Thirty years ago, when Sandy and Jim Johnson moved to the area known as Hacienda Heights, it was a community of about 2,000 people, and the homes were nestled into orange, avocado and lemon groves.
Jim Johnson had taken his first teaching position in Whittier--just over the Puente Hills--but the Johnson family was attracted to the rural environment of Hacienda Heights.
However, Sandy recalls that at the time the only way to get to Whittier was over narrow and twisty Turnbull Canyon or narrow and twisty Hacienda Boulevard.
"We had to go to Whittier to buy shoes. There was nothing but a gas station and a market in Hacienda Heights," she recalled. "There wasn't even a doctor's office, but we loved it like that. Our three children had the opportunity to grow up in the country."
Today the Pomona Freeway borders the Los Angeles County community, there are a number of shopping areas and professional buildings along Hacienda Boulevard, and the groves have been replaced by houses in which a population estimated at 60,000-plus now lives.
The Johnson family has owned four homes in Hacienda Heights, but they've never been tempted to leave. Jim is director of child welfare and attendance in the Temple City school system. Sandy has been active in community affairs and is president of the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District.
Sandy Johnson speaks proudly about the schools in Hacienda Heights and the community's ethnic diversity.
The district offers the second largest adult education program in the state, second only to Los Angeles Unified, she said.
On the ethnic mix, "We have about one-third Hispanic, one-third Asian and one-third Caucasian," Johnson said. "I'm out there all day working with families, students, teachers; I see many positives. This community has melded together very nicely."
The community is rich in history. A part of the 49,000-acre land grant to William Workman and John Rowland by the last Mexican governor of California, the area still contains some of the original homes dating back to 1842.
Dubbed North Whittier Heights about 1926, a community petition in 1961 changed the name to Hacienda Heights and a preliminary master plan was drafted by the Hacienda Heights Improvement Assn. While incorporation has been talked about over the years, it has never come to a vote. The improvement association continues to be active in the community and to offer a forum for residents.
Maria and Richard Nunez have lived in Hacienda Heights for 13 years and have owned two homes. They paid $54,000 for their first house, and in 1988, they purchased their current 2,400 square foot pool residence for $250,000.
"Six months after we bought this home we were offered $416,000 cash. We turned that down," Marla Nunez said. "We love our home."
The Nunez family moved to Hacienda Heights from Los Angeles because of the location--Richard works in Long Beach and they wanted the convenience--and Maria liked the school system. Their three children are 15, 11 and 9 years of age. Maria is active in the community, in PTA, the improvement association and is president of the women's auxiliary for Little League.
Also active in the community is Grace Kwok, co-owner of Century 21 Hacienda Estates. A realtor for 14 years in the community, Grace is president of the Hacienda Heights Chinese Assn. and often serves this growing ethnic component.
"The Chinese people who live in Hacienda Heights are generally professional people," Kwok said, adding that in other communities where there is a significant Chinese population, they tend to be more commercially oriented.
One reason the Chinese population has grown is that the Hsi Lai Temple--the largest Buddhist temple in the United States--was completed in November, 1988. Located in the southern part of the area, on Glenmark Drive, just off Hacienda Boulevard, it encompasses 15 acres, and the buildings total 102,000 square feet.
People move to Hacienda Heights for many reasons, said realtor Donna Steinmetz: the schools, horse property, hills and trees, and there is the convenience of the freeway. There are three off-ramps into Hacienda Heights.
The average listing price of a home in Hacienda Heights is $287,784, and the average sale price is $272,810, according to Marilyn McMullin, president of the Hacienda-Rowland-Diamond Bar Board of Realtors.
Darlene Montes, a realtor with Century 21 Hacienda, said there is a wide price range of homes in the community. On the low end there are 900-square-foot, three-bedroom, one-bath homes built in the early 1950s that are listed for $150,000.
In the $300,000 price range, there are homes of 1,500 to 1,800 square feet. For 2,500 square feet, the price tag is going to be around $400,000. Much depends on the age of the home as well as the location. Custom homes are spread throughout the area.
On the high end there is a listing for $1.85 million, another for $1.48 million and one at $1.3 million.