Hidden in the heart of the South Bay, freeway-close El Camino Village enjoys convenience and marine air. On serene weekend mornings, only the call of wild parrots breaks the tranquillity as residents out for a stroll greet one another by name.
Hardwood floors, a fireplace, a floor plan perfect for entertaining and mature liquidambar trees that flush bright crimson and orange in autumn attracted James and Michele Toomey to their home, a sunny three-bedroom tract house that cost the young couple $229,000 five years ago.
They had looked in Santa Monica, where they had grown up and worked — he as a computer programmer and she at the community college — and wanted to live within biking or walking distance of their jobs. Their budget, however, forced them to look elsewhere.
"A primary concern was driving time, but even more so I hoped to be close to the beach because I grew up playing volleyball," said James, 36.
Living about four miles from the beach, Michele, 33, said, "we always get an ocean breeze since we're facing west. On a hot day, all we have to do is open that door."
Parks and rec
The village lies within walking distance of El Camino College, Alondra Golf Course and Alondra Park, which has a lake stocked with fish and is home to ducks and geese.
The Toomeys routinely take advantage of the nearby recreational facilities, including the golf course where James sometimes plays or hits balls.
They have attended plays and taken yoga classes at El Camino College. There James has watched volleyball, football, basketball, badminton, water polo and swimming competitions.
"Every week we run on their track," Michele said. "We can go at 4:30 in the morning, 5 in the morning, and feel totally safe. We hear ducks." And crickets.
The couple enjoys exploring the area, especially on foot. "James likes to take me on walks," Michele said.
A favorite route follows the meandering sidewalks along Cordary Avenue, where established trees form a canopy over the street.
Good news, bad news
The serene village is five minutes from the 405 Freeway but free of annoying cut-through traffic. It is bounded by busy Crenshaw Boulevard on the east; Prairie Avenue on the west; Manhattan Beach Boulevard on the south and Marine Avenue on the north.
The only drawback: Community college students park throughout the neighborhood Monday through Friday when classes are in session.
The neighborhood primarily has two- and three-bedroom tract houses built from about 1941 to the early 1950s, according to Warren Short, a real estate agent with Keller Williams. Homes typically range from 850 square feet to 1,500 square feet on lots averaging 5,000 to 6,000 square feet. "Plenty of room to add on," Short said.
The area "has just recently taken off," he added, citing evidence of remodeling, upgrades and several teardowns. Indeed there are many houses with second stories and others are in the process of adding on. A few have been replaced altogether by new large-scale homes.
Houses generally sell from about $400,000 to $500,000 depending on their condition, Short said. (There is one currently on the market at $700,000.) Compared with other areas of the South Bay, he said, El Camino Village remains relatively affordable.
When the Toomeys bought their home, they planned to move back to the Westside as soon as they could afford a home in Santa Monica or West L.A.
Today, they've got plenty of equity. The value of their tract house has doubled since 2000.
But the Toomeys are staying put where they feel safe; they don't worry that their dog, Ginger, will run into traffic; and neighborhood kids can ride bicycles up and down the streets.
On the 2004 California Academic Performance Index, Mark Twain Elementary School scored 764 out of a possible 1,000 and Will Rogers Middle School, 626. Both are in the Lawndale Elementary School District.
Leuzinger High School, which is part of the Centinela Valley Union High School District, scored 518.
Year...Median Price 1990...$219,000
*Year to date
Sources: DataQuick Information Systems; api.cde.ca.gov.