After years of searching, my wife and I stood in front of our dream home. As we looked at the house from the walkway leading to the front door our shared excitement was evident. I think we were even holding hands. This was it, finally something to commit to as a “forever home.” We looked at each other and then, in an instant, without saying a word, we both knew we would never buy this house. It turns out, we each had very different reasons that revealed both a pragmatic and emotional side of our personalities and touched on a big piece of Los Angeles history.
Let’s turn back the clock a bit. It is 1991. We had been living in a 900 square foot cottage for a few years and had been saving our money. We knew that the next house did not have to be much bigger but it had to have more privacy. A sprawling house was less important to us than sprawling land. We loved walks between gardens more than walks between rooms. We were young enough that the words “fixer” did not frighten us. All of this led us to looking at some very odd properties.
After a few years of searching we had all but given up finding the “small house big property” on the Westside. I began searching for vacant parcels in Los Angeles with the idea that perhaps we would build our “small house.” That search led to the classified ads in The Los Angeles Times. Remember when real estate was advertised in pulpy newsprint? Seems like ancient history now.
Then one day there it was, in tiny print no more than half an inch: “LAND BHPO view pad over one acre flat (total 3.3 acres) OWC with 15% down 70 degree view of city lights, downtown to beach. Secluded, private, gated. Can accommodate 12,000 square foot estate with tennis court.”
I was not going to build a 12,000 square foot estate but the views and privacy got my attention. I called the number in the ad and asked the broker where the property was located so I could go and take a look. She said, “Why don’t you stop by on Tuesday, I’ll have it ‘open’.” I said, “It’s land, it’s always ‘open’.” She replied, “Oh, there’s a small house there as well.” Now I was really excited. Big land, small house, private, views. I’m in.
The next Tuesday I drove to the location and sure enough it was gated. Oddly though, not fancy wrought iron gates but enormous chain link gates. Very institutional-looking, not residential. I drove down the curving narrow driveway with no house in sight. Then suddenly, there it was, tucked carefully against the hillside. The perfect little ranch house complete with a separate garage, split wood fence and a small stone wishing well in the front yard. I made my wish the moment I saw it. This was my dream home.
The tour of the house only locked me into my initial wish. Open beamed ceilings, every room with a view, a small pool, guest house, the complete package. It was a little tired, more like a rental property than someone’s home. The slightly used condition could not hide its charms, including a rustic Dutch front door, but truthfully, you had me at wishing well. I tried to keep my cool and not reveal my growing excitement about this property. Thanking the broker, I said I would speak with my wife and get back to her if we were interested. I was the only one looking at the property that day which in hindsight seemed odd. Pre-cellphones, I raced home and called my wife at work and said, “I found it, the perfect house.” Adding of course that it was way out of our budget but perhaps if we both sold our plasma for a few years we could do it. After all, an asking price is just that, an asking price.