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Rustic Enclave Trades Hustle for Serenity : Beachwood Canyon: Civilization is just at the end of the street but canyon offers peace and isolation.

April 04, 1993|MONA GABLE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Gable is a Los Angeles free - lance writer

When I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco eight years ago, I didn't really know much about the city. Just by chance, I wound up living in Beachwood Canyon. In many ways it seemed to me not like Los Angeles at all, this rustic enclave just east of the Hollywood Freeway and west of Griffith Park.

There, beneath the Hollywood sign, was a bulletin board where residents left messages about lost cats and houses to share, and neighbors knew each other by name. In the Beachwood Cafe, one could linger over coffee and peruse the trades. At night, the scent of jasmine drenched the air.

At the time I first lived in Beachwood, as residents call it, I did not know many people in Los Angeles and was working at home. Just down Beachwood Drive was civilization, or what passed for it, in the form of Hollywood. Still, there were many days I chose not to leave the canyon at all, and the only person I would talk to was the checker at the Beachwood Market, the upscale neighborhood grocery.

But for those who wanted it, there was also community involvement.

Periodically, this manifested itself in protests over the "commercialization" of the Hollywood sign, or "alerts" by the homeowners' group announcing recent neighborhood crimes. After two elderly women were killed crossing Beachwood Drive, residents banded together to pressure City Hall into putting up a stop sign, placing flowers and candles at the site until they got their way.

More recently, homeowners barricaded the street with dumpsters during the riots to prevent intruders from coming through.

I no longer live in Beachwood. But I still often drive up there, on days when I need quiet or a sense of place. It is this combination of seclusion and nature that has attracted most people to the area.

"There are plenty of people who just like to be by themselves, the writer types and music composers," said longtime Beachwood resident Lamonta Pierson, a broker with Hollywoodland Realty Co. "It's always been a show business crowd. They like the quiet and the respect from other people."

Pierson, 63, moved to Beachwood in 1952 with her former husband, actor Jon Shepodd, perhaps best known as the father on "The Lassie Show," largely because he wanted to be close to Hollywood. The house they bought, and in which she still lives with her second husband, was designed by eminent architect Pierpont Davis. They paid $29,500 for it. A recent appraisal valued the four-bedroom, Mediterranean-style house with vaulted ceilings at $743,000.

"It was the first house we looked at," recalled Pierson. "We just fell in love with it."

Like many older residents, Pierson has stayed in Beachwood because of its small-town atmosphere. Her four children grew up there and attended Cheremoya Avenue Elementary School on Beachwood Drive. Pierson herself is active in a local volunteer group sponsored by the Los Angeles Fire Department to train residents in emergency procedures.

"I like it because it's a neighborhood," she said. "We get to know people just bumping into them in the coffee shop. It's got a little spirit all its own. A lot of people discover it every day."

Julie Carter, a 30-year-old free-lance art director, is typical of another group of people who cluster in Beachwood: young, creative professionals who have come to Los Angeles from somewhere else and are in search of a community.

After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, she lived in Rome for three years, then San Francisco. Two years ago, when she came to Los Angeles, she knew nothing about the city and didn't have a job. Today, she's designing album covers for major record companies.

When Carter decided to buy a house early this year, she searched everywhere. "I looked in Silver Lake. I looked in Los Feliz. I looked in Laurel Canyon but it was way too congested," she recalled. "I looked at so many houses. One weekend I saw 45 places."

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Carter eventually bought a three-bedroom, three-bath, Spanish-style house, built in 1930, near the top of the canyon for $500,000. She moved in four months ago.

"It's amazing here," she said. "It's kind of like a Spanish treehouse. I feel like I can look out and no one can look in. It has French windows and doors everywhere. It's very European, which is something that really appealed to me. . . . I'm in the country and yet all my clients are 10 minutes away. I feel like I've died and gone to heaven."

It is precisely this sentiment that Harry Chandler hoped to instill in potential home buyers when he conceived of Hollywoodland, the 500-acre subdivision he built in the canyon beginning in 1923. Earlier in the century, Beachwood got its start when developer Albert Beach had put in a road named after himself, Beachwood Drive. But it took Chandler, then publisher of the Los Angeles Times, to see the potential for development.

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