Joyce and John Penido were having coffee and blueberry cake with a visitor in the sun room of their French country-style home in Flintridge. Outside, lush plantings sparkled in the morning dew and woodpeckers tapped at the sycamores.
A sense of the good life prevailed--much as early developer Sen. Frank P. Flint had envisioned for the area when he built these small estates for the affluent in the 1920s and '30s.
Flintridge is one of several neighborhoods of La Canada Flintridge that lies north and south of Foothill Boulevard and east and west of Angeles Crest Highway.
Others are Meadowgrove, Greenridge, Rancho, Country Club, Descanso, Mesa and Angeles Crest Estates and Upper La Canyada, the latter known as the Deodar area for its fragrant Himalayan pines introduced to the region in the 1920s.
Adjacent to Pasadena, Glendale and the Angeles Forest, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, the community's homes are largely tucked away in sheltered wooded areas that act as buffers to nearby intersecting freeways--the Foothill (210) and Glendale (2).
"The area has a serene, semi-rural quality. We love it here. No street lights, no sidewalks and gorgeous trees," said Penido, a thoracic surgeon whose medical practice in Pasadena is only minutes away from his Flintridge home.
The Penidos, formerly of San Marino, purchased their 5,000-square-foot home and guest house for $160,000 in 1970 and have seen its worth rise to in excess of $2 million.
Meadowgrove, a part of Flintridge once surrounded by the Flintridge Golf Course, saw some of its finest mansions demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Foothill Freeway. Reduced to a small enclave, Meadowgrove's elegant traditional homes also are in the multimillion-dollar price range.
By contrast, real estate "bargains" can still be found in the Rancho area in the eastern part of the city, where 1,200-square-foot homes on small lots sell from $325,000 to $500,000.
Chris Duryee of Dilbeck Realtors noted that half of the sales in La Canada Flintridge are to local people, the majority of whom are not first-time buyers. Building activity for the most part, she said, focuses on remodeling and additions to older homes, she said.
New construction is most apparent in the Greenridge area, a neighborhood that borders Angeles National Forest, where several large custom homes have been completed, ranging in size from 3,500 to 8,000 square feet and valued at $1.2 million to $1.7 million.
Local developer John Bluff has built eight homes in the area. "It's the largest and last of the subdivisions in the city," he said.
Geetha and Krish Krishnan, parents of three children, live in a Greenridge home built by Bluff and designed by an Indian architect to reflect their Indian heritage.
"The most special place in our home is the prayer room, a quiet and peaceful place that faces east according to our tradition. There we have an altar and special lights," said Krishnan, an engineer who also runs a family real estate business with his wife.
There are many reasons why the Krishnans chose to live in La Canada, but property values were an all-important consideration, Krishnan said.
"People who know Beverly Hills and other high-priced areas are beginning to realize that La Canada Flintridge is a very unique place," he said. "It offers the same excellent features in terms of location and surroundings, yet remains totally underpriced. Comparable Beverly Hills properties are selling between 50% and 100% more than properties here."
Realtor Dan MacGregor noted that the appreciation rate for real estate has been rising steadily within the community. "Last year, it was 28%, and there was hardly any community 10 to 15 miles from here that was any higher."
MacGregor said there has also been a substantial increase in the number of properties for sale. Currently, there are about 300 listed.
Some of the attraction for home buyers with young families are the excellent schools, proximity to Los Angeles and less smog than in neighboring communities because the community is situated at a higher altitude, MacGregor said.
New residents Steven and Rita Harwood sold their home in San Gabriel and moved to La Canada last spring.
"We have three growing boys, and we were looking for more space," Rita Harwood said. "We now have a larger back yard with a tree house, lots of privacy and we get a real country feeling living here. More importantly, my husband has only a short commute to his downtown Los Angeles office."
Twenty years ago, Jack and Laurie Balmer moved from Hollywood to La Canada for the same reasons. They had two young sons and La Canada seemed to offer not only an excellent school system but a good community environment, they said. Their home is in the Princess Anne Valley Crest section, just east of Angeles Crest Highway.