What we now refer to as San Fernando Valley, or simply the Valley, started off with a mouthful of a name: El Valle de Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos.
That's what Spaniard Gaspar de Portola, who became the first European to lay eyes on it, called the area after trudging up and through the Sepulveda Pass in 1769.
The place where he sat his donkey was a Chumash village near a tree-shaded spring within shouting distance of a massive 700-year-old live oak, now the heart of the neighborhood that bears a truncated version of the name — Encino, or "oak tree."
That village became the center of operations of the Rancho los Encinos, which was owned in succession by Spaniards, Mission Indians, rancheros and various Yankee farmers, before being sold off and subdivided as the city of Encino.
Encino, like Tarzana, its neighbor to the west, remained semirural into the 1920s, when Hollywood — looking for ranch land on which to film some of the hundreds of oaters the industry was cranking out at the time — came calling.
RKO Pictures established its ranch and backlot in the neighborhood, where such classics as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" were filmed. The combination of close proximity to movie studios and plentiful land led A-listers of the era to build homes in Encino, making it one of the Valley's first and most enduring celebrity enclaves.
The post-World War II housing boom brought an end to the era of plentiful open land and rural land uses such as farming and ranching. Even the RKO backlot fell prey to developer's bulldozers, closing in 1953 to make way for the Encino Village subdivision, where tidy modern homes rose on the site of sets like New York Street and the Notre Dame Cathedral.
As the last of the open spaces of Encino were filled, the state stepped in to save the spring, but one last reminder of the old days of El Valle de Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos would fall to the ravages of time when the ancient oak, at the ripe old age of 1,000 years, collapsed during the El Niño storms of 1998.
Highs and more highs: Whether you like hillside living or dwelling in the flats, Encino has great housing choices on either side of Ventura Boulevard.
Westside adjacent: If you absolutely must commute from the Valley to the Westside, Encino's the least worst option. You're still going to have to sit on the 405, but at least it's a straight shot over the hill.
Middle of the road: If Valley nabes get progressively less hip as you move west down Ventura Boulevard, Encino is halfway between Studio City and Woodland Hills in more ways than one.
Carol Wolfe, a longtime Encino resident and agent with Rodeo Realty, said new construction has attracted buyers to the area who might otherwise live in other parts of Los Angeles.
"We've been seeing a lot of tear-downs and new construction," she said. "New homes offer a lot of things that people want — a lot of bells and whistles."
For older homes or large-lot estates, potential home buyers will need to move quickly in the current marketplace.
"Families are competing with builders and developers, which makes it difficult," Wolfe said. "The traditional buyer is being aced out by builders who waive inspections and have such strong offers."
In November, based on 20 sales, the median price for single-family home sales in the 91316 ZIP Code was $838,000, according to CoreLogic. That was a 18.9% increase in price year over year.
Among the top public schools is Lanai Road Elementary, which scored 950 out of 1,000 in the 2013 Academic Performance Index. Encino Elementary had a score of 942, and Hesby Oaks scored 910.
Gaspar de Portola Middle, found just outside the city boundary, scored 866. High Tech L.A. had a score of 865, and Fred E. Lull Special Education Center scored 845.
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