Chester Place was one of the first gated communities in Los Angeles, California. It was notable for its close proximity to the University of Southern California, as well as prestigious residents such as Edward L. Doheny. The community later became a satellite campus of Mount St. Mary's College in 1962 after the land was left as a gift from Estelle Doheny.
The foundation for the creation of Chester Place started with a Los Angeles land survey conducted in 1853 by New Hampshire lawyer Henry Hancock. Hancock surveyed the lots near present day Downtown Los Angeles based on the dirt road boulevards that ran east to west across the city. Between each of these boulevards land was separated into large 35-acre (140,000 m2) lots to be sold. In 1855 Hancock eventually bought one of the best lots, which was to later become Chester Place.
Hancock sold this lot that would become Chester place on July 26, 1867 to a group of buyers, one of whom was the New England sea captain Nathan Vail, who purchased 17 acres (69,000 m2) right north of Adams Boulevard. Around this same time, the city brought irrigation canals to the area. This irrigation canal, or a zanja as the Mexican settlers called it, increased the land value of the area, which was directly related to the availability of water. South of Adams and Chester Place a new Agricultural park was also growing, which became known for horse racing, gambling, and entertainment. With a new streetcar line extended from historic Downtown in 1874 along Washington and Figueroa, this meant that the Agricultural Park area had easy transportation to the hub of the city. Agricultural Park would later be renamed Exposition Park when it was incorporated into city limits and was the site of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics.
Nathan Vail had become involved in a number of real estate speculations during the early 1880s, and eventually sold his personal lot north of Adams to Arizona Federal Judge Charles Silent. In 1899 Silent moved his family to Vail's old home north of Adams, and extended a private street south to 23rd Street, and subdivided the land into 23 lots on either side of the road. This subdivision represents the official founding of Chester Place, which could be seen behind the massive stone and steel gates that Vail had built to surround his home. Vail established the subdivision on January 21, 1899 and named the street after his son Chester, who graduated from Stanford University in 1907. The property was originally called Los Pimentos named after the pepper trees that lined the driveway.
The Doheny Years
Chester Place quickly became one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Wealthy socialite Mrs. S.E. Posey purchased the first lot in Chester Place and hired some of the best architects of the day to erect an opulent twenty-two-room mansion. With this move the neighborhood soon began to fill with the rich and influential citizens of Los Angeles, and then on October 24, 1901 Edward and Estelle Doheny purchased number 8 Chester Place for $120,000 cash.
The Dohenys immediately began renovations on their new home, soon making it one of the most extravagant homes in the city. The house encompassed 24,000 square feet (2,200 m2) and was constantly worked on for the 58 years the family lived there. Almost immediately after moving in, Estelle was left on her own as Edward Doheny was in Mexico for much of the time working on developing his oil holdings in Mexico. Edward in turn left the renovations up to her which included hiring of staff, construction workers, and day-to-day maintenance. Edward relayed instructions via telegram about what he wanted done with the home. At the finish of the first stage of remodeling in 1902, it was featured in House Beautiful, which caused a great number of tourists and visitors to show up on the lawn and even knock on the door requesting photographs. This lack of privacy prompted Edward to quietly buy up the remaining thirteen lots at Chester Place to ensure their privacy. Much of the renovations at Chester Place were important to Doheny since the home represented his financial wealth and stability, and as his increasingly unsure investments in Mexico were not yielding returns, it was important for investors that he keep up appearances at home.
Edward Doheny, Jr., commonly known as "Ned," was raised and married at Chester Place. In 1928, he moved to Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. Edward, Sr., died in 1935 at the age of 79. Estelle continued to live at Chester Place, although they also constructed a ranch style home at Ferndale Ranch near Santa Paula, California.
The Chester Place of today retains much of the charm of the old neighborhood with many of the mansions still intact. The neighborhood now is part of Mount St. Mary's college satellite campus. The school was first given rights to operate out of number 2 Chester Place in 1957. Estelle died in 1958 and left Chester Place to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which transferred the land to Mount St. Mary's College, which officially opened their second campus in 1962. The administration and teaching at the campus takes place in many of the historic mansions, although a new library has been added to the campus. Estelle also left the easternmost portion of Chester place bordering Figueroa Street to St. Vincent's school.
- Sloper, Don. Los Angeles's Chester Place. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2006.
- Bonino, MaryAnn. The Doheny Mansion: A Biography of a Home. Los Angeles, 2009.
- Davis, Margaret Leslie. Dark Side of Fortune. London, England: University of California Press, 1998
- Powell, Ruth. Chester Place : on the occasion of a tour of the Downtown campus of Mount St. Mary's College located in Chester Place, Los Angeles. Los Angeles, CA. Oct 24, 1964.