Former resident, water company pioneer dies in Carmel

Acorn Staff Writer

Friends and family attended a mass recenty in Carmel, Calif. to remember long-time Agoura resident Elizabeth Hughes who died June 22 following a long illness.

She was 82.

An Old Agoura resident for many years before moving to Northern California, Hughes was instrumental in formation of the Agoura/Las Virgenes Chamber of Commerce and Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD). She also owned much of the property that’s soon to become the largest development ever in Agoura Hills, the 40-acre Oak Creek mixed-use project on Canwood Street.

Hughes was a 1940 graduate of Emory University in Atlanta and a graduate of the first class of Wave military officers at Smith College in 1942. She moved to Los Angeles County in 1946 with her first husband and lived there for 30 years.

During the 1940s, Hughes became a real estate broker and began purchasing local property, including the three-acre site in Agoura Hills where Denny’s Restaurant is located. The restaurant will be torn down when the $70 million Canwood Street apartments, offices and restaurants are built next year.

Along with partners Ernie Shaw and Harry Warshawsky, Hughes acquired more than 32 acres in the vicinity just east of Kanan Road along Canwood Street.

In 1954, Hughes and Robert Boyd, Agoura’s first postmaster, formed a chamber of commerce water committee to investigate bringing potable water to Las Virgenes. The pair entered talks with the Metropolitan Water District about running a pipeline to the community, and in 1958, LVMWD was formed. Hughes was a member of the district’s first board of directors.

Valerie Hunken, Hughes’ daughter, recalled those important early years.

"When I was a little girl everybody had these 2,000-gallon water tanks," she said, "and my stepfather, when he was off-duty from the fire department, delivered water to all these tanks. Without [him and my mother] we definitely would not have had water."

Hughes also was instrumental in the passage of millions of dollars in water infrastructure bonds.

"She was one of the early water leaders in the state," said Glen Peterson, a longtime LVMWD boardmember and local historian. "She was a very pleasant lady and always held a lot of interest in the district."

When the water district celebrated its 35th anniversary with a large dinner party in 1993, Hughes was the honored guest.

Satisfied that water was available to the Las Virgenes area, Hughes turned her attention back to real estate. Her first big sale was to entertainer Bob Hope. Other clients included Jim and Marian Jordan ("Fibber McGee and Mollie" radio show team), and Ronald Reagan. Hughes became friends with Reagan and took charge of his local campaign effort when he ran for governor.

Hughes had a keen eye for the potential value of local real estate and was responsible for the sale of many of the large ranches that resulted in today’s subdivisions.

Her involvement in the community also resulted in a position on the Los Angeles County Citizens’ Planning Council, a 1970s group that encouraged citizen participation in urban and regional planning.

Hughes retired to Carmel in 1982 and became a member of the Carmel Mission Basilica, the Carmel Foundation, the Carmel Women’s Club and the Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

She’s survived by her daughter, Valerie Hunken of Carmel, two granddaughters, and her sister, Susan Huguley Wallau of Palm Beach, Fla. Hughes’ nephew, Alex Wallau, is president of the ABC Network.

Her husband, Harold Hughes, died in June 2000.

"I learned two important things from my mother," Hunken said, "the value of water and strength of character. My mother proved that a woman can succeed in a man’s world and to not fear the challenge."

The family suggests that any memorial contributions be made to the Carmel Foundation, P.O. Box 1050, Carmel, CA. 93921.

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