AT HOME : Young, New Families and Pioneer Residents Make for Charming Mix : Westport Heights: Ocean breezes, "interesting topography" beckons families with children to area with older residents.

When Dave Cagle and his family moved into their home in the Westport Heights section of Westchester in December, 1991, there were only a handful of kids on their block. Now there are 13 young children.

"The child population has mushroomed in Westport Heights," said Cagle, the public affairs officer of the UCLA School of Dentistry, who has two children of his own. "There are young families moving in here every day."

A walk around Westport Heights confirms Cagle's observation. Young couples pushing strollers can be found on practically every street of this northeast Westchester neighborhood, bounded by Sepulveda Boulevard on the west, La Tijera Boulevard on the east, 74th Street on the north and 85th Street on the south.

Westport Heights realtors agree that young couples comprise the majority of new residents in the area. Lois Becker, a realtor with Kent/Prudential, said the newcomers cite as one of the area's attributes the cool ocean breezes that blow the smog to the east and lower the temperature on most afternoons. They also enjoy the "interesting topography"--the curved streets and rolling hills.

Westport Heights' location, close to the San Diego Freeway, Los Angeles International Airport, Marina del Rey and Downtown, makes for relatively easy work commutes to most parts of Los Angeles.

"Westport Heights offers the best value for single-family homes on the Westside," said Roberta Trousdale of Re/Max Beach Cities Realty. Prices range from $200,000 to $225,000 for a two-bedroom, one-bath ranch-style house to between $250,000 and $275,000 for a three-bedroom home. A sprinkling of high-end homes list at $400,000 to $600,000.

Many of the homes in Westport Heights were built by the Nowell Brothers construction company in the 1940s. Owners of such homes proudly point out the brothers' trademark features of coved or sculptured ceilings, arched doorways, hardwood floors and bay windows. Cagle, who paid close to $300,000 for his 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath 1941 Nowell house, vouches for its quality construction: He put the home's roof, plumbing and wiring through a rigorous prepurchase inspection.

Many original buyers in the 1940s and 1950s still occupy their Westport Heights homes. The older residents staying put results in an unusual multi-generational mix in Westport Heights. The retirees, home during the day, mingle on the street with stay-at-home parents walking their infants. Both groups keep an eye on the neighborhood from 9 to 5.

Cagle says this easy coexistence between Westport Heights' new faces and its pioneers contributes to the area's charm. "When we were moving in, we could barely get the stuff out of the truck because people kept stopping by to shake our hands," he said. Neighbors trade tools, share fruit from their back-yard trees and baby-sit for each other's children.

Such friendly relations result in a safer neighborhood, Cagle added. "Where we used to live in Brentwood, we had seven instances of crime against us personally in two years," he said. "Here we've had nothing."

Mel Plew, the Los Angele Police Department's senior lead officer in Westport Heights, agrees that the area has a good safety record. "I've seen an 8% decrease in crime in Westport Heights in the last year (from 1992 to 1993)," he said.

He credits much of the decrease to residents' active participation in the Neighborhood Watch program. The LAPD's new training academy, slated to open later this year on the corner of Manchester Avenue and Osage Avenue, just south of Westport Heights, will beef up police presence in the neighborhood, Plew said.

All the emphasis on safety and neighborhood cooperation appealed to Pam Wiltz when she bought a home down the street from the Cagles in September, 1993. Wiltz, a 37-year-old manufacturer/designer of children's bedding and accessories, paid $257,000 for the 1,600-square-foot, three-bedroom home she shares with her 5-year-old son, Trevor.

"When I was single and footloose, living in Brentwood was fine," Wiltz explained. "But once I became a mother, I felt disconnected there. The hustle and bustle was not geared to a mom and a child."

Kathleen Lefferman, who lives on Vicksburg Avenue around the corner from Wiltz, says she and her neighbors have found a rewarding way to bring their street together. Four or five couples and their children gather every two weeks at each other's homes for a casual back-yard barbecue. During the day, these same families walk together to the nearby YMCA for exercise classes and children's activities.

"The moms hang out together so much, these kids have been raised practically as siblings," Lefferman said.

Lefferman, a program-development consultant, has lived in Westport Heights with her psychologist husband since 1989, when they paid $330,000 for a 1,400-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath home. Lefferman says she's been pleased with the community as a whole, but admits she's undecided about eventually sending her 3-year-old son to Westport Heights Elementary School. 9

Like many Westport Heights parents, she's heard mixed reviews about the performance of this Los Angeles Unified School District campus. Some parents like the multi-ethnic mix, while others say the diversity creates language difficulties.

George Claseman, a 72-year-old retired truck driver who 30 years ago paid $29,000 for his Westport Heights home, says the demographics of the entire neighborhood have changed, not just those at the grade school.

"It was much quieter around here in the early days," he said. "The homeowners were mostly couples in their 50s and 60s." He's also noticed a deterioration of the shopping district along Sepulveda Boulevard. "I used to feel safe going there after dark--now I wouldn't."

Other residents echo Claseman's complaint about the quality of the area's commercial establishments. "I miss the variety of choices I had in Brentwood for shoe repairs or gift shops," Wiltz said. "Now I either have to use the local shop or drive further."

Homeowners who previously lived in Santa Monica or other trendy Westside locales have to trek back to their old neighborhoods to buy such specialty items as rosemary bread or black-bean pasta. "With all these young families moving in, the stores around here should start stocking more yuppie items," Cagle said. He would also like to see more restaurants and coffeehouses within strolling distance of his house.

But for other residents, the modest commercial zone contributes to Westport Heights' small-town atmosphere. "I like the fact that the shopping district hasn't been gentrified," said Rob Thais, 45, who's lived in Westport Heights for seven years. "It would be cool and hip if the stores went upscale, but it's nice that they've been untouched by time. It makes Westport Heights different from other parts of the Westside. It gives the area a tranquil, relaxed feeling."

Thais, an English teacher at Santa Monica High School, grew up outside of Baltimore and wanted to buy a home in an area that reminded him of his suburban childhood. He and his wife Linda, also a teacher, selected a 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom, 1 3/4-bath home on Airlane Avenue, for which they paid $235,000.

Thais says that geographic buffers on three sides of Westport Heights--the ocean to the west, the airport to the south, Ballona Wetlands to the north--reduce heavy congestion in the area and contribute to the quiet environment he sought.

"This area is 15 minutes away from anything fun we want to do," Thais said. "It's close to where we want to go, but not right in the middle of it. It's boring for adults and great for kids--that's why we love it."

Westport Heights Home Sale Data

Sample Size (for 10-year period): 1,260

Ave. home size (square feet): 1,405

Ave. Year Built: 1946

Ave. No. Bedrms: 2.79

Ave. No. Baths: 1.57

Pool: 7%

View homes: 1%

Central air: 3%

Floodzone: 55%

Price Range (1993-94): $130,000-590,000

Predominant Value: $219,000

Age Range: 8-74 years

Predominant Age: 48 years

Average Sales Data

Year Total $ per Median Sales sq. ft. price 1994* 12 $176.60 $226,583 1993 93 $181.43 $266,666 1992 93 $212.21 $294,466 1991 117 $216.23 $314,641 1990 87 $234.30 $324,666 1989 128 $236.24 $337,703 1988 169 $211.02 $281,878 1987 171 $167.33 $228,164 1986 172 $142.03 $190,718 1985 218 $122.87 $165,133

*1994 data current through February.

Source: TRW Redi Property Data, Riverside

At a Glance

Population

1993 estimate: 5,118

1980-90 change: -4.5%

Annual income

Per capita: 31,673

Median household: 65,478

Household distribution

Less than $30,000: 6.4%

$30,000 - $60,000: 28.1%

$60,000 - $100,000: 39.4%

$100,000 - $150,000: 18.7%

$150,000 +: 7.4%

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