14 March 2009

Carbon Canyon Development History: A 1971 Megatract!

By 1970, the Carbon Canyon area had begun to see a new era in development, as mentioned in my recent post on a 1963 proposed housing development that conceptually began as a 600-unit tract on 600 acres. This seems to have morphed into the much-smaller Western Hills Oaks subdivision, minus the duplexes, shopping center, clubhouse, parls and other amenities. In that case, the reason for the scaled-back plan was almost certainly lack of a viable market to justify the expansiveness of the original concept. Within a few years, however, the Summit Ranch neighborhood (the subject of an earlier post on Carbon Canyon neighborhoods) came to being with its first phase being in the early 1970s.

Meanwhile, across the canyon, at the eastern end came a new proposal, a monolith that, if fulfilled as initially intended, would have been something rivalling the mega-projects of south Orange County, the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita and later modern "marvels."

In February 1971, the Los Angeles Times reported that the San Bernardino County Planning Commission postponed action on a $100 million (that's 1971 dollars, folks) project by Chino resident Norman Fuller. Fuller owned 1,000 acres that basically encompassed what is now the communities of Green Valley Estates and Carriage Hills, south of Carbon Canyon Road and west of Peyton Drive. To that date, Fuller's only development efforts had been two "wildcat," meaning geologically unproven and uncertain, oil wells, both of which presumably came up dry.

Under the aegis of his International Investment Corporation, Fuller developed the "Carbon Canyon Hills" subidivison, which I mistook earlier for Summit Ranch, and hired Fullerton architect Hal C. Tan, who was one of the first condominimum architects when he completed a project in Placentia in 1963, to design the project. Tan created a template for a staggering 3,500 dwellings with clusters of 100 apartments and townhouses with each having 15-acre recreation areas. In addition, a shopping center, golf courses and schools were envisioned for the tract, which was described as embracing land "southeast from Carbon Canyon Road nearly to the Glenmead residential development."

This latter tract, incidentally, is the development, opened in 1966, east of Peyton, west of Pipeline, south of what is now Chino Hills Parkway (but then Carbon Canyon Road) and north of Woodview Road. It should be added that when Glenmead (or Glenmeade, according to news reports at the time) was opened, it was given a plantation-style sendoff with women dressed like Southern belles, lemonade served, and other touches of Old Dixie--right here in Chino Hills and during the height of the Civil Rights era!

Returning to Carbon Canyon Hills, Tan was quoted as saying that Fuller "wants to create a wholesome environment . . . at prices prople can afford." The problem for Fuller, however, was that the Planning Commission hadm concerns about "possible water and sewer problems" and deferred action on the project. Whatever came immediately afterwards, it appears these problems were rectified. By November, the initial phase of the project got off the ground.

An article on 28 November, including an architect's rendering, appeared with five models available for viewing. Included in these were "double villas" (a clever euphemism for attached townhomes) in one and two-story plans and the single-family detached dwelling. In the spirit of the times, shag carpeting was standard, as were fireplaces, "mission" tile roofs and other components such as full landscaping, which was not a standard feature. For the "double villa" there were rear patios of 400 to 2,500 square feet. Prices started at $22,990 for a "double villa" and $27,990 for a single-family home. Notably, it was stated that "an income of $750 a month [under $10,000 a year] will qualify a buyer for a unit." In addition to the houses, the project called for "apartments, recreational complex, child care center, shopping center, school and other necessary community sites." Moreover, "every home within the project will have views of the Pomona Valley and Mt. Baldy and the entrance will be guarded as part of a security system."

The first phase was to include 126 structures and the overall development was slotted to take five years and $125 million to build. Again, however, it was 1971 and Chino Hills was still far removed from the rest of suburbia. Undoubtedly, proximity to the Chino men's prison was a deterrent to many builders and buyers until there weren't too many other places to go.

Whatever the conditions, Fuller and Tan's grand plans were not carried out to anywhere near the extent intended. The Green Valley Estates area at the southwest corner of Peyton Drive and Chino Hills Parkway does include "double villas" and apartments with single-family homes off the south and west. Some of these may have been built in this era or the concept was taken over by others for later construction. As for the golf courses, shopping center, schools, the guarded entry, 15-acre recreation areas and other elements, none of it took place.

In some ways, the Carbon Canyon Hills concept was ahead of its time. The idea of mixing housing types has never proven to be desirable, as detached home dwellers would prefer to be kept separate from their townhome, duplex and apartment dwelling brethren. The clustered 15-acre park plan seems anticipatory to the community park system that is one of the nicer amenities in Chino Hills. Community shopping centers also predated later adaptations, although these have proven to be untenable in the face of freeway-adjacent larger centers like "The Spectrum" and "The Shoppes." Gate-guarded systems also were relatively new at the time and are now an "essential" feature of higher-end tracts like Oak Tree Downs, Payne Ranch, and Vellano. Finally, a homeowners' association was planned to oversee maintenance and the guarded gate and this, too, was still a relative novelty.

Bascially, overly-ambitious and unworkable as it was for 1971, Carbon Canyon Hills and the plans of Norman Fuller and Hal Tan was a project that foreshadowed the planned community model that characterized Chino Hills' later development.

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