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Right Neighborly

Torrance's Southwood area retains its old-fashioned, close-knit charm.

March 23, 1997|CARRIE SOMMER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Carrie Sommer is a South Bay freelance writer

In one very important way, the community of Southwood in Torrance has changed little since Duane and Eloise Norton moved into the then-new development 40 years ago.

Back then, Southwood was a friendly, close-knit neighborhood of young families, with most of the women staying home to raise the children. Almost every morning was spent in a neighbor's home, drinking coffee while the kids played together.

Four decades later, Southwood kids still play in each other's frontyards; block parties and holiday cookie exchanges abound. And the friendliness is still there.

"It's like driving down a farm road," Duane Norton said. "You see a guy picking corn and you wave and say 'Howya doin'?' Nowadays, most people could care less what the response is. In this neighborhood, they really do care."

The Nortons paid $15,000 for their 1,100-square-foot three-bedroom two-bath home and moved in the day after Christmas in 1956.

"We chose our particular house because we knew that Jefferson Elementary School (now Jefferson Middle School) would be built shortly, and our children would be able to walk there," said Duane Norton, 71, a retired Northrop mechanical engineer. The Nortons raised two sons in their Carmen Street home.

Southwood, with about 2,200 homes, is bordered by Torrance Boulevard to the north, Sepulveda Boulevard to the south, the Redondo Beach border to the west and Hawthorne Boulevard to the east.

Home prices range from $232,000 for a three-bedroom 1 3/4-bath 1,150-square-foot fixer-upper to $429,000 for a cream-puff home with four bedrooms and 2 3/4 baths in 3,026 square feet, said Larry Porterfield of Porterfield Realty.

The average home price is $250,000 for three bedrooms and 1 3/4 baths in 1,150 square feet.

The desirability of Southwood has kept the housing market tight. When my husband, Scott, and I made an offer on a new listing on Carmen Street in 1994, ours was the third in 48 hours with another expected soon.

*

The realty angels must have been smiling down on us, as our offer of $288,000 for the three-bedroom, two-bath home was accepted. But with one contingency, which says a great deal about the neighborhood:

The owners insisted that they be allowed to give us a party so we could meet all the neighbors.

What is now Southwood was once flower farms, oil fields and dairies before they gave way to residential tracts. Its development was part of the Southland housing boom of the 1950s fueled by veterans of World War II and the Korean War who were able to buy homes with no money down.

"The only stipulation was that you had to occupy your home for a minimum of one year," Duane Norton said.

Hannah Sampson is another original Southwood resident. She and her late husband bought their three-bedroom, two-bath home for $14,500 in 1956, sight unseen, from plans published in a newspaper.

The strong sense of community that residents enjoy began 40 years ago, said Sampson, 83, a columnist for the South Bay Daily Breeze.

"Carmen Street became a small village," she said. "We took care of each others' children and we took care of each other. We had block parties where we closed the street, and we still have our holiday cookie exchange."

Years ago, when the school board wanted to close Jefferson Middle School because of declining enrollment, residents, led by the Southwood Homeowners Assn., convinced the school board to keep Jefferson open. Today, the school is at full capacity.

The homeowners association (annual dues: $12) continues to be a strong voice in the community, meeting once a month and publishing a newsletter, distributed to all residents, to keep everyone abreast of community news, school board issues and safety, as well as births, anniversaries, graduations and weddings.

Another Southwood amenity is the Torrance schools, which every year are included in the list of California Exemplary Schools. A recent city study found that the "No. 1 asset in Torrance was the schools," according to Assistant Supt. Janice Schultz.

The quality of the schools drew Tina and Jim Dickerson to Southwood in the early '90s, when their daughter, Nicole, was a toddler. They rented near the house they eventually purchased in February 1996 from the original owner, who had kept the house as a rental for many years.

Their home, with three bedrooms and two baths in 1,300 square feet, was a bargain fixer-upper at $225,000. Having been a rental, "the house was totally trashed," said Tina Dickerson, 32, a hairdresser. Her husband, Jim, 40, is an electrician.

They had to remove a huge tree from the frontyard that threatened their house and a neighboring one and replace the roof before the escrow company would close. "We have spent the last year upgrading," Tina Dickerson said.

But it's been worth it, the Dickersons believe. Their daughter, Nicole, is now 6 and attends Anza Elementary.

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