Drawn by its architecture and affordability, a new generation of homeowners is changing the face of L.A.'s historic West Adams district.

Now, all they need is a place to shop.

The influx of young families priced out of neighborhoods to the north and west, along with speculators who see value in the area's mix of Craftsman and Victorian-style homes, have driven up housing prices at a phenomenal rate.

West Adams covers a swath of nearly 2 square miles, straddling the Santa Monica (10) Freeway from Figueroa Street west to Crenshaw Boulevard, bounded by Pico and Jefferson boulevards.

In January, according to DataQuick Information Systems, the median home price in West Adam's 90016 ZIP code was $401,000, 51 percent higher than the period a year earlier. In the adjacent 90018 ZIP, the median price was up 80.7 percent year-over-year, to $416,000.

While some century-old bungalows have sold for more than $600,000, many of the new residents find they have to drive out of the neighborhood for groceries and restaurants.

"There's not a huge amount of concentrated commercial activity," said David Raposa, a real estate agent at City Living Realty who has sold homes in West Adams for 20 years. "But I think commercial interest is beginning."

Two years ago, dozens of residents enrolled in an economic development workshop to create a strategic vision for attracting commercial development to Washington Boulevard. They opted to retain several of the street's historic landmarks, including an old theater, a church and a billiards shop, while beautifying the area. Last year, several businesses agreed to maintain 100 trees that were planted along its sidewalks as part of a city grant.

"We have prime real estate being occupied by kitchen warehouses and storage facilities, and that's not good," said Johnny Green, co-owner of Eureka Caf & #233;, a new coffee shop at Washington and South Norton Avenue (Starbucks wants to open at the northeast corner of Washington and Crenshaw boulevards).

From 1900 to 1920, the district attracted the rich and famous, including oil magnate Edward Doheny. When the Depression hit, many homeowners either sold their homes or took in boarders. At the same time, West Adams Heights, known as "Sugar Hill," became one of the early integrated neighborhoods in the city when African-American actresses Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers moved in.

By 2000, according to U.S. Census data, more than 20 percent of the 20,000 West Adams residents fell below the poverty line. The community is more than 41 percent black and 18 percent Latino.

But the demographics have changed again, as the stock of affordable housing attracts homebuyers. While many long-time residents have benefited form the rise in values, there have been clashes over the services needed in the area.

Most of the seven historic preservation overlay zones in West Adams were not even created until after 2000. "You get people attracted to the area because of the houses and the way they look, and others who are speculators," said Eric Bronson, vice president of the West Adams Heritage Association.

In many of the historic zones, the two-story homes are going for $350,000 to $400,000, with the five-bedroom fixer-uppers selling for as much as $600,000, Raposa said.

Many of the high prices are in the historic zones of Western Heights and the larger Harvard Heights, both east of Crenshaw Boulevard near Washington Boulevard, where neighborhood groups would like to see commercial development along a pedestrian-friendly corridor.

Right now, Washington is more industrial, with a mix of Mexican bakeries and restaurant supply firms that relocated from downtown.

"Not only did we want to beautify the boulevard but we want to outreach to businesses to create a cohesive business community," said Stevie Stern Lazarus, chairwoman of the economic development committee of the United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council in West Adams. "There isn't a chamber of commerce, no meeting of the businesses to deal with issues like crime or beautification, cleanup or anything. We'd like to help the businesses work together to do this."

But even the area's advocates are having a hard time sticking it out. Green recently moved to West Los Angeles after more than 30 years in the neighborhood to be near his mother, but he admitted, "You can't get a bagel and cream cheese in West Adams."

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