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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE

Healthy life in West Hills

April 09, 2006|Dinah Eng | Special to The Times

Unlike many communities with busy medical centers, this one supports its hospital's presence, and the facility returns the favor in good times and bad. Add sound schools and the serenity of the nearby Santa Susana Knolls and Chatsworth Nature Preserve, and it's a prescription for a love fest of sorts.

Beginnings

Once home to the Chumash Indians, the area was owned by Spanish dons, and in 1854 sold to the Los Angeles Farm & Mining Co. An English immigrant named Alfred Workman imported eucalyptus trees from Australia and planted them in what is now known as Shadow Ranch Park on the day of his wedding to Henrietta Feliz, the daughter of a prominent Los Angeles family.

"Those eucalyptus trees are credited as being the parent trees for all of the eucalyptus in California," says Darlene Estes, the West Hills Neighborhood Council's unofficial historian. "When we came here in 1966, there was a nursery with walnut trees where West Hills Hospital is now. The area was mostly agriculture and racehorse ranches until movie stars bought homes here."

The community, tucked between Chatsworth and Woodland Hills, separated from Canoga Park in 1987 when the area was split into two ZIP Codes and residents lobbied for a separate identity.

What it's about

At the heart of the community is the hospital. Although some hospitals and their communities live at war with one another, in this case there's pretty much a love fest going on.

During the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the hospital was a beacon of light for the community.

In the hours after the first shock, more than 300 patients found their way to the hospital for treatment. The hospital fed everyone -- visitors, staff -- at no charge, and one physician even brought in toothbrushes for staffers who stayed on the job around the clock.

"It's impossible to separate this community from the hospital, and vice versa. We do annual demographic studies so that we can modify our programs to meet the residents' health needs," according to Beverly Gilmore, president and chief executive of West Hills Hospital.

When the hospital went to the neighborhood council seeking its approval to construct a new $38-million emergency room and critical care unit -- set to break ground in May -- folks applauded.

Drawing card

Charles Gremer, president of the council, says community meetings are often held at the hospital.

Crime is low and the neighbors are great, says Gremer, who's lived with his wife in West Hills since 1965. "There are a lot of walkers here. I used to go out at 6:30 a.m., and there'd be eight couples walking around even then."

Housing stock

The homes in West Hills range from 1950s post-World War II bungalows to custom-built homes with strong Mediterranean influences. The oldest homes are found on tree-lined streets in the eastern end of the community.

Moving west, the neighborhoods change to more upscale, ranch-style houses, built in the 1960s and 1970s. Sweeping views of the mountains can be seen on the westernmost edge of the community, where rolling hills and large homes dominate the landscape.

"We have many parks, the schools are excellent, and there's convenient shopping with Platt Village and Fallbrook Mall," says Bill Rose, a Realtor with Park Regency Realty in Granada Hills, who lives in West Hills.

The least expensive single-family home on the market recently was priced at $549,500 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with 1,450 square feet. The most expensive was $2.5 million for a five-bedroom, five-bathroom house with 4,500 square feet that touted a pool and spa. The least expensive condo was $389,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom that had 885 square feet and a community pool. The most expensive condo was $525,000 for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom with 1,784 square feet and a community pool.

Report card

Students in West Hills attend schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The elementary schools are Justice Street Elementary, which in the state's Academic Performance Index 2005 Growth Report scored 843 out of a possible 1,000; Nevada Avenue Elementary, 724; Pomelo Drive Elementary, 906; Haynes Street Elementary, 842; and Welby Way Elementary, 925. The middle schools are Lawrence Middle School, 721, and Hale Middle School, 778. Students who attend Lawrence Middle School matriculate to Chatsworth High School, 689, and those who attend Hale Middle School go on to El Camino Real High School, 736.

Historical values

Residential resales:

Year...Median price

1990...$242,500

1995...$181,5000

2000...$262,500

2004...$500,000

2005...$618,000

Sources: DataQuick Information Systems; Bill Rose, Park Regency Realty in Granada Hills; West Hills Neighborhood Council; www.westhillshospital.com; api.cde.ca.gov.

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