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September 28, 1989|Clipboard researched by Susan Davis Greene and Janice L. Jones / Los Angeles Times; Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

Halecrest: Condos and Classrooms

Constant transition and high density are the words that best characterize Costa Mesa's Halecrest neighborhood. But those who live and work there seem to have found a way to cope in this crazy quilt of residences, businesses, gymnasiums, condominiums and classrooms.

Halecrest is named after a housing development constructed there during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Bordered on the north and south by the San Diego Freeway and Merrimac Way, respectively, nearly half the area is occupied by Orange Coast College. The rest is a montage of structures ranging from small single-family homes to large businesses like Fedco that border the area on the east and west along Fairview Road and Harbor Boulevard.

Robert Domabyl, president of the Australian Wine Society, opened an office in Halecrest two years ago in a complex bordered by lots left temporarily vacant by the removal of wooden barracks--relics of the Santa Ana Army Air Base, which occupied a portion of the area from 1942 to 1946. But condominiums and a massive pink apartment complex have been shoehorned into the gaps, creating more traffic and parking difficulties in the already-congested area.

"But my business is primarily mail-order, so I haven't been affected that much. But it is harder to get in and out of here. I've lived in Costa Mesa for 10 years and I have seen a lot of change, even in just the past two years," says Domabyl.

Such constant transition does not leave lifelong Costa Mesa resident Jim Carnett, director of community relations at Orange Coast College, without a sense of history and continuity, however. "The college is located directly where the air base used to be. I feel an attachment to it. My father was stationed there during the war and both my grandfather and mother worked on the base as civilians."

The land was purchased from the federal government for $1 after the base was deactivated in 1947. The college administrative offices were located in the old air base headquarters from 1947 until a new structure was built in 1975. Church services and several weddings were held on campus in the old air base chapel until it burned down in the 1950s. Other structures, like the gymnasium, were utilized temporarily and then relocated or demolished. The only remaining air base structure was used to house prisoners of war during World War II--its dull, gray exterior contrasting with the new pink apartments located nearby.

Carnett attended Orange Coast College in the 1960s, when there were 4,000 students and has seen it evolve into the largest single-campus community college in the nation, with more than 26,000 students. "In the '60s you could say that the college had a definite connection to Halecrest and the surrounding residential areas because those were the large-growth areas of that time. There were many college-age kids growing up nearby. We still have lots of students from Halecrest, but we are primarily a commuter campus and Huntington Beach is now our largest feeder community. That's the large-growth area of this decade. However, the older people still owning homes in Halecrest will eventually be replaced by families with children and the cycle could start all over again."

Even though the constant change makes Carnett's job challenging and interesting, he sometimes regrets that the semi-rural Costa Mesa he grew up in is not the same for his two children, ages 11 and 13.

"When I was a kid, we had the run of the neighborhood," he says. "I had friends who grew up in Halecrest, and we used to ride our bikes over to those abandoned barracks and climb in the windows. There were still things in them like old footlockers and boots. It was an adventure. We could ride our bikes to the movies in the evening and our parents never worried about us. It gave me a wonderful sense of independence. But I couldn't let my kids do that now."

Population Total: (1989 est.) 4,760 1980-89 change: +5.6% Median Age: 29.6 Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino), 79%; Latino, 11%; Black, 1%; Other, 9% By sex and age: MALES Median age: 29.6 years FEMALES Median age: 29.7 years Income Per capita: $14,791 Median household: $33,594 Average household: $35,168 Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 36% $25,000-49,999: 40% $50,000-74,999: 20% More than $75,000: 4%

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