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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE

Hidden treasures rediscovered in Tujunga

Don't judge Tujunga by its main drag, Foothill Boulevard, or by its past reputation as a biker playground. Beyond the seedy boulevard, residents have discovered beauty, poetry, history and affordable prices in this community of 28,000 in the San Fernando Valley.

September 14, 2003|Susan Carrier | Special to The Times

Wow factor

The unpretentious community, between north Glendale and Sunland, has been a secret hideaway since its air quality started attracting asthmatics in the 1920s. Even Clark Gable and movie mogul Cecil B. DeMille kept idyllic homes here in the '30s.

Today, the community's proximity to studios continues to make it a favorite spot for filming ("E.T." and "Terminator 3," among others) and for studio employees to live. "It's so close to the city and yet so far from the city in feel," said Linda Martinez, a Tujunga resident who works for Universal Studios.

Drawing card

"Value, value, value" could be the mantra of real estate agents who show properties in Tujunga. For decades, the area has been less expensive than its neighboring communities.

Good news, bad news

Tujunga was annexed in 1932 to the city of Los Angeles. Boosters for the annexation believed ties to a large city would improve infrastructure and services for Tujunga. Instead, residents complained that Tujunga became the "stepchild of Los Angeles" and was blighted with graffiti and potholes.

That perception is changing since Wendy Greuel took over as Los Angeles city councilwoman for Tujunga's district 18 months ago. She's been nicknamed "the Queen of Potholes" because of her determination to take care of the basics, such as sidewalks and streets.

And Foothill Boulevard, the notoriously ugly main drag, is slowly changing as well. Residents who once joked that the boulevard boasted more auto part stores and tattoo parlors per capita than anywhere in the country hope that the recent opening of a Starbucks marks a turning point.

Insider's view

Tujunga may still be trying to live down its reputation, but poets are the hidden treasure of Tujunga. The foothills community was once the home of John Steven McGroarty, a former California congressman and the state poet laureate in 1933. Fifty-nine years after his death, McGroarty continues to inspire Tujunga poets. For four years, Tujunga and its sister community, Sunland, have named a Sunland-Tujunga poet laureate. This year, nine local poets are contending for the two-year title.

Tujunga is also home to three poetry groups and hosts the Shouting Coyote Festival, an annual event that draws writers from all over Southern California. Tujunga resident John Orozco, a professor and published author, said, "I've never lived in a community with so many writers who are interested in developing their craft."

McGroarty's legacy also lives on in his former home, which is now the McGroarty Arts Center. The center offers affordable classes in music, dancing, yoga, ceramics and fine arts for children and adults.

Report card

Tujunga, which is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, has three elementary schools and one high school. Scores on the 2002 Academic Performance Index at the elementary schools ranged from 551 to 639 out of a possible 1,000. Verdugo Hills High School scored 579.

On the market

There are 60 homes listed in the Tujunga area. The lowest-priced one is an 80-year-old cottage-style home on an 1,800-square-foot lot for $139,000.

"These were cabin retreat-style homes originally built in the 1920s when people came to Tujunga for health reasons or to escape the city," said Sally Hall of Century 21 in Sunland.

The highest-priced listing right now is a 2,700-square-foot home on more than 2 acres for $779,000. Hall described the home as "very private with streams in the backyard."

Historical values

Single-family detached resales:

Year...Median Price

1990...$188,000

1995...$134,500

2000...$193,000

2002...$255,000

2003*...$295,000

*year to date

Sources: DataQuick Information Systems, www.lausd.k12.ca.us, Robin Segal-Meares, McGroarty Arts Center; Sally Hall, Century 21.

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