Beauty & the Beasts
The Palos Verdes peacocks flamboyantly strut their stuff, to the delight—and sometimes anger— of residents and visitors.
Photographed by Marisa Guzman-Aloia
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Peacocks. Peahens. Peachicks. Collectively peafowl, though most commonly referred to as the bold and colorful male “peacocks.” According to National Geographic, they are one of the most adorned creatures on earth and have been admired for thousands of years, particularly the India blue species, which lives on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Historically and globally, peacocks have been considered a significant symbol of beauty, protection, nobility, watchfulness, guidance and holiness. Ancient Christianity heralded them as representing eternal life. In Hinduism, they signify benevolence, patience, kindness, compassion and knowledge. Greek mythology believed the eyes of the tail feathers were the eyes of heaven.
So how did the sacred national bird of its native India travel across oceans to Southern California? The first Palos Verdes peacocks date back to the early 1900s and the estate of Frank A. Vanderlip, Sr., a prominent New York banker who purchased and developed the peninsula. As the story goes, Vanderlip admired the peacocks of a fellow land baron, Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin of Arcadia, who imported them from India in 1879. The Baldwin family later gifted six pairs of blue peacocks and a pair of rare white peacocks to Vanderlip. According to Vanderlip’s granddaughter, Narcissa Vanderlip, he had an extensive bird collection that included swans, geese, ducks, chickens and many small birds.
Speaking fondly of playing as a child in room-sized aviaries outfitted with small pools and extravagant perches, Narcissa smilingly recalls, “My grandfather just loved the peacocks! So did everyone who came to visit. It was wonderful growing up with such beautiful creatures. After the Great Depression, my grandfather gave all of the birds, except the peacocks, to the Wrigley family, and they were moved to Catalina Island. The peacocks he kept and let roam free. The white birds did not survive, but the blue ones did.”
WALK THIS WAY
The peafowl not only survived, they thrived. “The best flock of India peafowl in the U.S. is in Palos Verdes,” says Dennis Frett, an Iowa-based peafowl expert who has consulted with city officials and estimates there are now more than 200 birds. Though not indigenous to the Peninsula, they have found their way into the hearts of many South Bay residents and have become the unofficial mascot of the community, while greatly influencing local culture.
There is a Palos Verdes Peacocks Facebook page and a Friends of the Peacocks website, which is dedicated to protecting and preserving them. There is a street named Peacock Ridge, and hiking on the trails at Peacock Flats is a nature lover’s bliss. Local charities have raised money with peacock-themed events. Linda Navarro, a member of the Palos Verdes Junior Women’s Club, says, “We raised more money than we ever have with our peacock Christmas ornaments last year!” The Rolling Hills Country Club, with glass entry doors donned with peacock etchings, holds an annual Men’s Peacock Tournament and Ladies’ Peacock Invitational. “The peacock has been in all four versions of the club’s logo since it began and is a part of our history,” says general manager Greg Sullivan.
The birds have also played an important role in education and the arts. Mary Jo Hazard, a local psychotherapist, authored a popular children’s book, The Peacocks of Palos Verdes, and has readings at schools, stores and libraries to encourage literacy and teach children about peafowl. The Palos Verdes Library District collaborated with Mary Jo and held a 2011 peacock poster contest that was sponsored by Terranea Resort. Its tremendous success spawned the March 2012 peacock bookmark contest to promote reading, in conjunction with the spring release of Mary Jo’s new peacock book, Palo’s World.