The Rancho Palos Verdes site on which the Trump National Golf Course of Los Angeles now operates once was part of the Rancho de los Palos Verdes land grant. After an 1882 legal settlement, ownership passed to the Bixby family.
In the early 20th century, the Ishibashi family became the first of many Japanese farmers to work the land in the South Bay, thanks to lease arrangements signed off on by the Bixbys. In addition to avocados, the Ishibashis grew poppies, strawberries, carrots, beets and sweet peas on the coastal site.
The Ishibashis were one of just a few Japanese families who returned to the area after being taken to internment camps during World War II. A historical marker at the golf course commemorates the Ishibashis.
After the war, developer Barry Zuckerman and his partner Barney Morris began buying up land parcels on the Peninsula and building housing to satisfy the postwar demand. The land along Palos Verdes Drive South, west of Portuguese Bend, was among their acquisitions.
The Ishibashis were allowed to continue farming there, as the area remained mostly undeveloped for the next few decades.
In January 1987, Orange County developer Barry Hon purchased 900 acres of land from Palos Verdes Properties. It included a 93-acre parcel adjoining the Zuckerman property. Hon wanted to build a Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel and an 18-hole golf course on a combined 457 acres.
The problem? The Zuckermans didn’t want to sell their portion of the land to him. The negotiations stalled Hon’s project, which also faced stiff opposition from area residents.
In March 1991, Hon dropped the Ritz-Carlton idea and announced plans to build 120 homes and the golf course in conjunction with the Zuckermans, with whom he had formed an alliance.
Nationally renowned golf architect Pete Dye announced his plans for the course in February 1992. He’d actually started working on the project in 1988. Developers hoped his links-style championship golf course someday would host the U.S. Open and other prestigious tournaments.
After the California Coastal Commission vetoed the initial version of the project, the developers added more open space and reduced the number of houses planned. This version won the commission’s approval in April 1993.
Environmental complaints over the loss of native habitats, including those of the California gnatcatcher, led to more delays and two major lawsuits. Those were settled in 1996, but grading for the project didn’t begin until January 1998. (Developer Hon withdrew from the project in 1997.)
The course was little more than a month from its July 4, 1999, opening target date when a massive landslide cut a giant swath through the 18th hole on the morning of June 2.
More than 80,000 pounds of earth slid toward the Pacific Ocean. All work had to be halted while the cause of the 16-acre slide was determined.
Some pointed toward a leaking sewer pipe beneath the hole as the culprit, though Los Angeles County engineers insisted it was intact before the slide. Others pointed to possible leaks from the course’s artificial lakes.
Most engineers, however, blamed unstable ground in the area, which sits just down the road from the famously unsteady Portuguese Bend landslide area.
The Zuckermans, determined to get their golf course built, poured $24 million into stabilizing the ground beneath the 18th hole.
Skittish bankers at Credit Suisse, who had loaned the Zuckermans $100 million for the project, filed lawsuits when revenues from the golf course failed to materialize due to the landslide. The Zuckermans’ firm was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the fall of 1999.
Finally, the Ocean Trails Golf Course, as it was known, opened to the public in November 2000. Construction had only recently begun on the 18th hole repair, and the 9th and 12th holes were needed as a construction staging area, so only 15 holes actually were available for play.
The home lots remained empty as developers concentrated their efforts on first permanently finishing the golf course itself. Ever-rising costs exacerbated by the landslide already were topping $160 million.
Despite the valiant efforts of the Zuckermans, Credit Suisse eventually lost patience and called in its loan in early 2002, taking ownership of the golf course development and turning its management over to the Douglas Wilson Co. of San Diego.
But that turned out to be just a temporary arrangement until a well-known new buyer for the property turned up a few months later.
Next week: Part 2: Donald Trump arrives.
Sources: Daily Breeze files; “History of Ocean Trails/Trump National Golf Club,” by Maureen Megowan, active rain website, Jan. 9, 2014; Los Angeles Times files; Palos Verdes Peninsula News files.