University Hills remains off the radar screen of many Angelenos. Nestled in the hills above Cal State L.A., its 300 mostly modest homes rest on narrow streets. From this perch, residents can see the college campus below, downtown Los Angeles, Catalina Island or the mountains, depending on their vantage point.
Some University Hills residents grew up in the neighborhood and have stayed on to raise their own children. Many are teachers at the university or at nearby schools.
But call a handful of real estate agents to ask about University Hills and the telephone line may go silent. Many seem not to know the name of this triangular neighborhood bordered by Marianna Avenue, State University Drive and the college campus near the intersection of the San Bernardino and Long Beach freeways.
"It is not unfair to say it's a secret," said longtime resident Mark Overstreet, who has lived in two homes in the neighborhood in 19 years. "Otherwise we would have had a lot more housing go up. There are still empty lots up here."
University Hills prices are low compared with many parts of Los Angeles County, according to Steven Carroll, an agent with Century 21 Hollywood. Buyers looking for a home to fix up can still find deals, he said, adding that many of the houses are small and could be expanded.
"It's like the neighborhood has been asleep. It was forgotten," said Carroll, who had not heard of the area until 2004, when he sought a fixer-upper for clients. "Now that prices have gone higher and residents there are starting to sell, it's coming to people's attention."
How it grew
That's not to say University Hills was recently developed. The neighborhood was part of a Spanish land grant known as the Rancho Rosa Castilla, created by the family of Juan Batista Batz, a Basque rancher from northern Spain who arrived in the 1850s. The rancho's name came from the wild rose that grew locally.
Ten years ago, residents got their newer neighborhood name recognized by the city of Los Angeles. At that time, they also set up a neighborhood watch group and the University Hills Community Assn., which focuses on larger civic issues, including graffiti, residential development and parking.
Several new homes of more than 2,000 square feet are going up on popular Barnett Way. Homes built in the 1920s include bungalows, Craftsman, Spanish and California ranch styles.
On the market
Among University Hills properties for sale are two three-bedroom, two-bathroom houses for $420,000 and $450,000, said Jose Martinez, an assistant to American Team Properties agent Sandra Alvarez. A house on Sullivan Drive with two bedrooms, one bathroom and a guesthouse is listed at $629,000.
Homes in the secluded streets in the hills have prices higher than in the neighboring communities of East Los Angeles, Lincoln Heights and El Sereno, where homes cost between $315,000 and $400,000, Martinez said.
While University Hills was once predominantly Latino, residents today are an ethnically diverse group that also includes whites and Asians, Martinez said. "It's the same thing that you saw in Echo Park," he said of the population shift.
Good news, bad news
A drawback, residents agree, is that there are not many businesses nearby, although the university has eateries.
Many in the neighborhood rely on a handful of Catholic private schools. Others send their children to nearby City Terrace Elementary School, El Sereno Middle School and Wilson High School, where 2004 Academic Performance Index scores for the schools were 710, 564 and 545, respectively, out of a possible 1,000.
Resident Rolando Lopez has been pleased with his decision to move to University Hills two years ago. "It takes me seven minutes to get to work in downtown L.A. We have great views. We're near everything," Lopez said. "How can you beat that?"