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January 11, 1991|DALLAS M. JACKSON

"This place is like Buzzard's Breath, Ohio," quipped Orange County historian and author Jim Sleeper. "Most people have never even heard of La Habra, let alone northeast La Habra. In fact, it will come as a revelation to a good many people that La Habra is even in Orange County."

Actually, the unassuming tiny burg next to the Los Angeles County line does have a 213 area code. Make no mistake, though: The phone numbers may be 213, but the personality is all 714.

"This is Middle America," says Cynthia Cramer-Freeman, a residential real estate specialist with Century 21-Chuck Stevens Realty. "It is a very traditional, very conservative neighborhood--the kind of neighborhood you'd associate with the Midwest. To show you how conservative it is, my mother gets Christmas cards from Dannemeyer," she said. Republican William E. Dannemeyer is the congressional representative for the area.

Cramer-Freeman characterizes the city as "very stable."

The area south of Whittier Boulevard, with its relatively lower home prices--between $160,000 and $210,000--has a higher concentration of younger families, although many of the houses are still occupied by the original owners. The North Hills area north of Whittier Boulevard, on the other hand, has a generally older population, and the homes there will sport price tags between $300,000 and $360,000.

"People never move out of La Habra," Cramer-Freeman joked. "They may move up to a larger home, but it's usually in the same area."

You can take her word for it. Cramer-Freeman herself is the fourth generation of her family to be born in northeast La Habra, and her two children--Brittany, 5, and David, 3--will be the fifth generation reared there.

Cramer-Freeman's mother, historian Esther Ridgway-Cramer, has traced the family's arrival in Orange County to pioneer Jacob Leutwiler, who came to La Habra from the Midwest in the late 1890s. Ridgway-Cramer's grandfather, John Leutwiler, after hearing compelling stories about life in California, came west with his wife and eight of his nine children in 1912.

"My grandfather John was a dairyman in Highland, Ill. In those days, it was everybody's dream to come to California. He retired from dairy farming, bought a planted citrus ranch in La Habra and became a gentleman farmer," Ridgway-Cramer said.

Two years later, John Leutwiler's daughter Ida married Claude Ridgway on the Leutwiler Ranch on Palm Street north of La Habra Boulevard. That couple produced the third generation, one of whom was daughter Esther, who was married to Stan Cramer in 1948.

"It was a quiet agricultural community with a good cross section of jobs because of the surrounding oil fields," Ridgway-Cramer said of the area during that period.

After Ridgway-Cramer's grandfather died, her grandmother Ida continued ranching until the real estate boom of the 1950s, when land was sold to developers. Today the family still lives in northeast La Habra.

Longtime friend and fellow historian Sleeper--whom Ridgway-Cramer calls the "Mark Twain of Orange County"--has a somewhat more colorful view of the area today, calling it "a neglected area out in the boondocks without much cooking."

Sleeper, known for his amusing anecdotes about Orange County, complains that "there are no 'people stories' because there weren't any people. You have to have a town before you have mischief."

Reporting and recording mischief is something Ridgway-Cramer would rather leave to Sleeper, preferring instead to let her several published articles and book, "La Habra: The Pass Through the Hills," speak for themselves.

But Sleeper always seems to have one more quip for the road: "Northeast La Habra has a great future in store for it, because, God knows, it has remarkably little past."

Population Total: (1990 est.) 4,564 1980-90 change: +2.9% Median Age: 31.7

Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino): 79% Latino: 14% Black: Less than 1% Other: 7%

By sex and age: MALES Median age: 30.8 years FEMALES Median age: 32.7 years

Income Per capita: $18,624 Median household: $45,614 Average household: $53,866

Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 22% $25,000-49,999: 32% $50,000-74,999: 27% $75,000-$99,999: 10% $100,000 and more: 9%

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