Lake Eleanor in Westlake Village, CA. Banning Dam, which can be seen on the right side of this photo, was built in 1889, and is one of the oldest standing dam’s in the state.
Westlake Village is a planned community that straddles the Los Angeles and Ventura county line. The eastern portion is the incorporated city of Westlake Village, located on the western edge of Los Angeles County, California. The city, located in the region known as the Conejo Valley, encompasses half of the area surrounding Westlake Lake, and small neighborhoods primarily south of U.S. Route 101 and east of La Venta Drive. The population was estimated to be at 8,473 in 2014 up from 8,368 at the 2000 census. The headquarters of the Dole Food Company is also located in Westlake Village.
The western portion of Westlake Village is a community, within the city limits of Thousand Oaks, in Ventura County. The properties and businesses in this portion can be addressed as “Westlake Village”, as the United States Post Office maps both 91361 and 91362 ZIP codes to this area. Built across the county line as a planned development, residents recognize that the community of Westlake Village is not limited to the incorporated city in Los Angeles County, but encompassing the entire area surrounding the man made lake.
The original community was known simply as “Westlake”. Roughly two-thirds of it was annexed by the city of Thousand Oaks in two portions, in 1968 and 1972. In 1981, the remaining third eventually incorporated as the City of Westlake Village
About 3,000 years ago, Chumash Indians moved into the region and lived by hunting rabbits and other game, and gathering grains and acorns. On-going excavations, archaeological sites, and polychrome rock paintings in the area provide a glimpse into the social and economic complexity of the ancient Chumash world.
In January, 1770, the first Europeans came to the area. Captain Gaspar de Portolà‘s party of Spanish explorers and missionaries traveled through the area from west to east, camping one night near a Chumash village, believed to be the site of present-day Westlake Village. Father Juan Crespí, chaplain and diarist of the expedition, wrote: “We are on a plain of considerable extent and much beauty, forested on all parts by live oaks and oak trees, with much pasturage and water.” Crespi named the place El triunfo del Dulcísimo Nombre de Jesús (in English: The Triumph of the Sweetest Name of Jesus) to a camping place by a creek – today’s Triunfo Canyon Road begins between Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village (see Conejo Valley). Later Spanish travelers also used this route, making it part of El Camino Real (today’s U.S. Route 101).
In 1795, the area became part of one of the first Spanish land grants, Rancho Simi, given to the Pico family. When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, Alta California became Mexican territory, and the Rancho Simi grant was confirmed in 1842.
At the time California was admitted to the union in 1850, most of the land that later became Ventura County was divided among only 19 families. The picturesque future Westlake Village site among rising knolls, arroyos, barrancas and ancient oaks was recognized as the central part of two Mexican land grants: Rancho El Conejo and Rancho Las Virgenes.
In 1881, the Russell brothers purchased a large portion of the land for cattle ranching. According to Patricia Allen, historian and family descendant, Andrew Russell beat the competition in buying the land by racing across 6,000 acres (24 km²) on a fifteen-minute trip in a buckboard and sealed the deal with a $20 gold piece. The price per acre was $2.50. The area continued to be known as the Russell Ranch although it was sold in 1925 to William Randolph Hearst and again in 1943 to Fred Albertson. The Russell family leased back part of the land to continue its successful cattle ranch operation while the Albertson Company used the vast area as a movie ranch. Many movies and television shows were filmed here, including Robin Hood, King Rat, Laredo, and various episodes of Tarzan, Buck Rogers, Gunsmoke and Bonanza.
In 1963, Daniel K. Ludwig‘s American-Hawaiian Steamship Company bought the 12,000 acre (49 km²) ranch for $32 million and, in partnership with Prudential Insurance Company, commissioned the preparation of a master plan by architectural and planning firm A. C. Martin and Associates. This new “city in the country” planned to have a firm economic base including commercial areas, residential neighborhoods, ample green space with the lake as a focal point. Prominent architects, engineers, and land planners participated in designing the new community, a prominent example of planned 1960’s-style suburbanism.
The original tract was divided by the Los Angeles/Ventura county line. In 1968 and 1972, the Ventura County side, two portions of Westlake Village consisting of 8,544 acres (35 km2), were annexed into the city of Thousand Oaks. In 1981, the Los Angeles County portion (3,456 acres (13.99 km2) or roughly 1/3) of the Westlake Village master community was incorporated as the City of Westlake Village. California state law prevents a city from existing in two separate counties, so the areas in Ventura County remained part of Thousand Oaks. To this day, many residents of the Ventura County portions of Westlake do not realize that they are actually within the city limits of Thousand Oaks.