A Place for Fulfilling the American Dream : Community with room for children to play draws couples, families to the high desert.

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Barely a week ago, Janet and Kent Moser piled the last of their belongings into a rented trailer, turned in the keys to their Van Nuys apartment and headed northeast for the high desert to their new home in Palmdale.

Recovering from the trauma of relocation, the Mosers and their four young children are experiencing a new sense of freedom.

For Jonathan, 7, it means playing ball in a large back yard instead of a cramped parking lot. For Kevin, 5, and Brittany, 2 1/2, it means bouncing on the floor without disturbing the neighbors. For Ryan, born last Valentine’s Day, one can anticipate the joys of growing up in a neighborhood with lots of children and at least one snowfall each year.

Across the Southland, young couples such as the Mosers have been struggling to attain the American dream of home ownership. Their search for an affordable home has been like reaching for the elusive brass ring, with a price tag that they hope is within their grasp.


Prices Kept Climbing

“We looked around a lot, in San Bernardino, the Chino area, near Oxnard and Thousand Oaks but Palmdale seemed to be a newer development with plenty of potential for growth and property appreciation,” said Moser, 30, a corporate financial analyst for the Arden Group who felt he could no longer procrastinate.

“Each time we looked, the price had gone up,” he said.

To obtain a price of $141,990 on their four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath house in the upscale west area of Quartz Hill, the Mosers had to purchase it last October, before it was built. The same model is now being sold for $20,000 more.


Moser joins an estimated 38,000 workers who commute an average of 100 miles daily to and from their jobs in the San Fernando Valley. He will exit at Encino; others will travel farther, like Wesley Woodruff, 28, who works for Allied Model Trains in West Los Angeles and wife, Donna, who works for the city of Glendale.

Fastest Growing City

Others, like Liz and Mike Moore, parents of a 2-year-old, have found both affordable housing and jobs locally; Liz as a graphics artist and Mike, a teacher hired out of college by the Antelope Valley Union High School District. Their home cost $100,000.

Palmdale is the fastest growing community among the state’s 444 incorporated cities and has held that record for the past two years. Its population, which numbered 23,000 in 1986, is now estimated at 56,000.

But, even given its fast growth, it is not without its traditions, civic organizations and social and church groups, parks and even a tinge of snobbery, said Darlene Phillips, a veteran social scene reporter for the 50-year-old Palmdale-based Antelope Valley News.

“There’s so much to do here. Palmdale has its theater group, its opera, its country clubs and golf courses,” she said, adding that Palmdale’s most prestigious charity function is the Hourglass Presentation Ball.

Air Force Escorts

The 25-year-old formal event is sponsored by the Alpha Charter Guild of the Antelope Valley Hospital Medical Center. Each year some 30 local debutantes are escorted to the ball by a contingent of cadets from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.


There are many reasons why the community is now labeled Southern California’s “hot spot,” said Mayor Pete (William J.) Knight, a retired Air Force colonel.

“Affordable housing is a main attraction, of course, and the new freeway has more people willing to accept the commute, which from L.A. is about an hour, give or take,” he said.

Residential development is burgeoning, with such major home builders as Kaufman & Broad, Harris, Pardee, Griffin, Rancho Vista, Premier and Ryder offering homes as low as $90,000. Retail development is also on the rise, Knight said, “with plenty of industrial park space, with room for expansion and a school system that’s doing a great job keeping up with the growth.”

Signs of promising commercial development are everywhere.

A proposed 1.4-million-square-foot regional shopping mall by Forest Cities Development is expected to break ground in April. Also planned is a major auto center and several shopping centers. Already in place are Gateway Center, Plaza del Centro, Palmdale Place and the new Brunswick Vista Lanes family recreation center.

The mayor admits that the water supply for the rapidly growing community is “both a concern and a challenge for the city. But, we’re seriously discussing various ways to replenish our underground water supplies.”

Looking ahead, Palmdale city planner Clyde Evans, aided by a citizens advisory committee, is involved with finding ways to address the inevitable problems caused by fast growth, and developers have joined with the county to create a community facilities district made possible under the Mello-Roos Act of 1982.

The district, concerned with providing adequate infrastructure systems, is the first of its kind created in Los Angeles County.


Incorporated Palmdale boundaries cover about 75 square miles, Evans said, “but its sphere of influence covers about 125 square miles. The city surrounds 29 square miles of unincorporated urban islands, of which 24 square miles have been targeted for the future, much talked about international airport.”

Approves of Changes

A former Palmdale mayor, Domenic Massari, 95, was asked how he felt about the fast-paced changes in the community where he has lived for 60 years. Wife Teresa, 78, had a quick answer:

“Are you kidding? We’re delighted with what’s happening here. What a blessing to finally have a K mart close by, instead of driving 100 miles to shop.”

Massari, affectionately known as Mr. Palmdale, was instrumental in bringing about Palmdale’s incorporation in 1962 and served as city councilman for 10 years.

He lives at Domenic’s Mobile Park Estates, a five-acre property he developed many years ago on the site of the original Palmdale, two miles southeast of modern Palmdale.

Swiss, German Founders

Palmdale was founded in 1886 by a group of Swiss and German families who migrated from the Midwest. The newcomers mistook the abounding Joshua trees for palm trees and called their settlement Palmenthal, later changed to Palmdale.

In the late 1800s, such familiar names in Western folklore as Kit Carson, Jedediah Smith and Wyatt Earp became part of the legend of Antelope Valley, and the impact of the railroad was felt after Southern Pacific laid tracks through the region in 1876, immediately causing the price of land to double from 25 cents to 50 cents an acre.

Once a predominantly agriculture area, Palmdale became known as the Aerospace Capital of the United States, with most major aerospace firms represented at Plant 42 or nearby Edwards Air Force Base, prideful of their contributions as test flight centers and assemblage sites for the Space Shuttle, the B1 and B2 stealth bomber.

However, the present wave of residents is no longer primarily employed by the giant aerospace industry. Their motivation for being in Palmdale is affordable housing, and developers have been quick to respond, with retailers following close behind.

‘Boom or Bust’ Cycles

Bob (Robert D.) Selleck II, president of Selleck Properties of Woodland Hills and a major commercial developer in Palmdale, said that many companies had misgivings about investments there during the 1970s because of the city’s “boom or bust” reputation resulting from cyclical cutbacks in the aerospace industry.

“By 1984, when my brother Tom (Selleck) and I started our company, the city had already done a lot to attract residential developers through attractive bond financing. Another tremendous catalyst was the dwindling supply in affordable housing in the San Fernando Valley,” Selleck said.

In 1988, median new-home prices in the Antelope Valley and Santa Clarita Valley (as reported by the Construction Industry Research Board) were $124,900 and $207,000, respectively, well below home prices in the southern portion of Los Angeles County.

“With neighboring Lancaster, another boom town contributing significantly to the growth of Antelope Valley, residential developers who can continue to deliver affordable housing will have a ready market and will attract more supportive commercial development,” Selleck said.

PALMDALE AT A GLANCE Population 1988 estimate: 53.745 1980-88 change: 81.2% MEDIAN AGE: 31.2 years Racial / Ethnic mix White (non-Latino): 80.5% Latino: 12.5% Black: 3.6% Other: 3.4% Annual Income Per Capita: 12,891 Median household: 35,644 Household distribution Less than $15,000: 18.1% $15,000-$30,000: 23.4% $30,000-$50,000: 31.1% $50,000-$75,000: 20.2% $75,000+: 7.2%