by Enedina Perez
photography by Summer Herndon
The two cities face each other but at different elevations. On one side, there is San Dimas, with dirt brown street signs introducing California suburbia stucco homes mixed with wood ranch-style houses holding cactus garden front yards.
On the other side, there is another city. Its green street signs are placed in planned neighborhoods with big decorated mansion-style houses, manicured lawns, elegant outdoor lights and paved driveways that represent the city-type setting.
Though these two cities seem to be at arm’s reach, they are separated by a 50 foot cliff that draws the dividing line between the two for more than a mile. This is the northwest border of San Dimas and La Verne — a place where canyon meets suburbia.
Here, on the border, one will find a historic and popular attraction — the San Dimas Canyon Park. Behind the old rectangular wooden park sign that has rusty nails and staples banged into its peeling and chipped orange lettering, there lies a scene that portrays life in San Dimas.
The park often offers residents a refuge from the 97 degree temperature on a late summer day. Among these residents is four-year-old Lacey Adams, who wears a yellow sundress with her blonde hair in small pigtails. It is early afternoon, and Lacey is kicking her legs on a swing in hopes of gaining height.
A few feet away from her is grandmother Barbara Adams, 54, sitting on a bench under the shade provided by the Live Oak trees. Besides cooling off from the hot temperature, Adams is also keeping an eye on her granddaughter as she goes down the slide.
These two San Dimas residents have the park to themselves. Their laughter is mixed with the birds chirping and noise from traffic traveling along San Dimas Canyon Road.
On weekends, the park is busy, but it still offers visitors plenty of evenly-scattered concrete and wooden benches, barbecue grills and a spacious grass field that is ringed by grass and aged oak trees. It is a clean park; the only debris are fallen dry leaves.
This is the kind of tranquil atmosphere that northwest San Dimas offers its residents.
“It’s great living here,” says Adams. “It is not so populated, and it has a very nice setting. The people are really nice too.”
Adams has been living in San Dimas for 12 years with her husband and her granddaughter Lacey.
“We lived in Azusa before,” she says, noting that the family chose this area after searching for a more rural place to live. “I think it’s neat to pass by the park to get to where we live.”
The northwest border of La Verne and San Dimas combines the rustic ranch life with the stucco echo of suburbia.
Adams says that there do not seem to be any problems with noise where she lives. “Once in a while we do hear the sirens going to the fires,” she says. “We have had a couple [fires] both last year and this year, but nothing big enough to evacuate.”
This was not the case for Rita Thakur, 20-year professor of business and economics at the University of La Verne. Thakur, who has been living up in the San Dimas hills for nine years, remembers being given five minutes to evacuate last year.
“The fire was seven or eight houses away from us, so it was not too close,” she says. “But at the same time, if the house had gone, there was no way to get out, since there is only one way in and one way out.” Fortunately, the firefighters were able to stop the fire from spreading. Today, although Thakur realizes the fire danger, she, her husband and their three daughters could not be happier. “It’s so peaceful, so serene and so natural. You can just go back in the hills and walk five to seven minutes, and you’re totally out of everything. You are in the wilderness,” she remarks.
Her love for her home was borne when she spontaneously decided to purchase it. She still remembers going to see the hilltop house during her lunch break. “There was one house left,” she says. “I thought, ‘It is such a beautiful area’ that I picked it up right there, without asking my husband,” Thakur laughs.
She distinguishes her San Dimas home from her former Claremont home because of its character, and she receives visiting wildlife “guests” on a regular basis. “There are rattlesnakes, mountain lions, coyotes and wild bunnies,” she says. “We can even see deer crossing the road. They come down to drink water. We have a new pond. Where else can you find something like that?”
“We planted broccoli and as of yesterday the bunnies hadn’t found them, and I was really happy. This morning, they did find them, so I don’t have broccoli anymore,” she laughs.
“The people who live here are working middle class. They have the kind of values I want in my kids. They all watch out for each other and care for each other. It is a little community.” There are 80 houses in Thakur’s hilly area with their backsides facing the natural rugged Southern California hills.
Down the hill on San Dimas Canyon Road, the houses represent San Dimas’ western setting. Both single and double story houses saddle up to each other.
Many houses are built with Spanish-influenced arches. Front yards are furnished with basketball courts, flower plants hanging from hooks and elegant brick pathways that lead to front doors. Some are gated with metal-crafted fences; most have neatly cut grass lawns with glass lamps resting on their porches.
It is Tuesday, and brown trash cans along with recycling bins are in front of every house on Durflats Road, waiting to be emptied by the garbage truck. It is late afternoon, but hardly anybody is outside. Rarely can one see a person walking. Although the neighborhood streets are not crowded with people at this time of day, one can still hear sounds coming from inside some houses. The “whirr” of a vacuum cleaner is a frequently heard sound, along with the barking of dogs looking out from behind a fence.
On Grasscreek Avenue, a man wearing shorts and a tank top is painting the outside of his house. His garage door is open, displaying bicycles and tools. James Paine, a 64-year-old retired resident has been living in his San Dimas home since 1965. This long period has created an appreciation for him toward this neighborhood. “It is a beautiful and great place to raise kids, or at least that is what my kids say,” he says. “It is quiet, and there is only one way in and one way out. I’ve made a lot of good friends.”
Continuing north on San Dimas Canyon Road, one comes to the city’s golf course that was designed in the early 1960s by Dan Murray. Although the cliff, which is clearly visible on the east, separates the two cities, La Verne’s city limits wander down to the valley. It is said that at one spot, one can drive a golf ball from La Verne to San Dimas, then back again on two different holes.
On top of the cliff, the neighborhood changes to a noticeably suburban setting. Above Baseline Road down Wheeler Avenue, the La Verne houses, located on wide city streets rimmed with street lights, seem larger than those in San Dimas.
Some La Verne homes are gated with bricks, while others have invitingly open front yards. Other houses have huge rocks, set as decorations on front yards of manicured grass. Single and double story homes are mixed on this side of the cliff. One can still see a windmill as a piece of history left from old La Verne when farmers grew oranges.
On Aldersgate Drive, the sound of crackling leaves is heard as a person on a bicycle rides over fallen dry leaves. Birds can also be seen, as they fly above the houses and respond to one another’s calls.
Wheeler, the major artery in this area, is surrounded by several significant points of interest, including a police and fire station on the corner of Ruggles Avenue, and recreational parks like Heritage, Oak Mesa and Mills.
Oak Mesa Elementary School, located on the corner of Oak Mesa Drive and Wheeler Avenue, has been up and running for seven years, with a total of 565 students, according to Mercy Woods, secretary to Principal Tom Milligan.
Woods says that the school does an effective job in trying to keep the parents involved. “We have an active PTA which has put together events like Grandparents’ Day, carnival programs and fundraisers,” she says. She talks highly of the School’s Student of the Month Program that offers students recognition for their hard class work. Several of these honored students can be seen in the main office where their little faces are displayed on the wall. According to Woods, the School provides an extended Day Care Center that promotes security and safety for children.
At the Oak Mesa Park, used on afternoon hours for children’s soccer practice, pigeons are occupying the recreational area at this time of day.
Down Via de Mansion Avenue, at Heritage Park, an elderly lady sits on a bench facing the street, while another lady takes a nap beside her. Vivian Frances is her name. It takes her a while to think about her age, but eventually she says, “82,” followed by, “I don’t think it’s quite that high.”
She has been a La Verne resident for 30 years, after she and her family left their hometown in Pennsylvania. Her husband’s health condition brought the couple back home. Now, they are here once again on a visit. “We’re thinking about coming back,” she says. “We want to move and enjoy life because we’re not young chickens anymore. It’s very pleasant up here. The people aren’t stuck up and think that they own the country.”
Whether it is a western or suburban setting, the northwest border offers lifestyle diversity to those who “live on the edge.”