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Neighborhood Spotlight: Hollywood Hills a setting for high achievers

The not-so-famous are drawn to symbols of Hollywood and the lifestyle of those who call "the Hills" their home.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Hollywood Hills was not always a tamed refuge for the well-heeled.

The rugged canyons and steep hills of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains, where the range briefly soars 1,800 feet to the top of Cahuenga Peak before expending itself and petering out in the rolling hills of Elysian Park, once teemed with wildlife and raged with unchecked wildfires.

People have lived in the hills for thousands of years, first the Tongva people, then the Spanish, and finally the pioneers of early Hollywood.

They built their homesteads along the floors of the canyons that cut through the hills, going with the topography of the land. That began to change in earnest in the 1920s, as the developers of Hollywoodland employed bulldozers and graders to make room in Beachwood Canyon for spacious luxury homes in styles ranging from medieval castles to Spanish Colonial villas and almost every revival style in between.

Marketed to the well-to-do as an exclusive country retreat convenient to Hollywood and downtown, via bus or car, Hollywoodland became the template for celebrity life in the hills.

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Though the development itself went bust during the Depression, the lifestyle it had pioneered exploded in popularity. Once the canyons were built out with the homes of studio chiefs and matinee idols, increasing demand for a “house in the hills” — that marker of one’s arrival as a player in Hollywood — meant development began to creep up into the steep overhangs and narrow switchback trails above.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that the upper reaches of the hills were truly conquered. Modernist architects, armed with new engineering techniques and an ethos of minimalism, began to design and build homes that clung to the hillsides. These new homes turned their backs on the narrow mountain roads, with their unsightly rows of parked cars, and oriented the glassy facades of their steel and concrete boxes outward, toward the stupendous city and canyon views.

The popularity of those views, and the architecture that made them possible, has remained constant. Over the years, through trials wrought by wildfires, mudslides and streets clogged with valet parking attendants during awards season parties, the Hills has endured as a symbol of the city. May its infinity edge lap pools never run dry.

Neighborhood highlights

See, without being seen: For reclusive, privacy-conscious celebs, what better than a place in the Hills, whence you can, godlike, look out at the millions of us in the basin yet remain completely invisible to everyone below?

Own a masterpiece: Hollywood Hills boasts works from nearly every major Southern California architect, from Wallace Neff to Richard Neutra and beyond, comprising one of the greatest collections of residential architecture in the world.

A prestigious address: Like Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, Hollywood Hills is instantly recognized the world over as one of L.A.’s most exclusive neighborhoods. It is, literally and figuratively, elevated.

Neighborhood challenges

A McMansion on the hill: Even in the moneyed Hills, development pressures are leading to homes being demolished to make way for the construction of gargantuan new homes.

Expert insight

Corey Weiss, a native Angeleno and agent with John Aaroe Group, said Hollywood Hills continues to be an attractive option for celebrities as well as people who want easy access to the Westside and the San Fernando Valley.

The public school system has also played a part in driving the area’s popularity, he said. “People seem to be willing to pay a premium to live in a certain area and not get locked into the private school system.”

Those looking to buy into the area need to understand that there’s going to be competition.

“There’s a big lack of inventory at the right price,” Weiss said. “If you can do something off-market, with an agent with knowledge of the homes available, that eliminates a lot of the competition.”

Market snapshot

In the 90068 ZIP Code, based on 33 sales, the median sales price for single-family homes in November was $1.382 million, a 15.2% increase year over year, according to CoreLogic. Five condominium sales resulted in a median price of $555,000, down 8.6% from the previous year.

Report card

Within the boundaries of Hollywood Hills, as defined by Mapping L.A., are Cheremoya Avenue Elementary and Valley View Elementary, which scored 847 and 822, respectively, in the 2013 Academic Performance Index.

Nearby schools include Gardner Street Elementary, which scored 863, and Joseph Conte Middle, which had a score of 765. Hollywood Senior High scored 762 and Magnolia Science Academy 5 had a score of 759.

hotproperty@latimes.com

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