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A Vintage Vantage Point

Franklin Hills is a diverse yet neighborly community displaying a collage of architectural styles.

September 28, 1997|LINDA BETH MOTHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Linda Beth Mothner is a Los Angeles freelance writer

Patricia Jimenez's home-buying story is the perfect take on the American dream.

The 37-year-old physician's assistant in a cardiovascular unit grew up in Franklin Hills, a neighborhood at the southern end of Los Angeles' Los Feliz district. She lived with her family of Costa Rican immigrants in a 900-square-foot house on the community's flattened edge.

As a child, she and her brothers or aunt walked the winding streets and played a game of giving fanciful names to the houses they passed. One was the "Snow White house" and another was "the Mission house," because of its bell tower.

Actually owning a home in Franklin Hills always seemed unattainable, Jimenez thought, and until two years ago a two-story, three-bedroom International-style house for sale on Hollyvista Avenue had escaped her notice.

Then, guided by a friend, a Realtor who know about the listing, she and her partner, Gina Degirolamo, entered its sunny living room. "This was the 'Wow!' house," recalled Degirolamo, 34, a cinematographer.

Gazing out onto the panorama that includes a large swath of Griffith Park and her favorite place since childhood, the observatory, Jimenez added: "You don't feel like you are in the middle of the city. It's so quiet. That is what is neat about it. I call it 'my village view.' "

So Jimenez and Degirolamo, who had been on the brink of leaving Los Angeles, chose instead to make the city an extension of their living room.

What especially captivated the couple was all the glass and light that seemed to make the 1,800-square-foot house even larger. In addition, a large, enclosed backyard--great for their two dogs--was another plus. By putting the minimum down, they found a way to buy the $278,500 house.

Situated east of Vermont Avenue and west of Silverlake Boulevard, Franklin Hills is bounded by Franklin Avenue on the north, Fountain and Hyperion avenues on the south, Tracy Street on the east and Talmadge Street on the west.

Landmarks from the early days of the movie industry are everywhere in the hillside haven of 1,500 homes and apartments. For example, at the north end of Talmadge Street is the Spanish-Italian villa once owned by silent screen star Norma Talmadge. And Vitagraph Studios, the earliest occupant of the corner of Prospect Avenue and Talmadge Street, has become the Disney-owned ABC Television Center.

Shakespeare Bridge

Running east along Franklin Avenue, the neighborhood's Gothic 71-year-old Shakespeare Bridge is a beloved reminder of a time when architecture was fanciful as well as utilitarian. Fourteen stone stairways that were built into the hillsides for public access during the 1930s are another reminder of a bygone era.

The neighborhood is a collage of architectural styles that span seven decades. However, in contrast to the many mansions of the neighboring Los Feliz area, the lots are smaller and the homes are less expensive.

Home prices generally increase as houses rise higher on the hill, said Karen Weiss, an agent for Fred Sands. At the same time, she said, "You can have a $200,000 house next to a $400,000 house. Prices can change a lot within blocks."

A 1950s two-bedroom, one-bath entry-level home on one of the lower streets can cost $200,000, Weiss said.

A high-end home known as "The Castle" recently sold for $500,000. Built in the late '20s, the Spanish-style house takes up two lots and has a large swimming pool, she said.

The diversity of Franklin Hills is also expressed in its population. Artists and writers have historically called the neighborhood home, as have behind-the-camera workers in the movie business.

"The things that are done [in the neighborhood] are done with a little bit of flair, a little bit of difference. Nothing is cookie-cutter up here," said resident Arnie Netka, director of purchasing for the Port of Los Angeles.

In 1975, he and his wife, Sue, a teacher at Franklin Avenue Elementary School, were looking for a home with character when they discovered a house with an English Tudor look.

"We never got past the living room," said Arnie Netka of the couple's immediate decision to buy the 2 1/2-story house built in 1932. "It was big and high-ceilinged. We liked the bay windows, the hand-carved wooden built-ins made in England. It had everything." It was also within their price range; they paid $47,000.

Nearby Restaurants

No one in Franklin Hills fails to mention the delights of the neighborhood dining.

"It's almost as though we've gotten an embarrassment of riches in restaurants," said Marcelle Zonta of the variety of ethnic dining choices along Hillhurst Avenue.

Zonta, who works for the design arm of the Metro Rail, and her husband, Don Waldrop, a studio musician, were drawn to the neighborhood's "great old houses" when they discovered their two-bedroom, two-bath multilevel Monterey Colonial in 1970.

And although they admit that 50 steps up seems like a long way to their front door, they believe it is a small price to pay.

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