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Tiny Community of Westdale Marks 40 Years as Oasis of Small-Town Life

November 22, 1987|PHILIPP GOLLNER | Times Staff Writer

Westdale, a neighborhood of single-family homes tucked away behind some of the Westside's busiest thoroughfares, is celebrating 40 years of block parties, grass-roots activism and small-town values that have helped keep out some of the woes attendant to the development boom affecting nearby communities.

The neighborhood was founded in 1947 with the construction of about 450 single-story tract homes by developer Paul W. Trousdale, who also founded the luxurious Trousdale Estates neighborhood in Beverly Hills.

Since then, two additional tracts have been added, bringing the number of homes to more than 900. Residents recently held a picnic to celebrate the 40th birthday of the original tract.

Neighborhood leaders pride themselves on maintaining the area's small-town atmosphere and keeping out development that has brought congestion to other Westside communities.

Oasis in West Los Angeles

"It's like a little oasis in the middle of West L. A.," said long-time resident Gene Manusov.

The most significant change in the neighborhood over the last two decades, according to residents, has been the addition of second stories to many of the area's single-family homes.

About 1,500 people live in the neighborhood, bounded by National, Inglewood, Sawtelle and Palms boulevards. Most of the homes were built between 1946 and 1950 on tracts that were typical of suburban neighborhoods sprouting up in Southern California at the time.

Many of the yards have large citrus trees, remnants of an orchard that occupied part of the land before it was developed. Some homes were built atop an old bean field, but those crops have since disappeared.

Like most suburban tract homes built in Los Angeles shortly after World War II, the homes are variants and mixes of styles such as ranch, Colonial, Monterey and Regency. Although stable and comfortable, the homes are by no means architectural gems.

Stucco Box With Trim

"Basically, you're talking about the stucco box with applied trim," said Merry Ovnick, a lecturer in cultural history at California State University, Northridge, who is writing a book on architectural styles as reflections of social history in Los Angeles during the 1940s.

"There is no particular style," she said in describing typical post-World War II architecture in Southern California. "Anything that looked traditional was OK. Anything that looked old and American was great."

The neighborhood is made up predominantly of white, middle to upper-middle class working and retired professionals. About 40 residents have lived in the neighborhood since it was founded, according to Ron Wynn, president of Wynn Realtors, which handles most of the home sales in the area. Many other residents have lived there for two to three decades.

Others, like engineer Sue Kayton, have recently moved into the neighborhood to raise children in homes that were designed with that purpose in mind. Kayton is raising two children at a home she and her husband bought five years ago on Granville Avenue.

Joe Cryden, a retired physicist for Hughes Aircraft Co., moved into his home on Butler Avenue in 1952 while doing research for the Navy at its nuclear testing site in Nevada. He said his two children attended neighborhood schools--Mar Vista Elementary School, Webster Junior High School and University High School--and were involved in neighborhood activities.

Former Servicemen

Many of Westdale's original residents were men who had been recently discharged from the armed services after World War II and were looking for a place to settle down to raise families.

They were part of a migration by hundreds of thousands of Americans who had fallen in love with California during wartime service in the San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles areas, the three main naval ports in the Pacific Theater.

The lure of sunshine, prosperity and affordable living caused the population of Los Angeles to jump 31% between 1940 and 1950, from 1,504,277 to 1,970,358, according to census data. The county's population jumped 49% during the same period, from 2,785,643 to 4,151,687.

Ed Schwartz, who moved to Westdale in 1951, was one of the thousands who left behind the cold weather of the Northeast for a new life on the West Coast.

The Butler Avenue resident said he fell in love with the climate while visiting his parents in 1939 and decided to move from his home on Long Island to Los Angeles following the war.

"The neighborhood was locked in and it was like a little pocket," he said. "It was very neighborly. I loved it."

Grass-Roots Activism

The neighborly feeling in Westdale is reflected in the community spirit and grass-roots activism of many of the residents.

Members of the board of directors of the Westdale Homeowners' Assn. meet every three months to decide matters affecting the neighborhood. The organization puts out a quarterly newsletter, the Westdale Villager.

In addition, neighbors meet several times a year in informal gatherings and are active in groups such as the PTA and the local League of Women Voters.

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