As La Venta Inn Toasts 100 Years, We Celebrate a Glamorous Past with an Eye on a Promising Future
- CategoryEat & Drink
- Written byGail Phinney
- Photographs courtesy ofPalos Verdes Library District Local History Collection
One of the most iconic landmarks on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, La Venta Inn turned 100 this year. The first structure completed for the Palos Verdes Project, it opened in the summer of 1923 as Clubhouse 764 but was soon renamed La Venta—Spanish for “the sale.” Frank A. Vanderlip Sr. and his group of real estate investors used the structure as a sales office and convenient location to entertain and house prospective buyers.
Since then, the building has witnessed a century of change. But throughout its storied history, La Venta Inn has remained a beacon of hospitality—graciously opening its doors to the community and hosting many of the most significant events in the lives of its South Bay neighbors.
The opening of La Venta Inn coincided with the 1923 real estate rally and the sale of property in the first planned subdivision that would become the city of Palos Verdes Estates in 1939. The architectural firm of Francis Pierpont Davis and Walter Swindell Davis was responsible for the beautiful Spanish-style architecture.
“There’s something so magical about the property. It’s held so many treasured memories for the community and for all the people who have held their events there. I’m only the third operator in 100 years to run it, and that is a huge compliment for my business and for me.”
Another team of brothers, Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., contributed the landscape design. La Venta Inn was perfectly situated overlooking the Pacific and carefully designed to entice visitors to invest in the promise of Palos Verdes the New City.
According to Dana Graham, president of the Palos Verdes Historical Society, La Venta played a pivotal role in the marketing of this geographically isolated community. “As the name suggests, it was an inn besides being a restaurant and a real estate office,” he says. “People used to come from West Adams and that new place called Beverly Hills, and it was a trek to come all the way down.”
Dana believes La Venta Inn provided a needed respite for buyers who often perused the property on horseback when there were no roads.
Under the ownership of Jay Lawyer of the Palos Verdes Project and his restaurant manager, Reba Willis, La Venta’s reputation for elegant fine dining quickly spread. It reached its heyday during the 1920s and ’30s when the inn became a safe haven and weekend retreat for such Hollywood luminaries as Greta Garbo, Errol Flynn, Betty Grable, Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Tyrone Power, Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin. Hollywood also embraced the building and surrounding coastline as a scenic backdrop, and it was selected as the location for the 1926 silent film The Girl from Montmartre starring Barbara LaMarr and Lewis Stone.
Actor Frank Conroy purchased the property in 1941, but by then the Great Depression had put an end to the Palos Verdes Project. With the onset of WWII and gas rationing, the inn suffered and the business was closed. After serving as the Coast Guard’s lookout tower for Japanese submarines, La Venta Inn ultimately fell into disrepair.
By the time Margaret Schnetzler purchased the property in 1944, it was, in Dana’s words, “a fixer.” Margaret was a New York socialite, newly arrived in California when she fell in love with La Venta in the 1920s. Twenty years later the idea that she should live there came to her in a dream, or so the story goes.
Mark Matthews, her grandson and family representative for the property, relates that the next morning Margaret called a real estate broker in Palos Verdes to see if La Venta was for sale. When the broker informed her that Frank Conroy had asked him to list the property, the deal was sealed. “Four days later she owned it—lock, stock and barrel,” says Mark.
Stanley and Margaret Schnetzler purchased La Venta as their home, never intending to run it as a business. But as repairs were made, neighbors took an interest in renting the property and began stopping in. The family tradition was to get them a cup of tea, show them around and never turn anyone away.
Before long it became a gathering point for the community. It didn’t become a business until 1954, but when it did, it was a family affair. That was still the case in the mid-1960s when Mark and his cousins were employed at La Venta during summer vacation. Those were their halcyon days of youth.
“We all worked for a buck an hour,” he recalls. “We surfed during the early morning hours, then came back and worked at La Venta and would generally be completely free of parental control. It was just heaven.”
Mark describes his grandmother as the matriarch of the family and a role model. “She was terrific and really changed the way I thought women should be.”
After Margaret lost her eyesight, the Schnetzler family leased the operation of the property to William Eskridge and his family in 1966. New York Food Company came on board in 1992 and held a lease until 2022, but in 2020 the catering company became a casualty of the pandemic. The property was at a standstill.
After an exhaustive search for a new tenant, Mark settled on a local resident who was ready and willing to take over the reins in uncertain times. Welcome, Made by Meg.
Owner, founder and executive chef Meg Walker continues La Venta’s legacy of being run by women. “I thought it was incredibly special,” she explains. “There’s something so magical about the property. It’s held so many treasured memories for the community and for all the people who have held their events there. I’m only the third operator in 100 years to run it, and that is a huge compliment for my business and for me.”
As part of the continuum, Meg turned her unique aesthetic to the task of operating and maintaining this historic property and has endeavored to bring the interior and the grounds of La Venta Inn back to their original splendor while being a good steward and a good neighbor. As for the cuisine, Made by Meg brings its own brand of culinary innovation to the table.
A member of the Palos Verdes community, Meg understands the importance of community engagement. A schedule of seasonal events to celebrate the centennial will enable the general public to visit La Venta with their families. An open-door policy encourages neighbors to visit the property and enjoy the view. Making people feel welcome is a legacy that the descendants of Margaret Schnetzler want to see continue.
La Venta Inn is not just a piece of history; it is a living entity woven into the fabric of the community. What lies ahead for the next 100 years? Meg offers this view: “What I see for the future of La Venta is the continuation of special celebrations. It has served that purpose through the different operators. I am grateful to be offering amazing cuisine and excellent hospitality and continuing to welcome the community. I hope I can do that for many years to come.”