With No Gas Stations or Sidewalks, Bradbury Is Oasis of Country Living


On foot, His Honor the mayor of Bradbury entered a tunnel of overhanging trees. A mourning dove cooed. Small animals scurried in the underbrush.

"You'd scarcely know that 12 million people are out there," John Richards said. Walking along a shaded lane, the mayor had just left his house, nestled on seven acres among oaks, camellias and pines.

A molecular biologist at Caltech, Richards, 59, is a rangy man dressed for a Saturday of leisure: sweat pants, running shoes and a bulky cardigan sweater to ward off the chilly air.

"This is what I like," he said. "Once you are through that gate, all the hassles of LAX and the professional kinds of lives that we lead, they just drop away. And you are here in this nice, quiet, green place."

Twenty-five miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, and surrounded by Monrovia, Duarte and the Angeles National Forest, is Bradbury. Locked gates seal off three-quarters of the two-square-mile city. The main entrance has a guardhouse.

With just over 900 residents, Bradbury ranks as one of California's tiniest and most elite cities, one of just a handful that are totally single-family residential. It has no apartments or condominiums. Neither is there a gasoline station, a library, a post office or a school. Not even a news rack. And, of course, no traffic lights or sidewalks.

"You can't even buy a cup of coffee or a gallon of gas," said City Manager Dolly Vollaire, one of three city employees.

Once, at the turn of the century, Bradbury was the domain of San Gabriel Valley land baron Louis Bradbury. The city's silver jubilee in 1982 featured champagne at City Hall, a cream-colored stucco building that once was a caretaker's cottage. It is the only public structure in "The City of Rural Tranquility."

The mayor pointed out the sights: A Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house set like a bunker on a hillside. A luxurious horse-training farm owned by flamboyant evangelist Gene Scott. A five-acre cactus patch. The house where race-car driver Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy, were shot to death. (The first and only such incident since the city was incorporated in 1957, the 1988 killings robbed Bradbury of its treasured privacy.)

Tasteful signs by driveways say: "Private Lane. Guests and Deliveries Only." Dobermans lounge behind the black iron fences of estates.

Later, touring the city by car, Richards passed ancient groves of oranges, thick avocado trees and lush green paddocks ringed by dirt tracks and white, wooden fences. A white Rolls-Royce motored slowly by on a narrow, winding asphalt road. The wind carried the distinct scent of horses. Some famous thoroughbreds, including Secretariat, have made Bradbury their home while at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia.

A tax attorney, dressed in riding gear and astride a well-groomed mount, bounced by Richards' open car window. They exchanged good-mornings. Overhead, a red-tailed hawk circled in a bird's-egg blue sky.

From a 360-degree vista, Richards surveyed the scene. Canyons of the San Gabriel Mountains give way to inclines and then flatlands. The scent of chaparral filled the air. "There's downtown," Richards said. "At night it's gorgeous from here, an ocean of light." Sunlight glinted off the Foothill Freeway traffic.

Not everyone who is wealthy wants to live here, he said. "Real estate people call this a specialty market. . . . It's not the Beverly Hills entertainment kind of community with people trying to one-up each other."

Bradbury consistently ranks among the nation's 10 most expensive suburbs. Much of that can be attributed to zoning that requires large lots. In one neighborhood, a single-family house must sit on at least five acres. Recent sales have topped $6.5 million.

Despite strict zoning, Bradbury has not escaped the tension caused by growth in the surrounding Los Angeles metropolitan area. The city's population has nearly doubled in 35 years.

"People aren't at daggers drawn," Richards said, but there is friction. Richards, a 25-year resident, hopes the rural atmosphere will not change much. Still, "you can't just have all this undeveloped land . . . stay as coyote fodder."

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