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Heaven and Hell : Communities: The tiny desert town of Littlerock is hot and quiet. Many locals love those qualities, but others hate them.

April 24, 1994|JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LITTLEROCK — It's kind of a funny thing to folks out here in Littlerock that their recent claim to fame consists of a high school boy accused of poisoning his teacher by lacing her Diet Pepsi with cleaning fluid.

According to locals, things like that just don't happen in Littlerock, which is why many of them moved here in the first place.

The drowsy little desert community about 50 miles northeast of Los Angeles is treasured by residents because it's not dogged by the congestion and crime that hounded them during their past city lives.

"You're really out in the country here," says Sandy Collins, who runs a craft shop along Pearblossom Highway, which bisects Littlerock. "There's nothing here compared to Palmdale."

Surrounded roughly by Palmdale, the San Gabriel Mountains and the equally unknown community of Pearblossom, Little-rock started out 100 years ago as an orchard town in the high desert. Over the years it has maintained its rural appeal and quirkiness.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Engels, who has patrolled Littlerock for the past six years, described the area as quiet compared to Palmdale, but unusual compared to the rest of Los Angeles County.

"There's nothing typical out here," Engels said.

The deputy recalled the time a resident decided to skin a dead goat in his front yard, which in this case was legal, because the man was going to use the meat for food.

"He was out there doing it and I asked him if he'd want to skin the goat in the back yard next time because his neighbors were upset," Engels said. "He said sure, that would be fine."

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Travelers from all over the region know Littlerock as a place to stop along Pearblossom Highway on their way to and from Las Vegas. They browse through the town's antiques stores, eat at its diners or pick up honey or fresh produce at its roadside markets.

Littlerock is, after all, the self-proclaimed "Fruit Basket of the Antelope Valley," according to signs that mark the town's entrances.

Peaches are a big thing, and residents say travelers in search of the fleshy fruit pack the place in July. (Though old-timers know that the town, which celebrated its centennial last year, started on pears and almonds.)

Desert heaven and desert hell, Littlerock is also a community that stirs a range of sentiments among its residents.

"I just love this place because I love the desert," said Carmen Hernandez, who works at Charlie Brown Farms, a famous pit stop where thirsty travelers can choose from 100 milkshake flavors.

Hernandez and her husband moved to Littlerock from Glendale 13 years ago in search of a safe haven to raise their kids. She says she loves the fact that she's not forced to fight traffic or hunt down parking meters.

Hernandez also says she hasn't felt a bit isolated.

"People have told me it's in the middle of nowhere because you can walk from one end of town to the other," Hernandez said with a laugh.

But what's novel to some is just plain aggravating to others.

"I've been out here since 1959 and I've hated every minute of it," said Littlerock resident Savannah Faulkner.

Faulkner said she's had no choice but to live in Littlerock over the last three decades because her husband loves the place. She described it as an ugly little desert town with nice people.

She complained of the heat and wondered whether Mother Nature is playing a cruel hoax on her by placing the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains along the town's most southern border.

"It's just too extreme here," Faulkner says.

Just how obscene the heat gets in Littlerock is difficult to gauge. The National Weather Service doesn't record temperatures for the community.

That's a fact that's not so surprising given that 1990 was the first year that the U. S. Census Bureau recorded statistics for the place, which raises another question.

Exactly how many people live in Littlerock?

The most recent census figures show there are 1,320 residents, even though the same town has 4,531 registered voters, according to the county registrar's office.

Meanwhile, Dennis Tetu, vice president of the Littlerock Town Council, boasts that his community consists of about 9,000 residents.

The confusion is over the town's borders. It is situated in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County.

So clouded are Littlerock's boundaries that back in 1992 a group of black residents from neighboring Sun Village asked the Antelope Valley Union High School District to rename Littlerock High School--where the now infamous poisoning incident took place--as Sun Village High School.

Black residents had begun a fight to preserve the name and boundaries of Sun Village, which was the original black settlement in the Antelope Valley in the 1940s. The boundary issue remains unresolved, which is reflected in Tetu's response when asked where the school is located.

"I think it's in Sun Village and Littlerock," he says.

What the future holds in store for Littlerock is hard to say, but you can tell from talking to Tetu and other residents that they hope it's not too much.

"We don't ever think you'll see big businesses or a mall pop up here," Tetu said. "People want to maintain the ruralness here."

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