Civilization dawned on Vista Arriago at 2:45 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 1.
Janette Wong, bringer of the dawn, chose as her chariot a $75-a-day Rent-It truck, which she wheeled south on the Ventura Freeway, west at the Camarillo Springs exit and then up a hill in the freeway's shadow.
On Vista Arriago, all was still--48 empty houses, 48 empty garages, 48 empty driveways. The only sound was the whine of other trucks on the freeway, fighting their way up the Conejo Pass toward Los Angeles.
Wong, a 34-year-old high school teacher and coach, hopped down from the cab with an elastic support on her bad knee. Her housemate, a 28-year-old software engineer named Carole McCluskey, coasted up in a van.
After years of saving, months of negotiations and a welter of exhilarations and disappointments, they approached the house at 846 Vista Arriago. Two bedrooms, loft upstairs. Beige stucco walls outside, blue carpet in the living room, pink in the master bedroom. This was their first home, the first occupied home on the block, the first chapter in the life of a neighborhood.
"Camarillo's kind of a hygienic town," McCluskey had been saying at dinner a few days before. "When I was growing up, I never thought I'd stay here."
But now she climbed onto the rental truck and opened up the back, revealing the couches, the box marked "tax records," the brown La-Z-Boy chair that Wong won in a department store drawing in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. A loose beach chair bounced to the ground and an inflatable Santa Claus, the last item packed, flapped in the summer breeze.
"This," said McCluskey, nodding toward Santa, "is like Christmas for us."
In 1970, the Barclay Hollander Corp. took control of a sizable Camarillo property near the bottom of the Conejo grade. The site was 45 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, and the idea that eventually arose was to build a 368-acre "master planned community" called Camarillo Springs.
There would be a golf course, condominiums, mobile homes and perhaps eventually single-family houses. The development would stand at the edge of Los Angeles' ever-widening radius of feeder suburbs and, if all went well, melt quietly and profitably into America's long and varied history of residential real estate development.
There was John Winthrop in 1630, accompanied by a few hundred like-minded British pilgrims, resolving to build a Puritan "city upon a hill" by Massachusetts Bay. There was William J. Levitt 315 years later, buying up a 1,400-acre Long Island potato farm and putting up homes for 17,447 World War II veterans--Levittown, this country's first modern housing tract.
And there, in the spring of 1989, was the final phase of Camarillo Springs. It rose in the shade of the Ventura Freeway, an unhistoric, undistinguished 73-home neighborhood made up of three short cul-de-sacs and a long loop of a street called Vista Arriago.
"Originally, it had been contemplated that the property would have townhouse units on it," said Richard A. Hostin, project manager and vice president at Barclay Hollander. "And the decision was made when I first got here in 1987 to change that from townhouses to a smaller single-family detached home. At the time, townhouses were not particularly popular in Ventura County."
The buyers of the Camarillo houses would have no particular faith to bind them together, no war memories to share. To keep the outside world at bay, they would insulate themselves with fax machines, cellular phones, cable television hookups and videocassettes. They would be, in short, detached home buyers.
But those first residents would have this in common with Winthrop's Puritans and Levitt's veterans: They would constitute a new neighborhood, created from scratch, born into an uncertain hour. Together, they would face buyer's remorse, hedge-top gossip, children, fear of children, love, hatred, landscape envy, birth, death, $163 a month in association fees and every rational and irrational fear that can overtake a new homeowner.
On a midsummer day, Cindy Marks, a psychologist, was explaining how she came to be halfway through the escrow process on a two-bedroom Vista Arriago home. She paused and shook her head.
"Everybody we know just looks at us and nods his head and says, 'Someday, you're going to laugh about this,' " she said. "It's crazy. It's insane."
In mid-September, future Vista Arriago resident Susan Patterson stood in her unfinished living room, looking out at the hills and thinking about her move-in date just three weeks away. Suddenly her paranoia found focus.
"We're not on an Indian burial ground," she asked, "are we?"
The houses of Levittown, sold only to white war veterans, went for $6,990 each. The developers of Camarillo Springs offered four home models in their final phase, available to anyone who could afford them, priced from $190,000 to about $260,000.
"It has a nice view and is on kind of a terrace," Hostin said of the neighborhood. "So we were trying to use names that incorporated 'view' or 'highland.' "