Brief History of Vermont Knolls

Vermont Knolls Historic Residential District was planned by Walter H. Leimert and subdivided in 1928. At the time, the subdivision was known as Vermont Avenue Knoll and marketed during the sale of Leimert Park. The subdivision was advertised as a low price, affordable middle-class neighborhood. 

In 1931, Hattem’s Shopping Center opened its doors on the corner of 81st Street and Vermont Avenue. It was said to have cost a quarter of a million dollars to build. The shopping center, quite unique for the time, consisted of a market, offices, and various tenant shops, including a dress shop, cigar shop, and florist. Hattem’s Shopping Center was sold in 1936. The building has changed ownership over the years, but was beautifully restored by the Church of Scientology and now serves as the Church of Scientology Community Center.

In 1937, Pepperdine College (now known as Pepperdine University) opened a new campus in the Vermont Knolls district to 167 men and women from 22 states and two foreign countries. Additionally, Pepperdine College purchased several homes and multi-family units in the Vermont Knolls district to house faculty and students. 

In 1938,  George Pepperdine donated a lot on the eastern edge of the college for a church building.  Vermont Church of Christ. purchased a structure on Manchester Avenue and had it moved to the space donated by Mr. Pepperdine on Vermont Avenue where it remains today.  The multi-family units on the property were purchased by George Pepperdine and served as student dormitories.  The church is fully integrated and serves all races. Many young people have been married here, including Kenneth & Ramona Hahn.  George Pepperdine, a member of the church, attend his last worship service here being brought in on a stretcher.  

During the 1940s-1970s, Pepperdine College expanded it curriculum and grew student enrollment which allowed it to expand to Malibu. After the 1980-1981 school year, Pepperdine closed the Vermont Knolls campus and sold the property to Crenshaw Christian Center church. 

Apostle Frederick K.C. Price, the minister of Crenshaw Christian Center church, oversaw construction of the “Faith Dome”, a $9 million dollar structure with seating for 10,145 worshippers. When opened in 1989, it was the largest church in the nation. Crenshaw Christian Center church still maintains the property today. 

During its early years (1920s–1940s), Vermont Knolls was within the jurisdiction of the White Homeowners Protection Association, which included race restrictions in its covenants. However, change came after the 1948 ruling by the Supreme Court stating that enforcement of racially restrictive covenants violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. In the 1950s, integration began visible in Vermont Knolls.

Prior and well-known residents of the Vermont Knolls district include California U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, Billie Silvey (writer and editor),  Gaylin Griffie (Great Grandmaster and Co-founder of American Shaolin Temple) , Joel Wachs (former Los Angeles City Councilmember and President of Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts),  John Carlos (who won Bronze in 1968 Summer Olympics and best known for Black Power salute on the podium),  Ike Turner, Todd Anthony Shaw aka Too Short (Rapper), and Barbara Graham (third women in California to be executed by gas).  Additionally, scenes from the 1958 film "I Want To Live!" about Barbara Graham was filmed in Vermont Knolls.

Today, Vermont Knolls has retained its unique historic and aesthetic significance both architecturally and culturally. However, with redevelopment projects in and surrounding the area, zoning and demolition could potentially harm the architectural integrity of the Vermont Knolls district.