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Stardust Memories

Families have been attracted to this 199-home tract in Orange County's Fountain Valley for decades, drawn by its schools and a feeling of community.


When Helen and Joe Ditte moved to the Fountain Valley community of Stardust in 1964, they were drawn by the soon-to-open UC Irvine nearby.

Two of their three children were already in high school, and the former Los Angeles residents had their eye on the UC system, though with some reservations.

"UCLA seemed to be such a big school," said Helen Ditte, a former Huntington Beach Union High School District trustee who hoped her children would get more individual attention on a smaller campus. "We really had a dream that our son would go to UCI."

More than three decades later, schools continue to draw new residents in the Dittes' Stardust neighborhood in Fountain Valley. The 199-house development, one of the first tracts built in Fountain Valley, is in the southwestern corner of the city, bounded by Nightingale and Garfield avenues to the north and south and Magnolia and Santa Mariana streets to the east and west.

Unlike the Dittes, though, most newcomers today are focused on elementary schools. Newer residents are mainly families with young children, according to Steve Stovall, an agent with Century 21 Duncan in Garden Grove.

"They tend to be a younger family looking for stability [and] a nice, safe comfortable neighborhood to live in," he said.

That describes Deborah and Keith Bramlett, who moved into their 2,500-square foot home in May 1999. The parents of 5-year-old Natalie and 19-month-old Jack needed extra room for their growing family and were seeking a strong neighborhood school.

They first chose Courreges Elementary and then went house-hunting in nearby neighborhoods, an order of events that doesn't surprise Fountain Valley School District official Catherine Follett.

"Of all our elementary schools, Courreges has the highest test scores," said Follett, an assistant superintendent. The school's score on the state's new Academic Performance Index is 877 out of a possible 1,000, more than 40 points higher than the next highest in the district.

The Bramletts had narrowed their choices to five homes in the area when they discovered a two-story five-bedroom, 2 1/2-bathroom home they liked.

"We had looked at every house that we could afford," said Deborah Bramlett, a stay-at-home mom.

"We looked at this house and said, 'We have to make an offer right now,' " she recalled. "Another couple came in, and we were in a bidding war by the end of the day."

The Bramletts prevailed with a bid of $352,000, a few thousand dollars above the asking price.

It's hard for some original owners to believe how much Stardust homes sell for today. When Jim Dick and his family bought in 1964, he paid $23,800 for the 1,300-square-foot three-bedroom house.

Dick, his wife, Doris, and their three children moved from Connecticut in hopes that the warmer climate would ease Doris' arthritis pain. It was also her arthritis that led the couple to buy a Stardust home. All houses in the tract have hardwood floors, which Dick thought would be easier on his wife's pained feet and legs than tile or linoleum over concrete.

There were other reasons the Dicks chose Stardust. Jim Dick, now a widower whose daughter lives with him, said the lot size in the tract--7,200 square feet--leaves plenty of room for gardens and children's play areas.

Dick's backyard is dominated by a massive ficus tree, one of the reasons he chose this particular house. "I wanted a climbing tree for my son, who was 3 years old at the time," he said. "My son, my grandchildren and the neighbor's children have all played in that tree."


More than 30 years later, children are still a vital part of the neighborhood.

"Kids still ride their bikes up and down their street," said Stovall, himself a Fountain Valley resident, "and you stumble across an occasional kickball game or softball game on a summer afternoon."

The tract houses, which feature decorative shutters, second-story balconies and traditional brick and stone accents, are not cookie-cutter creations. The neighborhood of tree-lined streets is a well-planned one, and residents are proud of living in a "master plan" community, according to Dick, a former Fountain Valley planning commissioner and the unofficial city historian.

Four years after it incorporated in 1957, Fountain Valley adopted a master plan of development, plotting the housing and commercial developments that slowly ate up the farmland on which lima beans, tomatoes and peppers had once flourished. The Stardust tract was finished before Fountain Valley's City Hall and library buildings, which were dedicated in January 1965.

Today, starter houses are not cheap. According to Stovall, a 1,300-square-foot three-bedroom house sold recently for $242,000.

The standard model, which has an original floor plan of three bedrooms and two bathrooms but which can range from 1,800 to 2,200 square feet if it has additions, sells for about $330,000.

More expensive models, which are typically five-bedroom 1,800-square-foot homes, can sell for more than $430,000.

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