Neighborhood Spotlight: Brentwood’s exclusivity can’t quite shake the taint of infamy

One of L.A.’s toniest neighborhoods was, for a time, one of its most notorious.

In 1994 the upscale, exclusive Westside enclave of Brentwood exploded on the national scene with the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and the subsequent murder trial of O.J. Simpson, one of the few black residents in what was — and still is — an overwhelmingly white neighborhood.

Brentwood this year has again been in the public eye with the release of ESPN’s documentary on Simpson, which meticulously excavated the racial attitudes that had been carefully hidden under the neighborhood’s gleaming facade of celebrity and wealth. The roots of those attitudes are deep, reaching back to Brentwood’s founding in the early 1900s.

It was one of L.A.’s first bedroom communities, and the character of the neighborhood (then called Westgate) was set with the announcement of land for sale in the new subdivision of Brentwood Park, a leafy expanse of large lots on gently curving streets that were connected by ornately landscaped traffic circles.


On those large lots, residents began to build the luxury homes that Brentwood would become famous for. The extensive list of rules they had to abide by — setbacks required, only one home per lot and a prohibition of sales to people of color — ensured that most of the neighborhood would stay suburban, and racially uniform.

Brentwood Park’s success led to the entire area being re-dubbed “Brentwood,” and Brentwood the neighborhood as well as Brentwood the state of mind spread north across Sunset Boulevard and into the steep, craggy canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The racial covenants that prevented African Americans and others from buying homes in the area were eventually struck down, but soaring housing prices and the de facto segregation of Los Angeles for much of the 20th century kept it overwhelmingly white.

Today, the Simpson house on Rockingham has been demolished, and Nicole’s condo has a new address, but the shadow of the case is long. Yet aside from the massive, newly chic Hamptons-style mansions that are replacing the area’s original homes, much remains unchanged.

Brentwood is still dedicated to exclusivity, luxury living, and to doing its best to remain, as an L.A. Times article put it in 1907, “a suburb, away from the noise, dust and inharmonies of the city.”

Neighborhood highlights

In the city, but not of the city: Brentwood is close to all the Westside hot spots but retains a family-friendly suburban vibe. A trip to the Brentwood Country Mart petting zoo with the kids is about as lit as it gets in Brentwood.


A duffer’s paradise: Golfers with the wherewithal to swing the pricey membership fees will love being within a short drive of two of L.A.’s most exclusive courses, the Brentwood Country Club and nearby Riviera Country Club.

The Getty’s frontyard: Culture lovers flock to the Getty Center, which offers art, live events and stunning views, especially at sunset.

Neighborhood challenge

Traffic woes: 10 out of 10 Brentwoodians agree — Sunset Boulevard at rush hour is the absolute worst thing, ever.


Expert insight

Mary Lu Tuthill, manager of Coldwell Banker Previews International in Brentwood, has lived in the neighborhood since 1972.

She said there are three types of properties in Brentwood: older homes ready to be torn down; homes from the 1950s and 1960s that need updating; and newly built homes.

“If you want a brand-new home, you will most likely be involved in competition and multiple offers and need to put your best foot forward,” she said. “If you are involved in buying a piece of land that is in a very prestigious neighborhood, you will also most likely be in a multiple-offer situation.”


But there’s an upside for potential home buyers.

“There’s not much interest in the older homes that need work, for some reason,” she said. “People either want to buy from scratch or buy already done. So if you’re willing to do some work, there are some really great values available in Brentwood right now, in all sorts of architectural styles.”

Market snapshot

In July, based on 23 sales, the median price for single-family homes in the 90049 ZIP Code was $3.428 million, according to CoreLogic. The median price for condominiums, based on 19 sales, was $1.089 million.


Report card

Within the boundaries of the Westside community is Kenter Canyon Elementary and Brentwood Science, which scored 839 and 959, respectively, in the 2013 Academic Performance Index.

Nearby Franklin Elementary scored 949, and Brockton Avenue Elementary had a score of 778. University Senior high scored 747.