Once upon a time, Whitley Heights was known best for the film stars who lived in its tree-shaded homes high in the Hollywood Hills. The cast of residents read like a theater marquee: Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Cecil B. DeMille, Jean Harlow, Tyrone Power and more.
Away from the floodlights and cameras, the crowds and premieres, they found quiet in the simple Mediterranean-style village nestled among winding roads and ivy-covered walls.
But, like the rest of Hollywood, Whitley Heights has changed. Now, according to residents, the peace has given way to recurring burglaries, assaults and car thefts. Prostitutes seek out the hills from nearby Hollywood Boulevard and do business in parked cars. But soon, if residents have their way, the heights will try to block out the city around it with a series of mechanical gates.
"We've had women beaten up in garages . . . (and) prostitutes bringing their customers here day and night," said Brian Moore, president of the Whitley Heights Civic Assn. "My house has been burglarized twice. I've had my car vandalized three times. It's kind of a desperate situation."
Won Committee Approval
Approval of the gates--expected this month by the Los Angeles City Council--would enable residents to isolate the community with 10 electronically controlled barriers, to be installed at homeowners' expense this fall, Moore said. The city's three-member Public Works Committee endorsed the proposal last week at the urging of 13th-District Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson.
Residents are raising funds and completing plans for the system, Moore said. He refused to say what the gates would cost but called them an expensive project that would make Whitley Heights one of the largest communities in Los Angeles to be removed from public use. The still-fashionable cluster of 168 homes, within walking distance of Hollywood Bowl, was declared a national historic district in 1982, Moore said.
"We don't have big-name stars anymore," he said. "But the hill is still full of movie people . . . a lot of cinematographers. We have a lot of nice people here--professional people."
Residents, who have pushed for the gates for four years, have blamed much of the area's crime on the commercial decline of nearby Hollywood Boulevard. Burglars and prostitutes make the short trip up the hill in spite of a communitywide professional patrol service, a vigorous Neighborhood Watch program, elaborate wrought-iron gates and scores of electronic alarm systems, residents said.
"It seems to have gotten progressively worse, even though we've added all these protective devices," commented Richard Lewis, 52, who said his property has been burglarized 10 times in the past 15 years. Lewis said his car was stolen--and recovered--2 1/2 years ago, and last July he and a friend were robbed while walking their dogs.
"A car stopped and two men jumped out with a gun and held us up," he said. "We were just walking in our shorts and T-shirts . . . in broad daylight."
Moore, who said he has spent $11,000 to equip his home with new fencing and alarms, placed the neighborhood's current burglary rate at about 3.5 per week. Four times in the past two years women have been robbed in their garages, he said. Two resisted and were beaten; the others were choked from behind until they gave up their purses, Moore said.
The area extending north from Hollywood Boulevard into Whitley Heights has the highest crime rate in Hollywood, said Los Angeles Police Officer Angelo Morton. From January through March, 397 crimes were reported in the district, nearly half in the hillside residential areas. The crime reports--including 34 residential burglaries, 49 auto thefts, 141 auto burglaries and 2 rapes--were more than double those of many other Hollywood communities, Morton said.
"And it's not that big an area," he said.
Inviting for Prostitutes
Secluded streets and heavy foliage have made the village an inviting place for prostitutes, residents said. Tod Jonson, whose home overlooks two streets in the village, said he sees prostitutes at work at least once or twice a week.
"It seems rare that you can't look down somewhere and see two people actively engaged--in their cars and in the open sometimes," Jonson said. "We get awfully tired of that. We do have children up in the hillsides."
Jonson said he has been burglarized twice in four years--once for $4,400 worth of jewelry and original artwork and another time for $800 or $900 worth of ceramics and smaller items.
"I think everybody's been hit one time or another," he said.
Stevenson, the City Council representative for Hollywood, has helped homeowners work with the city and solicit bids for the gates for about two years, Lewis said. Stevenson urged committee members last week to heed the homeowners' request, describing the community as an "endangered" part of Hollywood's past.
Not 'Modern' L. A.
Stevenson said she hopes the city will continue to perform street maintenance and tree trimming in the heights. The village, bounded by Franklin and Highland avenues and the Hollywood Freeway, is not used by traffic traveling from one part of the city to another, she said.
"This is what Hollywood used to be," Stevenson said. "When you go up there, you're not in the modern city. The people are very proud of that."
Moore stressed that residents are seeking the gates for protection, not because they share an "elitist attitude" toward the rest of the city. He said the homeowners association would continue to conduct its semiannual tours of the village by outsiders.