I distinctly recall how quiet Los Angeles sounded to me after returning from an extended sojourn in New York some years ago. I was living in a third-floor condo below the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood -- hardly a pastoral setting, but compared to 111th and Amsterdam on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, it seemed eerily, beautifully peaceful.
There was the occasional car alarm or UPS truck, but nothing like the 24-hour cacophony of burglar-proofing that strafed my block in New York, along with the balcony boom boxes that lobbed pounding merengue music unbidden into my apartment for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 10, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Street name: In Thursday's Home section, a photo caption on an article about living along a noisy street identified the South Pasadena location as Monterey Avenue; it is Monterey Road.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 16, 2006 Home Edition Home Part F Page 8 Features Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Street name: A photo caption on a Nov. 9 article about living along a noisy street identified the South Pasadena location as Monterey Avenue. The name is Monterey Road.
That year in West Hollywood seems like a long-ago and far-away idyll now that I am living in a house on a busy street in South Pasadena. When my wife and I were considering whether to bid on what was already on the outer rim of our price range, we sized up the rush of passing cars and thought, well, it will be \o7like living in New York\f7.
Two years later, I can say that this presumption turned out to be true, in ways good and bad. Compared with our previous home in a more suburban setting, we are in the thick of things here, in walking distance of a Gold Line station and good restaurants, the public library and post office. The word "city" does not seem out of place, as it so often does in L.A. We're not next to a freeway, yet an urban hum is audible just outside the front door. We see buses and hear ambulances. When the windows are open in warm weather, bits of conversation waft in over the hedge from the sidewalk.
The warning bells from the Gold Line have been a big issue in South Pasadena, but we're just far enough away not to hear them. The loudest sound probably comes from the fire engine horns that seem pitched to announce the end of the world, and the most intrusive noise comes from the unmuffled motorcycles and over-amped car stereo systems blaring from vehicles stopped at the light on the nearby corner. For some reason they're never playing Mozart.
We endure these occasional distractions in order to live in a well-preserved 1912 Craftsman that we would not have been able to afford if it were on a cul-de-sac or top of a hill. But as we continue to adjust to our new urban environment, the thought occurs that many people in Los Angeles live on busy streets, and as the city grows denser, the streets and neighborhoods are not going to get quieter. How do people on busy streets cope with the noise? Do they simply grow inured to it, tuning it out like the pounding surf at the beach? Or do they put in special walls, windows and doors to shut out the clamor?
The municipal code in many jurisdictions prohibits walls and fences higher than 3 feet at the sidewalk, but here and there, up and down our street, people have grown hedges tall enough to eliminate eye contact with the stream of cars. This can be of psychological, if not, physiological benefit. Shades are often drawn.
Fran, our next-door neighbor, told us she put in central air soon after moving in four years ago, so as to keep the house sealed and soundproofed year-round. Fred, across the street, has lived in his house for more than 20 years. He often can be seen in the mornings and evenings seated on his front porch, gazing out on the river of cars less than 30 feet away. When I asked him about the traffic noise, he shrugged as if it was of no concern. His bedroom, he pointed out, is on the side of the house farthest from the street. "So I don't hear it," he said. "It's never been a problem."
A longtime South Pasadena resident named Chris told me that the street got widened in the 1970s, pushing the traffic closer to the houses. "That's when the problem began," he said. "We have a den with a TV and the master bedroom at the back of the house. We try to stay back there, drink, take Xanax and relax. We have double-paned windows installed throughout the house, but they don't do much good. The traffic at 5 p.m. on a weekday can be deafening."
Still, Chris said, with housing prices what they were, he planned to stay put so that his daughter could attend the same highly regarded public schools as did he and his wife.
Marti, an educator new to the neighborhood, told me: "My philosophy so far has been that at least it's predictable background noise. Where we lived previously there was housing construction across the street for two years. Most mornings, I could guarantee getting awakened by a jackhammer or the beeping of a tractor backing up. So far, I've decided to hang heavy drapes in the front rooms even though I don't really like heavy drapes. And I've wondered how fast those cypress trees grow. I plan to play the stereo more than I'm used to."