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A Westside 'Pocket of Affordability' : Neighborhoods: Compared to housing costs nearby, homes here are bargains. And many residents enjoy area's ethnic diversity.

December 10, 1989|MARILYN OLIVER | Oliver is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

In 1981, Kathryn Sato-Song and her husband, Arthur, dreamed of buying a home on Los Angeles' Westside, close to their parents and their work.

One night after dinner with Arthur's parents, the Songs drove up and down the nearby streets south of Pico Boulevard looking at "For Sale" signs.

They found the home they eventually bought, an early-1940s stucco on a quiet street between La Cienega Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, just north of the Santa Monica Freeway.

"The neighbors are really the best feature," Sato-Song said. "When we moved here in 1981, we were welcomed with open arms. I've always been a city dweller, so I'm quite comfortable here."

Added her husband: "You can sometimes even feel the sea breezes."

After moving into the area, the Songs became members of Neighbors United, a residents' association that banded together nine years ago to maintain the quality of the integrated neighborhood, to keep gangs and graffiti out and to beautify the area.

The groups's president, Dolores A. Reece, said that last June members held a multifamily garage sale to raise money to buy jacaranda trees, which they planted along Guthrie Street.

"We're a mixed neighborhood that works because everyone has the same pride of ownership," says Nancy Fuller, who lives in a house that belonged to her husband's grandfather.

Members of Neighbors United live in a section of the Westside that until recently had been overlooked. The area between Pico Boulevard and the Santa Monica Freeway, bounded by Robertson Boulevard on the west and Fairfax Avenue on the east, includes several neighborhoods of attractive old homes.

The location draws an ethnic mix of residents--Jews, Sikhs, blacks, Asians and Latinos--that might be found only in Los Angeles.

The area attracts upscale young professionals and older residents alike. Beverly Hills and Century City are minutes away. While prices here--$300,000 to $400,000 for a three-bedroom house--seem steep, they are moderate compared to other sections of the Westside.

The area is not without its troubles. To make life more manageable, residents have banded together into several neighborhood associations to address the urban problems of graffiti, gangs and encroaching development.

The Crestview Neighborhood Assn. was formed last January by residents who live just south of Beverly Hills and share the same concerns as Neighbors United. In June, a contest was held to choose a name for the community. Crestview, the old Beverly Hills telephone exchange, which some residents still claim, won.

"Our neighborhood is popular with people who like to live near their place of worship," said Michael Many, president of the Crestview Neighborhood Assn. "There are many synagogues nearby, and Orthodox Jews can walk to temple. There are kosher and Middle Eastern markets on Pico."

The neighborhood also is home to a large community of American Sikhs who attend the Guru Ram Das Ashram located on Pruess Street.

"There are a lot of young professional people moving into our neighborhood," says Sat Narayan Simran Kaur Khalsa, who owns a 1939 duplex designed by Elwain Steinkamp, a Bel-Air developer who built houses and duplexes in the area between 1938 and the early 1940s.

Steinkamp's Spanish-style, tile-roofed homes are highly prized. Many have courtyards and leaded glass windows with stained-glass panels.

Kaur Khalsa has lovingly restored her duplex, and like many Sikhs, flies a yellow flag outside her home. "I'm a block captain," she said. "When I pass out our association's monthly flyer, people are friendly. Last month, it took me 2 1/2 hours to go up and down my block."

The area is one of the Westside's more densely populated, but conversations with older residents reveal a time when the area had been bean fields and grazing land.

"I remember passing this area in my horse and buggy on the way to the beach," Leon Goldberg, 90, recalled. As a young man he used to travel on Pico from his kosher butcher shop on Glendale Boulevard.

"The paved road stopped at La Brea," he said. "From there it was a dirt road that passed through bean fields owned by Japanese farmers."

In 1939, Goldberg and his wife built a three-bedroom home on a lot between Fairfax and La Cienega. "At that time, the neighborhood was heavily Jewish," he said.

The rural ambience of the area also was written into early covenants and restrictions governing development up to the early 1930s.

"One rule was that you couldn't keep cows within a certain distance in front of a house," said Barbara Aspenson, a real estate agent for Jon Douglas who grew up in the area.

Gay Reeves, a homeowner in Crestview, has researched her neighborhood's development in the county archives.

"The area became part of the city in 1915," she said. "The earliest houses were built in 1926. We think that Pickford Avenue was named for Mary Pickford, who was a star by then."

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