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A DAY IN

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Tip-Top in Montecito Heights

October 29, 2006|Jessica Gelt

"Words fail to describe the glory of 'Montecito'--for the glory of Montecito is the glory of Southern California concentrated, brought to a focal point." That's how a 1911 real estate brochure described the neighborhood, bounded on the west by the Arroyo Seco. The natural wonders of Montecito, Spanish for "little mountains" (one of the highest points is called Flat-Top), attracted legendary Californians, including writer and activist Charles Lummis, who constructed a house of stone called El Alisal just over the border in Highland Park, and poet Robinson Jeffers, who wandered the hillsides when he was a student at Occidental College. The neighborhood is about 20 miles from the beach, but on a good day you can see the Pacific from the summit of Paige Street.

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ART & ARCHITECTURE

A Victorian Village With a Freeway View

Established in 1969 by the Cultural Heritage Foundation of Southern California, Heritage Square, which sits beside the 110 on the border with Lincoln Heights, is a living history museum of eight restored Victorian structures from around the city. The biggest draw is the high Victorian Italianate Mt. Pleasant House, built for $10,000 in 1876, uprooted from Boyle Heights in 1975 and featured in "Legally Blonde" in 2001. Roaming the square is like slipping into an idyllic, lost L.A. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for children. Tours start in the Palms Depot, once a Red Car stop. "Los Angeles pioneered light rail," says Brian Sheridan, Heritage Square's director of development, pointing to the second-story window. "Train station masters actually lived up there." Those were the days. 3800 Homer St., (323) 225-2700; www.heritagesquare.org.

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ONE THING TO DO

Get Into the Wing of It

Picnic under the pepper trees at the Audubon Center at Ernest E. Debs Park. The center, which runs entirely on solar power, is the jewel of the majestic 282-acre park, whose rolling hills also shelter a wealth of indigenous wildlife and a stand of rare California walnut trees. Leave your ID at the front desk and the staff will loan you backpacks, binoculars, paint kits and bug carriers, all to help you explore the wilderness beyond. You can also check out picnic blankets to spread under the two enormous grandmother pepper trees in the Children's Woodland. (Pick up lunch at Rodriguez Market, 4300 Griffin Ave., where $3.50 will buy you a torta on billowy bread with ripe avocado, queso fresco, jalepenos, onions, lettuce and juicy tomatoes. The same price will get you a giant cup of fresh-squeezed carrot juice.) Roberto Valdivia, a teacher and naturalist at the center, recommends coming in the morning or late afternoon if you want to bird-watch; you might see an American pipit, a Say's phoebe or a blue-gray gnatcatcher. 4700 N. Griffin Ave., (323) 221-2255; www.audubondebspark.org.

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137:

Number of bird

species identified at

Ernest E. Debs Park

in the past 10 years

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FILMED ON LOCATION: Portions of what may be the longest film series ever made, "The Hazards of Helen," were shot in the Arroyo. The film was composed of 119 episodes that ran, one per week, from 1914 until 1917. The adventure-filled package made its silent-era star, Helen Holmes, a national celebrity. After leaving the popular series in 1915 (she was replaced by Helen Gibson), Holmes went on to star in at least 39 other movies.

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