Even Without Cityhood, Life Is Good

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the affluent neighborhoods west of the Santa Anita racetrack along the San Gabriel Valley's residential freeway, otherwise known as Huntington Drive, big city problems aren't hot topics of debate. Most folks don't even want to be part of a city. They want their paradise to remain an unincorporated heaven.

"This neighborhood has a lot of advantages," said David Rolfe, a computer video games salesman who lives in the Chapman Woods area north of Huntington and Rosemead Boulevard. "I could plot [to build] a better utopia, but I'm not going to do that."

At the intersection, residents have the mailing addresses of one of three cities: Arcadia, Pasadena or San Gabriel. But they receive no city services. Fire and police protection are provided by the county.

The intersection itself isn't much to look at and is crowded with business. But there's a decided laid-back tone to life nearby.

Large sprawling homes easily surpass $1 million. Homes to the south are less expensive but no less sought after. Most residents revel in the knowledge that the problems synonymous with urban living, such as crime, overcrowding and inadequate recreation, are not as pressing here.

The corner is a gateway to Santa Anita, which is about a mile east on Huntington. Long Beach is a 28-mile straight shot down Rosemead. L.A. is 12 miles west on Huntington, a broad thoroughfare.

Little things, too often ignored in a megalopolis like L.A., are noticed here.

For years, locals have tried to figure out the recipe for the coleslaw served at the original North Woods Inn at the intersection because it's so good. The operators aren't talking.

They also chortle about the "boat," a tug boat towed up from the harbor 32 years ago. It came to rest at the intersection and was turned into the Galley, a hamburger and beer joint. It's a favorite haunt for area workers and others who enjoy the informal atmosphere.

"That was a big deal around here when they towed it," patron Mike Corey says. "And the food ain't bad."

The area around the intersection has offered a leisurely way of life, going back to the days of land baron Leonard J. Rose.

Rose, who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany at age 8, arrived in the San Gabriel Valley in 1860 after being turned back two years earlier by hostile Indians at the Colorado River. Once here, he purchased 2,000 acres of the Rancho Santa Anita, dubbing his new domain Sunny Slope.

He later sold the Sunny Slope estate, but acquired orange groves and other properties farther south that became known for producing quality wine. He also operated a horse farm that he called Rosemeade, which means Rose's Meadow.

Later, the name was Americanized and was taken by the new city of Rosemead, which included lands Rose once owned. Rosemead was incorporated in 1959. California Highway 19, which runs through the area, came to be known as Rosemead Boulevard.

The name Huntington isn't easy to ignore either.

Henry E. Huntington, the nephew of Collis Huntington, a dominant member of the so-called Big Four railroad and industrial magnates, built the famed Beaux Arts "dream house" by 1910 on his 550-acre ranch. He wanted to lure his new bride to come live with him in the "primitive" wilds of present-day San Marino.

The house is now the formal home of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

He also created the region's Pacific Electric trolley system, which crisscrossed the Southland.

It was his red trolleys that caused the present-day Huntington Drive to be such a wide thoroughfare.

When Pacific Electric service began in 1903, there were four sets of rail tracks flanked on either side by two-way roads for vehicular traffic. The red cars, which served South Pasadena on one line and Monrovia on the other, were used by area businessmen heading for work in downtown Los Angeles.

The red trolleys stopped running on Huntington on March 31, 1951, leaving the locals to grapple with the now-abandoned railway right of way. Trees, gardens and lush lawns were planted. At the same time, most cities decided to replace the two sets of two-way streets with a single set of westbound and eastbound lanes, separated by the wide medians where the tracks once were.

Although some couldn't get used to the change, insisting on driving westbound in the new eastbound lanes, there were soon six to eight lanes of traffic, stretching from Lincoln Heights to Monrovia.

It's a virtual freeway of sorts, allowing the inhabitants of the surrounding tony neighborhoods, who don't want to get on the Foothill Freeway, to get to downtown in half an hour. More than 30,000 cars use Huntington daily. That's about equal to the car and truck volume on Alameda Street in Los Angeles' industrial heart.

Many in the area think traffic isn't a major concern since homes are walled off from traffic on Huntington. "It's not as intrusive as one might think," says Mark Miller, president of the Chapman Woods Assn., a homeowners group.

But all isn't perfect in unincorporated paradise.

Some residents of the Chapman Woods neighborhood, located north of Huntington and west of Rosemead, are upset at the trashy, unkempt appearance of the dirt center median along a 1 1/2-mile stretch of Rosemead between Huntington and Del Mar Boulevard. It's shabby, they say.

For close to 20 years, residents have argued for the state Department of Transportation to do something--plant trees, install decorative signs--to beautify the stretch since Rosemead is designated as a state highway.

"It's atrociously ugly," Miller says. "It doesn't fit in."

They have been unable to enlist the help of public agencies in the area. County officials have pointed out that some cities, such as Pico Rivera to the south, have paid for landscaping and other improvements along Rosemead. That would mean homeowners would have to join a city, an option most of them reject.

Caltrans officials have rejected pleas for improvements.

"We have no intention or plans to do anything of that nature," Caltrans spokesman Joe Brazile Jr. says, explaining that the agency is not in the landscape business.

On the east side of Huntington, the homeowner members of the Michillinda Park Assn. are struggling to upgrade the surfaces of alleys since they provide access to some homes in the neighborhood. They don't have the money for the improvements.

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