As he sits at night in the backyard of his new home in Glendale's Chevy Chase Canyon, Michael Rosenfeld sees nothing but mountains and stars.
"I have to keep reminding myself that I'm no longer in the city," said the 30-something Disney attorney, who chose the area partly because it is only a few miles from his Burbank office.
When he's not reminding himself, Rosenfeld is explaining to his friends that the background noise they hear over the cordless telephone is from crickets.
"They make me hold the phone out because they don't believe me," he said. "Some of them are only a few miles away, and they never hear crickets."
During his house hunt, Rosenfeld rejected numerous homes in other communities for their nondescript "Brady Bunch" feel.
Then he walked into a traditional 2,400-square-foot house on Chevy Chase Drive with four bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths.
Even before he had time to absorb every detail--the crown moldings, the wainscoting, the oak floors, the French doors, the basement--Rosenfeld knew viscerally that the house, with an asking price of just over $300,000, would be his.
Picturesque views, cool mountain breezes, rustic environs, small-town sensibilities. Hummingbirds, butterflies and hawks soaring above, a family of deer cavorting across a stream below. All a short drive from downtown Los Angeles and only a few miles from Glendale's own thriving business district. Welcome to Chevy Chase Canyon.
Residents of the nearly 1,500 homes situated along both sides of a divide in the San Rafael Hills put up with certain inconveniences accordant with the geography--the deer who tear up their gardens, the 15 minutes it takes to reach the nearest supermarket or restaurant, the increasing traffic down the main artery--for what they view as a quiet refuge from fast-paced city life.
"The only house I see when I look out my front door is across the canyon," said Ginger Bremberg, who lives in a two-bedroom, two-bath, split-level stucco house on Cornwall Drive in the upper canyon that she and her husband, Bruce, (both are retired) bought for $60,000 in 1973.
Bremberg, who is president of the 60-year-old Chevy Chase Estates Assn., noted that in the 1920s and '30s, when the canyon was developed, cabins on 25-foot lots were sold as summer getaways.
Today the lots are larger, but the canyon's essence remains.
"It's so peaceful, it's like a retreat up here," said Richard Coppola of Keeler Dilbeck Realtors, who lives and works in Chevy Chase Canyon. "When I pull off the hectic freeway and wind my way up to my home, it feels like I'm on vacation."
Residents generally think of Chevy Chase Canyon as having four distinct pockets. In the lower canyon are some of the area's largest, oldest and most architecturally interesting homes. Many are built on small lots. Just up from there is the golf club area, with sprawling houses overlooking the Chevy Chase Country Club's nine-hole course and recreation facility. The upper canyon area includes the houses on and off Figueroa Street and Linda Vista Road, heading toward Pasadena.
And the newest homes with the most inspiring views--and least architectural diversity--are at the top of the canyon in the Emerald Isle housing tract, which opened in the early '80s and drops into La Can~ada Flintridge.
Although Emerald Isle tends to be the most expensive section (a four-bedroom, three-bath, 2,580-square-foot house recently sold for $405,000), all four pockets include mixtures of high-priced and lower-priced homes. A three-bedroom 1 3/4-bath 1,700-square-foot house on Chevy Chase Drive in the lower canyon recently sold for $280,000, which falls in the canyon's low range.
Jennifer Costanza Weissmuller and her husband, Kurt Weissmuller, (she's 35, he's 37; both are environmental attorneys) paid $450,000 in 1991 for a two-bedroom, three-bath English Tudor-style house on an oak-tree-lined one-acre lot in the golf club area. Reluctantly, they sold last September and are renting in the canyon until they can find a house with room to accommodate their expanding family, which now includes 2-year-old daughter Connie.
In 1991, as a recent transplant from the Midwest, Costanza Weissmuller was unfamiliar with Los Angeles. For months, she spent her Sundays scoping out open houses all over the county. Today, she can't see herself leaving Chevy Chase Canyon, in part because of a sense of community she felt was lacking when her family lived in the San Fernando Valley. "We've looked other places, but every time we do, we decide we like the canyon better," she said.
The house Jerry and Marylou Briggs fell in love with was far different from either Rosenfeld's or Costanza Weissmuller's; it's a modern, sprawling, four-bedroom, four-bath house with a pool, maximum privacy and a view of the country club and downtown Los Angeles. The couple paid $140,000 for the home in 1978.