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Neighborhood Spotlight: Mt. Washington keeps a rustic slant

Downtown view

Canyon views and a view of downtown.

(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Located just upstream from where the Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles River merge, Mount Washington has been home base to a former mayor, a world-famous yogi and the official witch of Los Angeles County.

The Arroyo Seco — which, after all, begins near a place called Devil’s’ Gate — has always been a location known for the offbeat, a neighborhood that was keeping it weird before Portland, Ore., or Austin, Texas, ever was.

The origins of its name are unknown, but Mount Washington first entered the history books in 1909, when Robert Marsh built a hotel atop a mountain just a few trolley stops south of the ostrich farms and resorts of South Pasadena and Garvanza.

Below the hotel, he plotted lots with spectacular views, lured potential buyers up to the mountain on his short-lived funicular train (its lower station can still be seen at the corner of Marmion Way and Avenue 43) and let the vistas of basin, mountains and sea work their wiles.


The Northeast L.A. subdivision was an eventual success, with contemporary newspaper ads extolling the virtues of a mountain “whose beauties and scenic advantages have been admired for years,” located a mere “20 minutes from Broadway and the center of downtown Los Angeles.”

The hotel, smallish and remote, had less success, and by the early 1920s it was a military academy, then a respiratory hospital, and finally it became the international headquarters of the Self-Realization Fellowship, a role it fills to this day.

The neighborhood below the summit has over the years become a pleasing polyglot of architectural styles, with Craftsman homes and designs by Richard Neutra, Gregory Ain and John Lautner clinging side by side to the rugged defiles of the mountain that has the third steepest street in the city.

In keeping with the free-spirited vibe of the arroyo, many artists make their homes in the neighborhood, with nearby galleries offering frequent shows of local works.


Neighborhood highlights

Those views: On a clear day you can see the port; on smoggy days the sunsets burn through the haze and turn everything to fire. Either way, it’s Southern California magic.

A decent commute: The Arroyo Seco Parkway is — heart-stoppingly short on-ramps aside — a pretty easy ride to downtown or Pasadena, and the Gold Line offers service to Azusa and East L.A. and everything in between.

Mountain living: Get away from it all by living over it all, but be sure to keep your dogs and cats in after dusk — the coyotes here are particularly bold.

Something for everyone (architecturally speaking): From rustic mountain cottages to million-dollar modern spec homes, if you like it, it’s probably here.

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Neighborhood challenges


A tear in the fabric: Those aforementioned spec homes could begin to drastically change the rustic character of the neighborhood, turning it into a generic collection of uninspired hillside homes.

Expert insight

Adam Bray-Ali, a real estate agent who owns a home in Mount Washington, said people are drawn to the neighborhood for its easy access to job hubs in downtown L.A., Hollywood and Pasadena; a highly regarded elementary school; and deep community engagement.

“There’s a sense of oneness,” he said. And “you’ve got a really interesting environment of streets and homes that are full of uniqueness. It’s uncommon to see much in the way of cookie-cutter developments.”

Craftsman home
A Craftsman home on San Rafael Avenue.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Because there are so many architectural styles, Bray-Ali advises buyers to “figure out what you’re after” first — whether that’s a flat home with a large yard, or one over the edge of a ravine on stilts, or in a canyon area with great views but not much garden space.

“It’s creating a lifestyle idea first, then finding the house,” he said.

Market snapshot


Portions of the 90031, 90042 and 90065 ZIP Codes overlap the Mount Washington area.

In the 90031 ZIP, based on 12 sales, the median sale price for single-family homes in May was $390,000. The median price in the 90042 ZIP was $635,000 based on 33 sales, and the 90065 ZIP had a median price of $710,000 based 26 sales.

Report card

Within the boundaries of Mount Washington is Mt. Washington Elementary, which scored 907 out of 1,000 in the 2013 Academic Performance Index.

Nearby elementary schools include Aldama, Aragon Avenue and Glassell Park, which scored 772, 757 and 742 respectively.

Arroyo Seco Museum Science scored 889 and Florence Nightingale Middle had a score of 756.

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