Westside Village Reveals Rustic Past

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Linda Beth Mothner is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

In the late 1950s, Jeanne and Roy Parker drove to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Westside Village from their Inglewood apartment to look at one of only two homes listed for sale in the newspaper that weekend.

Jeanne Parker, a retired commercial property manager, recalls that the graceful curve of leafy Greenfield Avenue had won her and her late husband's heart before they pulled up in front of the two-bedroom, one-bath California ranch house that was surrounded by a white picket fence and lots of rose bushes.

The couple reached an agreement with the owners to buy the house that day. "There was a crowd of people lining up outside. We would have lost it otherwise. We never did get to see the other house," she said. They paid $10,000.

In the years since then, the 900-square-foot house has undergone several major changes. First the Parkers added a back bedroom and bath for Roy's mother, and then the dwelling eventually assumed a natural red-brick exterior. But in 1990 Parker, who is "one for change," decided to "go up." Now about 3,000-square-feet, the home has a semi-high-tech look with lots of decking and balconies. "So I can survey my kingdom," she said with a smile.

Westside Village is a neighborhood of 1,200 single-family homes that lies tucked into the heart of Los Angeles' Westside. Located to the north of Culver City and east of Mar Vista, its boundaries include National Boulevard on the north, Charnock Road on the south, Overland Avenue on the east and Sepulveda Boulevard on the west.

Although the daily stops of the Helmsman, the Adohr milkman and the fruit man have vanished along with the bean fields on Sepulveda Boulevard, Parker says the small-town feeling still survives.

"I know all my neighbors," she said. "And as problems arise, we solve them. We're five miles from the beach, 10 from the airport. We're close to the freeways. We really do have everything here."

Once part of the sprawling Charnock Ranch, where lima beans and walnuts were grown, the tract was subdivided in 1939 by Playa del Rey developer Fritz Burns. Today, strollers, bikers and joggers continually make their way over terrain that is both hilly and flat and where no two streets look alike. The mature trees, the absence of sidewalks and street lights linger from its rustic past and contribute to the serene setting's appeal as a great place to raise children.

Prices start at $240,000 for an original 1,000-square-foot house on a 50-by-110-foot lot, said Joel Hagler, an agent for Fred Sands Realtors. Recently, a two-story home in 2,200 square feet sold for $390,000, he said.

Julie Ruggiero recalled clearly her discouragement on the morning over a year ago that she had made an appointment to view her future Westside Village home. She had grown used to disappointment in a four-month housing search in which she and her husband, Pat, had focused on Sunset Park, Mar Vista and Culver City. In fact, Pat Ruggiero, a manager for a computer software company, had bleakly wondered after leaving the last fixer-upper if dynamite was included in the sale price.

But this time the scenario played out differently. "We don't have to go inside. I like it," Julie Ruggiero remembers telling Pat excitedly as they walked up the driveway.

Indeed, the three-bedroom, two-bath house had "everything we were looking for," she said. Besides a lot of charm and enough room for their growing family--Julie was expecting their first child--they found a 53-year-old house whose needs were largely cosmetic.

"I knew the house was a really good buy and it wouldn't be on the market for very long," Julie said. "It had been on for a long time. The price had just dropped $60,000."

The couple paid $278,500 in a short pay sale, an arrangement in which the lender agrees to accept less than the outstanding balance to settle a mortgage loan. And while warned by their realtor of the lengthy escrow ahead, Pat Ruggiero said that the delay in closing gave him time to sell his Culver City condominium.

The Ruggieros share the enthusiasm for their new neighborhood.

"I like the country atmosphere," Pat Ruggiero said. "It is very quiet when you turn off the main streets. We're three miles from work. That is another plus."

Added Julie, "I've walked [on the streets] with Jackie since she was born. I feel very safe. The old trees are really beautiful. You can't believe you are in Los Angeles."

Two blocks east on Veteran Avenue, Mitch Glasser says he didn't mind that the 830-square-foot house he purchased 1 1/2 years ago was "quite a fixer-upper." The computer programmer had been sharing the rental of a two-bedroom house a few blocks away when he noticed the open house sign and decided to make an offer that day.

"The house has an enormous backyard--there was a huge amount of room to expand. The price had fallen off so dramatically that it was cheaper than renting." said Glasser, who paid $230,000 for the foreclosed property.

Drawing on the contracting services of a friend who has been renting one of the bedrooms, Glasser said, "We gutted it a little bit at a time. We broke into the attic and made it a loft. Took out some walls to combine the dining room and what was a laundry room into a bigger dining room. We put a deck and French doors in the back. Put in bigger windows. We really did some wonderful things."

The schools that serve Westside Village are often noted for their achievements. Dari Mackenzie says that Palms Middle School was a leading reason why she and her husband, Robert, decided to buy the Westside Village home they had been leasing. While boasting high test scores, the school with a gifted magnet program and an excellent honors program that has become "the hottest ticket in town," Mackenzie said.

In the meanwhile, Mackenzie is quite content with the education her daughter is getting at Clover Avenue School. "One of our strengths is the amazingly mixed meltingpot of cultures," said Mackenzie. "We draw students from UCLA student family housing. Last year we had 27 different languages. It makes for a wonderful introduction to other cultures. We get to experience that in our neighborhood and neighborhood schools."

The issue of crime remains an important community focus. To strengthen their offensive, Neighborhood Watch activists John and Norma Alonzo recently led a drive to open a "stop-by" office for local police officers. A former Motor Avenue VCR shop has become a convenient site for police officers to do their paperwork without leaving the area.

"We've lived here for 35 years and we never thought for a minute that we would have to do anything like this," John Alonzo said. "In the last three or four years we can see things getting a little closer and we don't want [crime] in our neighborhood. We want it to remain nice and comfortable and safe like it always has been."

Overall, though, Chuck Ennis feels that Westside Village has changed very little in the years since 1939 when his wife, Agnes, came home with the news that she had just bought a two-bedroom house for $3,195.

The widower and retired MGM film editor recalls having a "rather wild reaction." Said Ennis, "Things were so tough in those days--the down payment was $150 and my wife had to borrow $50 from her uncle to make the down payment."

Still, he now admits that he is glad she took the initiative. There was a time, he admits, when his kids wanted him to move and a Realtor told him he could get $400,000 without any trouble that he says he was "tempted." However, he continued, "I said 'No, it has been a lot of fun living here. I'm going to stay.' "

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At a Glance

Population

1995 estimate: 9,180

1990-95 change: +4.8%

Annual income

Per capita: 23,142

Median household: 32,903

Household distribution

Less than $30,000 44.5%

$30,000 - $60,000 31.9%

$60,000 - $100,000 15.2%

$100,000 - $150,000 6.3%

$150,000 + 2.0%

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