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Climate, Affordability Draw a Crowd : Lancaster: Lower-priced housing originally brought explosive growth to this Antelope Valley city, doubling its population.

December 02, 1990|SHARON L. WARZOCHA | Warzocha is a Valencia-based free-lance writer

When he was a teen-ager, Larry Lake's family moved to Lancaster. Forty-five years later, he still lives there. Lake, semi-retired, and his wife, Joan, raised four children in the community on their 300-acre farm.

Lake stayed in Lancaster because of the climate and the people.

"I think the climate in Lancaster is better year-round than in most parts of the country," he said. "I enjoy the touch of four seasons we experience.

"You just can't beat the people here. Many of them relocated to the area from the Midwest and brought their conservative Midwestern values with them. It's a friendly hard-working type of community."

The Lakes built their three-bedroom, three-bath home in 1959 for $30,000. The house is on the parcel that he used to operate as an alfalfa farm before he sold it. Lake currently oversees the operation of the farm for the new owners and their crop--onions.

Lancaster, located in the high desert about 56 miles northeast of Los Angeles, is one of the two major cities in the Antelope Valley. The other is Palmdale.

Palmdale is the first Antelope Valley community encountered when traveling north from Los Angeles on California 14 (the Antelope Valley Freeway). Lancaster is eight miles farther north.

Both cities experienced a phenomenal rate of growth in the past 10 years. Lancaster had the third largest growth rate of Los Angeles County cities (98%), behind only Palmdale (432%) and Walnut (132%).

While Palmdale is the older of the two cities, Lancaster's population is now larger, almost doubling from 48,027 residents in 1980 to 95,101 residents in the preliminary 1990 census figures. Palmdale's population rose from 12,297 residents in 1980 to 65,357 in 1990.

The recent population explosion in Lancaster may be primarily attributed to the affordability of housing in the community.

"In mid-August, the median price for a new attached home was $102,251, and the median price for a new detached home was $139,971," Dirk Kittridge said. Kittridge is a market analyst for the Meyers Group, an Encino real estate consulting firm.

There are many housing options in Lancaster. As of August, there were 54 new developments on the market, Kittridge said. Among the major developers are West Venture, Hillside Residential, the Larwin Co. and Cambridge Development.

"There are some good deals to be had in Lancaster--more amenities at a lower price," Kittridge said.

The resale market in Lancaster also offers affordable prices.

"Average resale is running around $110,000 to $120,000," said Jim DeBruyn, owner of Re/Max Antelope Valley realtors. "The price range for a single-family home is running from about $90,000 to $400,000 plus.

"At the low end you're going to get a two- or three-bedroom, one- or two-bath home with an average of 1,000 or 1,100 square feet. Someone at the high end is going to get a custom home, anywhere from three to six bedrooms, two or more bathrooms and 2,500-plus square feet."

Apartment are available as well, with small studio units starting at $345 and two-bedroom, two-bath townhouses with two-car attached garages starting at $655.

Affordability was the main reason the Wes Clay family moved to Lancaster from Brea. "I could buy a new home here for less than what I sold my 33-year-old Orange County home for," Clay said.

Clay, his wife, Kathleen, and their three children moved into their new house in September. They purchased a 2,050 square foot home with four bedrooms, three baths and a two-car garage for $160,000.

Like one-third of his neighbors, Clay is a commuter. As a sales representative for the Square D Co., an electrical manufacturer, he travels to the San Fernando Valley, downtown Los Angeles and once a week to City of Industry.

While driving more than 100 miles a day might deter some prospective residents from the area, the commute doesn't bother Clay.

"Lancaster is part of my territory, I was driving out here twice a week anyway," he said. "I like the atmosphere here--it's friendly and outgoing. I like the clean air, larger sized yards, and the neighbors are great. What more could you ask for?"

The first inhabitants of the Antelope Valley were Piute Indians; they shared the land with herds of antelope that once roamed the foothills. Lt. Pedro Gages was believed to be the first white man to cross the valley in pursuit of deserters from the Spanish navy in 1772.

In the 1860s, as the Southern Pacific Railroad completed its line through the valley, the first settlers arrived. The railroad gave the area's farmers an opportunity to ship produce quickly and economically.

In 1884, M. L. Wickes, a Los Angeles real estate entrepreneur, founded the community of Lancaster, naming the settlement for his Pennsylvania birthplace.

The 1930s brought the Army Air Corps to Muroc Dry Lake, which eventually became Edwards Air Force Base. The nearby Air Force base, with the later addition of the Air Force Test Center, became a major influence in Lancaster's economy, employing more than 14,000 civilians and military personnel.

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