Today we remember architect John De Lario for the fine work he did throughout the picturesque Hollywoodland development in the 1920’s. He did so many notable homes there it is easy to forget that De Lario also designed homes and businesses in other parts of the area as well (Not enough, in my opinion). In fact, one of his grandest commissions was a magnificent Italian villa designed for pioneer oilman Ralph B. Lloyd, not in Hollywoodland, but in Beverly Hills, completed in 1930.
Dubbed the “Father” of the famous Ventura Avenue Oil Field, Ralph B. Lloyd was an influential figure in the Southern California petroleum industry for a number of decades. Lloyd made millions in oil, but also made his mark in other fields as well including banking, real estate development and lumber up in Oregon.
Although it was Ralph who exploited it, it appears it was his father Lewis who first discovered there was gas on their Ventura ranch and in the most dramatic way possible. A former captain in the Confederate Army, Lewis M. Lloyd had abandoned his beloved South for California during the great “Boom of the Eighties,” purchasing thousands of acres of land just outside of the historic town of Ventura. Organizing the Ventura Land and Water Company in 1887, the elder Lloyd dove earnestly into the cattle business, but it proved to be tough sledding. One day, while out on his land, Lloyd espied a brush fire. As he approached, he noticed a torch of fire billowing out of a fissure in the ground. While marveling at this strange sight the wind suddenly shifted and the flames from the surrounding grass roared menacingly at him at him at a speed neither he nor his horse could outrun. His horse was killed instantly with Lloyd barely escaping a similar fate by quickly leaping down a precipice into an adjoining canyon. It was as clear an indication as any that oil lay under the ground of the Lloyd ranch.
As surprising as it may seem today, Lewis Lloyd’s unwitting discovery of gas was not the welcome news it would be today and the elder Lloyd continued with his cattle operation. Hard as he try, however, the operation could just not turn a profit and by 1912 the venture was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was at that time that his son Ralph took over management of the ranch holdings, quickly bringing a new energy to the operation, literally as well as spiritually. The UC Berkeley-educated Ralph saw the vast potential in petroleum development and he undertook to shift the focus of the Ventura Land and Water Co. from cattle to oil leases. For a number of years he found little interest in getting major oil companies to explore his lands. When he finally succeeded the oil companies liked what they saw and he made a series of shrewd deals to drill on the family lands, which by then had grown to 8,000 acres. The result was the development of what was to become known as the Ventura Avenue Oil Field. Initial development began in 1919 and by the 1950’s, it was the 12th most productive field in the United States. Still operating today, it is estimated that a billion gallons of oil have been drawn from what was the lands of the Lloyd ranch.
This, as you might expect, made Lloyd, his family and fellow investors fabulously wealthy. Desiring a home for himself and his family befitting a man of his position, Lloyd engaged John De Lario to draw up plans for a grand estate to be built on a beautiful multi-acre view parcel he had purchased in Beverly Hills in the Ledgemont Park tract, part of the former 26-acre estate of “Borax King,” Thomas Thorkildsen, a spectacular baronial English Tudor mansion designed by Thomas Franklin Power and completed in 1913. The Thorkildsen mansion, which still contained considerable acreage, was now owned by fellow oil man Kirk B. Johnson and it is likely the two were friends.
In his design of the Lloyd mansion, De Lario pulled out all the stops creating a stunningly beautiful villa of great charm and distinction. Completed in 1930, the Lloyd mansion at 962 North Alpine Drive was a wonder to behold. Stretched out over seven levels over its lushly landscaped grounds, the home was considered one of the finest examples of this type of architecture found in all of Southern California.
Ralph B. Lloyd would live in his beautiful home for the remainder of his long life, sharing the house with his wife Lulu, his four daughters, and no doubt many, many servants. On June 16, 1948, Lulu Hull Lloyd passed away in the 44th year of their marriage. Eight months later, the 74 year-old Lloyd may have surprised some (or all) by taking a second trip down the aisle, marrying 51 year-old Edith Louise Nattkemper, a former school teacher who had been friends with Lloyd for some 30 years. When Lloyd died on September 9, 1953 at the age of 78, Edith came into a considerable fortune, splitting the bulk of the multi-million dollar estate with the Lloyd daughters. When Lloyd’s will was submitted to Probate on September 29, 1953, it was learned that Edith would also, in addition to the mammoth inheritance, also get $7,500 a month “family allowance.” Edith Nattkemper Lloyd was a very wealthy woman and, at 55, still young enough to enjoy it. Edith, however, had been suffering from a heart condition and less than 24 hours later she died at the Lloyd home, surviving her husband by just 21 days.
With both Ralph and Edith gone and the Lloyd children all with fine homes of their own, there was no one left in the big mansion on Alpine and it was sold. In 1958 the estate was broken up for inevitable subdivision and the beautiful Lloyd villa was taken down and replaced by a set of new homes.
His beautiful home may be gone, but Ralph B. Lloyd’s legacy has lived on in the form of considerable charitable giving, first through the Ralph B. Lloyd Foundation and then its successor of the Elizabeth Lloyd-Davis Foundation, among others. Over the decades, the Lloyd foundations have given millions to a variety of worthy causes and like the oil wells up in Ventura they are still giving and giving.