Bell Canyon is a serene and secluded gated community of about 800 single-family home sites. Crisscrossed by private horse and hiking trails, it sits among craggy slopes in a boulder-filled valley about three miles north of Calabasas in the unincorporated eastern section of Ventura County.
The area has been occupied for about 2,000 years and was once home to the Chumash Indians. The Chumash shrine of jagged sandstone, known as Cwaya Cuquele ("the feathered banner is waving"), remains the gateway to modern Bell Canyon.
In the late 1960s, the land, then a 1,700-acre cattle ranch, was purchased by Spruce Land and Boise Cascade, subdivided and named Woodland Hills Country Estates. Most of the home sites at the development, zoned for horses and equestrian facilities, sold within 10 days.
The new property owners honored local attorney Charles A. Bell, who in 1906 served as justice of the peace for Calabasas, by renaming the area Bell Canyon in 1969. In a nod to the Old West and to emphasize the equestrian atmosphere, roads were named Mustang, Silverspur, Stagecoach and Corral.
Mature oak trees provide homes for a variety of birds, including hawks and vultures; barn swallows migrate from Argentina each spring and build nests under the eaves of homes using mud pellets and plant fibers. Deer, roadrunners, rabbits and coyote are often seen skirting through the canyon brush.
Hundreds of miles of protected trails provide residents with routes for mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding. Hiking trails are clearly marked at each entrance, including with their degree of difficulty and destination.
Several creeks run through the area, which is dotted with waterfalls.
Bell Canyon community events are posted at the front gate every month. Among them are an August barbecue each year, featuring medieval jousting, and the annual country fair and silent auction benefit. A private social hall hosts events throughout the year.
The Kids Committee, chaired by resident Tracie Shepard, arranges about eight events yearly, including an Easter egg hunt and a used-book collection drive to benefit pediatric cancer efforts.
"We want the kids to participate in giving," Shepard said. Separate food and toy drives benefit Child SHARE, a foster home in Pasadena.
Good news, bad news
With level home sites becoming scarce, new homes are being built on increasingly steep lots. The Bell Canyon area backs up to ecologically preserved land in the Santa Monica Mountains. "Bell Canyon should be preserved too," said resident Scott Sokol.
An architectural review committee was formed to help ease the tension between builders and preservationists.
Located within the Las Virgenes Unified School District, grade-school children attend Round Meadow Elementary, which scored 896 out of 1,000 on the 2004 Academic Performance Index. After that, students attend Alice C. Stelle Middle School, which scored 863, and Calabasas High School, 811.
On the market
About 20 properties are currently for sale, ranging from a 3,978-square-foot, four-bedroom home for $1,429,000 to a 4,489-square-foot home with five bedrooms listed at $2,695,000, according to local resident and real estate agent Gary Hale.
"Bell Canyon invokes the feeling of a true rustic town," Hale said, "from the chili cook-offs to the white-rail fencing."
Year...Median Price 1990...$675,000
*Year to date.