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School System Lures Diverse Group to Southwest Arcadia : Neighborhood: Modest homes of old-timers sit next to mansions of Asian immigrants. The common ground they share is desire for a top education.

January 23, 1991|LORETTA SCHERTZ KELLER | Keller is a regular contributor to San Gabriel Valley View

In more ways than one, Southwest Arcadia is a neighborhood with a split personality.

Modest one-story ranch houses--many of them home to "empty nest" Anglo couples--sit next to elaborate, contemporary mansions occupied by younger families, often Asian immigrants.

West Las Flores Avenue is typical of the generational, cultural and architectural dichotomies.

Gail and Harry Kempt bought their 1,800-square-foot ranch house, built on a former walnut grove, in 1965.

"We were in our early 30s when we moved in," Harry Kempt said. "There were people about our age raising children and also people of our parents' age, whose families had gone. Now we're the older ones."

The Kempts raised chickens and rabbits, as well as horses that raced at nearby Santa Anita Park in the 1960s and '70s. "The school kids used to come over to the farm with their teachers," said Kempt, 57, who still keeps a pet mare on the double lot.

Nowadays, Kempt says, old-timers are slowly moving out and being replaced by Asian families with small children.

Among the newcomers are Jane and James Lee, who bought a new house on the street three years ago.

Originally from Korea, the Lees live with their two young children and James Lee's mother, who baby-sits while the couple tends their jewelry business.

Their four-bedroom, four-bath residence has five gables, several bay windows and a pitched gray-shingle roof, making it typical of much of the new construction in the neighborhood. However, the price the Lees paid--$700,000 three years ago--is less than some of the prices being asked for new houses these days. Down the street, a builder wants $2.2 million for a five-bedroom home under construction.

The big, expensive new homes have sparked some resentment. In response to complaints, the Arcadia City Council has passed a number of laws limiting the bulk, size and lot coverage of new homes.

Still, few are complaining about significantly higher property values. Among the longest established residents are Marion and George Hollingworth, who bought their two-bedroom house, then 20 years old, in 1949 for $17,500.

A year ago, they said, a builder who wanted to bulldoze the house to build a bigger one offered them $700,000 for it. They refused. "Where would we go?" asked Marion Hollingworth, 81.

Down the street, Min Lin and Yi Cheng, a Taiwanese couple, live in a ranch house on which they built a second-story addition. Like the Lees, Yi Cheng, 41, says the preponderance of older people in the neighborhood limits socializing to over-the-fence pleasantries.

But there is common ground between the old-timers and the newcomers. Like the Kempts years ago, the Lee family moved in mainly for the school system.

When younger, their three children attended Baldwin Stocker Elementary School, on Lemon Avenue, where Yi Cheng, a professor at Cal Poly Pomona, found the math training "excellent."

Changing demographics at the school, and at the Holly Avenue School, another elementary school in the area, mirror changes in the neighborhood.

As of October 1990, the student enrollment at the schools )was 44.5% Asian, 43.1% Anglo, 11.4% Latino, 0.65% black and 0.65% Pacific Islander. By contrast, in October, 1981, the schools were 81.8% Anglo, 12.1% Asian, 5.5% Latino and 0.6% black.

Baldwin Stocker Elementary School and the park next to it are named for Clara Baldwin, the elder daughter of Elias Jackson (Lucky) Baldwin. She was born to "E.J." and his first wife, Sarah Ann Unruh, in 1847.

Lucky Baldwin, the iconoclastic tycoon who forged the city of Arcadia and built its race track, subdivided southwest Arcadia as part of the land he billed as the "Santa Anita Colony."

He described it in a land sale brochure, circa 1891, as "uniform, clear and clean land. . . . Soil, a fine loam of great depth. . . . Perfectly adapted to the growing of citrus fruit." Baldwin advertised the lots at "$200 per acre; 25% down."

These days, there are no orange groves on West Las Flores Avenue, and real estate agents say houses can sell for more than $1 million.

CLOSEUP: Southwest Arcadia

Population Total: (1990 est.) 6,569 1980-90 change: +9.5% Median Age: 36.6

Racial/ethnic mix in local elementary schools:* Asian: 44.5%

Latino: 11.4% Pacific Islander: .65% Black: .65% White: 43.1%

* Source: Arcadia Unified School District

Income Per capita: $19,197 Average household: $56,958

Median household: $53,040

Income Distribution: $More than $150,000: 0.1% $100,000-$149,999: 0.7% $75,000-$99,999: 2.2% $50,000-74,999: 13.8% $40,000-49,999: 12.9% $25,000-39,999: 29.4% Less than $25,000: 38.7%

Source: National Planning Data Corp.

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