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A budding late bloomer

NEIGHBORLY ADVICE: ATWATER VILLAGE

January 20, 2008|Sam Byker | Special to The Times

Long billed as a second-rate alternative to neighboring Silver Lake and Los Feliz, Atwater Village finally has come into its own. With a large influx of young families, a budding business district and an abundant supply of charming and historic homes, this L.A. neighborhood is no longer on the verge of success -- it's already thriving.

Beginnings

Atwater was little more than a poppy-covered flood plain when construction began here in 1912.

Over the next two decades, the area's working-class settlers built hundreds of homes, most of them small, two-bedroom bungalows on deep rectangular lots.

The neighborhood's founders were a diverse lot, including early Hollywood screenwriters and animators as well as workers in the nearby Franciscan Pottery & Tile factory.

Atwater retains much of its early character. Many residents have lived here for decades, and most of the neighborhood's original homes still stand. Recent gentrification has attracted new, younger families, and today Atwater is as eclectic as it's ever been.

What it's about

"Fifteen years ago, Atwater had some issues," said Prudential California Realtor Dave Robles. Gang crime -- a problem here since the 1950s -- had driven some longtime residents from the neighborhood, and historic homes were in disrepair.

As properties in nearby areas soared in value, the neighborhood benefited from a spillover effect. "People wanting to live in Los Feliz and Silver Lake . . . got priced out and just moved a little bit farther east to Atwater Village," Robles said.

With them came a surge in home restoration, a drop in crime and an influx of upscale businesses. On Glendale Boulevard, walking distance from most of the neighborhood, hip restaurants, art galleries and even a self-described "dog boutique" have joined older taco stands and discount dental clinics.

The neighborhood's shift in character brings to mind other L.A. success stories. Robles tells buyers that Atwater is "a lot like Larchmont Village, but [costs] 25% less." And the community has a character of its own.

Architecturally, Atwater is defined by its bungalows. Some were built en masse from standardized plans, but others remain classics of 1920s L.A. design. Eighteen "fantasy bungalows" on Brunswick Avenue feature brightly colored turrets, cupolas and arched entryways inspired by Hollywood film sets and contemporary Egyptomania.

Atwater's flatness (the L.A. River's flooding made it into a plain) and small scale (the neighborhood encompasses just a square mile) make it a great place for a stroll, and sunset brings many residents onto its tree-lined streets and grass parkways.

There are even horses. Parts of northern Atwater are zoned for horse ownership, and the neighborhood's proximity to Griffith Park has made it very attractive to equestrians.

Housing stock

There are currently 12 homes for sale in Atwater. A three-bedroom, 1,404-square-foot, Spanish-style home in the heart of the neighborhood is on the market for $729,000. A recently remodeled two-bedroom, 897-square-foot bungalow -- also Spanish -- near the river in Atwater's southern section was recently listed for $589,000.

Good news, bad news

Though the L.A. River isn't much of a draw for the neighborhood yet, the bike path along its bank can make for a surprisingly nice walk or ride. And if the concrete-lined channel is ever restored to its natural state, it could be a major boon for Atwater residents.

Soaring home prices, though welcomed by many in the neighborhood, have driven others away. Although some would love to see Atwater become another Los Feliz, others worry that gentrification endangers the area's trademark diversity.

Michele East has rented a home here for five years with her husband and two sons. The family loves Atwater but worries it can't stay. "We can't afford to buy a house here because we can't get one that's got the space we need," East said. "Sadly, we will probably have to move out of Atwater."

Report card

Atwater Village is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Students through fifth grade may attend either Atwater Avenue Elementary, which scored 723 out of 1,000 on the 2007 Growth Academic Performance Index Report, or Glenfeliz Boulevard Elementary, which scored 796. They matriculate to Washington Irving Middle School and John Marshall Senior High, which scored 666 and 653, respectively.

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Sources: Dave Robles, Prudential California Realty, www.daverobles.com; Los Angeles Conservancy; api.cde.ca.gov.

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