Country Club Park District Retains Its Serenity, Charm

Times Staff Writer

Country Club Park, home of the Los Angeles Country Club from 1899 through 1905, continues to reflect the serenity and charm that characterized it in the early 1900s when Isaac Milbank subdivided the area for a development of "spacious homes of architectural value."

Its residents have a slogan: "Help Us Improve Our Little Bit of L.A." and are intent on keeping crime, drugs and other unsavory elements from intruding on their 250-acre neighborhood.

The area is bounded by Olympic Boulevard on the north, Pico Boulevard on the south, Western Avenue on the east and Crenshaw Boulevard on the west.

The primary catalyst behind the active Country Club Park Neighborhood Assn. is Menion L. Carr, a retired Los Angeles County fireman and resident of the neighborhood since 1970. He is serving a fourth term as association president.

According to fellow members, Carr is "the best neighbor anyone could ever have."

"I just like people," said Carr, who keeps an up-to-date list of members of the 1,500 households in the area, noting births and deaths and monitoring the sale and purchase of properties. He also urges fellow residents to attend all City Hall hearings that may affect the welfare of their community and makes sure that transportation is provided.

Why such dedication? "The area is one of the few stable, still beautiful and affordable residential areas left near downtown L.A.," Carr said. "Many professionals are now moving here for that very reason. We welcome people who care about where they live and are willing to help preserve a decent neighborhood."

Country Club Park was subdivided between 1906 and 1912 into lots that were big enough for spacious homes and gardens, with views of the hills five miles north.

"The area is even more astonishing as a neighborhood today, when you look around at the intense development that surrounds it and realize that so little has changed and that ownership turnover has been so minimal," said Carr, who owns a spacious 1914-vintage residence.

"That highland portion, known as Westchester Gardens, bordered by Westchester Place, Arlington Avenue and Country Club Drive, was once the site of four of the grandest mansions ever built in the city of Los Angeles," he added.

Of the four mansions, the Isaac Milbank mansion at 3340 Country Club Drive, still stands. The Marsh home, at the northwest corner of Westchester and 12th Street, has been demolished, but the Reeves and Rosenheim residences still exist, at 1130 and 1120 Westchester Place.

Religious Community

The Reeves Mansion was designed by the noted architect Alfred Rosenheim for $57,670 (at a time when most homes cost $8,000 to $10,000), and is virtually intact. Its occupants are the Sisters of Social Service, a Catholic religious community, that was willed the property.

Rosenheim, the first president of the American Institute of Architects, California chapter, and designer of the landmark Church of Christ, Scientist on West Adams Boulevard, built his own residence next door to the Reeves mansion.

"The care and thought he lavished on these homes can be seen in the turreted tower that contains nine panels of stained glass, each of a different design," Carr noted.

The 27-room Isaac Milbank mansion, while run-down and in trustee litigation, is considered to be the most substantial surviving estate built for a single family in the city of Los Angeles before World War I.

Built Wrigley Mansion

It was designed by G. Lawrence Stimson, who also built the Wrigley Mansion in Pasadena (now the headquarters for the Tournament of Roses).

On the same grounds, Stimson built a cottage for Milbank's daughter and her family, which, along with the basement of the main house, houses the library and offices of the One Institute, one of the groups claiming ownership rights to the property.

A stroll through Country Club Park reveals more than 30 continuous residential blocks of smaller Mediterranean and half-timbered Tudor-revival homes, Craftsman bungalows and late-Victorian Queen Anne cottages.

Current residents, Carr explained, represent an ethnic mix that is 38% black and 62% Caucasian, Latino and Asian. Many homeowners, like Mrs. Mildred Lee, have resided in the area for several decades and have watched the transition from a good neighborhood to a shabbier one and now one that is undergoing revitalization.

Stable Neighborhood

"Throughout the years, our Country Club Park has remained stable, in spite of the changes in the surrounding areas," said Dr. Calvin Cottam, a chiropractor who has resided in the same Mission-style home on Arlington since 1936. He and a brother, Dr. Reid Rasmussen, carry on a practice started by their father on that site.

Cottam remembers when Olympic Boulevard did not exist between Hoover and Figueroa, and when Arlington was widened and raised. "Originally, our homes were up on a slope and overlooked the L streetcar line. It was quieter then, with less pollution," he said.

Today, 43,000 cars pass daily by the intersection of Olympic and Arlington boulevards.

"The area along Western Avenue used to be known as Uptown, and at Norton Avenue and Olympic (Boulevard), there stood a small, prestigious business community that resembled today's Larchmont Village. Our neighborhood attracts a broad ethnic mix and we all get along, we have block parties and are united in our efforts to keep the neighborhood a pleasant place to live," Cottam added.

Grand Staircase

Newcomer to the area Patricia Cross purchased an American Foursquare or Prairie house in Country Club Park area last fall. It features a stone-bracketed fireplace, a grand staircase with illuminated newel posts and stained-glass windows and original wood wainscoting in the typical Craftsman-style.

Cross, a former writer turned real estate agent, had owned a large old home in Hollywood, and more recently, lived in a 2,000-square-foot condominium in Marina del Rey.

"The decision to move to the mid-city was twofold," she said. "I was priced out of the Westside for the kind of home I preferred. I love the architecture, spaciousness and workmanship one sees in the larger older homes, so I began looking in the Mid-Wilshire area in the hope of finding something I could afford."

"Three areas that seemed particularly appealing and worth exploring included West Adams, Country Club Park and Lafayette Square."

No Gang Activity

Cross paid $255,000 for her 4,005-square-foot home in Country Club Park. "In the process of purchasing it, I went to the police department to learn more about the safety factors in the neighborhood and was told that there was some drug incidence but no gang activity."

The neighborhood, the police reported, was stable and well patrolled, she added.

Country Club Park's 24-hour armed patrol service is financed by the homeowners. "They come around every hour and drop a security check report in my mailbox, which is how we make sure the service is living up to its contract," Carr said.

He said service to the elderly includes having a patrol car waiting in front of their home when they return from running errands, upon request.

Separate District

The residents of Country Club Park have banded together in other ways, more recently, to provide proper signage for the area, indicating a separate district. They are working to get some of their residential streets blocked off from Pico Boulevard.

"In particular, we didn't want our area to be confused with Koreatown, which is adjacent to Country Club Park," Carr said. "Commercial signs are clearly larger in their English version than in the foreign language. We fought for that at City Hall and won."

Carr made it clear that Country Club Park welcomes all ethnic groups to its neighborhood. Carr is black, and so are many of its older residents. "But Asians and whites have been moving in steadily and we all get along, participating as good neighbors on a variety of projects."

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