East of Los Angeles, south of the San Gabriel Valley and north of Orange County, Valle Linda, by whatever name, had long maintained an independence from all three, but was now making a deal with the devil, where, to survive, it would ultimately become their collective “bedroom community,” i.e., swallowed up by their suburban sprawl, encircled by endless successions of nearly prefabricated, soulless subdivisions, barely more bare dirt, asphalt, concrete and baby vegetation.
The town fathers tried to sweep as many now-abandoned traces of the oil era as possible under the carpet. Some of the abandoned offices were either repaired and remodeled, or torn down completely to build the Signal-Doheny Shopping Center.
and the adjacent Leighton Cinema (though it wasn’t really on Leighton Causeway, the main drag of town since the onset of the oil era).
The oil drilling equipment was either dismantled or abandoned, the old wells filled in as much as possible. In the flats, the town had planted a number of ornamental conifers — almost always before allowing the construction of tract housing. That area, now known as “Doheny Woods,” now tended to look more like an oversized Christmas tree lot, rather than a true woodland, with a multitude of residences, usually rambling ranch houses, plopped around like glorified Easter eggs.
I did think my immediate neighborhood was a notch or two above all this – not that I was exactly objective. But even unprejudiced minds would have to admit that my new neighborhood was at least something of an improvement over newer developments. Located at the extreme north end of the extreme north end of town, known as “Gas Hills” for reasons I’d yet to fully understand, it was eight years old, with a large collection of young trees. Two of the biggest, an alder and a willow, stood, respectively, in our front and back yards.
The houses were set into a hillside that overlooked, although they weren’t formally affiliated with, the rolling green rises of an adjacent golf course and its “country club.”
We lived on the fabled Leighton Causeway, just one more suburban street up in the hills where we lived, albeit longer, relatively unimpeded by stop signs, with periodic views of the golf course. Only after it got past the base of the hill did it become the main drag of town, expanding to three lanes, each direction.
Just past the foot of the hill, on Leighton’s east side, stood more modest homes – 1000 – 1750 square feet – that initially housed the middle management, foremen and marketing people of companies during the original 20s oil boom – homes rather like the house near downtown L.A. that I live in as I write this.
The architecture was mission and California bungalow, by and large, with scattered ersatz Arabian Nights mini-citadels and pseudo fairy-tale pocket-castles mixed in. Some had trees in their front or back yards that bordered on 30 – even 40 – years old.
Meanwhile, on Leighton’s west side, a block and a half past where it became a main street, stood Hiram Johnson Junior High. It had been named for a turn-of-the-century crusading senator, and was an inexplicably weird structural hodgepodge of late 1920s mission and early 1960s institutional architecture.
Further down the street was Rutherford B. Hayes High School, a collegiate gothic structure built in 1930, initially named “New Danzig High School,” before the 1940s, when the secondary school board, panicking the same way the town fathers had, renamed it for the adjacent city park that stood between the two schools.
Likewise dating from the late 1920s, Rutherford B. Hayes Park had been named for the first sitting American president to visit the Los Angeles area (he was also, rather conveniently, a Republican, at a time when the GOP had hegemonic control over both California and the nation, hence over state and national purse strings for local government).
The park had an amphitheater, a pair of tennis courts, an Olympic-sized pool
and three substantial multi-purpose community facilities, all done in a rather garish, ersatz Victorian style.
It was lushly landscaped and had several tall, venerable trees.
But, strange, dark shapes were rumored to appear in the portion of the park near Hayes High.
Sometimes, they would only appear for an instant.
Other times they might be there for a minute — even two — before they’d vanish.
Even I thought I’d glimpsed them a few times. It made me uneasy, and I did my best to avoid Hayes Park.
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