Thirty years ago, when Roz and Seymour Bessen were combing Los Angeles for the best place to raise their two children, they discovered Westdale, tucked among West Los Angeles, Palms, Mar Vista and Culver City.
"We especially loved the park, where lots of mommies would take their kids," Roz Bessen said. Except for the fact that maids have taken over for mommies, not much has changed in Westdale, she said. "It's still Small Town, U.S.A."
"One reason I stay in this big, old house that I don't need anymore is that I can walk to the corner stores, get my hair done and run into people I know along the way," she said.
Many Westdale residents share those feelings about their community, which is roughly bounded on the north by Gateway Boulevard, on the south by Palms Boulevard, on the east by Sawtelle Boulevard and the west by Bundy Drive, according to realtor Ron Wynn.
That's what brought Emil and Hanna Reisler's house hunt to a close last September. After polling residents in every neighborhood where they would consider buying, the Reislers found Westdale to be the most stable.
"The people always spoke of the strong sense of community and how they wouldn't want to move," Emil Reisler said.
The Bessens and Reislers live in Trousdale, an upscale section of Westdale that was settled in 1947, after the construction of 450 single-story tract homes developed by Paul Trousdale. Since then, two additional tracts have been built, bringing the number of homes to more than 900.
While many Westdale residents stay put, the houses change. Remodeling and renovation is widespread. According to Steph DeVault of Fred Sands Realtors, few homes remain in their original state.
"Where it was once the trend to expand by building porches and larger master bedrooms, now, people are building big second stories," he said.
A decade after founding his original tract, Trousdale established the luxurious Trousdale Estates neighborhood in Beverly Hills. As Trousdale's distinction soared, so did home prices in his Westdale community.
Wynn, owner of Wynn Realtors, said a typical 1,400-square foot, three-bedroom, single-story home that cost $13,000 when the tract was first built now sells for $525,000.
Longtime Westdale residents choosing to sell their homes reap plentiful profits. Many of them, however, opt to stay put. According to Wynn, about 500 of the community's 3,500 homeowners are original owners, and 1,500 have lived there at least 20 years.
In 1952, Bill and Teddy Murrish paid almost $20,000 for their three-bedroom, 2,000-square foot home--a price they considered well beyond their budget. "We knew it was way too much money, we had no business buying it," Teddy Murrish said.
Typical of many Westdale buyers, however, the Murrishes were willing to extend their budget for the community's high quality of life. "We looked everywhere. This was the quietest area, the schools were good, and the people were just great," Murrish said.
Since then, the Murrishes have retired, their children have left home, they have renovated several rooms and have no plans to sell their home.
But not all Westdale buyers are as indifferent to their home's profit potential as the Murrishes. Mark Perry, a commercial real estate broker, who, with his wife, Camille, is now preparing to move to Trousdale, says his attraction to the area was primarily profit-related.
After surveying Mar Vista and other neighboring communities, Perry found Westdale superior in terms of the quality and upkeep of its homes as well as its tree-lined streets.
These factors meant future profit to Perry. Not only was the $520,000 home he found within his budget, but more important, from his point of view, the area has potential for ample appreciation.
"Buying and selling to make money is the nature of the beast of my business," he admitted.
Along with Westdale's pride of ownership, residents often remark on its accessibility and convenience.
Within walking distance of Westdale are the Mar Vista Elementary School and the Mar Vista Park. The school is a popular plus among buyers with children, and the park is relished by young and old alike.
Classes offered by the Recreation Center, on park grounds, bring a year-round flurry of activity. On a typical spring day, for instance, T-ball, five-pitch and Little League players dominate the baseball diamonds, while their siblings, parents and grandparents take part in classes ranging from ballet to badminton.
Although the residents are a diverse group, their shared interest in Westdale's welfare brings them together for homeowners' activities. The 40-year-old Westdale Homeowners Assn. is organizing its own neighborhood earthquake relief effort.
Association president Natalie Fisher recently played host to an earthquake preparedness meeting for her block.
"We discussed what to do in case the 'big one' hit--who can do what, who the doctors are, who has children, who is disabled, as well as exchanging addresses, phone numbers and emergency numbers," she said.
Those residents who cannot attend earthquake meetings or any of the homeowners' gatherings, keep informed by the "Westdale Villager," the association's quarterly newsletter.
Other association activities include helping to enforce Westdale's strict codes, covenants and restrictions. Currently, the homeowners are petitioning to prevent apartment buildings on Sawtelle Boulevard from exceeding the 35-foot height limit.
Another hot issue among Westdale residents and their neighbors is noise generated by the Santa Monica Airport, about two miles away.
"For the last 15 years, area residents have complained of air traffic and how it interferes with their community," said Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents the area.
Although talks with the Federal Aviation Administration have resulted in restrictions as to the types of aircraft allowed to land, Braude is not optimistic about any further relief. "There's no evidence that the government will change its posture," he said.
Besides uniting on political issues, Westdale residents also band together to promote safety on their streets.
Although a police car roams Westdale during its 24-hour route through all neighborhoods located west of the San Diego Freeway and south of the Santa Monica Freeway, the residents prefer exclusive scrutiny.
For this, they hire a security patrol service to canvass their streets for 17 hours each day and to be especially watchful of their homes when they're out of town.
Westdale residents are proud of the fact that crime on their streets is relatively low. Tony Davis, an officer with the Police Department's Pacific Division, said Westdale has much lower crime rate than neighboring communities.
"Incidents there are very few," he said. "Probably its most common crime is theft from vehicles."
Barbara Guberman grew up in Westdale and later returned to live there as an adult. She now finds herself being torn away from her hometown for a move to Napa Valley with her company.
Although Guberman expects to make a hefty profit on her home, she regrets having to uproot her family from the familiar community she calls "quiet, friendly and within 10 minutes of everything."
Newcomer Christine Beilinson understands Guberman's sadness over having to move. After just two years in Westdale, Beilinson says emphatically, "I'd like to build a second story on our home and live here forever."
Westdale AT A GLANCE Population
1990 estimate: 16,618
1980-90 change: 19.3%
Median age: 36.8 years
Per capita: 20,393
Median household: 41,912
Less than $15,000: 11.9%
$15,000 - $30,000: 21.2%
$30,000 - $50,000: 28.6%
$50,000 - $75,000: 21.4%
$75,000 + 17%