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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE

City with a certain serenity at the Valley's edge

March 21, 2004|Jeff Bertolucci | Special to The Times

An upscale bedroom community off the 101 Freeway in west Los Angeles County, Calabasas offers scenic vistas, rolling hills and an abundance of open space. Incorporated in 1991, this picturesque city of 22,000 lies in the San Fernando Valley but beyond its bustle, touched by the serenity of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Background

The name "Calabasas," which means gourd, pumpkin or squash, derives from either the Chumash word calahoosa or the Spanish calabaza, depending on which historian you ask.

The Chumash were the first inhabitants of the area, and explorers with Spanish Cmdr. Juan Bautista de Anza arrived in 1776. Portions of the Leonis Adobe, a Monterey-style mansion that still stands in Calabasas' Old Town, were first constructed in 1844. The structure was later remodeled and expanded by rancher Miguel Leonis, called the "King of Calabasas," who became one of the richest men in California before he died in 1889.

While the Calabasas of today is a family-oriented community, that wasn't always the case. In the latter half of the 19th century, the dusty town, with its raucous dance hall and saloon, earned a reputation as one of the Golden State's roughest and rowdiest spots.

Drawing card

Although it sits on the southwest edge of the San Fernando Valley, Calabasas feels independent of it. "Communities like Encino, Sherman Oaks, Tarzana just sort of run together," said resident and local Coldwell Banker realtor Heidi Adams. "But Calabasas is a little more cloistered."

The 101 Freeway services the commute, while canyon roads provide access to the Topanga and Malibu beaches. Hiking and equestrian trails abound in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Insider's view

Unlike some gridlocked Valley communities, Calabasas is easy on the eyes.

"Its appeal comes from its ambience, its look," Adams said. "You get off the freeway and see the golf course, the rolling hills."

Good news, bad news

Known as a well-heeled suburb, Calabasas is home to several office developments that house white-collar employees of Countrywide Home Loans, Progressive Casualty Insurance and other major employers.

Whether those workers can afford to live in Calabasas is another question -- prices for a three- or four-bedroom home range from $650,000 to $900,000.

Hot spots

Old Town Calabasas, the town's 19th century hub, has been re-created as a quaint shopping and dining area. Its Saturday farmers market is popular with families, but parking can be a challenge. The Sagebrush Cantina, a cavernous, Western-themed bar and restaurant, attracts an eclectic crowd ranging from bankers to bikers.

The Commons at Calabasas, with restaurants, shops and a movie theater, opened in 1998 and is a shopping destination.

On the market

Like most Southern California communities, Calabasas suffers from a dearth of homes for sale. Two weeks ago there were about 45 residences on the market, almost half as many as in March 2002, according to Adams. Prices range from $250,000 for a one-bedroom, no-frills condominium on the city's west side, to more than $1.5 million for five-bedroom estates in the canyons off Mulholland Highway.

Report card

Families are drawn to Calabasas because of the Las Virgenes Unified School District, whose students routinely score well above national and state averages on standardized tests. The 2003 Academic Performance Index for the combined Las Virgenes schools was 849 out of a possible 1,000.

Historical values

Single-family detached resales for the Calabasas 91302 ZIP Code.

Year...Median Price

1990...$440,000

1995...$416,500

2000...$670,000

2003...$880,000

2004*...$992,000

*Year to date

Sources: DataQuick Information Systems, Coldwell Banker Realtor Heidi Adams, www.leonisadobemuseum.org, www.cityofcalabasas.com, www.calabasascommerce.com, www.lvusd.k12.ca.us.

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