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Anywhere Is Only 15 Minutes Away : Palms: For some people striking out on their own, it's a good place to look for affordable housing.

June 23, 1991|PATRICIA BENNETT | Bennett is a West Los Angeles free-lance writer.

In 1980, having just left her native England, Joanna Casson rented a studio apartment in West Hollywood for $500 a month. But in 1984 the escalating rent became a strain for Casson and she began looking for alternatives.

"I found a one-bedroom apartment in Palms and its $495-a-month rent was economically more to my pocket," Casson said. "Palms has a lovely climate--typical of the Westside--and is very central to everything.

"I opened a resale dress shop on Motor Avenue in Palms a little over a year ago and I do my buying for the shop in downtown Los Angeles," which is only 15 minutes away by freeway. "I can drive to Century City and Beverly Hills in five minutes . . . the beach is only 10 minutes away."

Last September, Casson rented a new 800-square-foot apartment in Palms furnished with all the amenities, including a washer and dryer inside the apartment, a large walk-in bedroom closet and security parking, for $1,000 a month.

"It's still a bargain on the Westside," she said.

Occupying a portion of the land once home to the Shoshone Indians and later known as the La Ballona Valley, Palms is about six square miles of flat land accented by tree-lined streets and peppered with ethnic shops and restaurants.

It is bordered by Venice Boulevard on the south, Sepulveda Boulevard on the west, National Boulevard and the Santa Monica Freeway on the north, and National on the east.

In the early 1800s the valley was divided into two large ranches and in 1886, 500 acres of what was then known as Rancho La Ballona was purchased and subdivided by three Midwesterners.

Impressed by the presence of a certain group of palm trees (whose historical location is as varied as the number of residents interviewed), the new landowners recorded their property as "The Palms."

In 1913, Harry Culver subdivided the eastern portion of Palms and the adjoining farmland, naming it "Culver City." An attempt was made to eliminate the name "Palms" and replace it with "Culver City." Rivalry and bitterness between the old and new developments led to the annexation of Palms to Los Angeles in 1915.

Eileen Sever remembers the Palms of the 1940s. In '46, when Sever was 10, the wartime immigration freeze had been lifted and she moved with her family from Winnipeg, Canada, to Palms.

"The people in Palms were Midwestern stock. It was a very cozy, family-oriented community of private homes . . . everybody knew everybody . . . they were extremely friendly."

Her father arrived first to buy a home for his young family. "Father was appalled at the house prices," Sever said.

"Everyone told him, 'You're a year too late . . . a year ago everything was very inexpensive.' They were right. A new tract of small homes had been built west of Overland (Avenue) for employees of the defense industries. People were able to buy a home with only $400 down.

"There were also a lot of Craftsman bungalows in Palms at that time, but they cost maybe $15,000 and that was beyond most people--salaries at that time were $3,000 to $4,000 a year," Sever said. "If somebody was making $7,000 a year, they were very well off.

"We stayed only a short time in Palms and then moved to more affordable housing in South-Central Los Angeles."

But Sever returned to the Westside, and in 1979 she was appointed head librarian at the Palms-Rancho Park Library, where requests for a variety of new reading materials has evidenced the growing ethnic diversity of the area since the early 1970s.

Palms' residents come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including blacks, whites, Mexicans, South Americans, Cubans and people from India and the Middle East. Many are students, young professionals and the community's shop-owners.

Since the late 1950s the single-family bungalows of the '30s and '40s have been replaced by apartments and condominiums, which now account for about 85% of Palms' dwelling units.

"Palms plays an important role for those who otherwise could never find affordable housing on the Westside," said Dannie Cavanaugh, who grew up in Palms and has worked since 1973 with the realty company of his father, Dan.

"For many individuals who are ready to leave mom and dad, an apartment is their only viable option. . . . For individuals or couples who want to own their own home, a condominium may be the only way they can take that first step.

"The average rent for an older one-bedroom apartment in Palms is $650; a two-bedroom, two-bath is about $1,000-$1,200.

"Condominiums in Palms are distinguished as either older conversions with an average selling price for a two-bedroom unit at $160,000 or newer two-bedroom, two-bath units between $195,000 and $235,000."

In March, 1988, Giovanni Prinz was living in an apartment in Culver City. When he went house hunting he found prices in Culver City were too high and bought a condo in Palms and lived there for two years.

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