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Family Matters

Good schools, parks and a sense of safe seclusion make little-known Rossmore a haven.

March 29, 1998|PAUL BROWNFIELD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Alot of people don't know this place exists," said Irwin Anisman, echoing a familiar refrain in the Orange County community of Rossmoor.

Indeed, Rossmoor at first glance seems too good to be true--a peaceful, tree-lined suburban idyll, a place where on a Saturday the neighborhood is alive with the shouts of kids playing soccer at parks and schools and where residents can be found trimming lawns and washing cars.

The American suburb as construed by Disney? Perhaps.

But this unincorporated community of 3,600 homes, situated at the confluence of the 405 and 605 freeways and adjacent to the cities of Los Alamitos and Seal Beach, is no fairy tale to the people who have been settling here since Rossmoor was founded in 1956.

Built by Ross Cortese, the same man responsible for nearby Leisure World, Rossmoor was billed at its pre-freeway inception as "Long Beach's biggest suburb."

But the town, whose street names reflect the founder's literary interests (Shakespeare, Baskerville and Coleridge are all in Rossmoor), has since grown to become a bedroom community for commuters to downtown Los Angeles and beyond.

The perks of living here, say residents, are compelling: Low crime rate. Good freeway access. Quiet streets. And, most especially, schools. Schools whose reputation extends beyond Rossmoor's boundaries.

"Someone was selling their home in Rossmoor, and I said, 'Gee, where's Rossmoor?' " recalled Anisman, who is retired now but who worked as an aerospace engineer when he moved here with his family in 1976 from Culver City.

Anisman bought a 1,600-square-foot home for $75,000 and was quickly impressed by the quality of schools for his two children, who were then in kindergarten and first grade.

"The thing that really sold us was the school system," he said. "People continue to flock here for that reason."

The quality of schools is a main reason that a home in Rossmoor can these days sell for more than $400,000. Part of the Los Alamitos School District, Rossmoor boasts four elementary schools within its boundaries, including Lee Elementary, whose principal, Jeanie Cash, was recognized last year as California's Distinguished Principal of the Year, an honor given out by the National Assn. of Elementary School Principals.

Rossmoor Elementary also garnered an award, being named a 1997 national Blue Ribbon School by the Department of Education.

Teenagers attend highly regarded Los Alamitos High School, and some audition for acceptance at the Orange County School of Performing Arts to study music or drama. No wonder, then, that Rossmoor schools sometimes have a waiting list of those wanting to transfer from other districts.

The residents' faith in their local schools was evident when Rossmoor residents voted to tax themselves several years ago to refurbish their elementary schools. Self-imposed taxation--a concept that would seem anathema in today's political climate--has been imposed several times in Rossmoor to make up for Orange County's fiscal shortfalls.

Although they rely on the county for police and fire service, residents in Rossmoor have taxed themselves to pay for public parks and most recently to fix the brick wall that surrounds the community and gives it a subtle sense of exclusivity.

Damaged during the 1995 Northridge earthquake, the wall repair measure won a two-thirds majority of Rossmoor residents, who voted to tax themselves $24 a year per household to repair it.

"When we're behind our red brick wall, we feel isolated from the hubbub of urban life," said Mary Delavergn, 77, among those who pushed for the wall tax.

Delavergn is sitting at a breakfast table surrounded by her family--two daughters and a grandson. Taken together, they also comprise three generations of Rossmoor homeowners.

Theirs is the story of a family from Long Beach who, one by one, migrated to the same neighborhood.

Delavergn's older daughter, Dianne Jones, 59, is the family pioneer. Now a clerical worker at Rossmoor Elementary, Jones came first, moving to Rossmoor with her husband, Scott, an insurance broker, in 1967. The couple bought a 1,700-square-foot home for $32,500, a house in which they've since remodeled the kitchen and added a bar off the living room.

Next came Mary and Harry Delavergn, who bought a two-bedroom house with a pool in 1970 for $34,000.

Eight years later, the Delavergn's other daughter, Vicki Uehli, a redevelopment project manager for the city of Santa Ana, arrived with her husband, Mark, who has a lighting business.

Although they moved into a one-story 1,650-square-foot home similar to the Jones' house, the asking price had risen to $90,000.

Eric Jones, Dianne's son, completed the multi-generational migration this year, leaving his townhome in Garden Grove to buy a four-bedroom home for $335,000.

"The entire family is within five or six blocks," said Eric Jones, 30, who works for the stevedoring company Marine Terminals Corp. at the port of Los Angeles.

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