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FOCUS : For College Park Residents, There's No Place Like Home

December 07, 1989|Clipboard researched by Susan Davis Greene and Dallas M. Jackson / Los Angeles Times; Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

When most people hear names such as Princeton, Yale, Villanova, Oxford and Notre Dame, they think of colleges and universities. But for the residents of Costa Mesa's College Park, these names remind them of home--of the streets in their neighborhood.

Although the nomenclature is academic, the feeling here is of the old-fashioned neighborhood--a place that puts out the welcome mat for all those who want to become part of this extended "family." Even apartment dwellers (there are a few garden-style complexes mixed in among the single-family homes) use such words as warm, friendly, homey, caring and family life when they describe living in College Park.

"We knew after living here only a month, we had found our niche. The schools are nearby--in walking distance--and they're good ones, too," said Juan Sanchez, who was in the process of teaching a neighbor's son how to ride a two-wheeler bicycle.

"The second day in our apartment, the neighbor two doors away baked us a batch of cupcakes with little colored candies on top. That took time. No one's ever welcomed us like that before. This is definitely where we're buying our home next year," he said.

In the middle of the neighborhood is College Park Elementary School. Built about two years before the first houses were constructed, this school proudly brags about its eight-time award-winning track team. It also boasts the Orange County Department of Education's 1989 teacher of the year, Buzz Amble, who has been enlightening children for 17 years.

Such a close-knit neighborhood, you assume, would have a very active community association group. It does. But meetings are usually on the reserved side. They are not, for example, the kind of gatherings where folks show up with lists of complaints, said Marie Maples, president of the College Park Community Assn.

But this is not to suggest that College Park is without aggravations. Three subjects ruffle the residents:

* The Pacific Amphitheatre has been a problem virtually since it opened, with those living north of Fair Drive complaining they can hear the concerts there--whether they want to or not.

* Then there is Nabers Cadillac, a car dealership on Harbor Boulevard, between Princeton Drive and Merrimac Way. According to Maples, the source of a 17-year dispute with Nabers is the dealer's desire to expand into College Park turf. Residents are not ecstatic about more commercial intrusion. Representatives of Nabers Cadillac declined to comment.

* Potentially by far the most serious problem, though, involves homes on Harbor Boulevard between Princeton and Fair drives. All the inhabitants there have had a car make at least one unwanted entrance through the six-foot brick wall separating their yards from the busy street. A plywood extension atop the wall, added by the homeowners, may help with noise but seems an unlikely hindrance to cars hurtling off the street.

College Park's assets, however, have apparently been enough to offset its woes. The population is estimated to have grown 9% during the 1980s, with residents seemingly segregating themselves by age.

"The majority of the younger people move to the north side of Fair Drive and the retired people to the south of Fair Drive," said Hal Bouley, a broker associate for Century 21 Emery Real Estate. Bouley also attests to the staggering appreciation of real estate prices in the neighborhood. "In 1958 some of the homes sold for $12,000 to $15,000; now they're selling for $240,000 and up to $260,000," he said.

Despite its growth and problems, the community feel of College Park remains a strong appeal to residents. "This neighborhood," Maples said, "is close to everything. If you want to, you can walk to the shopping centers, movies and restaurants. You can even walk to buy a car. You don't have to leave (the neighborhood) at all."

Population Total: (1989 est.) 4,260 1980-89 change: +9.3% Median Age: 36.9

Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino), 88%; Latino, 7%; Black, 1%; Other, 4%

By sex and age: MALES Median age: 35.9 years FEMALES Median age: 38.0 years

Income Per capita: $18,675 Median household: $39,167 Average household: $43,676

Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 25% $25,000-49,999: 41% $50,000-74,999: 20% $50,000-74,999: 20% $75,000-$99,999: 10% $100,000 and more: 4%

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