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UC IRVINE'S Brain Hill : Faculty Members, Administrators Get Break on Home Prices, Live Side by Side in a Highly Creative Community of Scholars

November 28, 1987|DANA PARSONS | Times Staff Writer

The streets in the neighborhood are named after thinkers like Newton and Curie and Mendel. The residents tend to have IQs the size of their ZIP codes and came to Orange County from places like Princeton and Yale and the National Science Foundation and some of the country's leading research laboratories. They came armed with big resumes and the kind of intellects that can help transform good universities into great ones.

Some kind of neighborhood, huh? Imagine a block with no blockheads. Also, imagine a neighborhood larger than some towns but dependent on university police for protection. Or where the residents can't have firearms because their homes are on university property.

University Hills is surely one of the county's most unusual neighborhoods--a cloister of scholars and administrators that UC Irvine hopes will lead it into the 21st Century, a century in which UCI fully expects to win the kind of prestige now reserved for the UCLAs and Cal-Berkeleys and Ivy League.

That, at least, was what UCI planners had in mind when they stared into the hills south of the campus more than 20 years ago and, where rabbits and coyotes roamed, envisioned the neighborhood that has become University Hills.

The first wave of about 85 families moved in during the summer of 1985. In the last two summers, another 200 families have bought homes; 100 have rented. Today, University Hills is academe's version of the company town, an enclave of about 1,000 people living on 65 acres. Two-thirds are faculty members and their families, with the rest being administrators and other university staff members. Although there are provisions for non-university families to live there, none do because demand from the university has been so high.

And, sometime in the next century, maybe in 25 years or so, as many as several thousand people may live in University Hills--most likely in even higher density than now, although that possibility is inconceivable to some residents. One resident tells of hearing the next-door neighbor talking to his cat about chasing a mouse. "I don't want to hear about it," the resident said, "and I know he doesn't want me to hear about it."

Still, University Hills has its appeal. It may be something akin to movie stars wanting to live around other movie stars.

"I was telling someone who was thinking of moving in that on one side he'd have an expert on T.S. Eliot and on the other a brilliant economist," said Dorothea Yellot, vice president of marketing for the Irvine Campus Housing Authority, the nonprofit group that manages University Hills. "It does help sell them."

OK, so the place has brains. But does it have a pulse?

Is it truly a neighborhood or just a collection of residents in ivory towers done up in Southern California Mediterranean? And, on to the larger question: Why would anyone want to live in the same neighborhood as their colleagues?

Ruth Angress, 56, late of Princeton and an expert in 18th- and 19th-Century German literature, was taking her dog, Bella, for a walk through her University Hills neighborhood. "I keep thinking there should be more life on the street," she said.

It would be hard to imagine less life on the street than on this particular picture-perfect Sunday. It wasn't so much a neighborhood as it was a canvas: Orange County in still life. To the outsider, the thought recurred: Where is everybody?

But perhaps Angress herself had unwittingly helped explain the quietude. Just minutes before, until she had an unexpected guest, she had been sitting in her den amid a passel of papers, magazines and books and staring at her home computer. On the screen was her as-yet-unfinished speech for a lecture series at UCI, where she heads the German department. The subject of her talk was a psychological interpretation, from a feminist perspective, of the German comic opera "Der Rosenkavalier."

"One thing people don't realize is how much university business is conducted here in our homes," she said.

"There's no reason why I shouldn't work on Sunday. Besides, its due on Wednesday," she added, smiling.

But really, she was asked, working on a Sunday? On a day like this? "It depends on whether you have a job or a profession," Angress said. "Work is a hobby, to some extent."

In other words, since the pursuit of knowledge is an endless process, why not the hours? The true scholar--the one who is passionate about the pursuit and thrives to impart the results of the hunt to students--may well get a natural high when working. Which may explain why a neighborhood like University Hills is a turn-on to some residents.

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