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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE

A slice of small-town America in Orange

November 17, 2002|Julie Bawden Davis | Special to The Times

Old Towne Orange offers its 11,300 residents a chance to step back in time. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Orange County community of about 1,200 homes has the largest collection of historical houses in California. At its heart is the Plaza Square park, with a landmark fountain dating to the city's founding in the 1870s.

Drawing card

Sidewalks and homes with front porches encourage strolling and talking with neighbors in this quiet, low-crime community on the western edge of Orange. Dining and shopping are within walking distance at the Plaza Historic District, which has more than 100 owner-operated businesses, including restaurants, sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, antique stores, eclectic gift shops, various services and galleries.

Wow factor

Old Towne has an impressive mix of well-maintained homes in a variety of architectural styles -- Victorian, Craftsman, Bungalow, Mediterranean Revival, Prairie and Spanish Colonial. The Plaza Historic District consists of functioning historic buildings, including a post office from the 1920s, a railroad station and a variety of churches. The community's oldest business, Watson's Drug Store, is an old-fashioned soda fountain and pharmacy that opened in 1899. Hollywood has used Old Towne as a location over the years to capture a small-town, historic feel. Recent films shot here include "Big Momma's House," "Clockstoppers," "That Thing You Do" and "Small Soldiers."

Insider's view

The vintage buildings and attention to historic preservation fuel a strong sense of community. Residents of all ages come together at Plaza Square on a regular basis for such community events as the Christmas tree lighting and the Labor Day weekend Street Fair, started in 1910.

Good news, bad news

Homes tend to be small in square footage, and renovations are often required. Keeping history maintained can be costly. Though full of restaurants, the plaza lacks a movie theater or other entertainment draw. And there are no grocery stores in Old Towne.

Hot spots

The northeast quadrant of Old Towne is the most desirable because of its mix of 1877 to 1930s homes. Prices range from $300,000 to $800,000 for 800 to 3,000 square feet.

Stock report

Single-family homes make up 90% of the housing. Apartment complexes and duplexes account for the rest. Because the houses were built by individual owners, no two are alike.

Report card

Part of the Orange Unified School District, public schools here fall below average in national test scores. Some residents choose to enroll their children in private schools within Old Towne, including St. John's Lutheran School and Immanuel Lutheran School.

On the market

In early November there were 11 properties listed for sale, ranging from $265,900 to $779,000.

Historical values

Single-family detached home prices:

Year...Median Price

1990...228,500

1995...182,500

2000...263,000

2001...305,000

2002...343,500*

*year to date

*

Sources: DataQuick Information Services; Ricci Realty, Old Towne; Orange County Historical Commission; Greatschools.net; Orange County Community Development Department; www.cityoforange.org.

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