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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE

It's easy to warm to Seal Beach's seaside charm

June 01, 2003|Rosemary McClure | Times Staff Writer

Surfers, sand-castle builders, strollers. The residents of Seal Beach welcome all of them to their picturesque seaside community, as long as they tidy up the beach before they leave. The Pacific Coast Highway town works hard to keep the quality of life high for its 25,000 residents, from holding monthly beach cleanups to planting 600 trees in the last six years.

Drawing card

Bordered by the much larger cities of Long Beach and Huntington Beach, Seal Beach has remained Small Town America, with shady, tree-lined streets, well-kept homes and a charming downtown where everyone seems to know everyone's name.

Wow factor

Seal Beach's 1/3-mile pier is one of the longest in California and gives visitors a panoramic view of the coast from its sturdy wooden planks. The city has had a pier since the early 20th century, but the elements have taken a toll in recent years. Storms all but destroyed it in 1982-83, and fires heavily damaged it in 1992 and 1993. But the reconstructed pier stands as the focal point of the community and continues to draw walkers and fishermen.

Good news, bad news

The city has several enclaves, divided by interest, age and income. Old Town and Surfside, which border the ocean, are the most affluent, with multistory beachfront homes selling for as much as $4.85 million.

Two miles to the north is Leisure World retirement community, built in 1962, where about 9,000 seniors live in stock co-op townhomes that can be purchased for as little as $80,000.

Seal Beach also is home to about 700 Navy personnel and their families, who live in government housing at the Naval Weapons Station. The diversity keeps City Council meetings interesting but sometimes makes it difficult to reach a consensus.

Insider's view

What do residents like best? The town's low-key ambience and Seal Beach's wide, mile-long beach, where there's constant activity: joggers, sailboarders, kite fliers, grunion hunters and swimmers.

Historians say that during the 1920s, the beach had a roller coaster and fun park and drew gambling ships that anchored just offshore.

The honky-tonk elements have disappeared, but the beach still is host to championship surfing and an annual sand castle-building contest. Limited parking keeps the beach crowds from getting out of hand.

On the market

Old Town and The Hill, neighborhoods bordering Pacific Coast Highway, are closest to the ocean and command the highest prices. Old Town is offers custom homes, many of them multistory, and beach cottages built in the early 1900s. The Hill combines custom homes and tract homes. There were 12 listings in the two neighborhoods in late May, with the highest listing at $1.4 million.

College Park East, a tract about four miles inland, had seven homes listed, with the top price at $719,000. College Park West, also a tract area, had no listings. Leisure World had stock co-op townhomes ranging from $87,500 to $259,000.

Real estate has been selling for record prices in every price range, according to veteran Seal Beach Realtor Ann Tuler.

"Inventory is at the lowest levels I've ever seen. There's no turnover," she said.

"Seal Beach residents come here to die. People say to me, 'The next time you're going to sell this house is after my funeral.' "

Report card

Seal Beach is part of the Los Alamitos School District. The neighborhood elementary school, McGaugh, scored 831 out of a possible 1,000 on the 2002 California Academic Performance Index. Scores were 831 for McAuliffe Middle School and 802 for Oak Middle School. Los Alamitos High School scored 760.

Historical values

Single-family detached resales:

Year...Median Price

1990...$365,000

1995...$300,000

2000...$400,000

2002...$506,500

2003*...$590,000

*year to date

Sources: DataQuick Information Services; Ann Tuler, First Team Real Estate; Brenda Gorman, Remax College Park; Jim Caviola; Wendi Rothman; U.S. Navy Public Affairs Officer Gregg Smith; Los Alamitos Unified School District; http://ci.seal-beach.ca.us/homepage.htm; http://kastner.us/seal_beach_history.html.

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