HANCOCK PARK : As Urban Woes Threaten, Residents of This Exclusive Enclave Are Fighting To Preserve The Status Quo


When the city threatened to sully Hancock Park’s elegant ambience by proposing to install concrete light fixtures, residents sprung into action to keep the homely posts from being planted on their tree-lined streets.

To better accent their 1920s mansions and homes, residents wanted decorative light fixtures and told the city they were willing to pay the extra cost.

The homeowners prevailed. By the end of next year, new “ornamental, residential-style” street lamps will shine on every street in Hancock Park, while most other Los Angeles neighborhoods will have to settle for the standard steel or concrete poles.


The campaign for new street lamps is one of the many battles that Hancock Park residents have waged and won due to their persistence and unabashed clout. But as the city continues to change and urban problems threaten to spill into even the most exclusive areas, jittery residents of Greater Hancock Park are determined to fight even harder to maintain the status quo.

“Over the years, the community has changed, but some things haven’t,” said Jim Wolf, president of the Hancock Park Homeowners Assn. “There still is a strong desire to preserve the neighborhood and maintain a certain character.”

Bounded by La Brea Avenue to the west, Wilton Place to the east, Melrose Avenue to the north and Olympic Boulevard to the south, Hancock Park and its adjacent neighborhoods have long been an exclusive enclave for some of Los Angeles’ most influential and well-to-do families.

Radical change had not swept Greater Hancock Park since the neighborhoods were developed in the 1920s. But once a predominantly white haven, the area is now home to thousands of new Asian residents, particularly Korean Americans, who have been lured to the area by its luxurious homes, reputable schools and proximity to Koreatown and Downtown.

The influx of Asians, as well as some Latinos and African Americans, has not led to blatant racial tensions in this tony Central Los Angeles community. But longtime residents are greeting the newcomers cautiously, wondering whether they will make good neighbors and maintain that “certain character.”

“By being in the neighborhood, you have a responsibility to be a good neighbor,” said Sidney Adair, an attorney who founded the Windsor Square Hancock Park Historical Society. “There is a real sense of community that residents here want to maintain.”


Greater Hancock Park, including Hancock Park, Windsor Square, Brookside, La Brea-Hancock, Larchmont Village, Fremont Place, Windsor Village, Wilshire Park and Ridgewood-Wilton, is at the heart of the city, but in a small-town setting.

Maintaining this cozy character has always been a priority for local residents, and they have gone to great lengths to preserve it. Whether it is crime, chain stores, panhandlers, traffic, high-rise buildings or any other so-called urban ill, Hancock Park residents are ready to rally against anything that threatens their serenity.

In 1978, area homeowners lobbied the city to establish a zoning ordinance prohibiting retail outlets and high-rise buildings along and near Wilshire Boulevard, between Highland Avenue and Wilton Place. The so-called Park Mile ordinance was created to protect the single-family nature of the area and to promote development that provides Park Mile with an “image and sense of community.”

When city officials considered putting a subway stop for the new Red Line at the corner of Wilshire and Crenshaw boulevards, local homeowners were quick to voice their opposition. Because of their efforts and the potential for methane gas leaks in the area, the station is now destined for Olympic and Crenshaw boulevards.

Earlier this month, after longstanding complaints by members of the Windsor Square Assn., the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, a Wilshire Boulevard landmark, was closed.

Although its zoning permit allowed it to be rented only to nonprofit organizations and groups affiliated with the lodge, financial difficulties led the temple to rent the facility to commercial groups. Such actions angered homeowners, who complained to the city about parking, noise and trash problems at the temple.


“The people here are very politically aware and they have the know-how and savvy to know where to go and how to get things done,” said Jane Gilman, editor of the Larchmont Chronicle, a monthly newspaper that covers the Greater Hancock Park area. “As a result, they’ve been very successful at getting things done on behalf of the community.”

The fact that some of the city’s most influential leaders live in the community also has enabled residents to get what they want. City Council President John Ferraro, arts advocate Dorothy Buffum Chandler, former California Secretary of State March Fong Eu and nearly a dozen consul generals from around the world live in the Greater Hancock Park area, and Hancock Park itself is home to the mayor’s official residence. Past residents included billionaire Howard Hughes and entertainers John Barrymore, Nat King Cole, Katharine Hepburn and Mae West.

Along with being a hub for movers and shakers, the Hancock Park area is welcoming many new Asian families, both recent immigrants and those who have lived in this country for many years.

“For many residents in this affluent area, the replacement generation didn’t come around, so the vacuum is being filled by Asians,” said John Lim, a Korean American attorney and resident of Windsor Square. “For Korean Americans, it is the only affluent area near Koreatown.”

In 1980, Asians made up 13.7% of the community’s population. In 1990, that figure more than doubled, to 28.3%, according to U.S. Census figures. Of the area’s roughly 40,000 residents in 1990, 42.6% were white, 6.1% were African American and 22.5% were Latino.

“A lot of the Korean families moving in own businesses in the Downtown area and want to be close to them,” said Chun Kim, a Korean American realtor for Coldwell Banker on Larchmont Boulevard. “They also want to be near Korean churches and stores. You’re seeing a lot of (white) sellers and Korean buyers.”


The changing face of the community is best reflected in the changing student population at Third Street Elementary School in Hancock Park.

Third Street has always been attended mostly by neighborhood children.

About 56% of the 820 students now attending the school are Asian and Asian American, and most of them are Korean Americans. About 19% of the students are white, 16% are Latino and 9% are black. Ten years ago, the Asian and white figures were reversed, Principal Suzie Oh said.

Regarded as one of the best public schools in the city, Third Street Elementary is struggling to involve more Asian parents in its Parent-Teacher Assn. and other volunteer groups. About 90% of the school’s PTA leadership is white, Oh said.

“Most Korean mothers just drop off their children because they’re so busy running businesses that they have very little time for anything else,” said June Ahn, a Korean American PTA member. “Hopefully, as time goes on, we can get more Korean parents involved.”

The involvement of newcomers is a topic that extends far beyond the local elementary school.

“On a one-to-one basis, the Korean people here are very nice,” Adair said. “But they do not want to participate in the block parties or homeowners associations. They do not have the same sense of community involvement and giving back to the community as other residents.”


But Kim said many Korean families work long hours and cannot participate in neighborhood activities. Korean residents want to get involved in the community, she said, but it may take some time before they feel comfortable mingling with other residents or joining neighborhood groups.

“Many work from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and they have no time for anything else,” she said. “A lot of Koreans want to befriend their neighbors, but the language and culture barriers make it difficult.”

Despite complaints about their lack of involvement, Korean Americans and other minority residents say, for the most part, they have felt welcome in their neighborhoods. Until recently, Brookside resident Lourdes Montejano also felt welcome, but the strength of solidarity among her neighbors became painfully evident after a new paint job on her home failed to conform to community standards.


Earlier this year, Montejano decided to paint her family’s home a color called “Mexican straw.” Although the yellow color turned out to be brighter than she hoped, she could not afford to paint over it.

“While the painting was going on, the neighbors told me I had to stop painting,” said Montejano, who immigrated from Mexico as a child. “They said we’re going to make the neighborhood look like a barrio, and that the price of homes in our neighborhood would go down. . . . I was shocked that a color would offend people so much.”

Tensions between Montejano and her neighbors have since simmered, but she says the incident has made her feel leery of her neighbors.


“I think when people see that you’re a minority, they’ll try to take advantage of you, but when you can defend yourself, they’ll lay off,” she said.

Owen Smith, president of the Brookside Homeowners Assn., said he was not aware of the controversy, but--when told the details--said he doesn’t believe it was racially motivated.

“I think what happened is that there’s kind of an unwritten idea that residents should keep the area looking traditional,” Smith said. “There’s a sense not to overpower the neighborhood.”


Businesses and residents who don’t blend in with the neighborhood have always tried the patience of those who prefer to keep the community traditional and conservative.

“There are certain characteristics and attributes of the neighborhood that residents and others recognize as being desirable, and residents want to preserve that,” said Wolf of the Hancock Park Homeowners Assn.

Aesthetics and good neighborliness aside, it is crime that residents say is the biggest threat to preserving those characteristics. They talk incessantly about crime and how to combat it.


In the past six months, 140 robberies, 131 burglaries and 239 auto thefts were reported in the Greater Hancock Park area, which is about average, according to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division. The figures were gathered from the Wilshire Division’s reporting districts within the Greater Hancock Park area. Figures from the Hollywood Division, which covers a small area of the community, were unavailable.

“There are some problems, but compared to other parts of the division and the city, crime there is very low,” said Chuck Newman, a senior lead officer in the Wilshire Division. “But there is a disproportionate amount of fear there.”

Crime is a big concern in the Hancock Park area, Newman said, because it is bordered by Koreatown and Hollywood--two relatively high-crime areas.

“Some of the crimes being perpetrated in the Koreatown area are coming to Hancock Park,” Newman said. “And I think the citizens are frustrated because they get substantially less police service than some other more busy areas.”

Westec Security, a private security company, has more than 800 clients in Hancock Park. Another 800 of the company’s clients live in Windsor Square and about 300 others live in adjacent neighborhoods, according to company figures.

“We respond mostly to burglaries and property crime in the area, but we’ve also seen an increase in violent crime, home invasions and carjacking,” said Earle Graham, vice president of Westec’s patrol and communication services. “We don’t see a lot of tagging and graffiti.”


Various Neighborhood Watch groups also have formed.

The Windsor Watch group formed during the 1992 riots, when some residents armed themselves to keep looters and rioters out of their neighborhoods. Though Koreatown and Hollywood sustained substantial damage during the unrest, the Greater Hancock Park area was barely touched.

“We have a lot on the line,” said Barry Greenberg, a resident of Windsor Square and member of the Windsor Watch group. “We’re homeowners, not renters, and we’ve already seen the value of our homes go through the toilets. This is a fragile structure we’re trying to maintain.”

Like most of Los Angeles, home values in the Hancock Park area have declined in recent years, but realtors say the drop in home prices is mostly linked to the recession and not to crime. The median price of a single-family residence in the area is about $450,000, according to Dataquick Information Systems.

But the concern remains. Last year, a group of Larchmont Boulevard business owners hired a full-time security guard to chase away thieves and other troublemakers from the commercial district.


“I basically keep the panhandlers away and make sure there’s no trouble,” said Mike Craig, the security guard assigned to the job. “Lately, there hasn’t been too much activity, but I love this job because the people make me feel appreciated.”

As he waves at merchants and shoppers along the boulevard, Craig acknowledges that his main mission is far more than chasing away the homeless.


“I’m trying to keep the atmosphere like it is,” he said.

Indeed, maintaining that atmosphere is of particular concern to those who shop and do business on Larchmont Boulevard. Lined with specialty shops, restaurants and a few banks and real estate offices, it is regarded as the community’s hub, reflecting its preference for fine products, personalized attention and a small-town atmosphere.

“When I go to Larchmont Boulevard, I get dressed for it,” said Winifred Smith, a longtime Brookside resident and former president of its homeowners association. “I don’t wear my hair in rollers because I know I’m bound to see someone I know. It’s the type of place where if I go to the book store, the merchant will say, ‘Here’s a book I set aside that I think you might like to read.’ . . . That’s personalized service, and people here can afford that.”

Although the Larchmont Boulevard Assn. was able to enact limitations on the number of banks, restaurants and real estate offices on the boulevard, it was not able to stop a Payless Drug Store from coming to the neighborhood.


When the corporate giant announced it would be opening a store on Larchmont, residents were outraged and said it would threaten the economic vitality of other stores, blemish the boulevard’s quaint atmosphere and attract undesirable people to the area.

To fend off critics, Payless, which opened last month, has tried to blend in with the neighborhood. Aside from a large sign outside the store, its facade is similar to other stores on the boulevard.

“We’ve made special efforts to provide the community with things they need,” said Payless store manager Peter Irvin. “We’re carrying items that we normally don’t carry, like eggs and milk. And we have an old-fashioned ice cream bar where we sell ice cream for 55 cents a scoop.”


Still, there is bitterness.

“I try to pretend it’s not there,” said Andrew J. Fenady, a television and movie producer who works in an office across the street from Payless. “I don’t think it has enhanced the boulevard, and it doesn’t provide the person-to-person relationship that other stores do. I also think the sign is abominable. It looks like it was made in a Boys and Girls Scout camp.”

On the Cover

Palatial homes that line June Street in Hancock Park hark back to a more gilded era in the city’s history. Although property values continue to be much higher and crime is much lower than in neighborhoods bordering Greater Hancock Park, residents fear that urban ills are fast encroaching and eroding their quality of life.

“This is an island in the city,” said Winifred Smith, a longtime Brookside resident. “. . . And the people here are making a valiant effort to keep the community’s identity as it has been.”

Greater Hancock Park

Although residents in the Greater Hancock Park community are unified by common concerns, Hancock Park is just one of the area’s nine neighborhoods. Each has its own homeowners association and considers itself distinct from the adjacent neighborhoods.

Ethnic Breakdown


White: 42.6%

Asian: 28.3%

Latino: 22.5%

Black: 6.1%

Other, don’t know: 4%


White: 57.9%

Asian: 13.7%

Latino: 13.4%

Other, don’t know: 8.9%

Black: 6.1%