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City With More Horses Than People : Bradbury: Whether behind gates or not, the 930 residents treasure their privacy. The only imperfection is the smog.

October 21, 1990|GORDON DILLOW | Dillow is a La Canada Flintridge free-lance writer.

It's probably fair to say that most people who live in Los Angeles have no idea where the city of Bradbury is located, assuming they've heard of it at all.

That suits most of Bradbury's 930 residents just fine.

"If nobody knew where Bradbury is, they (the city's residents) would be thrilled," said Dolly Vollaire, who for the past 18 years has served as city manager of this small community situated at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains 21 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, just north of the Foothill (210) Freeway.

Actually, Bradbury, which was incorporated in 1957, is a city only in a legal sense. With the exception of the ubiquitous San Gabriel Valley smog, Bradbury residents are removed from most of the problems that confront city dwellers.

There are no stores in Bradbury, no gas stations, no traffic lights, no apartment buildings. There are only 2 miles of public streets--there are 11 miles of gated private roads--and, other than the occasional burglary, Bradbury is virtually free of crime.

One exception to the peaceful atmosphere was the still unsolved assassination-style murders of auto racing promoter Mickey Thompson and his wife in March, 1988, which were believed to have been committed by two suspects who rode bicycles past a locked but unguarded gate to get to the Thompson home.

But even the murders, while shocking, apparently have not permanently altered the community's sense of security. As one resident pointed out, "If it had been a random thing, I might be worried. But it wasn't, it was a crime with a very specific target. I still don't ever lock my doors."

Bradbury's per capita income level is one of the highest in the state ($27,000-plus), and although it is part of the Duarte Unified School District, almost all the children attend private schools.

Most of the 270 or so homes in the two-square-mile city sit on at least a couple acres of land; two-thirds of the homes are accessible only through locked and/or guarded gates.

Although there are a few ethnic minority residents--primarily Asians--Bradbury is an overwhelmingly white community.

It is also an overwhelmingly horsy community. More than half of the people who live in Bradbury own at least one horse. A large portion of the city is zoned for 10 horses per acre, and some residents make a little extra income by boarding horses that are brought in for the races at nearby Santa Anita race track. Although there's never been an official equine census, most residents agree there probably are more horses than people in Bradbury.

What Bradbury residents value most, City Manager Vollaire says, are two things that are hard to find in most real cities: privacy and horses, in that order.

In fact, Vollaire cautioned a reporter that it might be difficult finding residents willing to help put the name "Bradbury" in a newspaper.

Nevertheless, some Bradbury residents were willing to open the gates--literally and figuratives--and talk about their community.

"For me the big thing is the privacy," said Michael Norell, a screenwriter and former actor--he played the captain on the 1970s TV series "Emergency!"--as he strolls across his four-acre property at the end of Old Ranch Road in the gated and guarded Bradbury Estates area. "I like being able to look all around and not see anybody else's house."

Norell's lack of visual contact with his neighbors is not so much because of distance--there are other homes relatively close by--but because unlike most Bradbury residents, when Norell bought his place in 1977 he didn't cut down the existing avocado groves to make room for horses. Although his late wife was an equestrian, Norell's home has only a stable and a small exercise area.

Now the 200 fruit-bearing avocado trees shield the property, and also provide both an occasional small cash crop and an inexhaustible supply of guacamole for Norell's table.

Norell paid $250,000 for the property in 1977. It includes, besides the avocado grove, a 3,000-square-foot, three-bedroom ranch-style house, a 1,000-square-foot guest house that Norell uses as his office, a swimming pool and a tennis court.

Norell isn't sure what the property is worth now; he has no plans to sell.

But according to real estate agent Jeannie Garr, of Jean Garr Realtor in nearby Arcadia, home prices in Bradbury range from $500,000 in the small ungated residential area to almost $7 million for a large home and acreage in the Bradbury Estates area.

Vacant parcels in the Estates area start at about $800,000, Garr said.

"I found Bradbury by accident," Norell said. "I was looking for some acreage, and I looked in the Agoura and Malibu Canyon areas, but I didn't like being at the mercy of the Ventura Freeway. Then I met a real estate agent who had some listing here, and when I took a look at it, it was like another world. I came through that gate out there and it looked like Kentucky."

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