WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD EVER WANT TO LEAVE LOS ANGELES?
Never. Never in a million years did
I think we would leave California,
let alone my beloved Westwood “cocoon”.
But, for good or for bad, all things change.
And Westwood changed...Los Angeles changed...California changed.
As Greg and I experienced all of that, we realized
the golden state had lost its glow for us:
too many people, too much traffic, and the omnipresent trash and graffiti.
But most important, too little time to enjoy life, friends & family,
and especially no time to enjoy each other.
Constantly being on a whizzing merry-go-round had ceased to be exciting
and was now just too exhausting.
And none of us is gettin’ any younger!
LIFE in WESTWOOD
Greg built my little “palace” in the small apartment house
that has been part of my life since my parents moved
from Charleston, West Virginia in 1956 with their daughter in tow.
And soon after, the whole family moved
west (scroll down picture to see caption).
Mom & Dad went in search of California gold. And for the most part they were able to find their dream.
For me, Kelton Avenue and Westwood became the icon of that dream.
Our family had actually traveled to Westwood in 1954 to see what everyone was talking about. Westwood was world-renowned at that time.
As a child, I attended Bellagio Road School, which closed long ago. Then it was on to Emerson Junior High (Marilyn Monroe was their most famous student) . And then on to University High School (where Jan&Dean and Jeff Bridges received their education). During my school years I made some wonderful lifelong friendships, and to this day I keep in close touch with many of my classmates. See the UniGirls website
It seems all the major milestones of my life were centered around Westwood. My very first boyfriend, Richie Marks and I shared a malt at the local ice cream shop. It was always a treat to go for a "Shipshape" burger at Ship's, which eventually succumbed to the wrecking ball in the late 80s. I remember Curly-Q fries at Truman's Drive Thru on the corner of Wilshire and Westwood Boulevards. In the late 60s, much to the exasperation of my Dad who called us "Drug Store Cowboys", I hung out with my schoolmates in front of the Village Delicatessen (affectionately known as the VD) and I wolfed down hot dogs at the Dog House down the street from Mom’s Billiard Parlor on Broxton Avenue. (I swear, I never set food inside Mom's!) My real Mom signed me up for a modeling class at Fedway Department Store, which used to be on the corner of Westwood and Weyburn. I owe all my successes in life to that one modeling class.....NOT! But I still remember they had a student lounge with a free telephone so you could call your parents. In the late 50s, I ran up the down escalator at Bullock's Department Store when we went to visit my Aunt Rosalie at work. During her tenure there, she became a virtual legend in the Handbag Department. This photo was taken on the family's 1954 trip long before Aunt Rosalie ever thought of working at Bullock's, much less moving to California. I went on my first date and had my first “grown up” restaurant experience at Mario’s Italian Restaurant (on the corner of Weyburn and Broxton): a sophisticated meal of pizza and thousand island salad. When I got out on my own, life still drew me to Westwood. In the 70s, I worked at UCLA. First for Frederick Wight, the Director of the UCLA Art Galleries which now bears his name; and then for UCLA’s Division of Medical Genetics. To this day I have kept in touch with one of my bosses, Dr. Barbara Crandall. Dr. Crandall was instrumental in building the Division and instituted the first Amniocentesis Program there. It was during that time I met my (ex)husband, Dennis. After we were married we set up housekeeping in the Club California Apartments. Dennis and I eventually opened two businesses in Westwood. The Village Arcade was Westwood’s first pinball emporium, just around the corner from the Village Theater and had a bit of local fame: we made it onto the evening news and we were a favorite spot of some of the Hollywood crowd. Later we opened a desserterie, The Village Sweet, right next door to Mario's Restaurant.
Westwood is where I met Greg too.
I guess my parents must have grown tired of the hubbub of Westwood by the time they made their decision to move to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1989. When they built their home, life went full circle and Greg and I settled into our new home on Kelton Avenue and took over management of the building.
Greg had been a contractor and an extremely talented and accomplished carpenter for over twenty years. With a Master's Degree in Fine Art Photography, he poured his art into the mansions of Beverly Hills before he began a second career in computer animation. He worked for Marshall Fields heir Ted Fields on Green Acres, the old Harold Lloyd estate. He worked on homes for singer Kenny Rogers, movie mogul Marvin Davis, sports great Wilt Chamberlin, Bob Hope, and Frank Sinatra. He worked on the massive remodel of Pickfair, the legendary home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks for new owners Pia Zadora and Meshulam Riklis. He worked on the estate of Dennis Tito. He's the guy who paid $20,000,000 to go into space with the Russians. You can bet he's got some great stories to tell!
Needless to say, transforming an already lovely apartment into a penthouse suite with every bell and whistle I ever dreamed of was just a small feat for Greg.
And what a home it was! Never once did I lose my love of walking through the rooms and enjoying what we had created together. I loved the mix of the bold jeweled colors and how our years of flea market and thrift store treasures were integrated into the design. And closet space! There were many husbands who begged me not let their wives see my closet. We actually added on to the building to create it and had to do some fancy footwork to convince the Building Department it wasn't really a bedroom. It measured 16’ by 16’ with a 12’ ceiling. When we first moved in, I was in the midst of my acting career and my dream closet became a necessary workshop. We put a lot of thought into every detail of our home. So custom did our place become, if you weren’t familiar with all the little quirks, you’d need an owner’s manual to navigate. Or so we've been told. Tour our old homestead.
When I lost my Dad in 1995, our lives were forever changed. The care of my mother fell to me and at times became an unbearable responsibility.
Although we've been together since 1980, Greg and I married in 1996 in a forest near Bow Falls in Banff, Canada.
That same year, my mother gifted me with an extraordinary swing set. Why a swing? One of my favorite amusement park rides has chairs that hang from a canopy and spin around and around high up into the air. For me, it brings up deep emotions of the freedom of childhood. A swing was the next best thing. Designed by an architect, it took 1000 pounds of steel to build and required a hoist to position it on the roof of the garage. It was a real conversation piece and everyone who took a ride was instantly transported back to childhood. On a rare few cool early mornings, I climbed up to the roof and took a solitary ride overlooking the lush garden I had encouraged to grow in the backyard. All my years of gardening attracted more than two dozen species of birds to our yard including Cooper's and Sharp-Shinned Hawks, a family of Orioles that returned every year, and a scruffy Scrub Jay who kept us busy buying peanuts. And we had literally hundreds of Hummingbirds. At one point we were going through 100 ounces of nectar a day; that's a lot of nectar. Our backyard was designated an Official Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. Tour the Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary. But Greg and I were so busy, I can count on my hands the number of times I was able to enjoy that swing or my garden. Tour the garden.
What turned out to be our final project was my incredible command center: an office with 48 feet of file drawer space and (other than the computer) every office machine was built in to the African ribbon stripe mahogany cabinetry. Even the stapler and tape dispenser were hidden from view. With everything else Greg had to do, it took him nine months to complete. Watching him design and build it was like watching Michelangelo at work; it seemed the entire project just sprung from his fingertips.
You don’t put this kind of detail into a place you’re planning to leave.
And that kind of attention to detail spilled over to the rest of the building. Tour Kelton. What we accomplished there took constant attention. Some part of every single day was spent on the building. Just changing dozens of lightbulbs was a constant chore. It took hours of work in the garden to achieve that careless overgrown profusion. Making the tenant’s apartments feel like homes was a huge undertaking. I got to calling Greg and I George Utley and Mrs. Newhart. It felt like we were running a B&B...a B&B in the midst of a college town and all that implies.
Kelton was built in 1949. Just like my life seemed to draw me back to Westwood, the same could be true of the draw of Hollywood. And Kelton came with a bit of its own Hollywood lore. In 1951, Ava Gardner lived there. At the time, she was having a torrid affair with Frank Sinatra. He was married to his first wife Nancy and living in his Palm Springs compound; Ms. Gardner had a home in Nichols Canyon. She rented the Kelton apartment for their affair before they became Mr. & Mrs.. My parents bought Kelton in 1956 soon after they left Charleston, West Virginia in search of a better life. When we first arrived in Westwood, we stayed at the Del Capri Hotel on Wilshire (now gone). Then we lived at the Dracker Apartments (now Lindbrook Manor) prior to moving to Kelton Avenue.
In the 50s and 60s, Westwood was at the zenith of it's fame. And Kelton Avenue was part of a quaint and charming family-style neighborhood where kids would play ball games in the street. UCLA was not the metropolis it is today. There were acres of undeveloped land where my friends and I took nature hikes into the hills just down the block. Around the corner where now stand hundreds of dorm rooms was a postwar development known as Gayleyville where American men returning from war could get a fresh start with a college education and rear their families.
The Village always had a close relationship with Hollywood and was world-famous for movie premiers. Three Village landmarks became Westwood icons: the Fox Theatre tower, the Janss Corporation headquarters which became the Bank of America in the 50s, and the Clock Tower at Weyburn and Westwood. Westwood definitely had that small town feel and street parking was customer friendly. At least I have my memories of the Westwood that used to be.
As UCLA grew, their shadow transformed the neighborhood forever. Such is progress. I remember when you could actually pull into a parking space, if not right in front, at least just down the block from where you lived. Now parking was an absolute nightmare and by the time your guests arrived they were ready to tear your head off. With zoning changes in the 60s, families began to move out...and students began moving in... in droves. Are these the children reared by our generation? Where once students had a true respect for the families and properties here, the new breed had contempt. Graffiti, trash, and noise became our neighbors.
But I just couldn’t (more like wouldn’t) see the impact all these changes had on our daily lives. I couldn't imagine giving up my little cocoon. But Greg had a more objective view. He talked about moving away many times, especially after my father was gone. I think he made this little film to show me the type of life he had in mind. Westwood Village has definitely had its good times and its bad times and has struggled since the 80s to recapture the huge popularity it enjoyed in the 60s and 70s. To drive home his point, Greg jokingly referred to Westwood as “Deadwood”.
But still, I refused to budge.
CONSIDERING a CHANGE
Despite my trepidation, we did make a trip to Oregon to visit my
friend Kathy and at least entertain the idea of relocating.
Kathy and I both worked at UCLA in the Neuropsychiatric Institute in 1970 and we've been friends ever since. She moved to Oregon in the mid 70s, and so we had occasion to visit Oregon many times and often thought that would be where we’d settle, if ever we made a change. We made that trip in the Fall of 2002. If we ever were to move, the plan was to remodel just like we did with Kelton. It's a lot easier to take an existing structure and make changes instead of building from scratch. But when we had a serious discussion about that possibility, we realized our tastes would make remodeling far too extensive to be practical. As for buildable land in Oregon, there was precious little available in areas that would work for our needs. And so back to California and Westwood we went.
The decision to return didn’t change the fact we were both so tired. Greg went back to working full time on the building, and my neighborhood work had become an unpaid full-time job. But I wasn't ready to acknowledge I was finding the relentless pace increasingly crazymaking. I don't know about you, but in my head I'm still in my twenties with energy to spare. Although we spoke endlessly about making a change, for me, it was just lip service.
I waffled endlessly on the pros and cons of staying or going.
Why stay: I loved our family and our friends. I loved the home we labored so long and hard to create. I couldn't imaging giving up my strong connection to Westwood. I knew where and when to go and how to get there. I was an expert at avoiding traffic; I knew every single shortcut on the books (hmmm...as I reread this statement, I realize what a stupid thing to have to know). And finally every detail of our place was just the way we had envisioned it to be. It gave me great pleasure knowing how smoothly our household functioned and I was relieved we had come to the end of “interior design” projects after fourteen years.
Plus, the thought of packing up all our belongings was just plain stupefying. When I spoke about that with friends, I actually developed a stutter!
Why go: the quality of our daily lives was deteriorating at an ever increasing rate. The building was hard work but with smaller and smaller returns - both financially and emotionally. And things weren’t going to get better in the neighborhood (or Los Angeles for that matter). On the ten streets that comprise the North Village (the “all apartments” community just west of UCLA), where once there were just a few hundred residents, there were now 11,000 (soon to be 13,000 when the mega student housing project across from the Veteran’s Cemetery is complete). Less than 3 per cent of the residents lived in the buildings they owned which meant the vast majority of people were apathetic when it came to community pride.
There was no denying, the quaint Westwood of my earlier days was no more.
One afternoon in the Summer of 2003 after yet another particularly stressful day of too much to do and too little time to do it, we wandered into a bookstore and half-jokingly asked the clerk if there were a section of the best places to live in America. Yes there was! And for the rest of that afternoon we spread about 20 books out on the table (in a section of well over 100) and began to dream ahead.
All of the books made the possibility of a new life seem so wonderful and so easy. Ahh, but making such a major change was years away (if ever) and after that little study session, I talked myself out of it yet again; still too stuck to let go. Back we went to our routines, and our growing list of gripes with all things Los Angeles.
By now you know I have a real problem with graffiti and trash. It's a problem not just in California or the United States but worldwide. Los Angeles alone spends millions of dollars a year to try to control this epidemic and hasn't made a dent. It's impossible for them to keep up with the proliferation. In fact, the city's graffiti removal brigade isn't equipped to remove posters and stickers. And the city mindset isn't helping. Los Angeles goes out of its way to insure that the first amendment right of free speech is not compromised. Even when it comes to the defacing of public property. Savvy businessmen have found an ingenious way to get taxpayers to subsidize their advertising campaigns knowing they will never be prosecuted and that once "installed", their billboards will never be taken down. These freeloaders are so bold they publish websites which thumb their noses at law enforcement agencies and openly announce they intend to go national with their campaigns. With all my meetings with city officials, I was unsuccessful in getting them to see where this would lead in the years ahead. It was frustrating and aggravating and played no small part in my wanting to leave California. I'm hoping the culture of graffiti doesn't follow us to the Peninsula.
Greg was growing weary of never having a clear shot at some down time. And if anyone deserved the reward of a rest for all his years of hard work, it was Greg. Now that my parents were gone and the full responsibility of the building was ours, and now that Greg’s parents had begun to age, it became more and more difficult to get to those “back burner” projects. The list of things-to-do kept growing exponentially. And still no hope of quality free time. Finally, it reached critical mass and we knew we’d never catch up.
We had always prided ourselves on catering to an adult clientele who appreciated what we had to offer: apartments that were truly homes presented with an attention to detail and on-site management. Not being able to keep up with our responsibilities concerned us. Besides, the student population had reached a point where adults were less enthusiastic to pay for our little bit of heaven and we became worried about our future.
I was finally forced to take a hard look at the future when I saw how the responsibility of maintaining what was essentially four homes was affecting Greg. And I realized, what good was my little palace if Greg and I didn’t have the time to enjoy it or each other.
Maintaining the legacy my parents left to us just wasn’t feasible any more.
And so, we took a deep breath and decided to take this huge leap
of faith and "get outta Dodge".
Once Greg and I made the commitment to leave California, deciding where we would go became a process of elimination. On those rare times we were able to pry ourselves away for a short vacation, we fell in love with the lush landscapes of the likes of Oregon, New England, and Banff Canada where we were married.
One major consideration for me was hot weather. I know Californians love the sun, but the older I get, the less I can tolerate the heat. You've probably heard me complain, “It’s a good thing this isn’t the old West where you can have a gun on your hip, ‘cause I’d’ve been jailed for murder years ago!” - the heat makes me that testy. California just seems to be getting hotter and hotter and more humid every year. Give me June gloom, give me weather! But I don't mean drastic weather. New England is beautiful but also hot and humid, and the winters are severe. Likewise Colorado and Montana. But Colorado isn’t as lush as you might think. And places like Montana were out of our price range.
The Pacific Northwest seemed just right for us.
Pouring over the books we bought that day in the Summer of 2003, we kept coming back to the Olympic Peninsula. Now that we had eliminated Oregon as a possibility, further north to Washington the “rainy” state looked very interesting. Seattle is a great city with almost everything Los Angeles has to offer. But it's a bustling city too similar to Los Angeles, and if we were going to change our lives we wanted to make a real change. We had never even heard of the Olympic Peninsula (have you?), but the books had lots to recommend it. Beautiful trees, mountains and water. Small towns. And a hot day was 75! Now that I can handle...if it doesn't happen too often...
Our first order of business, of course, was to put Kelton up for sale. We expected finding a buyer would take weeks, if not months. But things have gone crazy in real estate in California; especially on the west side. My ex, Dennis Olodort, is now a real estate agent (NorthHillsRealty.com) and he had offered to help us if we should ever want to sell. We gave him a call towards the end of January, met with his able partner Arleen Fidler (email: email@example.com), and signed the papers on February 3, 2004. And I realized February 3 was the day we moved to Kelton in 1990. Maybe that would be a good sign.
The "first" Open House was the next day.
AND THEN ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE
From the moment the Open House began, the throng was relentless.
There must have been fifty groups that came through. While Arleen took prospective
buyers through one of the other apartments, people began queuing up downstairs while
Greg and I took separate parties on a tour through our place. It was crazy!
By the end of the next day we were stunned to receive THIRTEEN offers,
and all generously over our (what we thought was an optimistic) asking price. Within
a few days we were in a 30 day escrow.
And then the games, and the whirlwind, and the stress began.
Part of our deal was two months free rent after the close of escrow. So that gave us 90 days to be out. Plenty of time...or so we thought. Although we really couldn’t start packing until escrow closed; we had to hedge our bets and went ahead to find a house to rent.
Now that we had definitely settled on the Olympic Peninsula, we were going to take a leisurely scenic drive to look for a place. Then it hit us: with a three-day drive up and another three-day drive back, we were leaving ourselves just days to find a place. So we booked a flight and rented a car to make the drive from Seatac Airport to our first area of investigation: Port Townsend, a quaint 1880’s coastal town reminiscent of Sausalito or Carmel.
When we told our friends and family we were off to live in a place we had only read about in books and had never even been to, I‘m sure they thought we were absolutely out of our ever-loving minds. But from the minute we arrived, we fell in love. Instead of billboards and graffiti, there were trees. Millions and millions of them like so many blades of grass. Instead of thousands of students and millions of cars, there were deer and elk, bald eagles and rabbits.
We were home
The story of is now complete...
To continue the saga go to
Then, go to the following links for up-to-date news
Our Washington Experiences & Impressions
The Diary of Building Our New Home