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The Heart of the Heights

Longtime and returning residents find a place in Newport Beach's upscale, evolving community. And renovation is a priority.

July 26, 1998|RUTH RYON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Carolyn Gregor began house-hunting, she knew she wanted a place close to the beach where her 12-year-old son could safely ride his bike.

She had just started looking when she remembered Newport Heights, a small neighborhood half a mile from the ocean in Newport Beach.

Gregor, 45, had lived in the community for half a dozen years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Searching there, she found a three-bedroom 2,150-square-foot townhome, which she bought a few months ago for $330,000.

The Heights, as it is called by Newport residents, is an upscale community of about 1,000 homes of various styles and sizes, owing to the remodeling and new construction that is booming now but has gone on for years.

The neighborhood, within walking distance of the beach and schools, is especially attractive to families, although many of the houses and lots are small.

Home buyers are drawn to the Heights because it has a rural feeling with few sidewalks. A tidy place, the community is not as luxurious as some Newport communities.

Newport Heights is bounded by 15th Street on the north, Pacific Coast Highway on the south, Irvine Avenue on the east and Newport Boulevard on the west. It lies next to Costa Mesa on a plateau known many years ago as Goat Hill.

"When I bought my house, this was probably the low-rent district of Newport Beach," said Betsy Boyd, who has lived in her Heights home for 35 years.

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"I only paid $18,000," she said. "Now the lot value is close to $500,000, and I'm watching people tear down and remodel houses like mine. They're putting up houses worth almost a million dollars in their place.

"I just hope they'll let this old lady stay."

Boyd, 69, has plenty of company in the Heights. Some longtime residents live in beach cottages practically unchanged since the Heights was developed in the 1940s while other live in houses remodeled or rebuilt.

What started out as a working-class neighborhood has become a mix that includes many young professionals, who often buy to remodel, said Rae Rodgers of Re/Max, Newport Beach.

Rodgers, who has been selling homes in the Heights since 1975, said she recently has noticed some builders buying to build and sell.

The lowest price paid this year for a single-family home in the Heights was about $400,000, and that was lot value, Rodgers said. Built in the 1940s, the house has two bedrooms and one bath in 1,200 square feet.

At the high end, new custom homes with ocean views are selling for $1.5 million, but there are only about 50 houses in the Heights with ocean views, she said. A new custom home without a view recently sold for $949,000. The house, on a 50-foot-wide lot, has four bedrooms and three baths in 4,000 square feet.

But homes of that size and selling price are the exception in the Heights. The median sale is in the $500,000 range, which is modest by Newport Beach standards, she said, and most of the buyers have remodeling in mind.

"It has been a really busy area for remodeling, but it always has been," said Tony Lang, 42, a general contractor who has lived in the Heights with his wife, Bonnie, and their two children since 1985.

"We were living in a condo in Costa Mesa when the kids came along, and we needed a backyard," he said.

After buying their home in the Heights, Lang expanded the house from 1,150 to 2,800 square feet over six years. The house had three bedrooms and two baths when he started; it has four bedrooms and three baths now. "Nothing is where it used to be," he said.

Another major remodeling job is being done by Lisa Chernack, 39, an interior designer, and Guy Hardin, 45, who is in the wholesale flower business.

They are renovating the home they bought in December in the $600,000 range. "We got a good deal because it was such an odd house," she said. "Nobody could envision how it could be."

The 4,300-square-foot house had been turned into a triplex with an eight-car garage. Chernack and Hardin are turning it back into a single-family home. They are also converting two garage spaces into a game room for their children.

"The Heights has always been one of my favorite neighborhoods, although I never lived here until now," Chernack said. "It is quaint and unusual, a mixture of old and new. The trees make me feel like I am in old Pasadena."

And Chernack, an early-morning beach walker, enjoys living near the water.

As does Carolyn Gregor, the single mother with the bike-riding son. She was living in the Back Bay area of Newport when she decided to move closer to the ocean, to her work (she owns a court reporting agency) and to her teenage daughter, who lives with Gregor's ex-husband in the Heights.

Both of her children attend public schools, which are ranked above the national average in academic test scores.

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The area also receives praise from the local law enforcement agency. "It is a good neighborhood," said Paul Salenko, a sergeant with the Newport Beach Police Department.

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