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FOCUS : Northern Villa Park--Lush, Tranquil

August 17, 1989|Clipboard researched by Susan Davis Greene and Rick VanderKnyff / Los Angeles Times; Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

Take a snapshot of Villa Park, north of Santiago Boulevard, and right away you'll get the feeling something is wrong with the picture--at least in how it compares with the typical Orange County scene.

There are no stop lights, no gas stations, no churches, no condos, no parks. There aren't even very many sidewalks.

Rather, the signature of the neighborhood is massive homes. They sit on lots with a minimum size of one-half acre and are reached by circular, U-shaped or long winding driveways. No particular style of architecture has a lock on the residents' fancy.

Also, great care has been taken to situate these homes on gracious lawns. Topiary gardens sport trees and shrubs formed into shapes of horses, birds, dogs and odd geometric designs. Exotic lawn ornaments, gathered from around the world, have been placed on front, side or back lawns of some of these affluent homes. Equestrian trails are scattered throughout the neighborhood. One would expect swimming pools in back yards but one is almost as likely to find a corral.

A look at the inside of some of those homes is possible in the spring when the Villa Park Women's League conducts its annual Home Tour. The tour, a major fund-raiser for the league, opens to visitors five of the city's unique, fine homes, some of which are located in this northern section. A box lunch is served at the last house on the tour.

The league is more than a house-beautiful promotional society, however. "This year the Women's League will celebrate its 20th anniversary," says neighborhood resident and league president Barbara Swartz. "We presently have 378 members who work hard in raising funds for different groups and assisting in keeping Villa Park beautiful. We've had two cookbooks published in the last five years and raised funds for the Ronald McDonald House, Child Abuse Home in Anaheim Hills, many other organizations, and (we) donate money each year to Villa Park's four schools."

The city historian, Cathy Wells, tells of one of the area's oldest residents, Harold Brewer, 98, who has lived in his home since 1922. He once owned as much as 20 acres in what is now Villa Park. Those 20 acres have dwindled to one acre, upon which his home sits. And his former orange groves are, of course, now occupied mostly by stately houses. Brewer lives on a street named for himself--Brewer Way. And the next street directly east, Hazel Circle, is named after his late wife.

Behind the great homes and expansive lawns is, of course, notable wealth, even by Orange County standards. While the rest of the county enjoys a median household income of slightly more than $40,000, in northern Villa Park the figure is more than twice that, about $90,000--sixth highest of any neighborhood in the county. And while 16% of the households in the county have incomes in excess of $75,000, here the number is 64%.

Another distinction of the area is that it lacks that hallmark common to so many other neighborhoods and to the county itself--explosive growth. While the rest of the county has increased in size by about 20% during the '80s, northern Villa Park has grown just 1%. This dynamic has been felt at Villa Park High School, which is experiencing a decline in student enrollment.

"So far enrollment for fall of '89 will be 1,701 students," says Walt Otto, the school's principal. "Five years ago with only three grade levels--10th, 11th and 12th--we had 2,000-plus students enrolled here. Then three years ago we added the 9th grade and enrollment was still only 1,850. Even with the addition of a fourth grade-level, enrollment was not up. Hopefully, next year we will see an increase in our enrollment due to lower interest rates and as our economy stabilizes."

That seems unlikely, given the current demographic realities of the neighborhood. Average household size has gradually decreased from 4.16 in 1970 to a current estimated 3.41. And the projection is that this trend will continue to 3.19 in 1994.

And not only are households decreasing in size, but the population is graying. The school-age group has dropped from 36.4% of the population in 1980 to an estimated 20.3% today. In five years it is projected to drop to 17.4%.

The residents of this northern section of Villa Park, with their hilly terrain and grand homes, have more privacy than most neighborhoods in the county. Many property owners have worked hard to preserve the semi-rural warm atmosphere and seclusion in a county where increasing growth and crowding is the norm. It is a form of tranquility they obviously feel is worth preserving.

Income Per capita: $31,012 Median household: $89,636 Average household: $104,992

Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 7% $25,000-49,999: 13% $50,000-74,999: 16% More than $75,000: 64% Population Total: (1989 est.) 3,898 1980-89 change: +1.3% Median Age: 34.6 Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino), 88%; Latino, 5%; Black, less than 1%; Other, 7%

By sex and age: MALES Median age: 33.3 years FEMALES Median age: 36.2 years

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