by Ramzi Rabadi
photography by Andrew Woolsey and Echelle Avelar
From its rustic canyon border in the north where the riotous call of the coyote sends chills up the spines of small dogs, to the hidden mobile park cities with their aluminum siding self-contained communities, to the uneasy handshake with Pomona that stretches from Grove Street to Fulton Avenue, La Verne’s eastern boundary is a study in contrasts.
The eastern boundary starts in Live Oak Canyon, where houses are located in unincorporated Los Angeles County. Here, the mail box addresses are La Verne, but the sphere of influence is under the jurisdiction of the city of Claremont. Go figure.
In Live Oak Canyon, California ranch style homes with horses in the front yards co-exist with a tract-style mini-neighborhood at the top of the canyon. A five-foot high Berlin-style block wall separates the city from the county. Gates are locked, with only the fire department possessing keys for emergency use. Only a slim break in the fence, used by horse riders and hikers, allows passage between the two areas.
“I like the area. I like the country of it. This is one area we can build and take our time doing it, with no city problems,” says Will Keagy, who built his own home in Live Oak Canyon in the late ’60s. I always wanted to build my own house, because my [Pennsylvanian] ancestors did. I knew what I wanted.”
Keagy describes the unincorporated county area as having a “quieter and slower lifestyle with more benefits for the owners.”
One of the benefits Keagy notes is the ability to develop his own “heifer farm” — presently sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits and ducks. Keagy’s farm is one of many projects linked to Heifer Program International, which is a non-profit organization that offers livestock to people of need in 110 countries. “It is fun; I like animals. We’re in an area where we can keep animals. In the city, we cannot,” Keagy says, as he looks over the fence at his two sheep.
“Kids love animals to pet, especially chicks. I have the animals for the petting zoo.” The petting zoo is set up on Sundays at many different church fairs and are used to promote Heifer Project International. He recounts that at those fairs, set up so children and adults can sponsor Heifer Project animals, he often hears parents say, “What would you like to buy this year for someone, children?” The children reply, “I would like 10 chicks.”
Keagy, loves seeing children smile and also loves the idea of freedom in the county. “We can park anywhere; there are no city restrictions. We have the country benefits, but we’re close to the town,” he says.
Like most Southern California areas located in hilly canyon areas, fires have taken their toll on this neighborhood. Most recently, Dec. 8, 1988, 100 mile an hour plus Santa Ana winds snapped power lines, sparking a fire that raced through the canyon, displacing some 30 families as homes burned to the ground both in the county and in the city. “Now building structures are required to have fire hydrants and cement roof tiles,” says Keagy.
Live Oak Canyon is also where 4×4 trucks pull up to horse barns, and children still play in the streets. “Its so quiet and beautiful up here. Sometimes it is so quiet you can just hear a rattle snake’s tail rattle,” says Tom Carincross, who plays with his son in Live Oak Canyon. “Some find the place disturbing and too quiet, but I love the canyon’s isolation from the city,” he says.
Out of the canyon, Williams Avenue separates the city of Claremont from the city of La Verne. On the east side of the street are homes built on the edge of Piedmont Mesa, originally picked early in the century as the site for the Claremont Colleges. But donated land was found in the city of Claremont, and now only the streets — College Way, Dartmouth — bear the names of what could have been.
But hidden behind block walls on the west side of Williams are acres of mobile homes in a captured community called Twin Oaks. Here, the sun glints off roof-after-roof of aluminum mobile homes. Unlike aluminum communities in the midwest, these residents do not worry about powerful, dark, twisting wind storms known as tornadoes. “Extraordinary. Thank goodness we’ve friendly weather here,” says mobile homeowner Annise Augustine, as she walks to the recreational center for Tuesday Bingo night. “We look after each other here, and we can tell when someone does not belong here. Everyone knows everyone here.” As she reaches her destination, she says, “I enjoy living here because everyone is someone, here.”
The 20 year-old mobile home park is a miniature society with its own rules. One is that residents must be 18-55 years old to live there. The rule for couples, is that one of the mates must be over the age of 55.
These people form a significant voting block during city elections. “Mobile home parks represent about 20 percent of voter turn-out. They are very together, and their votes mean a lot,” says Dr. Tom Harvey, La Verne City Councilman. “I go once a year to mobile home parks to hear their concerns [because] they are our ears and eyes.”
One concern the mobile park had an influence on was adding street lights at the south end of Williams Avenue above Foothill Boulevard. “We heard and listened to their concern of it being too dark, and we [La Verne] responded,” says Dr. Harvey.
The border snakes down Williams Avenue to the Foothill business district and runs into La Paloma Restaurant. Adjacent is the only automobile dealership in La Verne, Person Ford.
“We’ve been here 16 years,” says Warren Person, owner, who bought the dealership from Liberty Ford. “We liked the area [La Verne], and the area was for sale. We saw its potential for growth.”
Chris Gomez, 18, a prospective first time-buyer, says while looking at a green Mustang, “I hope I can find a car here. Then I would not have to travel to anywhere else. It’s nice to have the dealership here, which is more common in big cities. Here, it is nice to have a big city business in a small city,” he says.
Below the Foothill business district is where Pomona meets La Verne at a street barricade on Grove Street.
“I like it [the barricade]. It is inconvenient sometimes, but I believe it is much better. I heard there used to be a lot of accidents here,” says Edna Flores, 34, who lives on Grove Street in La Verne. “Now, I can let my kids ride their bikes on the street without worrying about cars. I feel the street is better off with no traffic and people speeding by the house,” she says, while watering her lawn.
According to Councilman Harvey, the blockade was placed before his term, but he believes it was put in to relieve the street from traffic, which was being dropped down from Foothill Boulevard. “The street was becoming a commuter street, and through the request of the neighborhood, something was done,” he says.
Traveling the border south on Fulton Road, one will see another unique neighborhood below Grove Street. Here, one will come face-to-face with the La Verne and Pomona intersection.
Fulton Road is the barrier which prevents La Verne and Pomona from colliding. Both residential sides of the barrier stare at each other, as if they were looking into a mirror: 1960s tract homes-four bedrooms, two bathrooms and lush landscapes on both sides of the street. “Its a beautiful community-a great place to settle down,” says Safwan Innabi, a real estate agent. “One might opt to live on the La Verne side, due to the vastly different education and medical services.”
La Verne public schools “are known to be much safer with less gang activity, which hinders the Pomona schools,” Innabi says. “The side you live on will probably determine what school you could send your kids to.”
Police who patrol the area say that response to an emergency call is determined by what agency — Pomona or La Verne — can reach the call quicker. They also say that both cities indeed help each other out on border calls, but La Verne officers, who receive fewer 911 calls compared to Pomona, are on the scene quicker because of fewer police incidence calls in La Verne.
Indeed, the east border holds issues that involve the three cities of La Verne, Claremont and Pomona. From the Live Oak tree forested hills to the acres of mobile home parks, to the bustling foothill businesses to the homes that face each other in different cities, it is a study in contrasts.