early in the evening -- lending itself to a touch of Mexican splendor and exlusiveness. The stables held finely bred horses and trappings and just past the stables was "Coonskin Cabin," a rough structure of logs in the shadow of the hills.

They planted trees and more trees until the hillsides looked like a forest dell. Then they added pools, five of them, one underneath the other, and connected them by waterfalls.
                                       --Better Homes and Gardens, August 1931 

Friday nights at the Rancho were something special. The ballroom and theatre were below the servants' quarters and each Friday, my father issued a standing invitation to those living in and around the Rancho to come up for a free movie. There was no theatre for miles around and perhaps one hundred and fifty or two hundred people used to come by every week. Both a drama and a comedy usually were shown.

My father loved his life at the Rancho. He used to get up at five A.M -- never later than six o'clock -- and go riding. Most of the time, one or more of us would accompany him. There were two bridle paths, a long and a short one, and the first one down to the stables would leave his name and the time he left on the blackboard. We all loved to ride and later I appeared in many horse shows. Once, shortly after we had moved to the Rancho, Dad and I were out riding together. We paused at a high point from where we could look out on most of the Valley below, stretching across the Santa Susanna mountains across the far end. Neither of us spoke and then my father waved his arms to indicate the vista before us and he said, half-seriously and half-joking, "This is mine, all mine."
                                                        -- Joan Burroughs 

For Sale: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Former Homesite at Tarzana
(Full Page Ad in Rob Wagner’s Script, April 4, 1936)

Dear Rob:
You remember my former homesite here in Tarzana, that beautiful bunch of scenery originally chosen by General Harrison Gray Otis as his homesite (and you’ll have to admit he knew his California). Well, I want to sell it to somebody looking for a beautiful estate only twenty minutes drive from Hollywood.

There are thirty acres in the piece all gorgeously planted twenty years ago. (Paul Howard says the landscaping is worth $75,000.) And form the knoll you get an uninterrupted panorama in all directions of some two hundred miles of mountains. the improvements include a three-car garage and ballroom with living quarters above, a two-car garage with living quarters above, a fine big swimming pool, stable for twenty horses with tack room and three bedrooms, two toilets and lavatories.

The place has city water, electricity and gas. Taxes are low and assessments almost negligible. It could easily be developed into a gorgeous showplace. I thought Script would be a good place to tell about it. Yours, Ed. P.S. The property will be shown by appointment only by calling RESEDA 222. 

Hulbert Burroughs commented in a letter to Caz
           ERB-dom #59, 1972:
This homesite was part of the original 550 acres purchased from the Gen. Otis estate in 1919. Gen. Otis, founder of the Los Angeles Times, died, I believe, about 1915. ... The $75,000 worth of landscaping is represented principally by the trees encircling the hill on which the house was located. Gen. Otis imported many rare species from various parts of the world. Most of them are still there and have grown considerably.

We lived in this house until about 1925 when the original El Caballero Country Club was developed. Our former house on the hill became the clubhouse and the area starting at the right was part of the golf course where I learned to play the game. The first Los Angeles Open Golf Tournament was held there in 1927 and won by Bobby Cruikshank. The club went broke during the 1929 depression years and ERB had to assume the mortgage. He operated it as a public course, renamed Tarzana Golf Course, until about the time he offered it for sale in SCRIPT. As a result of the depression he was unable to pay off the mortgage on the El Caballero C.C. property and lost it all to the bank. Sometime prior to WW 2, a Mrs. Herman bought the land from the bank. She remodeled the 3-car garage-ballroom building into a beautiful home. She still lives there. After the war a new El Caballero Country Club was formed (nearby).

After moving from the home on the hill, ERB built another house at ... 5046 Mecca Ave. This was in 1926. The house is still there. Prior to its completion, however, we lived in a rented house at 544 S. Gramercy Place, Los Angeles, and for a short time in a house in the 700 block of New Hampshire Blvd.

ERB built our present office building in 1927. In the early 1930’s we lived for a few years on the beach (in a house!) at Malibu La Costa. ...

Hulbert indicated the following on
    oblique aerial photos which he included:
1. Our home. This building was demolished by ERB in the early 1930’s
2. The 3-car garage, ballroom and living quarters.
3. Swimming pool built by ERB.
4. 2-car garage and living quarters.
5. Stables and corrals for our family riding horses.
6. Chicken coop and pen where ERB and Jack raised chickens.
7. Dairy barn and corral. ERB had several milk cows and had a cream
        separator and butter churn in this building.
8. The present office building.
9. Ventura Boulevard.
10. Adohr Dairy - home of world’s largest pure-bred Guernsey herd.
            Since moved to Camarillo, Calif.
11. The stables referred to in the ad.
                                                                    -- Hulbert Burroughs 

In the mid-'20s moved to an English cottage at the foot of the hill:
The house stands near the center of a green velvety lawn interspersed by trees, ponds, shrubs and plots of flowers. On th eone side a driveway runs from the front wire gate to the barnyard gate ... extending for about twenty-five feet is an S-shape pool, rather two pools with a slender stream connecting them... Trees, pampasgrass, and Japanese Papyrus reflect their shimmering feathery leaves in the mirrored water. Frogs, fish -- a host of varieties-- dance thru th esunlight.

[The residence contains] a jungle of tropical plants... barns for old cars, trucks, tractor, road scraper and other farm equipment ... stalls and saddle rooms (for four horses) ... a riding ring .. flowers of vivid colors (marigolds, purple iris, pink holly hocks, yellow lilies, blue stocks) ... countless variety of trees (Oregon Blue Cedars, Monterey Pine, junipers, doedars, Acacia, redwood, Bull Pine, Australian Beefwood) ... a matchless picture....
                               --Better Homes and Gardens, August 1931

For ten years I have been running hunters off my property in the Santa Monica mountains, without authority and without assistance. A week ago a drunken man with a gun ran me out. Wild life in this district is a source of pleasure and instruction, if it is permitted to remain. Selfish men from other districts are trying to destroy it. My sons and I have never shot at a deer, quail or dove, and recently we have not been shooting predatory animals, believing that nature strikes her own balance. Recently a high-powered bullet from a deer hunter killed one of my high powered hogs....
                 -- Edgar Rice Burroughs
                           a complaint registered to the
                                            Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors 
1938: To get to ERB’s home, you head for the sea. You drive out along Hollywood Boulevard to Sunset and along Sunset toward Beverly Hills. Just before you get to Beverly you come to a stretch of new Georgian-fronted shops and office buildings, with here and there a popular night club...a little white village known as “The Strip,” not because it’s any relation to Sally Rand (the fan dancer) but because it is literally a strip of road bordered by tiny smart shops and the swank new offices of important motion picture agents. I drove past art galleries, interior decorators, modistes, de luxe antiquarians, gay restaurants and gift shops (including Eddie Cantor’s). Though it was January by the calendar the weather was as balmy as it is in was one of those blue and gold, let’s-be-happy days. Everything glittered in the sunlight, especially the white front of the famous “Trocadero” cafe (where the stars dine, and sometimes wine). There I swung about, crossed the boulevard and drove up into the hills through a newly opened section of bare brown land where the brand new Sunset-Plaza Apartments are located. These are the latest thing in the way of apartments...really a series of white houses joined together about a huge terrace. (Here lives ERB in this)...spick and span up-to-dateness with nary a woodland in sight ...only immaculate concrete tennis courts. 

History of Tarzana
as outlined in the booklet:
Edgar Rice Burroughs - First Citizen of Tarzana
Published by the Tarzana Chamber of Commerce and the
Tarzana Bank of America
In conjunction with the First Public Display of Priceless Mementos illustrating the life and works of ERB - May 5-16, 1969

Few people know that Tarzana is one of the oldest communities in the Valley. In 1769 when Gaspar de Portola became the first white man to visit the Valley, the Tarzana area was the second community he passed through. Soon after that, the Franciscan Friars came to found the San Fernando Mission, and what is now Tarzana became part of the Mission lands and later part of the 116,000 acre Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando. The only ones to visit the Tarzana area were a few Franciscan missionaries and travelers on the El Camino Real (The King's Highway), now Ventura Boulevard. Since the advent of the Ventura Freeway, there has been some talk of changing the name of Ventura Boulevard back to El Camino Real.

In the 1870's the southern half of the Valley was sold to the Los Angeles Farm Homestead Association. Main stockholders in the association were Isaac Lankershim and I.N. Van Nuys. During the 1880's, a new organization, the Los Angeles Farm and Milling Company, succeeded the Homestead Association, and the Tarzana area, together with the rest of the Valley, became a huge wheat field. In 1909, the Farm and Milling Co. sold out to the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company. This paved the way for the Tarzana of today.

In 1911, one of the promoters of the Suburban Homes Co., General Harrison Gray Otis, purchased 550 acres of what is now the heart of Tarzana. General Otis was the founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times. He took a very active part in the development of the Valley.

In 1915, water to the Valley was provided through the Owens River Aqueduct and the Valley was annexed to the City of Los Angeles. This secured the Valley's growth.

In 1919, Edgar Rice Burroughs purchased the Otis Ranch, built his home there and named it Tarzana Ranch.

In 1922, Charles L. Daniels purchased a 320 acre tract of land on Reseda Boulevard between the Southern Pacific railroad tracks and Ventura Boulevard and bordering Tarzana Ranch. Here he founded a town, Runnymede. Runnymede consisted of 1 acre plots for poultry ranches, berry and truck farms. Soon there were 15 farms there. Although it met with irrigation and climate problems, these were soon solved and the little town prospered. By 1928 there were 10 square miles in the town, which included Burroughs' Tarzana Ranch.

In 1923, Burroughs subdivided a portion of his land for homes. This was known as the Tarzana Tract. A promotional brochure of the era said of Tarzana Tract: "Chosen by Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan Stories and The Girl from Hollywood, Tarzana is the pride of the beautiful San Fernando Valley. Tarzana will enjoy everything that makes for ideal home life. High elevation, water, gas, electricity, paved streets, etc.... Tarzana offers you homey, spacious acres, with cool, liveable surroundings. Here amidst nature's own, on a subdivision in which the price includes all improvements, with convenient schools, churches and theatres, is the place to live. Do you know that you can buy one of these full acres for $1500, the price of a city lot in the poor district? Why hesitate? Come out into the open and see Tarzana."

The Runnymede Poultry and Berry Association, a forerunner of the Tarzana Chamber of Commerce, was formed in 1923. The Women's Auxiliary later became the Tarzana Women's Club.

In 1927, the residents petitioned for their own post office. It was at this time that it became necessary to find a new name for the community since there was already a Runnymede in California. A contest was held and the name Tarzana was accepted. On December 12, 1930, the Tarzana Post Office (fourth class) opened in a store on Ventura Blvd. The population of Tarzana at the time was about 300.

During the 1930's, Tarzana was known as the "Heart of Ventura Blvd." A drug store, a grocery and a few other small stores were grouped together on Ventura Boulevard at Reseda Boulevard, surrounded by many acres of small farms.

Tarzana grew slowly during the late 30's and early 40's, but after the war, a postwar boom brought prosperity to the little town. Soon many subdivisions began to appear in the hills and in the Valley itself. It soon became one of Los Angeles' "bedroom communities." Today, Tarzana's 24,000 residents enjoy living in "The Home of Tarzan." Instead of a few small shops, today a wide variety of goods and services are offered to the shopper. Instead of farms, modern Tarzana consists mainly of single family homes. A few apartment houses are located north of Ventura Boulevard. While the days of the chicken ranches and berry farms and sprawling ranches are gone, residents continue to enjoy the gracious living ina a tranquil atmosphere established by their predecessors. In addition to the facilities of the 1920's, modern Tarzana now has a park, a library, a freeway, banking facilities, ice skating and bowling centers, medical buildings, country clubs, and an extremely bright future.

For a more recent description of Tarzana and the ERB Inc. office,
see Tarzana Quest in the Personal Vignettes section
(Motes & Quotes VI)

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