North Hills, a Los Angeles suburb of residential developments, large lots and commercial space, sits in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. The community, renamed twice since 1915, is home to a traffic-stopping topiary poodle, an onion-domed church and the largest-selling Ford dealership in the world.
North Hills started out as Mission Acres in the early 1900s, with chicken and rabbit farms, vegetable gardens, walnut groves and fruit trees on a multitude of 1-acre plots. Fruit and walnut trees still line the streets and dot backyards.
Home building and agriculture fueled growth in the area, once a stop for the Pacific Electric Railway streetcars that ferried travelers to downtown Los Angeles and back home from 1911 through 1938.
Residents renamed the area Sepulveda in 1927 in honor of Francisco Sepulveda, a Los Angeles settler and former mayor. However, a local effort to break away from the name — tainted by gang, drug and crime activity along the Sepulveda corridor in the 1980s — prompted the roughly 5-square-mile community to adopt the moniker North Hills in 1991.
It is north of Van Nuys, south of Mission Hills, west of Panorama City and east of Northridge.
The area has a mix of moderately priced single-family and multifamily housing to accommodate its 57,000-plus residents, about 53% of whom are Latino. Many of the single-family homes west of the 405 Freeway sit on lots of about 14,000 square feet to 43,000 square feet that offer privacy and space.
Many residents are original owners or second- or third-generation buyers. A strong community of home-based businesses ranges from specialized car upholstery to child-care services. Though a mix of unpolished strip malls and small commercial businesses spill off Nordhoff Street and Sepulveda Boulevard, North Hills also is home to such big names as the U.S. Veterans Hospital and Galpin Ford. Recent additions include a Starbucks and Quizno's Sub.
Adjacency to Van Nuys Airport has some residents watching the skies for crippled airplanes ever since one landed safely on Hayvenhurst Avenue in June 1999. While living near a busy general aviation airport makes air traffic noise an issue, it also affords breathtaking views of the jet fighters, bombers and classic aircraft that take to the skies during the Van Nuys Aviation Expo each summer.
North Hills has some architectural treasures and a topiary wonder. Of note are the Howard Greer House, created in 1940 by designer Frank Lloyd Wright Jr., and the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society building, known as "The Onion" for its dome shape. Both are on Haskell Avenue. A traditional-style Buddhist temple stands along Columbus Avenue.
At Plummer Street and Hayvenhurst Avenue, a 15-foot topiary canine called the "Ivy Poodle" has been brought to life by the shearing talents of North Hills resident Brian Welch. Eighteen years ago, the ivy overgrowing the telephone pole, its support wires and Welch's fence took shape. The pooch, in red ribbon collar at Christmas and in yellow during the Persian Gulf and the Iraq wars, Welch said, has a strong local following.
Good news, bad news
Proximity to Cal State Northridge, the 405 Freeway and the Northridge Metrolink station makes North Hills a good location for students and commuters. But residents and real estate agents say increased gang-related crime and graffiti, especially in areas east of the 405 Freeway, have eroded much of the community's small-town feel.
The area had about 63 listings in mid-January. Prices ranged from $150,000 for a 632-square-foot one-bedroom condominium to $768,500 for a 4,207-square-foot three-bedroom house. A typical 8,000-square-foot lot without a house sells for around $150,000, according to Mike Galieote, an agent with Pinnacle Estate Properties Inc., Northridge.
Schools serving North Hills are part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Academic Performance Index scores in 2003 were 703 for Gledhill Street Elementary and 510 for Sepulveda Middle School, on a scale of 1,000. Children who live west of Woodley Avenue attend Holmes Middle School, a Northridge humanities magnet with an API score of 662. James Monroe Senior High School, which has about 4,675 students, scored 542.
Historical values Single-family detached resales for the 91343 ZIP Code:
Year...Median Price 1990...$235,000
Sources: DataQuick Information Systems, L.A. Unified School District, www .lausd.k12.ca.us; Mission Hills-Panorama City-North Hills Community Plan Update; School Wise Press, http://www.schoolwisepress.com ; Mike Galieote, Pinnacle Estate; Dan Lewis, the Huntington Library; Properties Inc., Northridge; Eileen Bachkabakian, Mid Valley Chamber of Commerce; Van Nuys Airport.