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A Rural Refuge in the Valley

Hidden Hills is a bucolic sanctuary where residents look out for one another and kids can even ride horses to school.

November 22, 1998|RUTH RYON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Andy Leeds was living in Connecticut when he got word earlier this year that his father, back home in California, was ill.

Leeds, 41, had grown up in Studio City, and the idea of returning to Los Angeles, even temporarily, was not appealing, but he and his wife, Laura, responded to the call and came west to be closer to his folks.

Then a funny thing happened. "Once we got back," he said, "we decided we would stay."

What changed his mind was a return visit to Hidden Hills, a west San Fernando Valley community where he and his wife had lived as newlyweds in the early 1980s, before they moved for business reasons to Hawaii and then to Connecticut.

"We really loved Hidden Hills when we lived there the first time, and now that we have a daughter and another child on the way, I can't think of a better place to raise kids," said Leeds, a travel agent for entertainers, mainly rock stars, when they go on tours.

Hidden Hills is a 600-home community of about 1,700 residents north of the Ventura Freeway and west of Woodland Hills.

Hidden Hills' woodsy atmosphere, families of cottontails and open spaces provide a sanctuary from hectic life in Los Angeles, Leeds said, and the bucolic life behind the community's gates reminds him and his wife of their home in Connecticut.

"In Connecticut, there were also a lot of trees and wildlife in our backyard," he said. "We had a place on a couple of acres that we gutted and rebuilt."

They are doing the same thing in Hidden Hills. In June, they bought a ranch-style house on slightly more than an acre for $850,000. They gutted the 2,700-square-foot house, built in 1963, and are expanding it to 3,400 square feet, adding a family room, kitchen and exercise room.

"We haven't moved in yet," he said. "It's completely torn apart."

Such is life in Hidden Hills, where a number of major remodels are underway, and houses are being razed and rebuilt, often larger and grander, but still with the room afforded by lots of at least an acre.

Most of the home sites in Hidden Hills have been developed because the community dates to the 1950s. It was founded by landscape architect and developer A.E. Hanson, who designed the grounds of many early stars' estates, including late actor Harold Lloyd's Greenacres in Beverly Hills.

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In 1961, when there was talk of extending Burbank Boulevard through the center of Hidden Hills, residents fought to maintain their countrified lifestyle by incorporating the community as a city--one without commercial buildings.

Even the Hidden Hills City Hall is outside the community's gates. It was built inside the Burbank Boulevard gate, and then later the gate was moved so that City Hall would be accessible to the public. The city contracts out for its principal services, such as fire protection and law enforcement, and trash is picked up by private companies chosen by the property owners.

Hidden Hills' residents cherish their privacy and their security. The community's three gates have round-the-clock guards and video cameras that record the license-plate number of every car entering.

The desire for privacy was a big factor when its first residents--police officers, firefighters and teachers--bought there for $18,650 a lot.

And it's more important now that the few vacant lots available are priced from $850,000 to $2 million, and the residents--lawyers, doctors, business executives, and celebrities like Beau Bridges, Howie Mandell, Sinbad and Priscilla Presley--have made Hidden Hills one of the wealthiest cities in the state.

In May, Worth magazine ranked Hidden Hills 17th in the nation in terms of real estate prices. The city's median home price was reported at $790,000.

The highest sale this year was for slightly more than $4 million, said Kay Cole, vice president of Coldwell Banker-Jon Douglas Co., Woodland Hills. Of about 40 homes sold during the last 12 months, she estimated that half have sold for more than $1 million each, and that several were tear-downs or major remodels that went at prices from $850,000 to $1.4 million.

Asking prices range from $799,000, for a 3,700-square-foot, early ranch-style house on 1 1/2 acres along a street adjacent to the freeway, to just under $7 million for a newly built, 10,000-square-foot country manor with an equestrian center on 2 1/2 acres.

Fees are assessed on each home, based on the purchase price. The fees help maintain the roads, more than 40 miles of horse trails, and community facilities.

There are more tennis courts and fewer horses now than there were even just a few years ago.

There are more upscale homes than ranch-style houses now too, and the newcomers' community potluck, a longtime annual event, has been catered in recent times.

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