No Place Like Home: “Real Estate Offerings” from Pacific States Auxiliary Corporation, 15 November 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A major issue in our region is the high cost of housing, with demand outstripping supply and rents and sale prices of dwellings rising over recent years to levels that increasingly are unaffordable for more people.  While the state has responded by calling for more building of apartments and houses, concerns are expressed about local control of housing, as well as what will be done with infrastructure (schools, roads, water, etc.) to keep up with increased construction.

Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection takes us back 90 years ago to a price list for apartments and houses on offer from Pacific States Auxiliary Corporation, which was formed in 1927 and owned by Pacfiic States Savings and Loan Company, headquartered in San Francisco and with an office in downtown Los Angeles.

That branch provided this list, which includes thirty-five properties obtained through foreclosures in Altadena, Alta Loma, Burbank, Eagle Rock, Glendale, Inglewood, Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Pasadena, Reseda, South Gate, Verdugo City, and Wilmar (near modern Rosemead), representing a wide range of communities within greater Los Angeles.  The first three pages included listings for properties available immediately, while the last showed those that had deeds becoming available as soon as four days after production of the list and up to mid-January 1930.

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Prices ranged from $2,000 for a five-room frame home on a 7,000 square-foot lot in Alta Loma, the most outlying of the areas, to nearly $23,000 for a two-story stucco apartment building with six two-room units and two three-room residences on a 6,000 square-foot lot in Los Angeles.

The listings provided addresses; lot numbers; tract numbers; a brief description including the number of rooms, square footage of the lot, insured value and premium amounts; and the selling price.  Most of the properties were in the square foot range of 6-10,000 square feet, though two of the outlying ones were much large, including the Wilmar property at 30,000 square feet, which was about two-thirds of an acre and contained a five-room cottage and garage, and one in Reseda, comprising a six-room bungalow on a full acre.

Checking a few of the listings, it is noteworthy to see which of these dwellings still exist and the values they now have.  For example, the first on the document is a six-room stucco home in Altadena on a lot of about 4,600 square feet.  The property was insured for $4,000 and with premium of $8 per year (yup, $8 a year!).  Today, however, the house, which was built in 1924 and has three bedrooms and one bath in 1,046 square feet is valued on Redfin at about $687,000.

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A dwelling shown as a five-room stucco bungalow in Burbank with a double garage and on a lot of about 6,750 square feet and insured for $3,000 with a $9 insurance premium was listed for $4,520.  Zillow gives a value for the 1,564 square-foot house, completed in 1928, with two bedrooms and two baths at just above $841,000.

One of the pricier single-family homes on the sheet that still exists is in northeast Glendale near the Brand Library.  Described as a “two story attractive stucco house” with nine rooms and a double garage with two apartments above it and on a lot size of about 8,600 square feet, the property was listed at $13,635, while it was insured for just under that.  This past August, the 3,400-square foot, five bedroom and three and three-quarters bath house, which was renovated in 1985 and undoubtedly enlarged, sold for $1,350,000, while its Redfin estimate is almost $1,680,000.

As for the few apartment buildings listed on the sheet, one in Hollywood that is a two-story stucco structure with four units, each with four rooms, meaning one bedroom and one bath, on a 3,000 square foor lot, was offered for $12,782.  Finished in 1922, the complex was sold for $500,000 two years ago, completely renovated and, listed at the end of 2017 for $999,000.  This was clearly way too high an asking price and after a series of price reductions, the building sold for $820,000 in August 2018 with Zillow’s estimate less than $20,000 more than that.

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The only listing to have a commercial component was for a property in the Vermont Square neighborhood of Los Angeles, southwest of Exposition Park and the University of Southern California.  Described as a “2 story brick building, containing: 2 stores on ground floor,” the structure also had five two-bedroom and two studio apartments as well as five garages on a lot of about 5,700 square feet.  The asking price was $19,600.  Today, the building, finished in 1911, is described on Zillow as having five apartments, each with two bedrooms, and was actually listed just two weeks ago.  It has a pending sale of $1,080,000.

According to one online inflation calculator, just to take this last instance, $19,600 in 1929 would have the purchasing power of just under $295,000 today.  Obviously, housing prices are based on a range of factors in the market, but, by any standard, the values in today’s market are extraordinarily high.  Whether we see any significant change in a coming recession or downturn, of course, remains to be seen.

Another factor to bear in mind about this document is that it was issued less than a month after the crash of the stock market in New York, which took place in October 1929.  Real estate values, which ran high for much of the Twenties, naturally nosedived during the Great Depression years and that effect was not likely felt much at the time the sheet was published.

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Regardless, it is fascinating to look over the document, see what the values were ninety years ago and, then, for those properties that still exist today, compare what the stated values are now (whether or not Zillow, Redfin or other sites are accurate is certainly an arguable point).

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