A Westside ‘Pocket of Affordability’ : Neighborhoods: Compared to housing costs nearby, homes here are bargains. And many residents enjoy area’s ethnic diversity.

<i> Oliver is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. </i>

In 1981, Kathryn Sato-Song and her husband, Arthur, dreamed of buying a home on Los Angeles’ Westside, close to their parents and their work.

One night after dinner with Arthur’s parents, the Songs drove up and down the nearby streets south of Pico Boulevard looking at “For Sale” signs.

They found the home they eventually bought, an early-1940s stucco on a quiet street between La Cienega Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, just north of the Santa Monica Freeway.


“The neighbors are really the best feature,” Sato-Song said. “When we moved here in 1981, we were welcomed with open arms. I’ve always been a city dweller, so I’m quite comfortable here.”

Added her husband: “You can sometimes even feel the sea breezes.”

After moving into the area, the Songs became members of Neighbors United, a residents’ association that banded together nine years ago to maintain the quality of the integrated neighborhood, to keep gangs and graffiti out and to beautify the area.

The groups’s president, Dolores A. Reece, said that last June members held a multifamily garage sale to raise money to buy jacaranda trees, which they planted along Guthrie Street.

“We’re a mixed neighborhood that works because everyone has the same pride of ownership,” says Nancy Fuller, who lives in a house that belonged to her husband’s grandfather.

Members of Neighbors United live in a section of the Westside that until recently had been overlooked. The area between Pico Boulevard and the Santa Monica Freeway, bounded by Robertson Boulevard on the west and Fairfax Avenue on the east, includes several neighborhoods of attractive old homes.

The location draws an ethnic mix of residents--Jews, Sikhs, blacks, Asians and Latinos--that might be found only in Los Angeles.

The area attracts upscale young professionals and older residents alike. Beverly Hills and Century City are minutes away. While prices here--$300,000 to $400,000 for a three-bedroom house--seem steep, they are moderate compared to other sections of the Westside.

The area is not without its troubles. To make life more manageable, residents have banded together into several neighborhood associations to address the urban problems of graffiti, gangs and encroaching development.

The Crestview Neighborhood Assn. was formed last January by residents who live just south of Beverly Hills and share the same concerns as Neighbors United. In June, a contest was held to choose a name for the community. Crestview, the old Beverly Hills telephone exchange, which some residents still claim, won.

“Our neighborhood is popular with people who like to live near their place of worship,” said Michael Many, president of the Crestview Neighborhood Assn. “There are many synagogues nearby, and Orthodox Jews can walk to temple. There are kosher and Middle Eastern markets on Pico.”

The neighborhood also is home to a large community of American Sikhs who attend the Guru Ram Das Ashram located on Pruess Street.

“There are a lot of young professional people moving into our neighborhood,” says Sat Narayan Simran Kaur Khalsa, who owns a 1939 duplex designed by Elwain Steinkamp, a Bel-Air developer who built houses and duplexes in the area between 1938 and the early 1940s.

Steinkamp’s Spanish-style, tile-roofed homes are highly prized. Many have courtyards and leaded glass windows with stained-glass panels.

Kaur Khalsa has lovingly restored her duplex, and like many Sikhs, flies a yellow flag outside her home. “I’m a block captain,” she said. “When I pass out our association’s monthly flyer, people are friendly. Last month, it took me 2 1/2 hours to go up and down my block.”

The area is one of the Westside’s more densely populated, but conversations with older residents reveal a time when the area had been bean fields and grazing land.

“I remember passing this area in my horse and buggy on the way to the beach,” Leon Goldberg, 90, recalled. As a young man he used to travel on Pico from his kosher butcher shop on Glendale Boulevard.

“The paved road stopped at La Brea,” he said. “From there it was a dirt road that passed through bean fields owned by Japanese farmers.”

In 1939, Goldberg and his wife built a three-bedroom home on a lot between Fairfax and La Cienega. “At that time, the neighborhood was heavily Jewish,” he said.

The rural ambience of the area also was written into early covenants and restrictions governing development up to the early 1930s.

“One rule was that you couldn’t keep cows within a certain distance in front of a house,” said Barbara Aspenson, a real estate agent for Jon Douglas who grew up in the area.

Gay Reeves, a homeowner in Crestview, has researched her neighborhood’s development in the county archives.

“The area became part of the city in 1915,” she said. “The earliest houses were built in 1926. We think that Pickford Avenue was named for Mary Pickford, who was a star by then.”

By the early 1970s an aging population and white flight in reaction to racial integration brought change to the area. In the 1980s, residents became alarmed when apartments located between Sawyer Street and Cadillac Avenue became a center of gang activity and drug selling.

“When I moved to the area in 1979 the neighborhood was pretty quiet. Then in the early ‘80s, this area went through a period when people felt victimized by petty crime, so they stayed to themselves and didn’t want to get involved,” said Sada Sat Singh Khalsa, a Crestview block captain on Preuss Road, which has numerous Sikh residents.

Finally, in 1988, Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles, at La Cienega and Cadillac, and Mayor Tom Bradley’s office started the Model Neighborhood Project to address problems of gangs, drugs, abandoned cars and graffiti in the apartment area.

The program coordinator for the mayor’s office, Walter White, said the project extends from Pickford to Cadillac between Robertson and La Cienega and includes a half-mile circle around Kaiser’s medical center.

“Our goal was to help empower the community through organizing Neighborhood Watch and meetings with the police,” said Sorey Mi-Chelle, Kaiser’s director of public affairs.

“The problems haven’t completely disappeared, but they’re not as visible on the streets in the apartment area. There is still some drug dealing and some graffiti there.”

White has organized a Model Neighborhood advisory committee that meets monthly. David Greenes, a buyer for an aerospace company, serves on the committee.

As captain for his block on Chareton Street, Greenes has tried to organize his neighbors to help him paint out graffiti in the alleys, but the apathy of some of the apartment owners annoys him.

“Property owners need to be responsible for maintaining the safety of their buildings,” he said. “A lot of the buildings don’t have an owner or manager living on the premises. If every property owner would secure his building, you would see a great transformation here.”

Rosalind Goddard, senior librarian at Robertson Branch Library, has lived for 11 years in a 1950s-vintage apartment that has a courtyard and grassy back yard.

“The apartment neighborhood has calmed down a lot recently,” she said. “In the mid-1980s there was drug dealing in the alleys. The police began to meet with residents, and by January, 1987, there was a task force in place. Now, I ride my bike around the area. For me, living here has been a positive experience.”

Police reports in the West Los Angeles division, which patrols the area between Robertson and La Cienega, show the same sort of crimes that occur elsewhere. Crimes against property such as residential burglaries, burglaries from autos and car theft predominate.

With increased police patrols, residents feels more comfortable walking in their neighborhood, at least during daytime hours.

“I walk 4 miles every day through Beverlywood and back,” said Marvin Tavelin, who has lived between La Cienega and Fairfax since 1958.

“I have no concern letting my 5-year-old son play on our block, but I’m concerned about when he’s older and wants to go farther away,” said Nancy Fuller of Neighbors United.

“We have an active Neighborhood Watch and look out for each other,” said Calvin Martin who lives in a Spanish-style house in Crestview. “I don’t know all my neighbors by name, but I do know where they live.”

Fear of large apartment development near Pico Boulevard is another major concern of residents. The Crestview residents have unsuccessfully tried to get the city to require deeper setbacks on the new apartments to their immediate north.

Across La Cienega, residents near Pico have banded together to fight developers who are buying houses and putting up apartments in their place.

“We’re concerned about keeping our neighborhood what it has been, a single-family, integrated, peaceful, low-crime area,” said Terran Steinhart, who heads Pico-Fairfax Good Neighbors, an association for residents living between Fairfax and Crescent Heights Boulevard between Pico and Airdrome Street. “We’re working to down-zone the R-3 lots. About two-thirds of our area is already R-1.”

Realtor Aspenson thinks that her neighborhood of single-family homes south of Cadillac is one of the most diverse in the Westside.

According to Aspenson, prices in Crestview run between $300,000 and $400,000 for two- and three- bedroom homes. A Steinkamp home might be acquired for about $350,000. South of Sawyer, an adventurous buyer might find a Steinkamp home mixed in with the apartments for about $100,000 less than one block to the north. Other houses can be found for under $200,000 there.

You will get a bit more for your money in terms of size of lot and house south of Cadillac to the Santa Monica Freeway and between Robertson and La Cienega, and also between Fairfax and La Cienega.

An average house there can be purchased between $300,000 and $350,000, with larger extra-nice homes selling close to $400,000. On busy streets houses can be purchased for as low as $250,000.

“We bought our house three years ago,” said Lisa Edelstein, a free-lance musician who lives in Crestview with her husband, Jon Webster, an executive recruiter, and their young son, Sam. “It was a place where we could find a house in our price range. It’s a 1,700-square-foot house built in the 1930s. We even have a 1930-period stove.

“I love the mix here. I like to see the Jews going to temple on Saturday in their beautiful clothes. The Sikhs in their attire give an exotic feeling to the neighborhood,” she said.

“People are just people to my 2-year-old. He’s a fire station maniac, so we walk there several times a week. Once, we saw the local firemen in the market. They recognized me as Sam’s mom.”

AT A GLANCE Population

1989 estimate: 26,946

1980-89 change: 11.4%

Median age: 32.6 years

Racial/ethnic mix

Black: 39.6%

White (non-Latino): 34.3%

Latino: 19.2%

Other: 6.8%

Annual income

Per capita: $12,080

Median household: $27,481

Household distribution

Less than $15,000: 25.3%

$15,000 - $30,000: 29.2%

$30,000 - $50,000: 26.1%

$50,000 - $75,000: 14.1%

$75,000 + 5.4%