The South Bay enclave, with architecturally diverse homes and mature trees, is known for its scenic charm and small-town vibe. And residents are within walking distance of some of the best parks, shops and restaurants in the area.
Real estate investor Jared Sidney Torrance founded the "garden-industrial" city in 1912 as an alternative to the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. He envisioned a community where people could live, work and play, hence Torrance's motto: "A Balanced City." After World War II, mass-produced tract housing filled in the countryside, transforming the town into a modern, mid-sized city. Residents, business owners and the city have worked diligently over the years to retain the original character and charm of historical Old Torrance, the heart of which is roughly bounded by Torrance Boulevard to the north, Carson Street to the south, Crenshaw Boulevard to the west and Cabrillo Avenue to the east.
The red-tiled roofs and cream-colored stucco of 1920s Mission Revivals are interspersed with the low-slung roofs and wide porches of Craftsman bungalows along blocks shaded by established eucalyptus, magnolia and California pepper trees. There is a farmers market at the local park twice a week and an Antique Street Faire downtown on the fourth Sunday of the month. Beaches, shopping malls and freeways are nearby.
Old Torrance's all-American aesthetic attracts Hollywood producers. The local high school and a few homes have appeared on the television shows "Beverly Hills 90210," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Boomtown," while the local Foster's Freeze had a cameo in the film "Charlie's Angels."
Among popular hangouts are the Torrance Bakery at 1341 El Prado Ave.; the old Pacific Electric Railway Depot, built in 1912, now a restaurant called the Depot at 1250 Cabrillo Ave.; and Rudy's, a diner that 30-year resident Janet Payne said "is like going to your friend's house for lunch because it makes you feel good."
The downtown area's Y-shape street grid, criticized by newcomers who get lost among the "crooked" streets, was designed to take advantage of the ocean breezes from the southwest.
The layout keeps drivers from using the neighborhood as a shortcut. The area is close enough to the coast for the zephyr to reach it, yet far enough away to be bathed in inland sunshine when the coast is overcast.
People tend to stay. Many residents are only the second or third owners of their 75-year-old homes.
Good news, bad news
With alleys at the back of each property, there isn't a driveway, garage or trashcan in sight. But street parking is at a premium. On narrow streets, there isn't enough room for two cars to pass without one backing up.
Several schools in the Torrance Unified School District serve Old Torrance, with scores on the 2002 Academic Performance Index ranging from 692 to 796 out of a possible 1,000. For the homes east of Madrid Avenue, children attend Fern Elementary and Madrona Middle School. To the west, they go to Torrance Elementary and Hull Middle School. All go to Torrance High School.
The most desirable area of Old Torrance has about 500 homes, said Janice Plank of Prudential California Realty.
In mid-August there were eight houses on the market, ranging in price from $325,000 for a 635-square-foot home on a small lot to $659,000 for a 2,364-square-foot home. Fixers start at $300,000.
Single-family detached resales:
*year to date
Sources: Janice Plank, broker associate with Prudential California Realty of Torrance; Carol Gillis, realtor with The Realestate Group; Torrance Historical Society & Museum; Torrance Unified School District; City of Torrance; DataQuick Information Systems.