The Modest Modern of Encino Village - Encino - Page 2

Encino Village of San Fernando Valley gains fame with its quirky mix of well-preserved architectural styles

Among the hundreds of movies filmed onsite were 'Racketeers of the Range,' 'Prairie Law,' 'Blood on the Moon,' and one that really perks people's interest, Frank Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life.'

One of the greatest feel-so-good-you-weep Christmas films ever, 'It's a Wonderful Life' is a tale of love, despair, and redemption set in Bedford Falls, the perfect small town, with Jimmy Stewart as a self-sacrificing small-town business owner, Lionel Barrymore as the villainous banker—and Henry Travers as the hero of the tale, a befuddled yet effective angel.

When neighbors discovered that the set of Bedford Falls, including its all-American main street and its hideous honky-tonk, once occupied their quiet suburb, Ramos says, "People were impressed. People loved the whole 'It's a Wonderful Life thing.'"

family out walking

Loran Markson was a young architect when he and his wife Gerry bought one of the neighborhood's first houses, when alfalfa fields were their neighbors and freeways were non-existent. The drive from Los Angeles required navigating the steep, narrow, winding Sepulveda Boulevard, where head-on collisions were common. "It was scary to try to get here," Gerry recalls.

San Fernando Valley, one of America's archetypal, postwar suburbs, is rife with modern neighborhoods—and many are being rediscovered by the cognoscenti. Encino Village is one of the better-preserved specimens.

And it is one of the first such neighborhoods that will be surveyed by the city of Los Angeles' Office of Historic Resources as part of its effort to identify architecturally and historically significant buildings.

With its canopy of liquidambar, Modesto ash, and magnolia grandiflora, and a street layout composed of two concentric ovals, surveyors will find lots to like. Because the neighborhood has limited egresses, Ramos brags, "the neighborhood has an enclosing feeling, and people feel safe."

encino village home front exterior

"It feels like a cul-de-sac," says John Fernandez-Salvador, an architect who recently renovated his home. "It has a sense of arrival. Other neighborhoods are transitional; you drive through them." He points out another appeal. "It's a dog neighborhood." Neighbors often get together in the evening while promenading their pooches.

Adding to its appeal to dogs, Encino Village backs up to one of the largest open spaces in the valley—the 2,000-acre Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area, a flood control basin that serves as an immense park complete with trails, ball fields, playgrounds, golf courses, and a wildlife refuge.

"It's a neighborhood in the old-fashioned sense of the word," says Melissa Effron Hayek, who is raising two teenagers there with her husband.

greg thirloway and heater lee on their couch in living room

"It's very Mayberry," says Rick Knave, whose wife, Lois, serves as a neighborhood watch captain.

Lee Bothast, who's raising three children with his wife, said he'd planned to stay a couple of years when they arrived six years ago. But they've settled in because the sense of community is so strong, with block parties, progressive dinners, and a book club. "I'm a sucker for that," he says.

Paul Lagos, who grew up in the neighborhood, recalls the days of disco back in the '70s when hundreds of kids would crowd the park, roller skating to the beat. "It was pretty cool," he says. But disco's dead. "If you want peace and quiet," he concludes, "come here."

Although Encino Village doesn't have a formal, dues-demanding neighborhood association, it does have the Encino Village Heritage Association, a small, informal, group clustered around Alegre Ramos. It was the Heritage Association that conducted the historical research.

people enjoying outside acivities

It's also has the larger Encino Village Neighborhood Alliance, which Ramos chairs. Among the alliance's tasks is communicating with the police about loiterers and parking. Ramos says the neighborhood is low crime. The alliance also puts on the progressive dinners and other social events.

The neighborhood's got a mix of ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, neighbors say. People tend to be well educated and many work in creative pursuits, says Ramos, who runs a 'green' landscaping and interior design company.