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An Oasis Above the Lakes

Despite its proximity to downtown, trees and space around the reservoirs give the neighborhood of Silver Lake Hills a distinctly rural feel.

September 10, 2000|MARILYN TOWER OLIVER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In 1992, when Carlos and Virginia Jimenez were house hunting, they told their real estate agent that they had two nonnegotiable requirements.

"We were looking for a house that was big enough for two families and which had great views," said Carlos Jimenez, a Mexican American studies teacher at Grant High School in East Los Angeles.

At the time, the Jimenezes were expecting their first child. Josephine Jimenez, Carlos' mother, had a house near UCLA; she planned to sell it and move in with them.

They found a large two-story Tudor house big enough for two families in the hills overlooking the Silver Lake reservoirs, paying more than $500,000 for the property.

"We were forced to catch our breath at the price," Carlos Jimenez said. "Because we were selling two houses, the deal was doable."

The 3,500-square-foot home, built in 1930, has three bedrooms and four baths, a formal dining room and a large living room with vaulted ceilings and a huge fireplace.

A big family room facing the pool doubles as a den, office and play area for 7-year-old Daniela and her little brother, Diego.

The downstairs bedroom and bath allow Josephine Jimenez the opportunity to enjoy family activities while maintaining her privacy.

"We liked the spaciousness of this house, which has views of the ocean to the west and the reservoir, and Glendale and Burbank to the east," Carlos Jimenez said. "The house is perfect for our multi-generational family. We also like the diversity of Silver Lake in terms of culture and ethnic backgrounds."

Within the Silver Lake district, the hills adjacent to the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs form a unique community of single-family homes and small apartment buildings.

The community, bounded by Rowena Avenue on the north, Effie Street on the south, Silver Lake and Glendale boulevards on the east and Hyperion Avenue on the west, is sometimes referred to as Silver Lake Hills.

Although not all houses in the district have views of the reservoir that gives the neighborhood its name, the lake and its surrounding wooded open space have long been a focal point for residents.

The trees and meadows that surround the reservoirs give the neighborhood a rural feeling that belies its proximity to downtown Los Angeles and the Wilshire District about five miles to the south.

Several now-acclaimed architects--Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler and John Lautner among them--designed homes in the community, said Maryann Kuk, a Realtor with Housing Solutions, whose home overlooks Silver Lake reservoir.

Dion Neutra has lived in the area since 1932, when his father, Richard, built the family home known as the VDL Neutra Research House on Silver Lake Boulevard.

"I was 7 years old when we moved here," he said. "After the original house burned down in 1963, I was responsible for the rebuilding."

The four-level home, built on the slab of the original house, is considered a local landmark by residents. It belongs to the Cal Poly Pomona School of Environmental Design.

Neutra, who lives in a three-bedroom Neutra house with his fiancee, Jackie Reimach, vividly recalls his boyhood in Silver Lake Hills.

"I remember walking around the reservoir as a kid of 7 or 8 and throwing a fishing line into the water and catching fish. The area was more natural then, with dirt banks and willows around the lake."

Silver Lake was home to early movie-makers, including Tom Mix, Mack Sennett and the Keystone Studio and the first Walt Disney studio, which was on Hyperion Boulevard.

Remembering Fields and Horse Corrals

Longtime resident Margaret Chase remembers those times. "There was a large field and corrals for Tom Mix's horses," she said. "They made movies here in the hills."

The Chases built their first home in Silver Lake in 1936 as a young married couple. In 1948, the couple and their two daughters moved to her current home, a large Spanish revival house that was built in the early 1930s.

"The people in the neighborhood have always been friendly," Chase recalled. "The area also didn't have racial restrictions, as many places did in the 1940s."

The area's diversity held a strong appeal for grant writer Amy Wakeland, 30, and her partner, Eric Garcetti, 29, a professor in the department of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College. The couple bought their modernist home in the hills south of the reservoir in 1998. The home, built in the early 1940s, has a 180-degree view.

"There are a lot of young couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, and young families," Wakeland said. "There is also diversity in terms of ethnicity and family formation."

Isaac Fast, assistant manager of Prudential John Aaroe & Associates Realtors in Los Feliz, describes the prime Silver Lake district as the west side and north end of the reservoirs.

These areas include Moreno Highlands, bounded by West Silver Lake Drive on the east and Griffith Park Boulevard on the west; and Ivanhoe Hill, bounded by Armstrong on the west and Glendale Boulevard on the east.

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