When Christine Wise and her husband, Lawrence, bought their first home in 1936 in the South Carthay neighborhood of Los Angeles, they were surrounded by mostly vacant land in a city that was a “cabbage patch.”
As the original owners of the three-bedroom Spanish Colonial Revival house designed by builder Spyros Ponty, Christine Wise, 94, recalls paying $9,000 with monthly payments of $33.
The recent widow, who came to Los Angeles with her husband in 1921, says that her children sometimes suggest that she move to a retirement home. However, the thought is inconceivable. Says Wise, “I just feel I can’t leave this place.”
A block south on Orlando Avenue, Sherry Green and Gael Chandler feel the potential for the same kind of lasting love. Their search for a home with character ended last year when they become the second owners of a 1936 four-bedroom Spanish Colonial Revival house. They paid $480,000.
In an interior abounding with unique features--12-foot-high ceilings, moldings--film editor Chandler was immediately drawn to the inner courtyard. Green, an aerospace engineer, says she could spend all summer in the enormous back yard shaded by towering trees.
Both like city living and consider this “our L.A. house that we always wanted.”
Indeed, roots run deep and changes are monitored thoughtfully and cautiously throughout the 11 blocks of South Carthay. Lying to the southeast of Beverly Hills, the small hamlet in 1984 became the second neighborhood in the city to receive the designation of Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ). Its boundaries are Olympic Boulevard on the north, Pico Boulevard on the south, Crescent Heights on the east and La Cienega on the west.
One-third of South Carthay’s 900 households live in single-family homes. The rest occupy large apartments and duplexes. Roughly half of these homes bear the signature of Greek developer Spyros Ponty, which is a significant reason why preservation is so important to the community.
While the builder’s influence is found in Westwood, Norwalk, Beverly Hills, South-Central Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, the tract of 1930s Spanish Colonial Revival homes represents one of his earliest legacies.
All of the 147 homes designed by Ponty share red-tiled roofs and stucco exterior walls, wrought iron and glazed-tile detailing. But each home was built differently and with the needs of his clients in mind. “There are no two alike,” said longtime homeowner Fred Naiditch. “There are many alike floor plans. But rather than have them all alike he would flip the floor plans, put doors and windows in different places. For instance, in our house there are no two ceilings alike in the entire house. They are magnificent homes.”
Thus, it is not at all surprising that Naiditch was delighted when Bill Hoffman, a graduate student working on a master’s degree in urban planning, approached him in 1980 with the idea of getting HPOZ status for South Carthay. Naiditch, who was then president of the neighborhood association, jumped at the opportunity and was joined by his wife, Sandra, and three other residents. They embarked upon a process that took five years to complete.
Ultimately, a plan took effect that maintains the integrity and continuity of an area’s architecture by requiring residents to get the approval of a community board before they renovate their properties. “I think people like the idea of being able to know that 20 or 30 years from now if they are still living in the house, (the neighborhood) is going to be exactly the same,” said Naiditch, an HPOZ board member.
At the low end, a late ‘30s traditional 2,100-square-foot house with three bedrooms, a den and a formal dining room lists for $369,000, according to Jill Rubin, an agent for Prudential California Realty. A traditional home with four bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths and a pool for $499,000 represents the high end.
An original 2,300-square-foot Spanish Colonial Revival house by Ponty with his trademark features--hardwood floors, colorful tile schemes, moldings, skylights, courtyard--sells in the low $400,000s. An updated version of the same house is in the high $400,000s, she said.
Two-and-a-half years ago Doug and Bobbi Heller found themselves overwhelmed by the density surrounding their single-family home in a neighborhood located farther east. Desiring to stay in the general area, they purchased a 1933 2,300-square-foot Spanish Colonial Revival house in South Carthay for a little over $500,000.
“No house had everything that this house had,” said Doug Heller, who works in pre-architectural planning. He was especially charmed by the “lovely, special living space” created by the courtyard and the large scale of the rooms.
Still, he continued, “It was a diamond in the rough. It was lived in by one family for 25 years and they didn’t do much. We had to start from scratch.”
This meant installing a new electrical system, stripping and re-glazing French windows and stripping and accenting all metal detail such as heater grills and door knobs; hardwood floors were uncovered, painted-out tile detail exposed and light fixtures replaced with period pieces. Last year the Hellers were recognized for outstanding restoration achievement by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.
Both Hellers enjoy the convenience and camaraderie of their “little oasis.”
Doug Heller, who has sustained a 17-year record of avoiding the Los Angeles freeways, appreciates the ease of his commute to work near the airport.
And Bobbi Heller adds, “We have dinner with our neighbors. That’s very special. It’s very rare in Los Angeles.”
South Carthay’s apartments are also known for their size. Former New Yorker Melinda Pike, an actress, recalls her excitement three years ago after finding what was just like “a great New York apartment apartment.” In her 2,000-square-foot unit she says, “I’ve got high ceilings, hardwood floors, a big stone fireplace, a back yard, my own garage. All for $1,000 a month. It’s great.”
“I didn’t come to California with four children to put a chauffeur’s cap on my head,” joked Laura Klein when asked about why she moved to South Carthay 30 years ago. But the notion of a future consumed by driving her kids on their extracurricular rounds was quickly dismissed once she and her husband, Sid, bought a 3,200-square-foot home within walking distance of Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard, she recalled.
In the years since, Klein has made the temple her “home away from home.” And although in recent years she has watched the once almost entirely Jewish population grow considerably more diverse, she believes the temple has been an important factor in the neighborhood’s stability.
Now retired and with her children grown, Klein acknowledges that “this house deserves children.” However, she admits, “I could never leave.” Adding, “I love the comfort of it. My house is paid off. I grow tomatoes. When my children come for the holidays, I have room for them. Listen, it’s amazing how closets get filled.”
Since its formation in 1980, the South Carthay Neighborhood Assn. has earned the community a reputation for clout. In the course of bringing people together to plant over 500 trees, hire a security patrol and solve traffic problems, a strong and active network was created.
These days the issue of safety is paramount, and as a result last year 30 residents underwent a seven-week training program through the Los Angeles Fire Department to form an emergency response team. “We developed a plan to secure our neighborhood in case we had another riot,” said Susan Ben-David, the association president. “I think it’s one of the most important things we could have accomplished.”
At a Glance
1993 estimate: 1,427
Median age: 37.5 years
Per capita: 33,010
Median household: 47,344
Less than $30,000: 21.7%
$30,000 - $60,000: 29.4%
$60,000 - $100,000: 20.8%
$100,000 - $150,000: 20.8%
$150,000 + 7.3%