23 June 2008

Neighborhoods of Carbon Canyon, Part One

There are several distinct neighborhoods in Carbon Canyon within the cities of Brea and Chino Hills. The first installment of this series of posts will focus on the one I live in: Sleepy Hollow. The photo above shows the south side of the Hollow taken from (you guessed it) the north end, looking a little to the southeast. Note the repro Victorian at left center, the geodisic dome at lower left, and the brand spanking new Pueblo (?) style at the upper right. You can click on the image to get a larger view.

The first thing to know about Sleepy Hollow is that it is the oldest community in Chino Hills, dating to 1915. The subdivision was created with "cabin lots," smaller that residential tract lots, and marketed to appeal to city dwellers in Los Angeles and other more urban areas so that they could have their rural hideaway cabin or small home for weekend visits. The home across from me has a portion dating to 1915 and there are still quite a few homes that go back to the 1930s or earlier. An issue is that these were not built for full-time residence so they are often small, lacking in the amenities residences tend to have, lack parking, and have small septic systems. On the other hand, these "cabins" bring a great deal of character to the community.

The construction on the Brea side of La Vida Hot Springs, including its motel and restaurant and bar, back in the 1920s probably contributed to the sale of lots and construction of cabins and part-time homes within Sleepy Hollow. It has also been said that, during national Prohibition between 1919 and 1933, when commercial alcohol production was illegal, bootlegging flourished in the canyon and in Sleepy Hollow, in particular. Naturally, there were claims of "houses of ill fame" and gambling halls sprinkled into the mix, as well.

It wasn't until after the post-World War II housing boom and the spread of suburban sprawl that full-time dwellers in Sleepy Hollow really increased. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the community had a reputation as a haven for hippies, counterculture, and the inevitable linkage to drugs (and, presumably, plenty of drugs and rock 'n roll.) Still, longtime residents who've lived in the neighborhood since the 1950s and 1960s remember it as a place that was safe (where doors were left unlocked and that sort of thing) and where kids could ride their horses or bicycles on Carbon Canyon Road without fear because there was so little traffic. On the other hand, stories abound of cars racing each other on the nearly-barren highway and tales of horrific car wrecks are often related.

Even as late as the mid-1980s when I drove through Carbon Canyon on the way to a girlfriend's house in the Rolling Ridge area of what later became Chino Hills, Sleepy Hollow was very isolated and seemed so far removed from the surrounding area. The late 1980s housing boom changed that, to the point that the movement that culminated in the incorporation of Chino Hills in 1991 included Sleepy Hollow.

Once residential construction took off in Chino Hills and commuters began to discover the previously little utilized State Highway 142, a.k.a. Carbon Canyon Road, life in Sleepy Hollow, of course, changed dramatically. The housing boom of the late 1980s did lead to quite as few dwellings in the community, including the one I live in.

Still, the close bond of community, which was always part of life in Sleepy Hollow, still continues for many people. Although the old volunteer fire station (replaced by a new community center a few years back), the neighborhood church (now a residence), and other centers of the neighborhood are gone, there are still events for Halloween and Christmas, and a neighborhood advisory council occasionally has meetings. This isn't to say, however, that everyone shares in a unified feeling of community. There seem to have always been people in places like Sleepy Hollow who would prefer nothing more than to be left alone. Without getting carried away with stock symbols of hermits, anti-establishment folks, conspiracy theorists, and the like, it is probably quite safe to say that there are plenty of people within Sleepy Hollow who choose to live here because they are outside the "mainstream" and this can, I suppose, include the good with the bad! We also have our share of colorful characters, but I have to say that it makes the neighborhood more diverse and interesting and I can't really say I've seen anything much worse than the occasional BB gun being fired off, a few illegal fireworks (which does, however, pose a serious fire risk), and loud music played in the middle of the night or live bands on a rare weekend.

Beyond that, I've met some really great people, including young families, artists, teachers, and others who appreciate the uniqueness of our community. There are about 130 houses and almost all of them are custom and different from what you typically find "out there." This can be a great appeal for canyonites, even though it might turn off others who look down upon Sleepy Hollow for its rusticity. And, believe me, people do look down at us in our little edge of a town that thrives on an upper middle class tract home pattern of development.

After all, Chino Hills has just been ranked as the 15th safest city with a population over 75,000 in the U. S. and has long been the safest city in San Bernardino County. As Orange County-adjacent (plenty of real estate listings are sure to say just that), Chino Hills looks much like many planned communities in the O. C., just a lot less expensive. Sleepy Hollow, like the Canon Lane and Los Serranos neighborhoods, is very much an exception and for those Hollow dwellers who thrive on it, there are those in other Chino Hills areas who view the Hollow as . . . well, let's be polite and say "less than desirable."

I've got to say, however, that Sleepy Hollow is distinctive enough that when the real estate section of the Los Angeles Times did its regular feature "Neighborly Advice" on Sleepy Hollow in April 2006, there was a recognition of the distinctiveness of the neighborhood. I'd venture to say that it is highly unlikely that any other Chino Hills neighborhood, with the possible exception of Los Serranos, would be considered for inclusion in that feature. The sad thing is: the city could have used the publicity in a positive way and recognized the unique quality of Sleepy Hollow, but didn't.

In fact, it seems that many, if not most, residents in the Hollow look suspiciously on the city and believe that city leaders purposely avoid having much to do with the neighborhood. Objectively, it's really hard to know what the reality is. On one hand, the city invested significant sums of money to build the community enter and, yet, had to be largely prodded by community residents to do so after the old volunteer fire station was condemned. A common complaint is that the city and sheriff's department just flat out ignores the often dangerous and reckless driving that goes on in the canyon and specifically our neighborhood, which has far more homes directly off the road than any other section of the canyon.

Truth is, there seems to be a lot of validity to it, because the police presence here is definitely far more reactive than proactive. My own contact with city and police officials confirms this: this is something I'll deal with later in its own post!

I've only been here since 2004 and my wife has a less enthusiastic view than me, but I really like Sleepy Hollow and the canyon generally. I've enjoyed some great hiking in the hills, met some really neat people, like patronizing the local liquor store, and like the rugged hills, greenery, and open space in the area. I think my kids will greatly benefit from living here. Sure, traffic can be a real problem, turning onto Carbon Canyon Road is often something of a gamble, the risk of a major fire is nearly always present, and the occasional loud music in the middle of the night or the overflowing of someone's septic tank, and the unsightliness of a few poorly maintained properties can be a hassle. Sometimes it would be nice to have flat, wide streets to take family walks or to be able to walk to the store or a nice park nearby (as we did in our previous Chino Hills neighborhood, sameness notwithstanding).

But I think Sleepy Hollow has a lot to offer and I fully intend to keep involved as much as I can in community affairs and try to instill in my kids that the way of life here is increasingly rare and special.

There are other interesting neighborhoods, though, and I'll follow up once in a while with a post about them, too.

If anyone has any info on Sleepy Hollow's history or wants to offer some opinions about the neighborhood, let's hear from you!

Here is a link to the Los Angeles Times "Neighborly Advice" column from April 2006 mentioned above: http://www.latimes.com/classified/realestate/printedition/la-re-guide16apr16,0,7900315,full.story?coll=la-class-realestate


Justin said...

This is a really neat article I came across that has a ton of little facts about the canyon and it's history...


Carol Jamison Walker said...

I was thinking back on my days in Sleepy Hollow and came upon you sight. I spend the 50's, 60's, and 70's in Sleepy Hollow at my Grandparents house on Rosemary Ln. located right next to the fire house. I have pictures and newpaper clippings I inherited from my grandmother. Her family settled in the canyon I believe in the early 1900's. Would like to talk to someone and share.

prs said...

Hello Carol, this is great, always glad to hear from people who lived in Sleepy Hollow and elsewhere in the Canyon. I'd be happy to post recollections, photos, articles--whatever you are willing to share. What's the best way to get in touch with you? Thanks so much for getting contact!