Settled snugly in the northern foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains in western Los Angeles County, the City of Westlake Village is nine miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and 38 miles west of downtown Los Angeles. Occupying only 5.4 square miles, averaging 900 feet above sea level, the community is framed by the Simi Hills to the north and the Santa Monica Mountains to the south.
About 3,000 years ago, Chumash Indians moved into the region and lived by hunting rabbits and other game, and gathering grains and acorns. On-going excavations, archaeological sites, and polychrome rock paintings in the area provide a glimpse into the social and economic complexity of the ancient Chumash world. In 1770, Captain Gaspar de Portola led a party of Spanish explorers and missionaries, traveling north on the route that became known as the El Camino Real. The party camped near a Chumash village, believed to be the site of present-day Westlake Village. Father Juan Crespi, chaplain and diarist of the expedition, wrote: “We are on a plain of considerable extent and much beauty, forested on all parts by live oaks and oak trees, with much pasturage and water.”
When the Spanish finally did settle the area, they were given huge land grants, the largest of which was Rancho Simi, given to the Pico family. When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, California became a territory of Mexico, and a few more land grants were given. When California was admitted to the union in 1850, most of the land that later became Ventura County was divided among only 19 families. The picturesque future Westlake Village site among rising knolls, arroyos, barrancas and ancient oaks was recognized as the central part of two Mexican land grants: Rancho El Conejo and Rancho Las Virgenes. In 1881, the Russell brothers purchased a large portion of the land for cattle ranching. According to Patricia Allen, historian and family descendant, Andrew Russell beat the competition in buying the land by racing across 6,000 acres on a fifteen-minute trip in a buckboard and sealed the deal with a $20 gold piece. The price per acre was $2.50. The area continued to be known as the Russell Ranch although it was sold in 1925 to William Randolph Hearst and again in 1943 to Fred Albertson. The Russell family leased back part of the land to continue its successful cattle ranch operation while the Albertson Company used the vast acreage as a movie ranch. Many movies and television shows were filmed here, including “Robin Hood,” “King Rat,” “Laredo,” and various episodes of “Tarzan,” “Buck Rogers,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Bonanza.”
The Master Plan
In 1963, the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company bought the 12,000 acre ranch for $32 million and, in partnership with Prudential Insurance Company, commissioned the preparation of a master plan for a “City in the country.” Prominent architects, engineers, and land planners participated in designing a unique, integrated community that has become a nationally acclaimed model for the planned community concept. “The City in the country” was named Westlake Village and soon became recognized as one of America’s most successful suburbs and finest areas to live, work and raise a family.
Today, a population of 8,384 resides within this beautiful, natural environment of award-winning neighborhoods, thriving businesses, and enviable lifestyles. The original master-planned community of Westlake Village is transected diagonally by the Los Angeles and Ventura County line. The Los Angeles County side, consisting of 3,456 acres, was incorporated as the City of Westlake Village in 1981 and became the 82nd municipality in Los Angeles County. The Ventura County side, comprised of the remaining 8,544 acres of the original Russell ranch, was annexed into the City of Thousand Oaks in two portions in 1968 and 1972. The wisdom of the master planners in preserving, protecting and enhancing the natural environment of the area is evident today in the consistent growth and vitality of Westlake Village.