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Views, Schools Draw Families to Foothills : La Crescenta: Despite commute, residents treasure back-to-nature feel of quiet, hillside community.

September 05, 1993|SONDRA FARRELL BAZROD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Sondra Farrell Bazrod is a Los Angeles free - lance writer. and

When Ron Bauer, 30, a plumbing company foreman, was married a year and a half ago, his dream was to own a home in the foothill community of La Crescenta because he loved the mountains. "I've always had mountains behind me and I've been across all of them," said Bauer, who grew up in nearby Tujunga.

His wife, Marie, 26, shared his enthusiasm and they immediately began their house hunt. They drove every street until they found--and fell in love with--a one-bedroom, one-bath, 550-square-foot cabin built in 1946 in Upper Briggs Terrace, the community's steepest area. They paid $207,000 for the cabin at the 2,200-foot level.

"The place was a disaster when we saw it," Bauer said, "but I knew I could do the work myself and the 50-by-150 foot lot would allow me to later make additions up to 2,000 square feet and still have room in the front and back."

La Crescenta, some histories say, comes from the Spanish word creciente, which has flood tide as one meaning. It was named in 1913 for the torrent of water that would pour down the mountains during heavy rains.

The mainly hilly 4.8-square-mile unincorporated section of Los Angeles County is bounded on the east by La Canada Flintridge, on the west by Glendale, on the south by Montrose and on the north by the Angeles National Forest. Interstate 210 and California 2 serve the area.

The community is part of the Crescenta Valley, which was the first land grant in the region. In 1784 Jose Maria Verdugo, a corporal in the California military, was rewarded for his services by the King of Spain with Rancho San Rafael. The 36,000 acres of grazing land in the foothills stretched from Arroyo Seco in what is now Pasadena to the San Fernando Mission. Land developers discovered the valley between the 1870s and 1920s and began building homes.

In 1914 the Glendale and Montrose Railway helped boost the population as more people took up residence. Some built mountain cabins as vacation homes and made the trek from Los Angeles to commune with nature or just hide for a weekend. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were among them.

The Bauers love the view of downtown Los Angeles and the ocean from their living room window.

Bauer commutes 45 miles to Newbury Park but doesn't mind. "It's great when I get up at 4 a.m.," he said. "I love the trees and the quiet."

Marie Bauer, who works in Pasadena as a sales representative, likes the community's small-town feel. Neighbors "take in your papers without your asking when you're away," she said.

Since the couple plans to have children, they also chose La Crescenta for the schools, which get high marks, and the safety. "There's only one way in and out and we get to know everyone's car," Bauer said. "You see the same people go by each day at the same time, maybe two cars in 45 minutes."

Phyllis Fuller began shopping for her first home in 1980. She had looked at five or six houses when she saw an ad for a house in La Crescenta, an area she had never considered. "As soon as I saw the house, that was it," Fuller said. "It had one bedroom and a bath on the upper level and a three-car garage below and it had been a guest house for the home next door. There was no central heating or air conditioning, only a wood-burning stove and a couple of wall heaters. The only way it was worth the heartache of fixing it up was because of this canyon. It's so spectacular."

She's referring to Pickens Canyon, the dividing line between La Canada Flintridge. Fuller's house is at the 2,700-foot level and her back yard drops off into a canyon with a brook.

Fuller paid $112,000 for the house. A new kitchen was added in 1984 and although two of the garages have been converted to temporary living space, Fuller and her new husband, a business consultant, plan to remodel the entire downstairs area into two large rooms and a bath.

There is no downtown La Crescenta, but there are some chain stores on Foothill Boulevard, the community's main street. Residents go to nearby Glendale and Pasadena for major shopping. Fuller likes to shop in nearby Montrose because of the excellent service in local businesses such as the children's book shop and ethnic deli.

"Besides the view . . . other pluses are the relatively clean air, low crime rate and good schools," Fuller said. "Where else can you take pictures from your back yard that can be used on postcards?"

The only negative for her are the ferocious Santa Ana winds, which blow branches off trees and knock down fences.

Eric Fossum and Sabrina Kemeny lived in an apartment in Venice after their marriage 2 1/2 years ago. The couple, in their 30s, decided to buy in La Crescenta because they both are research engineers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in nearby La Canada, where home prices are much higher.

Fossum and Kemeny have lived in their 2,300-square-foot, four-bedroom, 2 3/4-bath home since November, 1992. The house, in an area known as Pinecrest, was built in 1968 as part of a tract at 2,400 feet.

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