‘Sense of community’ in Irvine

(Robert Lachman, Los Angeles Times)
Special to The Times

SET BETWEEN Interstate 5 and the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, the village of Northwood in Irvine is one area of the master-planned city that is not quite so meticulously assembled.

The Irvine Co. didn’t name it, the city didn’t start it, and today it’s one of the few areas in town where some tracts have no homeowner association. That was the attraction -- along with relative affordability -- that brought Margie Wakeham and her husband to Northwood in 1971, just months before its annexation into Irvine.

“We liked the house and we could afford it,” said Wakeham, who served on the school board, is candidate for City Council and raised three children there, including a daughter who grew up to become principal of the highly regarded Northwood High School.


Northwood started as part of the immense Irvine Ranch, where cattle, row crops and orchards gradually gave way to one of the nation’s largest master-planned cities. But long before a city was a twinkle in planners’ eyes, the Irvine family gave away and sold parcels as bonuses and gifts to ranch foremen and other employees.

In the stretch north of the Santa Ana Freeway, 23 chunks of land were held by various owners, according to Roger McErlane, senior vice president of urban planning and design for the Irvine Co. They were organized by a single developer who created the area called “Northwood,” which ultimately included about 2,000 homes.

A smaller, companion neighborhood directly north is Northwood Pointe, a denser collection of nearly 2,000 residences opened in the late ‘90s. It reaches toward the foothills and was planned under the guiding hand of the Irvine Co.

What it’s about

Like all of Irvine’s residential areas, Northwood is passionate about schools, parks and trails. Northwood High was included in Newsweek’s list of top high schools and has won several Grammy Signature School honors, including the Gold School Award.

Residents enjoy a multitude of parks and a network of paths and greenbelt walkways that range from the woodsy Hicks Canyon Trail to the garden-like Venta Spur Trail, which will eventually connect to the Great Park. Northwood Community Park, dubbed “Castle Park” by neighborhood kids for its fort-like play area, is a hub of activity with recreation classes, camps, outdoor movie nights, multiple athletic fields and a fitness course.

“Northwood Community Park is the center of life in Northwood,” said Douglas Williford, director of community development for the city and a Northwood resident.

Insiders’ views

When their third child arrived, Rosalyn and Ryan Reasor gave up their condo in the village of Woodbridge and headed to Northwood, where bigger houses and lots were affordable.

“I really saw this sense of community there that I didn’t even know existed anymore,” she said. They moved to a new house in Northwood Pointe several years later, rather than remodel their mature tract home.

Cheryl and Todd Waterson played the same real estate hopscotch, leaving Woodbridge for the elbow room of Northwood and eventually moving on to Northwood Pointe.

“Northwood Pointe is a peaceful environment,” Todd Waterson said. “I appreciate that. I lived next to the freeway for eight years and it wore on me quite a bit.”

Good and bad

Interstate 5 is handy, but parts of old Northwood lie within earshot of its constant drone. And those aging areas that once prided themselves for skirting the fussy rules of the city’s homeowner associations could sometimes use a visit from the good-design police.

“We had one of the people on our street that had a motor home and didn’t want to pay to store it, so he built a garage that looks like a fire station,” Wakeham said.

Meanwhile, wildfires are a threat at the fringe of Northwood Pointe, where last October residents evacuated and the high school was closed during the worst days of the Santiago fire.

Housing stock

Recently there were 131 homes on the market, ranging in price from a rare one-bedroom condo listed for $219,000 in Northwood to a $1.8-million five-bedroom house in Northwood Pointe.

Northwood real estate specialist Roula Fawaz said relative bargains can be found in older neighborhoods where homes built in the 1970s may need refurbishing. Northwood Pointe homes are favored by buyers who are eager to send their children to Northwood High but less inclined to buy older properties, Fawaz added.

Making the grade

Five elementary schools serve the area and scored between 889 and 951 out of a possible 1,000 on the 2007 Academic Performance Index Base Report. The elementary schools feed into Sierra Vista Middle School, which scored 922. Most students living north of Trabuco Road and west of Jeffrey Road attend Northwood High School, which scored 863.

Sources:;;; ?q=2008/rank/301/