(Photo: The Chasan Villa)
The LA Times recently wrote a piece about whether the latest landslides in Palos Verdes could be stopped. Since then, several articles have appeared, pulling a flashback from the archives: the story of The Chasan Villa. Although the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean still remains at the site, all physical traces besides a few pieces of the foundation are history.
While other outlets have delved into explaining the notable estate's design and how parallels exist in media, given we write about places to travel and explore, we wanted to revive the house in the minds of readers based on publications from the 1980s and guide the readers in an experiential walk-through of the once magnificent estate. Although this is written from the point of view of someone in the 1980s, the facts are historically accurate and can be sourced to publicly available and verifiable sources such as printed newspapers, published photographs, books, university research, city and court records.
It's 1982. You're driving north up Palos Verdes Drive and the road begins to bend towards the Pacific Ocean. You make a left turn into a small cul-de-sac named Paseo del Mar and double back for a few hundred feet until you've reached the entryway of The Chasan Villa. You first see a curved driveway heading downwards towards the ocean, then you hear music coming emanating closer and closer, and eventually you can't miss the main Mediterranean Villa structure given its distinct design, as noted in one 1982 newspaper. You can't wait to see who you will meet at this event - the Chasan family is known to entertain and notable guests have included California Governor Jerry Brown.
You stop behind the other cars already in the driveway, turn off the ignition, and exit the car, walking on a decorated path to the front doors. As you're walking, to your left you see rounded archway after rounded archway, each double-paned with wooden decorations. To your front you see a perfectly manicured lawn with guests standing around a large water feature chatting with Dr. Fred Chasan and staring into the uninterrupted view of the Pacific Ocean that is to your right. The door opens and you notice that the columns inside the house are the same as the columns outside the house as the large stone pillars extend through the walls.
You walk through the main multi-level hallway going up some stairs and down others, saying hello to other guests, until you arrive at the kitchen, which is large enough to host group cooking classes in while still maintaining the sweeping views of the ocean. You grab a piece of fruit from the multi-level display at the center of the one of one of the multiple islands and one of the staff hands you a glass of wine, Mrs. Roslyn Chasan greets you. You continue making your way up to the pool area when you see food being loaded into the elevator system being brought from the first level through to the roof deck. You walk up another few flights of stairs and exit the building to a wet bar overlooking the pool and hot tub with its vanishing edge. The bar area is covered with a large terra cotta roof supported by similar stone pillars, but this time forming square archways. You see one of the Chasan boys talking with a friend, another in the pool, and the third playing the music you heard earlier. You chat, enjoy the company, and eventually you're shown the latest project that is a work-in-progress: the addition of a wine cellar to the villa's basement.
Fast forward to 1983. You make the same drive down Palos Verdes Avenue and turn into the Paseo del Mar driveway when you notice something strange: pieces of stucco have started to crumble off the retaining wall supporting the winding driveway. You keep driving and park off to the side of the main driveway, seeing Jeff Chasan's truck in the driveway. You head up the same pathway you did before, noticing that cracks are running throughout. One of the Chasan family members opens the door and your eyes continue tracing the cracks throughout the house: up the walls into the window panes, through the floor, and even into the staircases. You notice that moving boxes are being packed and ask the reason, learning that a structural anomaly had occurred which had cracked the Villa's foundation. You think this is odd because the home was just built and surely geological surveys had been conducted beforehand - Roslyn Chasan knew how to build real estate after all and this was not her first construction project.
A few weeks later you're back at The Chasan Villa and the cracks have continued to grow. The power and water has been turned off and one of the three boys is asking for your help to move a few remaining boxes out of the main part of the structure. The small splinters of cracks have now grown to a foot-wide in some areas of the floor, breaking pipes and tearing wires. Like many Greco-Roman villas that came before it, The Chasan Villa, once distinct for its one-of-a-kind design and amenities, was now in ruins. You load the final box in the back of Jeff's truck and hop in the passenger seat with him. He turns on the ignition and drives up the driveway when you hear a strange dampened explosion sound and notice that a sinkhole has appeared behind you spanning about half the driveway's length.
Fast forward another few months and you're a fly on the wall in the chambers of Judge George R. Perkovich, a fellow resident of Palos Verdes. Palos Verdes was known for its landslides and other less notable homes which had been destroyed went through months-long trials. He works through his lunch hours and through his evenings to bring the case to a resolution through a settlement - which made headline front page news in printed newspapers shortly thereafter. The parties reconvene and City Attorney Mark Allen pulls the property transfer paperwork out of his briefcase and hands pens to Roslyn and Fred Chasan, who sign over ownership of the ruined villa to the City for a nominal sum. The City Manager Gordon Siebert explains that the city's budget will have to be reallocated to cover the settlement given that the city's liability insurance reserve fund was depleted. Regardless - the Chasans will receive their settlement within one month's time. The attorney for the City, the California Water Service Company, and Geologists expressed their relief that the case was settled and did not go to trial like others had. One of the attorneys commented that The Chasan Villa was in a class of its own given its size, quality, and age and that the liability was clearer in this case than in others. You hear city officials remark that they don't know what to do with the properties in the area and may elect to live in the grand Chasan estate.
It's June 24th, 1984 now and you're flipping through the newspaper and find the city has posted a notice to solicit bids to demolish the parts of The Chasan Villa that were still standing and before long, all that remains are a few pieces of concrete which after visiting nearly forty years later, you find are still there and you remember the events, the memories, the distinct design, and the destruction of this magnificent and noted property. One thing that hasn't changed though is the iconic view of the Pacific Ocean.
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