The Palos Verdes Peninsula is comprised of four cities (Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills Estates, Rolling Hills, and Rancho Palos Verdes) and two Los Angeles County 'Islands' (Westfield and Academy hills). Palos means 'sticks or trees' and Verdes means 'green'; a name derived from the shrub-like trees abundant along the marshy areas at the foot of the Peninsula when it was primarily a cattle grazing and crop growing area. The Peninsula is also known as the terraced land, due to its geological origin. As the Peninsula pushed up out of the sea, the action of the ocean waves eroded plateaus, or terraces, until a total of thirteen distinct wave-cut terraces were formed, although up to 25 terraces can be identified. Rare Baleen whale bones have even been found in the Peninsula hillsides.
A land grant in 1846 from the Mexican government to the family of Don Jose Sepulveda was known as Rancho Palos Verdes. In 1882 Jotham Bixby acquired 16,000 acres (25 square miles) of what is now the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The history of the Peninsula during the 20th century generally begins with the Vanderlip family of New York City. Frank Vanderlip Sr., an extremely successful financier, sought a perfect climate for relocation and development. Frank Vanderlip Sr. formed a group that bought the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 1913 for $1,500,000 ($93.75 per acre). He began building an exquisite estate (Villa Narcissa named after his wife) in Portuguese Bend, a location deemed to have the ideal climate. He planned a large villa to resemble the Italian Villa Papa Julio and grading and marble importing began in 1928. However, the stock market crash of 1929 prevented fulfillment of this vision. The entire compound was never finished. The original barn (called Farmstead) became the Portuguese Bend Riding Academy and is still a major equestrian facility. The great depression ended Frank Vanderlip Sr.'s original vision for the Peninsula which also included an Italianate village at Point Vicente.
The Palos Verdes Project was formed and the Vanderlips sold off portions of the property that eventually became the cities of the Peninsula.
One thousand acres at the top of the Peninsula were set aside for a California University and was offered free, however Westwood was selected for UCLA and the land was later to become the site of Palos Verdes College. Palos Verdes College operated for 8 years and then closed.