Though its history stretches back more than a century, in recent decades the northeast L.A. neighborhood of Hermon had all but lost its identity, overshadowed by nearby South Pasadena and Highland Park. Now, this tiny, peaceful community on the edge of the Arroyo Seco is rediscovering its past -- and taking control of its future.
Then and now
At the time of its founding, Hermon was a tough sell.
The small valley and its chaparral-covered hillsides were cut off from nearby Los Angeles and Pasadena for much of the year. A wintertime trip downtown required fording the Arroyo on foot.
The land's owner, Ralph Rogers, gave up on finding a buyer in 1903 and donated the property to a group of Free Methodists, conservative Christians who cared little about its isolation. They established a school on the land and named it after the biblical Mt. Hermon at the headwaters of the River Jordan.
The school evolved into Los Angeles Pacific College, and modest homes sprang up around it to house professors, students and other Free Methodists. Hermon merged with Los Angeles in 1912 and for decades remained a quiet, pious place.
But everything changed in 1965. The college, struggling financially, merged with a rival to become Azusa Pacific University, and the Hermon campus closed. Teachers and students moved out.
After a broad decline in the '70s and '80s, Hermon is undergoing a renaissance. New businesses have moved in, and older homes are being remodeled. Spruced-up public space on the edge of the Arroyo includes a new dog park, popular with locals.
A group formed in 2000 to fight a nearby home development has grown into a network of neighborhood organizations, including the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, that has focused on cleaning up the area, bringing residents together and asserting Hermon's identity.
What it's about
Recent years have brought improved infrastructure and an increasingly eclectic population, but the things Hermon residents have always loved about their humble community remain unchanged. Open space, in the form of parks and undeveloped hills, still surrounds the neighborhood.
Hermon is solidly working class, although young professionals are beginning to move in, drawn by affordable homes and short commutes. "We have modern artists living next to TV repairmen living next to teachers," said neighborhood activist Wendi Riser.
Pablo Lopez bought his home in Hermon -- a three-bedroom, 1,546-square-foot traditional built in 1932 -- several years ago, but he's lived in the neighborhood all his life.
His parents moved into a newly built house here in 1964 (price tag: $25,000), and they've been here ever since. "I bought the house in front of my dad's house," Lopez said. "It's like 'Everybody Loves Raymond.' "
Downtown L.A., where Lopez works as a manager at an attorney service, is a 10-minute drive on the 110 Freeway. Old Town Pasadena is no farther, and the nearby Gold Line puts both within reach on public transit.
Lopez jogs in nearby Ernest E. Debs Regional Park and plays tennis on neighborhood courts by the Arroyo -- all within walking distance from his home.
Many of the Free Methodists' original structures still stand, and conservation buffs find that century-old homes tend to be cheaper here than in surrounding areas. Bungalows and cottages predominate, but Hermon's 1,100 homes include Spanish, Craftsman and contemporary styles.
Current offerings include a three-bedroom, 1,639-square-foot wood-shake cottage built in 1907, listed at $725,000. On the other end of the price spectrum, a two-bedroom, 1,006-square-foot traditional home is on the market for $355,000.
Good news, bad news
In some ways, present-day Hermon reflects its original residents'lack of material concerns. Home lots are small, streets can be tightly packed, and residents complain about the lack of businesses within the neighborhood.
As the community has organized, though, homeowners are taking steps to improve things. Activists are soliciting input for a 20-year plan for Hermon, which may bring in a new grocery store and protect public space.
Hermon is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Students through fifth grade may attend Bushnell Way Elementary, in the southern part of the neighborhood, which scored 703 out of a possible 1,000 on the 2007 Academic Performance Index Base Report. They move on to Luther Burbank Middle School and Franklin High, both in nearby Highland Park, which scored 650 and 601, respectively.