The eastern part of Long Beach was covered with sawdust and roofing tar in the spring of 1955 when acres and acres of farmland were rapidly being turned into neighborhoods for the city’s robust and booming middle class.
Los Altos developer Lloyd Whaley’s planned community was leaping off the blueprints and into reality as workers hammered away on the Los Altos Shopping Center, building, simultaneously, the Walker’s Department Store (which would quickly become The Broadway and, today, a Sears), J.C. Penney, Woolworth’s, Sav-On, the National Bank, and Horace Green’s Hardware, as well as the nearby Hof’s Hut and Los Altos Drive-In Theater.
And, not incidentally, more than 600 houses for future shoppers to add to some 11,000 either yet-to-be built or already up and ready for movers.
Whaley had carved up a large portion of the area into neighborhoods. Los Altos Terrace, Los Altos Village, Los Altos Park (later Park Estates), La Marina and others. Some were a tad pricey: Park Estates—the neighborhood where Whaley would choose for his own residence on the largest single parcel of single-family home land on Bryant Drive—homes started at around $20,000-$25,000, a luxurious price in a time when middle class earners were making around $5,000 a year.
But the large majority of the new homes being built were priced closer to $10,000, and they were snapped up as soon as the builders nailed the address numbers to the entryway. They were purchased largely by the city’s working class. Folks who toted their lunch pails every day to the shipyards, the harbor, the refineries, and Douglas Aircraft Company.
Long Beach’s dwindling middle class, at least how we once looked at the middle class, is becoming evident now in Los Altos, with homes now edging closer to, and occasionally surpassing, the $1 million mark.
The area straddles council districts 4 and 5 and the 90815 and 90808 ZIP codes, parts of town known for relative safety, low crime, good schools and perfectly serviceable, if not luxurious homes.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the tract houses were derided as “cookie-cutter” homes, but over the years, thousands of homeowners have remodeled their residences so the neighborhoods today have a more diverse appearance.
Today there is just one listing on the market above $1 million: a two-story 5-bedroom, 3-bath home at 1941 Stearnlee Ave. It’s the first time it’s been on the market in 30 years, says listing agent Jona Howe. Now it’s for sale at $1.15 million.
The house was built as a modest two-bedroom home in the late 1940s—it was advertised for rent in 1949 for $100 a month. An early owner added a second story and the current owners made several improvements to the house, including a pool and a jacuzzi, and transformed a sixth bedroom into a master bathroom, said Howe.
The house is a solid family home with three large upstairs bedrooms and an entertaining backyard with its large pool, a patio with a fireplace and a built-in barbecue along with a side yard that’s good for a dog run or storage.
The kitchen off the family room is upgraded with Viking appliances and custom cabinets. The downstairs master bedroom has the house’s third fireplace.
It’s in the Bixby Elementary School, which is phasing in a wildly popular dual immersion program and has even passed the area’s long-acclaimed Minnie Gant Elementary in terms of desirability.
The Stearnlee property is the highest-priced listed in Los Altos now, though a few $1 million homes have recently sold in the area.
“A house in Los Altos has to be very special to go for a million,” said Realtor Joe Sopo. “It’s got to have something different—a granny flat, a lot of bedrooms and bathrooms. It’s not really a $1 million area yet, but it’s getting there.”
Sopo noted that he sold a house on Los Santos Drive at the beginning of the year for $1.4 million, $200,000 above the asking price. “But it was a really great house on a double lot,” he said.
Among the homes bubbling under the $1 million mark currently in Los Altos is a Craftsman-inspired two-story, 2,726-square-foot home at 2226 Faust Ave., a half-block north of Stearns Street.
Listed at $950,000, the four-bedroom, 3-bath home’s key feature is a second-floor covered balcony off a large master bedroom—though with its mid-block view of a Los Altos neighborhood, it isn’t quite the million-dollar feature that it would be on the Peninsula or in Naples.
The bedroom includes an en suite with a shower and cast-iron bathtub.
Downstairs you get the other bedrooms and a bonus room and an expansive wide-open floor plan with hardwood floors and a fireplace.
The back yard is huge and fairly begs for a swimming pool, if not a minor league baseball stadium. Certainly you’d want a couple-three dogs to roam over the 5,701-square-foot lot.
Still too rich for you? You might consider going down to the high-$800Ks. Though Los Altos and the Plaza are littered with homes going for $700,000 or better, an $899,990 (which is just pennies away from being out of the high-$800K Klub) home at 2110 Fanwood will put you well into the top tier of Los Altos real estate royalty.
The home is somewhat inexplicably done in Spanish Revival style on a quiet avenue south of Stearns Street where most of its neighbors are traditional modern in style, so it stands out in that sense and has pleasant appearance from the outside (you’re not going to trap me into saying “curb appeal”).
Aside from some nice tile floors and a half-hearted attempt at a Spanish arch at the entry to a hallway, there’s little that’s evocative of Spanish architecture inside. The contemporary layout is, again, an open one (and, as always, that comes with a caveat that depends on how much furniture you’re planning on dragging along with you), and windows allow a lot of natural light into the place.
There are three bedrooms at the front of the house, and the master is at the rear with a view of the backyard—how nice of a view depends on what you do with the backyard. Currently, the grassy part of the yard is nicely landscaped, but the large area of concrete could use some gussying up.
The master bedroom also has enough storage for the most compulsive shopper, with two standard closets and a walk-in.
This home last sold in 2015 for $785,000. Grab it before it hits a million bucks.
Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.
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