Dawn and LaMont Howard's courtship and marriage have centered on their 1905 home in Kinney Heights, a neighborhood of large Craftsman- style houses in the West Adams district of Los Angeles.
When LaMont Howard bought his 3,500-square-foot house in 1988, it was suffering from neglect and vandalism. Graffiti marred the house and pigeons roosted inside. Some of the floors had buckled when previous owners had allowed the bathtubs to overflow, and the plaster was badly damaged.
"It was a money pit," he said.
Dawn Harris saw the house for the first time when the two were dating. She arrived with wine and pasta for a supper in the unfinished living room. "The next week I was helping him Spackle," she said. Today, the Howards and their young son, Nicholas, live in the carefully restored six-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath home.
"I appreciate the quality of the old, the character and the detail of the antique," said Dawn Howard, who grew up in a nearby neighborhood.
Kinney Heights is one of several neighborhoods that developed around Berkeley Square, an exclusive gated community of large mansions in turn-of-century Los Angeles.
Berkeley Square fell victim to the construction of the Santa Monica Freeway in the early 1960s, but about 200 large homes in three surviving contiguous tracts retain much of the pre-World War I ambience. The three are Kinney Heights and Gramercy Park on the south side of the freeway and Western Heights on the north side.
The three neighborhoods are bound roughly by Adams Boulevard on the south, Washington Boulevard on the north, Western Avenue on the east and Arlington Avenue on the west.
Hidden behind the mini-malls of Western Avenue, the palm-lined streets look much as they did 85 years ago and are frequently used as movie locations. Today, the neighborhoods are home to a mix of African American and White residents, including many who work in the entertainment industry.
In the early 1900s, Western Avenue was the western boundary of the city, and fields and orchards stretched beyond Arlington Avenue. Kinney Heights--named after Abbot Kinney, who developed Venice--Gramercy Park and Western Heights were suburban tracts that attracted the upper-middle class. Streetcars connected the area with downtown Los Angeles.
With the arrival of the automobile, newer neighborhoods became more fashionable, and many of the old families moved away. In time, some of the large homes were partitioned into rooming houses; others were demolished to make way for apartments.
In the late 1940s, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision eliminated restrictive racial covenants, middle-class African Americans began to move into the neighborhood.
Louise Watson, a retired dentist, and her late husband, Donald, bought their 11-room home on 24th Street in 1951 for $16,500.
"When we bought the house, there was no freeway and the neighborhood was very quiet. The neighbors were very welcoming," she said. "Twenty-fourth Street today looks much as it did over 40 years ago."
The construction of the freeway in the early 1960s was a blow, demolishing Berkeley Square and cutting the neighborhood in half. "The freeway took away a whole way of life," Watson said. "We didn't fight then the way we do today."
Beginning in the 1980s, young professional White and African Americans have been moving back into the area, lured by large, affordable homes with such amenities as stained-glass windows, mahogany paneling and small alcoves called inglenooks.
For the last six years, Jay and Sue German have owned and operated Salsbury House, a five-bedroom bed and breakfast inn on 20th Street in Western Heights. The 1909 house is virtually all original, with leaded beveled glass, stained glass, paneling and original light fixtures. Built-in cabinets with leaded glass line the dining room walls.
"Moving here from Mar Vista was a conscious choice for us," innkeeper Sue German said. "It is extraordinarily quiet here. I especially notice it when guests leave at 10:30 in the morning. I can hear birds chirping and I can't believe I'm in Central L.A."
"It's an extraordinarily social neighborhood with parties and potlucks," said Jay German, public relations director at Claremont Graduate School.
"We look out for each other and work together with the police on gang and drug problems. Every summer there's an annual summer block party at a private home."
Pat Karasick, a kindergarten teacher, and her husband, Christopher McKinnon, a film production manager, bought their three-story 1909 Western Heights home in 1988. They were drawn to the neighborhood in part because they could get a much larger house there for the amount they wished to spend.
"We also wanted to buy in an integrated neighborhood," Karasick said. "This was very important to us."
Their house has an inglenook and gentleman caller benches, seating that opens to provide extra storage, next to the stairs. The third-floor attic houses a sewing and craft room. The house is furnished with Craftsman antiques.
An unrestored fixer home with 2,200 to 3,500 square feet will sell for between $140,000 and $170,000, said David Riposta, a broker with City Living Realtors. Some may need rather expensive repairs, like foundation bolting, a new roof, replastered walls and redone floors.
"A buyer may need to put in an additional $10,000 to $20,000 to upgrade the home," Riposta said. "Many will restore a house slowly, room by room. A full restoration could cost as much as $50,000."
A correctly refurbished house at the high end will cost between $245,000 and $400,000, Riposta said.
As in much of Los Angeles, prices that reached a peak in 1990 have flattened. The 1992 riots, which touched the edges of this community and left it without electricity for almost a week, also had an impact on sales.
During the riots, neighbors helped one another. The pulling together gave the neighborhood a sense of closeness and a determination to work together to solve some of the problems of urban living.
"We had a series of group dinners for as many as 20 to 30 people to use up the food in our refrigerators [before it spoiled]," Pat Karasick said. "We wanted to show support for one another. We felt it was better to go through the experience together rather than as individuals."
Much of the security of the neighborhood depends on the active network of block clubs, which deal with crime, general safety and other problems. Although the clubs are organized block by block, they sometimes meet as a group to address larger community concerns.
"The moment we have any signs that any kind of gang is passing through, we notify the police. The same is true of crack house activity," said Iris Smith, captain of the 24th Street and Arlington Block Club.
Block clubs along Twentieth Street have worked together to close alleyways that had attracted illegal activity. Along 24th Street, residents have been working to stop illegal dumping of building supplies.
"The reason that this neighborhood is livable and quiet is that neighbors work together," said Sgt. Ron Batesole, the Wilshire Division officer in charge of crime prevention in Western Heights.
The sense of neighborhood, the area's central location and the sense of history appeal to both old and newer residents.
Design engineer John Kurtz looked at about 40 houses before he purchased his 1910 Gramercy Park home six years ago.
"I was looking for a home with historically significant architecture," he said.
Although most of the house was intact, it had been converted to a rooming house and was filled with trash. "It took six boxcar-size dumpsters to remove the junk" he said.
Kurtz has lovingly restored his home. He had the aluminum siding removed to reveal the preserved clapboard siding. Woodwork was stripped to reveal zebra-striped oak paneling. New stained glass windows were made to match the originals. At the entrance, custom-made fern stands copy the staircase's newell posts.
"When you move here, you're adopted by the community," Kurtz said. "There's a set of resources you can tap into for restoration."
Kurtz went through the arduous process to have his house designated as Cultural Heritage Monument 601 by the city's Cultural Heritage Commission.
"The monument status goes with the house if it is sold," he said. "It reflects what used to be here in this neighborhood."
Marilyn Tower Oliver is a free-lance writer who lives in Silver Lake.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
At a Glance
1994 estimate: 4,402
1990-94 change: +3.3%
Per capita: 12,230
Median household: 17,630
Less than $30,000: 56.5%
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Kinney Heights, Gramercy Park, Western Heights Home Sale Data
Sample Size (for 10-year period): 353
Ave. home size (square feet): 1,420
Ave. Year Built: 1921
Ave. No. Bedrms: 2.48
Ave. No. Baths: 1.27
Central air: 3%
Price Range (1994-95): $117,000-$361,000
Predominant Value: $141,000
Age Range: 5-91 years
Predominant Age: 73 years
Average Sales Data
Year Total $ per Median Sales sq. ft. price 1995* 17 $115.99 $151,176 1994 39 $125.86 $195,454 1993 20 $155.97 $232,500 1992 12 $178.62 $313,333 1991 21 $211.70 $280,238 1990 31 $212.22 $290,064 1989 41 $201.30 $275,121 1988 48 $163.81 $243,750 1987 61 $113.83 $150,278 1986 63 $92.32 $129,571
* 1995 data current through June.
Source: TRW Redi Property Data, Riverside