Facades May Change but Sense of Place Remains the Same

Thirty years ago, if someone had told me that I'd end up back in Westdale, I would have died.

Westdale? Bor-ring. We're talking 900 stucco homes, built between 1946 and 1950 in a small pocket of West Los Angeles, six floor plans, each house with exactly three bedrooms and two bathrooms--one of a hundred tracts here in the capital of ticky tacky.

My mother will tell you I intended to live in a far more glamorous neighborhood. To be precise, I dreamed of a house in the Hollywood hills, with Spanish-style interior arches, a red tile roof, a view of the city, a neighborhood with winding streets and eccentric neighbors: artists, writers and actors. Certainly not a tract home.

But life has its own winding streets; sometimes they take you back to where you began. So here I am, a middle-aged wife and mother, and the co-owner of a three-bedroom, two-bath, stucco house--in Westdale just blocks from my childhood home.

Weirder still, there I was last weekend at the neighborhood's 50th birthday celebration, following the Venice High School band as it marched through the tract, drawing folks out of their kitchens and away from their yard chores to a picnic in Mar Vista Park.

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Westdale was the creation of developer Paul W. Trousdale, who went on to erect the much grander Trousdale Estates in Beverly Hills. The tract rose from the bean and corn fields east of the old Clover Field, now

the Santa Monica Airport. The returning GIs who would fuel the postwar boom in Los Angeles snapped up these new homes.

Westdale offered well-built, affordable houses with a bit more floor space than in neighboring tracts. Still, a tract is a tract, and Westdale is really not so different from what took root in Reseda or Torrance or Culver City.

A half-century later, only a few of the original, unimproved houses remain. Walk the streets now and you can trace the decades on the exterior remodels: Don the Beachcomber redos were big in the 1960s and 1970s, with the lava rock facades, nautical chain fencing and driftwood. We, that first generation of Westdale kids, knew which of those houses had a bomb shelter beneath the dichondra. The Cape Cod-style remodels came in the 1980s, and the 1990s have brought the English country cottage look to Westdale, with rambling white roses, field stone walkways and the return of the white picket fence.

But if the houses have changed with the times, Westdale's core as a quiet, friendly neighborhood has endured. I suppose that's why I'm still here. And that's really what we Westdalians were celebrating last weekend, common virtues easily found but all too rarely celebrated in this sprawling, anonymous city.

The hundreds who came out last Sunday talked about the tract's large and gracious trees, and paid tribute to the handful of remaining original residents along with the many homeowners who've lived here 40 years or more. Neighbors shared local news, admired children and clapped for the home-grown bands. To be there Sunday was to know what makes this tract a neighborhood, and what makes any neighborhood home.

It's people like longtime residents Roz Bessen and Larry and Bette Rudick and the other stalwarts of the Westdale Homeowners Assn. who made the party happen. Bessen, 66, led the Venice marching band through Westdale on Sunday just as she had done 10 years ago at the 40th birthday party.

It's Bob and Peggy Kohler, who raised four children here in their Westdale home and drove in from Camarillo with one of their grown sons to celebrate with old friends.

In this city, where one housing development runs into the next, you have to look beyond the stucco to find that sense of place. But it's there, in places like Van Nuys and Glendale and Westdale, where neighborhood exists as that ineffable confluence of place and time and memory.

It's the smell of jasmine as you turn onto Stanwood Drive. the lavender carpet of jacaranda that blossoms along Colby Avenue every March, and the way Purdue Avenue looked last month, blanketed with tiny yellow flowers from the golden rain trees. It's certain sounds etched so deep that the call of a mourning dove anywhere takes me back to the endless days of an adolescent's summer in the suburbs.

When all is said and done, neighborhood, indeed home, is a place where decades later someone still knows your name--or at least your floor plan.

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