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Almost Pasadena Adjacent

After facing sticker shock in nearby neighborhoods, many homeowners opt to settle in Monrovia, which is rich in history and has a small-town atmosphere.

October 22, 2000|KAREN LINDELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mark and Jennifer Summitt are moving on up--up the street. To say the Summitts like their north Monrovia neighborhood is an understatement. Their previous two homes were also just blocks away.

The Summitts, both 30, who moved to the area when they got married, wanted a bigger house, and can't think of a better place than Monrovia to raise Amanda, their 9-month-old daughter.

"The small-town atmosphere and intimacy are great for families," said Mark Summitt, a self-employed importer and distributor of forest products. "And the homes have more character than what you'd find elsewhere; it's not a bunch of pink stucco houses."

North Monrovia is the more affluent part of Monrovia, a city of about 39,000 situated about eight miles east of Pasadena at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains between Duarte and Arcadia.

The part of town north of Foothill Boulevard, between Mountain Avenue to the east and 5th Avenue to the west, has about 3,000 single-family homes along with several condominium and apartment complexes.

With its mix of Victorian, Queen Anne, Craftsman, Spanish Colonial and modern houses, the neighborhood is a popular stand-in for "anytown USA" in films and television.

The Summitts, who have lived in the area for six years, first leased a house, then bought a fixer-upper and sold it, then moved into a Victorian before settling into their current house in January.

Built in 1996, the 2,200-square-foot four-bedroom, three-bath home, which also has a guest house and a pool, cost $484,000.

Home buyers like the Summitts are common in the neighborhood, said Mary Ann Petrovich, a Realtor with Century 21 Adams & Barnes in Monrovia. "People are staying in the neighborhood, moving to bigger homes as their families grow," she said.

Home prices start at $203,000 for an 850-square-foot fixer-upper with two bedrooms and one bathroom, although not many such homes are available, Petrovich said. At the higher end, a 5,000-square-foot home with four bedrooms and 5 1/2 bathrooms costs $900,000.

The average price is $350,000 for a three-bedroom two-bath home of 2,000 square feet.

Many residents--a mix of young families, retirees and professionals--looked in nearby Pasadena or Sierra Madre before ending up in Monrovia. "It's the same type of neighborhood but more affordable," Petrovich said.

One such buyer was Jeannine Edgerley, 59, a business manager who moved from Diamond Bar in February 1999.

Because larger homes in Sierra Madre were too expensive, she looked in Monrovia and found a three-bedroom, two-bath home of 2,100 square feet, built in 1957, for $270,000.

"I've watched the community grow from a little worn around the heels to a nice little town nestled in the foothills," said Edgerley, who works in nearby Arcadia. "It reminded me of Whittier, where I grew up. People keep their homes nice, it's quiet and I feel very safe living by myself."

"Crime is very low in the north end," said Sgt. Steve Cofield, head of community policing for the Monrovia Police Department. "The quality of life is so high there, the kind of thing we get a call about is a party going on too long."

Monrovia was founded in 1886 by four men who made their fortunes in the banking and railroad industries. It was originally ranchland covered with oak trees. The first town lots sold for $100 to $150 and, to prevent land speculation, owners had to build houses within six months of buying lots.

Neighborhood With a Bit of History

"The homes are older here, and there's a feeling of history about it," said Kristin Mariconda, 56, who has lived in Monrovia with her husband, Donald, since 1976.

The Maricondas' home, a 1909 Craftsman with four bedrooms and three bathrooms in 3,700 square feet, cost $70,000. "It has lots of sun porches and windows because it was built when Monrovia was known for clean air," Mariconda said.

In the early 1900s, Monrovia built a sanitarium for people with tuberculosis and other chest diseases, although "it's hard to believe with all the smog we get now," Mariconda said, with a laugh.

The sanitarium is gone, but many of Monrovia's original homes and commercial buildings are still standing, and the city encourages residents to restore and preserve vintage homes.

Buying an older home might even lead to a tax break. Robert Kastenbaum, the city's director of community development, said, "Our Historic Preservation Commission recommends homes that are eligible for Mills Act contracts, which provide a property tax reduction for homes that qualify as historic landmarks."

About 25 Monrovia homes have qualified for the contracts. In return, homeowners agree to avoid making alterations that would destroy their homes' historic character.

New development in area, however, is not nearly so welcome. Residents fight the building of more homes in the foothills.

"People don't want mansions on the hill that can be seen," said Mariconda, a former member of the Monrovia Planning Commission. "They don't want to change the naturalness of the hills."

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