In the late 1920s, Garden Grove was known as the chili pepper capital of the world. Later, the city proclaimed itself poultry and egg capital of the world. Currently known as California's strawberry capital, Garden Grove is a bedroom community of bedroom communities.
The Eastgate development, a secluded community of homes west of Valley View Street in western Garden Grove, could hold the distinction of being Orange County's neighborhood of family ties. Near Eastgate's center, Chapman Avenue begins its eastbound trek across Orange County. And for families living in the quiet, suburban area, Eastgate also refers to a park nestled in the center of its lilac tree-lined streets.
Eastgate Park is one of those quarter-mile-square block neighborhood parks where friends gather to watch children play on the slides and climb the jungle gym together. Grandmothers push toddlers on swings while daughters take a rest from the kids on blankets spread out on the park lawn.
The park is also home to the Garden Grove Community Theatre, offering area residents a opportunity to enjoy variety of shows in a small, intimate theater setting. But for Maureen Rodgers, the quiet park is a welcome respite from what was once the constant blaring of television and video games.
"I watch my daughter's children after school every day," Rodgers said. "After school, we used to stay around the house, but we all got bored with that. Now, after the homework and chores around the house are finished, we walk to the park and have a little picnic."
For Rodgers, the neighborhood offers a host of amenities her South County home lacks. "In my neck of the woods (Laguna Niguel), I have to get in the car and drive four miles to the closest grocery store," she said. "But if I pick up groceries for my daughter, I just walk to the corner. There's a wonderful little mall right on the corner with a grocery store, shops and restaurants."
Behind the mall, at the corner of Bailey Street and Chapman Avenue, is the West Garden Grove Branch of the Garden Grove Library. Inside the contemporary building, retirees browse through magazines and students peruse research materials.
"If it's too cold for the kids to play in the park, we'll come here," Rodgers said. "Returning the books is easy when a library is right down the street."
Living so close to a park, a shopping center and a library is what keeps families in the neighborhood. Lifetime resident Alex Mascarenas and his wife, Sally, both grew up in western Garden Grove and now live just a few blocks from their parents' homes.
"After Sally and I got married, we moved out of the old neighborhood," Alex Mascarenas said. "But within a few years, the cost of housing in the county was too high to afford to buy anything really nice. We wanted the typical house with four bedrooms and a yard near good schools." Months of futile searching led them back to the area they had left as newlyweds.
But this was not the only family returning to the old neighborhood. Mascarenas, a realtor, is welcoming a return of the friends he last saw in high school.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "People I haven't seen since graduation are calling me up asking to see property in the Eastgate development. The area is experiencing a resurgence of first-time owners."
When Mascarenas was going to school in the early 1970s, Eastgate was known as a rough area, he said. Many of the Eastgate homes were rental properties. However, a climb in housing prices created a booming market and many of the properties were purchased by first-time buyers. As the trend of housing turnover decreases, and owner occupancy increases, property values in the neighborhood are slowly climbing. Yet, when home prices here are compared to upscale neighbors such as Seal Beach and Rossmoor, the cost of owning in such a desirable neighborhood remains relatively low.
"In the last five years, these homes have doubled in price," he said. "But when you can buy in an area surrounded by expensive homes, it's worth the money. Property values will do nothing but increase."
Conversely, as property values increase, property owners in this Garden Grove School District recently earned a tax break. Since the district has repaid millions of dollars in state loans used to build 48 schools between 1950 and 1980, the average property owner will pay 11% less in annual taxes to the district.
"Schools are Garden Grove's best asset," Mascarenas said. "My daughters are now attending the same elementary and high schools that my wife and I attended. They even have some of the same teachers. We couldn't ask for a better
situation in which to raise our children."
The Mascarenas family, along with their old high school friends and family members, have discovered a line of continuity in Orange County's transient nature. Western Garden Grove is a step back into time where neighbors know each other by name and children play softball in the park--a neighborhood to call home for a lifetime.
Population Total: (1990 est.) 5,232 1980-90 change: +4,5% Median Age: 32.5
Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino): 78% Latino: 10% Other: 12%
By sex and age: MALES Median age: 31.7 years FEMALES Median age: 33.1 years
Income Per capita: $14,458 Median household: $44,696 Average household: $47,020
Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 17% $25,000-49,999: 43% $50,000-74,999: 29% $75,000-$99,999: 6% $100,000 and more: 5%