Colfax Meadow hasn’t been in such an uproar since 1938.
That’s the year the Los Angeles River went on a rampage in Studio City and surged into the meadow, flooding silent screen star Alice Terry’s home.
Terry, who played opposite Rudolph Valentino in such films as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and died 15 months ago at age 88, lost most of her front yard to the raging waters.
These days, her property is again at the center of a storm that is engulfing “the meadow"--as residents still call a four-block-wide enclave of 71 residences east of Colfax Avenue and north of the river. It is still home to many people in the entertainment business, including actor Robert Blake.
A developer has purchased Terry’s former Kelsey Street home and announced plans to demolish it, subdivide its 1 1/3-acre lot and build six large houses.
The project would resemble a 10-house tract the same developer is finishing on nearby Troost Avenue. There, he has replaced another of the meadow’s original ranch homes with two rows of two-story mini-mansions.
The flurry of house building has jolted Colfax Meadow residents who pride themselves on having hung onto their neighborhood’s country-like atmosphere for nearly 55 years.
Instead of curbs and sidewalks and street lights, the meadow’s streets--Kelsey, Dilling, Chiquita and Acama--are lined by vine-covered picket fences. Most of its homes are shaded by aging oak, sycamore and eucalyptus trees that tower over lots that are an acre or more in size.
Residents say the large lots are a powerful lure to builders who are running out of undeveloped land in surrounding Studio City and elsewhere in the southeastern San Fernando Valley.
At the urging of 67 of the meadow’s 71 families, Los Angeles officials are taking steps to prevent the big lots from being chopped into smaller home sites.
A City Council motion introduced Feb. 24 by Studio City-area representatives Joel Wachs and Mike Woo calls for zoning that would prohibit homes from being built on parcels smaller than 15,000 square feet. The current law allows 5,000-square-foot lots.
To residents’ dismay, officials predict that it could take up to eight months for the zoning change proposal to be reviewed by city lawyers and planners and then be voted on by the council.
The rezoning proposal has prompted builder Eli Elaz to step up plans to develop 30 more houses on Terry’s former property and other large meadow lots. He has hired a land-use lawyer in hopes of blocking the rezoning.
Elaz says he is proud of the 4,100-square-foot houses he has already built on 62 1/2-foot-wide lots he carved out of Colfax Meadow. All but three of the $850,000-plus dwellings have been sold.
“I’m saying I’m consistent with the zoning and with the existing neighborhood,” Elaz said. “I’ll lose a lot of money if they stop me from building. It’s not fair.”
His houses have similar interiors--soaring living room ceilings, wet bars and spacious kitchens. Their exteriors are variously covered with brick or stone facings to give them differing looks. “This one’s Cape Cod, that’s Spanish, that’s ‘castle’,” Elaz said.
Elaz denies neighbors’ complaints that his new houses are too big for their lots or are built too close together. Their two-story height creates an illusion that they are closer than the required 10-foot minimum separation, he said.
According to Elaz, his new houses will increase property values in the meadow.
“We are running out of land in the Valley,” he said. “This is very selfish for these guys to try and downzone. I’m very reasonable. I’m willing to reduce the number of lots and not go to the max. But I guess people don’t like changes.”
Neighbors fear that Elaz’s subdivisions will strangle the meadow.
“We feel he figures he has found a cash cow in our neighborhood and he’s going to milk it,” said Ron Taylor, a television producer who lives in a 50-year-old Kelsey Street home.
“We’re not letting our fantasy get away. We know what he does. We’ve seen it. L.A. can’t grow any further. The city is turning on itself. Los Angeles is devouring itself.”
Darren Robinson, an electronics technician who lives in a meadow home built in 1937, said the neighborhood “didn’t know the law and the power of city councilmen” to change the rules when Elaz sought city permission for his first subdivision two years ago.
Robinson asserted that Elaz is waiting for old-time meadow residents “to kick off so he can buy their lots” and build on them.
Hopes Family Keeps House
Original meadow settler Cris Hewitt said she hopes her family holds onto the home she built 53 years ago. She said that for years she has fended off realty agents and speculators interested in buying her home’s large Chiquita Street lot.
“I hate what they’re doing,” said Hewitt, who invited much of Colfax Meadow to her 80th birthday party at her home recently. “I think it’s ridiculous the way they put 10 houses where there had been one house before. I don’t think that’s progress.”
Hewitt, whose property was narrowly spared by the 1938 flood, said the resulting washout left much of the meadow “like the Grand Canyon.” She said it took officials 12 years to replace the Colfax bridge, which had disappeared in the river’s surging waters.
She said she and her neighbors hope city officials come to the meadow’s rescue faster this time.