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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE

Gee, Wally, this place feels like old times

August 15, 2004|Jim Walters | Times Staff Writer

Beaver and the Cleavers would be right at home in Carson Park. The neighborhood, which straddles Carson Street with more than 2,900 homes in northeast Long Beach and a couple of hundred in southeast Lakewood, still has a '50s atmosphere, with wide, tree-lined streets and attractive tract homes. Parents feel safe letting their kids play outside.

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Early days

One of Long Beach's last neighborhoods to be developed, Carson Park is made up of tract homes built from 1952 to '54. Many World War II veterans and Douglas Aircraft workers were among the original buyers, who had a choice of five three-bedroom, one-bath floor plans and two two-bedroom, one-bath models. All had two-car garages.

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Drawing card

It's the epitome of suburbia. Tree-shaded streets twist and wind off main arteries, insulating most homes from the noise and bustle of traffic. Homes on many of the main streets are buffered by a 10-foot landscaped strip and an access street. Backyards are block-walled for privacy; alleys are few.

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Convenient and nostalgic

Retro-looking Long Beach Airport, now with about 30 flights a day, is only a few miles away. The San Diego and San Gabriel River freeways are nearby but mostly out of earshot. Commercial establishments are clustered near main intersections.

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Good news, bad news

An established community with solid homes, mature trees and a neighborhood spirit, Carson Park is aging relatively well. Many of the homes have had their original steel-case crank windows replaced with aluminum or vinyl. Original steel cabinets can still be found in some fixers.

Some of the original homeowners got to vote on what variety of tree they wanted for their block. Although some streets now have tall, shady pines or voluminous jacarandas, others are dealing with the demise of one short-lived variety or another.

A controversy in the neighborhood has been a developer's plan for multifamily dwellings on the former Woodruff Community Hospital site, a 3.8-acre county island at Woodruff Avenue and Harco Street. Surrounding it are single-family homes.

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On the market

The original homes ranged in size from 880 to 1,250 square feet -- modest by today's standards. Many homeowners have since added a family room, extra bedroom or bathroom. While most recently remodeled homes have attractive additions that have been integrated into the original structure, others may make visitors wonder: "What were they thinking?"

This spring, a three-bedroom, one-bath fixer home of 1,248 square feet was put on the market for $389,000. The buyer offered $36,000 above the asking price to beat out more than two dozen other bidders.

But things are beginning to cool, according to Sue Zaitz, a real estate agent in the neighborhood for 12 years. "Prices are leveling off," she said. "There's a greater inventory of homes for sale too. Twelve weeks ago you might have seen just 20 for sale, now it's close to 100. And it's not unusual to see houses on the market for 30 days with not a lot going on."

Two-bedroom homes are priced in the $410,000-to-$480,000 range, while three bedrooms list from $440,000 to $650,000.

"Right now most of those who are selling are retirees moving out of state," Zaitz said. "The balance are younger families who are moving for new jobs or upgrading."

Many coming into Carson Park are renters in the South Bay or homeowners in north Long Beach who are buying up, she said. "Buyers really like the consistency of the look throughout Carson Park."

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Out and about

The neighborhood is a home-improvement addict's dream. Nearby are two Lowe's stores, two Home Depots and several small specialty hardware stores.

The Long Beach Towne Center, at Carson Street next to the San Gabriel River Freeway, has popular chain stores such as Old Navy and Sport Chalet, a 26-screen theater and plenty of fast-food and full-service restaurants. But the drawback, according to locals, is its poorly designed parking lot, chockablock with stop signs and turns.

Green and inviting, 122-acre Heartwell Park along Carson Street offers a par-three golf course, bike and skate paths and soccer and baseball fields. The Long Beach All-Stars, the 1992 and '93 Little League world champions, played here.

On the south side of Heartwell's golf course is a 1-acre play area, Birdcage Park. Named for its towering, protective fence, it is popular with moms and tots.

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Report card

Many kids in the neighborhood still walk or ride bikes to school. Serving the area are Millikan and Lakewood high schools and their feeder schools. Scores from the 2003 Academic Performance Index showed Millikan and Lakewood registering 662 and 664, respectively, out of a possible 1,000. The main campus of Long Beach City College is at Carson Street and Clark Avenue.

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Historical values

Single-family detached resales:

Year...Median Price

1990...$222,000

1995...$177,000

2000...$239,000

2002...$320,000

2004*...$458,500

*Year to date

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Sources: DataQuick Information Systems, www.realtor.com, California Department of Education, www.californiacolleges.edu/, www.ci.longbeach.ca.us/.

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