Eagle Rock Star
Once considered one of L.A.’s hidden treasures, Eagle Rock has gained national recognition for its charming homes, solid schools and small-town sensibilities.
By Tariq Kamal 02/26/2014
The secret is out: Eagle Rock is a hot commodity. In January, the Northeast Los Angeles community was named America’s second “hottest” neighborhood for 2014 by Redfin.com, a leading real estate website. The rankings are based on interest from homebuyers — searches for properties in Eagle Rock increased by 128 percent in 2013.
The news comes as no surprise to the neighborhood’s 34,000-plus residents, who take pride in their thriving commercial center, well-kept early- and midcentury homes, tree-lined streets and excellent schools. All those attributes aside, the praise bestowed on Eagle Rock tends to begin and end with the same sentiment: “Eagle Rock has a great small-town feeling, even though we’re part of the second-biggest city in the United States,” says resident Bob Gotham, who moved there from West Hollywood 27 years ago. “The economically, ethnically and professionally diverse population makes the community richer.”
Gotham is president of The Eagle Rock Association (TERA) and steering committee chair for Take Back the Boulevard, an initiative designed to improve and maintain Colorado Boulevard, the neighborhood’s commercial core and main thoroughfare. He says the groups have forged strong partnerships with residents, other community organizations and City Councilmember José Huizar, who represents District 14, which includes much of Northeast Los Angeles and downtown L.A. Huizar, whose field office is located on Colorado Boulevard, agrees that Eagle Rock feels like a small town in a big city. “It’s an interesting combination,” he says. “You also have a very active community who are not only proud of where they live but are actively engaged in making sure Eagle Rock continues to be a success story.” He describes TERA, Take Back the Boulevard and the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council as “great organizations” and says he relies on their counsel.
Residents agree that the neighborhood tends to be unusually active in local politics. “What people don’t expect to find here is an amazingly diverse community that tends to get along and look out for each other,” says Tracy King, a Realtor who has lived in Eagle Rock since 1983 and sold properties there since 1989. “You’ll see an amazing mix of neighbors at the community meetings. Younger neighbors drive their older neighbors to the meetings.” King says that many of her clients are renters in nearby Silver Lake and Los Feliz who have heard that homes in Eagle Rock are more affordable. Last year, her Eagle Rock listings ranged from $350,000 to $938,000. “If they can’t afford Eagle Rock or want something edgier, they can go to Highland Park, where the average home sells for about $100,000 less.”
A relatively tight market helps push up Eagle Rock prices, says Realtor Ben Manibog, who grew up in Silver Lake and moved to Eagle Rock in 1998. “We’ve had three houses in Eagle Rock,” he says. “We didn’t want to move away. There are so many great little areas, the hills and a variety of Craftsman homes and Tudors.” He says the number of available properties rarely exceeds 30 and is typically closer to 20. That means that most sellers receive multiple offers and some first-time buyers are being priced out by real estate investors who buy, remodel and resell homes.
Shabnam Mogharabi has seen the effects of the trend firsthand. The Long Beach–based TV and web producer is in the midst of a monthslong search for her first home, a process she describes as “slow.” She has looked in Highland Park, Glassell Park, Mount Washington and Atwater Village, but Eagle Rock remains her first choice. “I’m looking for something in the three-bedroom, $500,000 range, and there are options in Eagle Rock. You have to wait for something to become available.” Mogharabi is working with a Realtor and occasionally ventures out on her own. “I’ll pull up to an open house and see that the house next door is being remodeled. Someone will come running out of the house next door, walk right up to the car, ask if I’m looking and hand me their card. That has happened a couple of times.”
Eagle Rock wasn’t always considered so desirable. Prices were considerably lower when Joann Edmond and her husband, David James, moved there in 1986. “When we moved, we were the youngest people on our street,” Edmond says. “Pretty much all the people on our street were retired. When they left, moved or passed away, younger people started buying the homes. That keeps the neighborhood vibrant.” When they bought their home, Edmond developed and managed curriculums for the extension program at Cal State L.A. Her husband, now a professor at USC’s film school, was teaching at Eagle Rock’s Occidental College and counts President Barack Obama among his former students. Three years after they moved in, another young couple, Rhonda J. Wilson and Mark Komuro, bought the house next door. The recently married Burbank residents had set out to find a “nice, small house with a view,” in Wilson’s words. “We looked at Mount Washington, we looked in Silver Lake, Alhambra and Adams Hill in Glendale. We got the most bang for our buck in Eagle Rock.” Wilson is a beauty blogger and Komuro owns The Yard Muay Thai Gym in nearby Lincoln Heights. Komuro grew up in East L.A. but didn’t know much about Eagle Rock before the couple started their search. “It seemed like a real nice area. Much nicer than East L.A.,” he says. “Price had a lot to do with it. It’s a more affordable neighborhood and it’s a quiet, safe area.”
The community’s top concerns include safety, which has become a key factor in the restructuring of Colorado Boulevard, Eagle Rock’s link to Glendale on the west and Pasadena on the east. In January, the city installed the first four-way flashing crosswalks in metro L.A., all at intersections on the Eagle Rock stretch of the boulevard. Huizar says the ultimate goal of the Colorado Boulevard plan is twofold: “By improving safety and slowing traffic down a little and adding our lighted crosswalks, as well as increasing pedestrian and bike access, we are helping our local businesses draw more customers while ensuring that Eagle Rock maintains its small-town charm,” he says. “That is very appealing to families who want to live in a community they don’t have to leave to shop, eat and socialize.”
Indeed, the businesses along Colorado Boulevard appear to be thriving. The north-facing stretch includes eateries such as Swork Coffee, Dave’s Chillin’-n-Grillin’ and Lemongrass Vietnamese Restaurant as well as a boutique gym and yoga studio, two small auto parts stores and a beauty supply shop. There’s a two-story mini-mall across the street, as well as a larger gym, but no structure seems out of place. And that’s only a fraction of the mushrooming amenities. Activist Gotham says the shopping and dining options have “exploded” over the past decade and helped to revitalize Eagle Rock’s business district. “There were a lot of empty storefronts and many businesses like mechanics and auto repair places. They aren’t the biggest draw if you’re trying to build a Main Street.” Gotham hopes that Eagle Rock Boulevard, which stretches south from Colorado, will undergo a similar transformation in the near future.
Edmond says she enjoys patronizing the businesses on Colorado — especially Lemongrass — but worries some business owners could eventually be priced out. “When Old Town Pasadena started developing, it was full of little shops,” she says. “Now those places are all gone because they couldn’t afford the rent. The chains could.”
When they do need to leave their almost self-sufficient neighborhood, Eagle Rock residents enjoy relatively quick and easy access to surrounding areas. King says that has helped to attract residents who work in downtown L.A. and Hollywood. “All the new construction seems to be a commute away and people just don’t want to drive that far. They look at Eagle Rock as a great compromise.” She adds that the neighborhood includes several highly rated elementary schools and charter schools, including Eagle Rock Elementary and the Renaissance Arts Academy. Eagle Rock High, the only combined junior/senior high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, participates in the prestigious International Baccalaureate program. And Occidental College, initially located in Boyle Heights, now occupies a 120-acre campus south of Colorado and east of Eagle Rock Boulevard.
Such multi-faceted charms have attracted an equally multi-faceted populace. The U.S. Census Bureau describes the neighborhood as “highly diverse,” both for the city and the county. The dominant ethnic groups are Latino (40.3 percent), white (29.8 percent) and Asian (23.9 percent). In 2008, 30 percent of residents ages 25 and over had earned a four-year degree, an average ratio for Los Angeles; the median household income of $67,253 is high for the city but average for the county.
Huizar says he is “encouraged, but not surprised” that an economically and culturally diverse neighborhood is so popular with homebuyers. “This is Los Angeles, after all. We are a diverse city. But it does speak to the common goals we all have, no matter our ethnicity or income bracket. We all want good schools and nice neighborhoods for our families — these are all part of the American Dream.”
Considering Eagle Rock’s location, amenities and bustling thoroughfare, Gotham sees a bright future ahead for the neighborhood and its homeowners. “The property values are already growing faster than the rest of the city,” he says. “I think it has been a hidden treasure but, in the last year, Eagle Rock has been frequently mentioned in the media. There’s something in the community they find unique. With this latest statement from Redfin, I think it’s hard to say we’re hidden any longer.”