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In Windsor Hills, Pleasant Surprises

June 16, 1996|LINDA MOTHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Linda Mothner is a Los Angeles freelance writer

June Petty wasn't at all sure she wanted to live on ground any higher than the flatlands she had known growing up in Michigan. But once her husband, Harold, had taken her to see the two-bedroom house with a den and spacious backyard that sat back on a gentle rise in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Windsor Hills, she had a change of heart.

Like her husband, a general contractor, Petty saw the potential of the 1940s house, which stood in its original condition and had not been spoiled by bad remodeling jobs or poorly conceived additions. Best of all, it was on a level lot and had a backyard filled with fruit trees--peach, lemon, orange, avocado and fig--where June Petty, an avid gardener, could indulge her passion.

"We thought that for the money [and] location, it was ideal for our situation," said Harold Petty, and the couple bought the house for $225,000.

Serenely detached from the hustle below, Windsor Hills is a community of 2,000 single-family homes tucked into a hilly square-mile fold of unincorporated Los Angeles County. Bounded by Baldwin Hills to the north and Culver City to the west, it is a little more than two miles east of the San Diego Freeway. Often linked to adjacent and higher-priced View Park, Windsor Hills is one of a number of enclaves that dot the Baldwin Hills.

"On this hillside you get a lot of breezes from the ocean that top off up here," said June Petty, an occupational therapy supervisor at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. "They push back a lot of the smog and pollution. It's pretty cool."

Started in 1937 by developers Fred Marlow and Fritz Burns, the upscale, largely African American community of Windsor Hills is notable for the architectural diversity of its custom homes. No two are like and each one is a surprise, said Janet Singleton of Prudential California-Jon Douglas Realty.

"I tell [appraisers] all the time that this is one neighborhood that you can't curb-appraise. You need to see how the house is laid out," she said.

What these homes almost always share are views, large lots on curving streets and meticulous landscaping that reflects pride of ownership.

A 1,500-square-foot house with a formal dining room and study lists at $200,000 and represents the low end of the Windsor Hills market, said Singleton's partner, Gwen Troy. A 3,000-square-foot house that recently sold for $345,000 is a high-end example, she said.

Melba Fields recalls her resistance to checking out the 2,800-square-foot, split-level house on Overdale Avenue when she and her husband, Art, pulled up in front of the "For Sale" sign 20 years ago.

"I said this house is too square," she said. "It has angles, it's boxy. It doesn't have a personality. And I don't want to live here."


That was until she walked inside and discovered open beam ceilings and a floor plan in which the children's bedrooms adjoined the master suite--an arrangement that was exactly what the young mother had in mind. "I could see the possibilities," said Melba Fields, a public relations coordinator for a social services organization.

Although $40,000 seemed like a great deal at the time, Art Fields, an administrator with the Beverly Hills Unified School District, believed that they got "more house for our dollar" than anywhere else they had looked.

And although the couple have thought of living elsewhere after retirement, Art Fields said they always return to one fact: "We're really centrally located. We're close to the airport, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, downtown. Given the amount of traveling we do, it would be difficult to live anywhere else at this point."

Two years ago, Mark and Patty Indictor, then renting in Culver City, had no idea Windsor Hills existed until a friend's suggestion led them to the area. But as soon as they stepped into their 2,000-square-foot corner house with a studio and an Art Deco look, an attachment to the neighborhood began to form.

"The views out of all the windows are beautiful. The neighborhood just rises out of this house. It's kind of a centerpiece," said Mark Indictor, a computer software engineer and musician.

The 1941 house was "overbuilt" by the owner, an architect with an apparent distaste for right angles and corners, Indictor said. "One of the things that I loved was the fact that you couldn't always tell where you were in it. Walls that are the same wall don't appear to be the same wall from one room to the next. Even now I get confused."

What is clear, however, is his delight in his $268,000 purchase. "The whole house is built around the backyard," he said. "It's like this protected pocket in the middle of the crazy city. I feel completely safe."


This feeling of security is one of the pluses of living in Windsor Hills, residents say. A high level of protection provided by the sheriff's Marina station and the satellite station in Ladera Center is often mentioned by residents.

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