But many of those who had labored to keep the neighborhood up were still there, and other new residents were eager to join the area's tradition of neighborhood activism.
Newcomers Help Make It 'Truly a Neighborhood'
"We came at the right time. There were about five other young couples who came in when we did. We had a lot of energy. We were all going to protect our investment," Wallis said.
Wallis, director of operations at the Grove shopping mall in the Fairfax district, and Ehmann, a senior secretary at the Getty Center, immersed themselves in community activities.
Wallis and neighbors planted 26 new magnolias on their street, replacing trees that had been damaged or died. He later found out the original trees had been planted in the earlier effort led by Rake.
"I picked up his crusade without knowing it," Wallis said.
With their neighbors, they conducted a cleanup day, picking up trash on the sidewalks between Pico and Washington boulevards and Normandie and Western avenues.
The projects led to friendships, and made them feel a little like they lived in a small town in the midst of a metropolis.
"I can literally walk from block to block, house to house, and know everyone. It's truly a neighborhood," Wallis said. "It's full of great, great people. We all watch out for each other--whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, straights, gays," he said.
Wallis thinks race relations have continued to improve since the riots, a perception confirmed by public opinion polls.
What worries him more about the city's future is not so much racial tensions, but the feeling that even when people get along and work together, it's not enough. He and his neighbors win battles against blight every week, but the war never stops.
Recalling the neighborhood trash pickup, Wallis describes the triumphant feeling in the community when they saw the clean sidewalks and the small mountain of stuffed trash bags they had gathered.
"Then within a week it was back. Tires, building debris" were again dumped on the sidewalks, he said.
So Ehmann, feeling fed up, got neighbors together and arranged for 66 waste baskets to be put up in front of neighborhood businesses. They worked beautifully for a few months, until they stopped being emptied. Then within a year most of them were stolen.
Old Couch Hauled Off and Another Appears
It is still common for Ehmann and Wallis to wake up and find an abandoned couch in front of their house. More couches, mattresses and other garbage dumped at midnight always appear shortly after the previous load is removed, as does the graffiti.
Wallis faults the perpetrators for their disregard of others, but also wonders why the city can't manage to keep neighborhoods clean. "Can you imagine what it would be like if the city just functioned like a municipality should? If we as individuals don't take it upon ourselves to do something, it just doesn't get done here."
For now, Ehmann said, she is willing to put in the time with her neighbors to see that their area is kept up. She still enjoys the camaraderie.
But she's wearying. She feels like her community is "trying to hold back the tide, and sometimes it's a thing that's getting too big for us to take on" without more support. "It's really tiring."
She has never met Jeff Stvrtecky or Jon Rake, but she occasionally sounds like them.
"After living here a while I can really understand how people can say 'I've had it.' I'm not there yet, but I can really understand."