Neighborhood Spotlight: Gardena can be a bargain for those who play their cards right

For observers riding high above Los Angeles in one of the balloons, monoplanes, biplanes or ornithopters that wowed attendees of the 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet, the eye would have been drawn to a bright patch of green vegetation among the plains of sage.

This vibrant oasis, made possible by the waters of the 400-acre Dominguez Slough, probably inspired the name of the Gardena Valley in which it lay. The area was also called Berryland primarily because berries of all descriptions were grown here in large numbers but probably also owing to the fact that, although alfalfa was another important local crop, Alfalfaland does not have nearly the same ring to it.

At the edge of this fertile stretch of farmland, the small town of Gardena clustered itself around a station of the Los Angeles and Redondo Line at the corner of Vermont Avenue and 166th Street.

Embarrassingly, the town’s founders had incorrectly predicted that the rail line would run down Figueroa Street and had initially sited the town there. Once the actual route was made public in 1889, the townsfolk salvaged the situation by picking up and moving their downtown a few blocks to the south and west.

The rail line connected the burg to Los Angeles to the north and popular beach resorts to the west, but the land remained mostly rural. Among the farmers who tended the vast berry patches were Japanese immigrants, the founding members of what would become one of the largest Japanese American communities in the country.

Eventually, development pressures began to whittle away at the farmland of the Gardena Valley. The slough was drained, and the water that once irrigated countless farms was diverted to the ocean via the Dominguez Channel. All that remains is the 13-acre Gardena Willow Wetlands Preserve.

In 1930, the settlement of Gardena joined with nearby Moneta and Strawberry Park to form the city of Gardena. As it evolved to become more suburban than rural, the city looked to other sources of income, namely gambling.

As the only locality in L.A. that allowed casinos, Gardena’s six card rooms held a monopoly on legal gambling until Bell joined the party in 1980. Even today, the city gets 12% of each local gambling operation’s monthly gross revenue.

Neighborhood highlights

Bargains galore: Offering South Bay living without the South Bay housing prices, Gardena is a great option for those whose budget is south of $600,000.

A hometown vibe: Gardena is home to some great local dive bars, to Gardena Bowl and to plenty of solid Japanese restaurants and markets.

Know when to hold ’em: Whether your game is pai gow, baccarat, or plain old poker, Gardena’s casinos have a card room for you.

Neighborhood challenges

A concrete pocket: The city is surrounded by three freeways — the 105, 110 and 405 — so noise and traffic can be an issue.

Expert insight

Justin Potier, vice president of Boardwalk Properties, said El Camino College provides a youthful burst of energy to the city, and many homeowners rent out rooms to students for extra cash.

In addition, Gardena’s low home prices stand out among neighboring cities that pay more for proximity to the South Bay.

The median home value is around $100,000 less than the L.A. average, but Potier warns that it may not stay that way for long.

“This is a hot area,” Potier said. “Low inventory is pushing up home prices, so buyers on the fence should pull the trigger sooner rather than later.”

Market snapshot

In the 90247 ZIP Code, based on 27 sales, the median sales price in June for single-family homes was $461,000, according to CoreLogic. That was a 7.2% increase in median sales price year over year.

Report card

Within the boundaries of Gardena is One Hundred Fifty-Sixth Street Elementary, which scored 908 out of 1,000 in the 2013 Academic Performance Index.

Other bright spots include Lincoln Elementary and Arlington Elementary, which scored 894 and 885, respectively. Chapman Elementary had a score of 874, and Mark Twain scored 870.

hotproperty@latimes.com

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