Onetime Resort Becomes Home to Scientists, Artists : Neighborhoods: People came to Northeast Altadena for the mountains. They stayed because of the friendliness of its residents.

Keller is The Times' community correspondent for Altadena.

In 1907, the first merchant to open for business in Northeast Altadena was picketed for several days by homeowners indignant at the idea of a grocery store in their rustic neighborhood.

These days, the shops and eateries on the site of that original venture on North Lake Avenue, the Model Grocery Co., seem to receive a warmer reception from residents, who treat them as a folksy community hub.

At the Park Bench Deli, despite the distracting aromas when co-owner Tudor Lance cooks corned beef, members of the nearby Theosophical Society can be heard talking philosophy.

And occasionally, Lance's 10-year-old daughter, Elisabeth, visits with diners in their booths. "I want people to feel at home here," Lance said.

Down at the Fox's Restaurant, meanwhile, the interplay between waitresses and customers touches on topics ranging from hairdos to basketball. The coffee shop's homespun decor includes wooden plaques inscribed with words of wisdom such as, The flavor of onions is improved by adding steak.

Owners Lorraine and Ken Bertonneau have lived in the neighborhood for years. "We looked extensively in other areas, and concluded that everything we want is right here: peace and quiet, friendliness and wonderful neighbors, but mainly--the mountains," Lorraine Bertonneau said.

The San Gabriel Mountains loom above Altadena, an 8.8-square-mile unincorporated county area with about 40,000 residents.

Northeast Altadena, with an estimated 7,328 residents, was once called "Altadena Heights."

Historians say it became a verdant mountain resort before the turn of the century, when wealthy people from Canada and the East Coast built winter homes, enjoying golf at the Altadena Country Club, just south of Mendocino Street.

The Woodbury Brothers--John and Frederick, of Marshalltown, Iowa--could be considered Altadena's town fathers. In 1880, they acquired more than 900 acres of what was then considered wasteland at the north end of Rancho San Pasqual.

The Woodbury subdivision was laid out in 1887 by the Pasadena Improvement Co. A portion of it extended past Lake Avenue into Northeast Altadena.

Eastward, in the central section, Lafayette S. Porter, a Chicago banker, and his mother, Hannah H. Porter, bought two adjoining parcels of land in 1883. When Porter sold the property in 1912, his home, at 2672 Porter Ave., was razed. Later, Edward Munroe built a two-story stucco house on the site.

In the 1920s, according to Altadena Heritage chairman Tim Gregory, Boulder Road was developed as a single tract. By this time, Altadena was attracting scientists, professionals and more than a sprinkling of artists and writers.

The short, boulder-lined street of about 30 homes drew such a disproportionate share of creative people that it's considered a neighborhood unto itself.

Probably the most noted of its residents was the late Richard P. Feynman, the iconoclastic Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Caltech. Feynman, who was also an artist and writer, died in 1988, and his wife, Gwyneth, died in January.

The couple's two-story, Spanish-style home is now owned by their two children, Carl, 28, and Michelle, 21, a photography student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Both were raised in the house, and Michelle Feynman, who still occupies it, says she intends to stay.

She wrote about the house in a book of home photos she compiled:

"Following my mother's death, I came to realize that I still have a parent of sorts. This house, made of wood and stone and metal, has a spirit. . . . It is no longer just a house."

Up the street, past a couple of small adobe houses amid other grand homes, boulders are used architecturally as part of the base of an English Tudor house with dormer windows.

Built as a fishing retreat in 1920 by Thelma and Howard Edgcomb, it was the first house on the street.

In front of the house, a small stream was created and stocked with fish.

Its current owner is a Pasadena art dealer. To reach the front door, a visitor must step up and down large rocks and cross a small, ivy-covered bridge. The bridge spans the pool of a fountain that flows among flowers and pebbles.

Lillias Jones, 70, a former actress, gives voice lessons in the 40-foot living room of a 4,000-square-foot Mediterranean house next door. She's also honorary secretary of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society and allows members to play her two baby grand pianos when they meet there.

Northeast Altadena's easternmost tract extended from Allen Avenue to Eaton Canyon. It was bought by William Allen in 1879, after he came to America from England. He named it the Sphinx Ranch. (He had spent 23 years in Egypt, as a broker.)

Allen paid $7.50 an acre for the 502-acre ranch. In 1925, subdivisions were sold to real estate agents for $1,800 an acre.

At Allen Avenue and Mendocino Street stands the imposing Balian House, owned by George Balian, an ice cream manufacturer. Each Christmas, he decorates the exterior of the Mediterranean mansion with what appears to be millions of lights, an attraction for visitors on tour buses.

Eaton Canyon, with its waterfalls and gaping gorges, defines the area's eastern boundary. Naturalist John Muir daringly inched his way up to the peak that now bears his name.

But most Northeast residents take their pleasure in more sedate ways, enjoying their neighborhood--and neighbors.

"It's what the world should be," said deli co-owner Lance. "It's integrated, and people live together nicely."

CLOSEUP: Northeast Altadena

POPULATION Total: (1990 est.) 7,328 1980-90 change: +16.9% Median Age: 39.3

Racial/ethnic mix: Latino: 6.3% Other: 6.7%

Black: 21.6% White (non-Latino): 65.4% Income Per capita: $23,441 Median household: $64,762 Average household: $60,063

Income Distribution: More than $150,000: 2.6% $100,000-$149,999: 13.1% $75,000-$99,999: 17.4% $50,000-74,999: 28.5% $40,000-49,999: 12.4% $25,000-39,999: 12.0% Less than $25,000: 14.1%

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