I’ve had many addresses during my nearly five decades on planet earth, from a sorority house in Evanston to a couch in a shared New York one-bedroom, a hotel in Arlington, Virginia to a depressing stint in Charlotte, North Carolina. But the only two places that have ever felt like home were my mom’s turn-of-the-century building in Chicago’s Lincoln Park and my grandparents’ 1920’s English Tudor in Canton, Ohio. Most people see the Lincoln Park in me – the city girl who likes to be a part of the bustle, with easy access to cool restaurants, shops and diverse culture. My lesser known alter ego enjoys the safety and familiarity of a small town with manicured lawns and a postman who knows your name.
Twenty years ago, I moved in with a Canadian guy who would eventually become my husband and we began our own residential journey in Los Angeles together, which included the purchase of our first house and, fifteen years later, what appears to be our last one. I wasn’t quite prepared for the reactions from friends and acquaintances when we shared the news that we had put an offer on a property in Pacific Palisades. Comments ranged from “it’s so far” to “it just doesn’t seem like you” to “movin’ on up, huh?” Whatever words were actually said, there was a definite subtext of just who do you think you are? from everyone except, of course, our friends who already live in the Palisades.
My defenses went up. It’s a major fixer upper. On a busy street. It’s smaller than our old house. I swear, I thought we’d end up in a modern spec house in Mar Vista. (Nobody would have had issues with that; everyone likes Mar Vista). We’re only making necessary upgrades like heat, electric and plumbing… and floors, bathrooms, kitchen, front yard, back yard. We got the last affordable house in the Palisades.
But you’re in the Palisades.
It isn’t like we didn’t look anywhere else. We did. For like, fifteen years. Before purchasing our first home, we took a cursory glance at the Palisades. It felt too suburban, too sleepy, too Desperate Housewives. What I really wanted was to live in North Santa Monica, but everything we could afford there was a dump. At the time we were in a swanky rental off Robertson, walking distance to Chaya Brasserie and The Ivy. We settled on a newly remodeled Mediterranean in Rancho Park. Everyone pointed out what a nice, safe neighborhood we chose to raise our family. Sure, it was pretty and walkable, but there was still the exhaust of a major freeway separating me from the ocean.
We had two kids and turned the backyard into a gorgeous oasis, the site of many memorable barbecues and birthday parties. It felt like home, but I still drove West every chance I got. By the time we discovered affordable West-of-the-405 areas like Sunset Park, Mar Vista and Venice (imagine! Venice was once affordable), we had become pickier. I wanted walkability, cool restaurants, a big back yard and the ocean. He wanted an area without campers in the driveway and meth dealers in every alley. I wanted the urban feel of Ocean Park; he wanted the Jacaranda-lined streets and classic street lamps of Cheviot Hills. We widened our search to include every beachside community 20 minutes or less from our kids’ school.
There was a house in Mar Vista that we both loved, a 1936 two-story Spanish with a finished garage on a huge lot. It was an even trade for our house, but we couldn’t buy without selling our house first. Fast forward four years. Mar Vista is blowing up, due to its proximity to Venice. Venetians cannot even afford Venice. Maybe it’s time to think outside the box. We tour homes in Marina adjacent Westchester, where you can get a six bedroom, five bath new construction for less than a Venice bungalow. We realize that we’re not that far outside the box.
We meet with a realtor we’ve known for years, stage our house and get an offer close to the asking price the week before Thanksgiving. At the same time, we tour a fixer in the Palisades. The house reminds us both of our grandparents. It’s walking distance to the village. You can feel the ocean breeze. We write a letter to the adult children who grew up in the Palisades house, promising not to tear it down and make a McMansion. They accept our offer while we’re on vacation in Europe and we wonder what we just got ourselves into. We close escrow three days before Christmas.
On our first Saturday after moving in, my husband walks to the Starbucks where he reports seeing “lots of white people in exercise outfits.” The prototype Westside housewife, suspiciously un-sweaty in her Lulu Lemon Athletica and running shoes, Goyard tote swinging from the crease in her arm, is a fixture of affluent communities from Brentwood to Beverly Hills, North of Montana to Westwood. She’s not my people, but neither are the Silicon Beach hipsters with their ironic grey hair and carefully curated tats spilling out of Gjelina on Abbot Kinney.
Where are my “peeps”? They’re in Hancock Park and Toluca Lake, Culver City and… San Francisco, Rome, Paris. One friend, who recently moved to Paris from a giant property in Mar Vista, said the Palisades felt too “precious”. But now there’s me in my paint-splashed denim overalls and well worn Blundstones, buying screwdrivers at Norris Hardware. And there I am in my 6-months dirty Volvo in the Gelson’s parking lot. Picking up fluff-and-fold at Royal Cleaners. Having minestrone soup at Pinocchio. My husband compares the Palisades to Bayside, the fictional beach town from The Hardy Boys. There is no nightlife. They roll up the sidewalks at 6pm. That may change when the new development is finished, but I don’t foresee the area becoming Century City any time soon. People in town know other people’s business. It’s a lot more like Canton, Ohio than it is like Lincoln Park.
Week three and having no kitchen or laundry is starting to wear thin. We may have watched a few too many episodes of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. It’s easy to romanticize a house project before you are knee deep in it. We are all four sharing one bathroom, the roof may have a leak, and the single pane windows in all of our bedrooms create the effect of free air conditioning on full blast every night. And there are the cars zipping by at high speeds as I back out of my driveway. We really need to put in a circular driveway and some lights. And a fence. And fix those fireplaces. I used to have a gorgeous Carrera marble bathroom. And a huge kitchen…
But now you live in the Palisades.