In Arcadia’s Highlands, rustic charm is no accident

Special to The Times

Through attention to planning that was evident right from the neighborhood’s origins in the 1950s and ‘60s, the Highlands of Arcadia manages to stay in harmony with its attractive natural setting in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The basics

One of 15 neighborhoods in Arcadia, the Highlands is bordered by the San Gabriel Mountains to the north, Santa Anita Canyon to the east, Santa Anita Avenue to the west and Foothill Boulevard to the south.

Almost all of the 850 homes, built in the 1950s and ‘60s, are single-story ranch-style residences on generous lots. The neighborhood may lack diversity in architectural styles, but the homes were all custom built. To avoid the cookie-cutter look of post-World War II tract housing, the original developer sold individual lots to a variety of builders and refused to sell more than two lots to the same contractor. “The developer was unique in his quest for variety and harmony,” said Ralph Bicker, chairman of the architectural review board.


Wow factor

The rustic, country feeling that residents love comes from having the mountains on two sides; a wilderness park; a wide variety of trees, from palms to pines and a multitude of oaks; wildlife; and curving streets and no sidewalks. But the area’s initial architectural controls, neatly manicured lawns, well-kept homes and a review board that ensures “architectural compatibility and harmony” contribute to a feeling of planned rusticity.

The ribbon-like streets were planned to “work around the oak trees and slopes and to provide optimum mountain views,” according to Jeff Bowen, president of the Highlands Home Owners Assn. and a neighborhood resident since 1973.

Can’t get there from here

Residents love the quiet and seclusion. Since mountains frame two sides of the Highlands, traffic is mostly just residents and their visitors. “People aren’t going through the neighborhood to get somewhere else,” Bowen said. Despite the feeling of seclusion, the two border streets, Santa Anita Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, provide residents with easy access to freeways and shopping.

Insider’s view

The Highlands’ wilderness park has an education center and an abundance of wildlife and hiking trails. The owners’ association recently funded a new park waterfall feature, another example of the area’s blending of the natural and the planned.

Good news, bad news

Wildlife from the nearby mountains, canyon and wilderness park frequently wander into the residential areas. Residents take pleasure in the sight of a family of deer or raccoons in their frontyards, but the delight turns to irritation when deer feast on a rose garden or raccoons begin rolling back a newly planted sod lawn.

Report card

Arcadia schools in general and the Highlands schools in particular are a draw for families in search of a top-notch system with standardized test scores near the top of the charts. Only one other school district in the San Gabriel Valley, San Marino, ranks slightly higher. The neighborhood’s two schools, Highland Oaks Elementary and Foothills Middle School, scored 913 and 888 out of 1,000 on the 2002 California Academic Performance Index. Students from the Highlands attend Arcadia High School, which scored 787.


On the market

Seven homes were on the market last week in the Highlands. They ranged from a 2,049-square-foot ranch-style home on a 7,571-square-foot lot, for $649,000, to a 2,624-square-foot ranch on an 18,778-square-foot lot for $998,500, according to Lynn Bienenfeld of Coldwell Banker in Pasadena.

Historical values

Single-family detached resales:

Year...Median Price






*year to date

Sources: Lynn Bienenfeld, Coldwell Banker; Jeff Bowen, Highlands Home Owners Assn.; Arcadia Unified School District,;; DataQuick Information Systems; Ralph Bicker, Highlands Home Owners Assn.