Leaving the noise and frenzy of the nearby Santa Ana Freeway behind, you enter this walled Irvine community and are instantly aware of an aura of upper-middle-class well-being that pervades the place.
Wide, accommodating streets guide the visitor past large stucco-and-brick homes painted in quiet grays, browns and beiges. A distinctive feature of many of the homes is the enormous, flat roofs that tip slightly askew, like gigantic commencement mortarboards. Station wagons and vans bearing the scratches and dents of assorted camping vacations, supermarket sorties and last-minute dashes to the hardware store sit solidly in front of three-car garages--serviceable vehicles for unpretentious families.
Built by a consortium of 22 developers, including the Irvine Co., Northwood has seen steady growth since the first of its homes were constructed in 1970. Today there are more than 6,900 units, blending both townhouses and single-family residences in a semirural setting. The population stands at an estimated 26,000 but will escalate as the construction of additional units continues through the end of the decade.
Nine public parks, three shopping plazas, three grade schools and one intermediate school support the neighborhood's growing families. Other amenities include tennis and basketball courts, picnic areas and a scattering of hiking and biking trails.