Sure, Burbank is the entertainment industry hub of Southern California. And the city's Bob Hope Airport is a hassle-free way to fly from here to there. But to those who yearn for a time before movies and aviation, the big draw is the leafy Rancho Equestrian neighborhood, where residents can park their mounts in their own backyards, a short trot from the studios.
Beginnings David Burbank apparently valued real estate as much as oral hygiene; in 1867 the dentist purchased land in the area that now bears his name. He built a home and raised sheep on what is today's back lot at Warner Bros. Twenty years later, he sold the land, but his name stuck.
Lockheed Aircraft and the first motion-picture companies moved into Burbank in the 1920s — about the time that large farms and ranches abutting the Los Angeles River and Griffith Park sprang up in the Rancho. By the '40s, the big properties had been subdivided, making way for neat houses with horse stalls in the back. Stables lined Riverside Drive. Hollywood came calling.
"My dad owned a stable off of Alameda Avenue and kept studio horses there," said Burbank Historical Society founder Mary Jane Strickland, 81. "He hired the livestock and equipment for Columbia Pictures, which became the Warner [Bros.] Ranch. We always had horses."
Equestrian zoning isn't the only reason home buyers flock to the Rancho. Tree-lined streets, neighbors who know one another, good schools, Griffith Park accessibility, and close proximity to Warner Bros. and Disney studios and two TV-network headquarters attract entertainment-industry honchos and other media workers.
Dog walkers and horse lovers bump into each other in this pedestrian-friendly neighborhood flanked roughly by Griffith Park to the south, Victory Boulevard to the east, Keystone Street to the west and Alameda Avenue to the north. Horse-drawn carriages are as apt to be rolling down Parkside Avenue as cars on weekends.
Out and about
Today at 1 p.m., equestrian carolers will gather at Allen Avenue and Riverside Drive to "stroll" the Rancho, singing holiday songs.
"The Rancho is my oasis, where I come home from my downtown job and get far away from the cares of the world," said Lisa Stege, a longtime resident and owner of Belle, her equine companion. "Living here does me more good than therapy."
Locals gather at Viva Restaurant on Riverside Drive for Mexican food, then head down the block to the feed stores for hay and grain for their horses. Riverside Café, owned by longtime locals Michael and Paula Kidby, is the hot spot for breakfast on weekends. Michael, a veteran horse trainer, also gives riding lessons to neighborhood kids.
If campfires were allowed in the Rancho, stories such as these would surely be told: Coldwell Banker agent Donna Tritten's daughter Michelle delivered newspapers on horseback in the 1970s.
Mister Ed, television's talking horse, lived in a stall with — yes — double Dutch doors on Sparks Street, and his owner, Les Hilton, had a house and backyard office there too, where he could keep an eye on the star.
Back in the day, horses were outfitted for Halloween — some became "camels," and riders in Robin Hood attire would drape steeds in swags. Today, owners enter their horses in an annual Easter-bonnet contest.
Riverside Café's Michael Kidby has trained horses for the stage; they have appeared in Los Angeles Music Center productions of "Oklahoma!" and "Pagliacci."
Stege remembers attending the 1974 premiere of Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" on horseback at the former Pickwick Drive-In on Alameda Avenue (a Pavilions market occupies the space now). "Everyone showed up in Western gear, and they served 'horse' d'oeuvres — carrots — to the animals."
Housing stock Single-family homes far outnumber multifamily units in the Rancho. Many of the homes come with stables and stalls. There are about 785 single-family homes, 180 condos and townhomes and 250 horses.
Last week, three townhouses were listed for sale, from $615,000 to $789,000. There were five single-family homes listed, from $789,000 to $1.25 million.
Rancho Equestrian students attend one of two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school, all part of the Burbank Unified School District. According to the 2005 Academic Performance Index Growth Report, William McKinley Elementary School scored 778 out of a possible 1,000 points; R.L. Stevenson Elementary School, 824; Jordan Middle School, 791; and Burroughs High School, 758.
Sources: California Department of Education, http://www.cde.ca.gov/ ; Windermere Real Estate/Bill Toth & Associates; Donna Tritten, Coldwell Banker; Burbank Historical Society; Burbank Animal Shelter.