Scenic setting

This home on Spinks Canyon Road is nestled in the foothills of the craggy San Gabriels. (Lori Shepler / LAT)

Some would argue, as Gertrude Stein famously did about Oakland, that "there is no there there" in Duarte. But they would be ignoring the many pleased-as-punch residents, who are happy to call Duarte home and enjoy living the outdoors life in the shadow of the rugged San Gabriel Mountains.

Beginnings

The Gabrielino Indians first inhabited the land that in 1841 was granted by the governor of Alta California to Andrew Duarte, a former corporal in the Mexican military. Duarte and his wife named it Rancho Azusa de Duarte. Not long afterward, most of the rancho land was divided into 40-acre plots and sold to help settle the corporal's debts.

Duarte in the mid-1800s attracted a mix of British, Latino, Japanese and Midwestern settlers, who embraced the area's climate, health benefits and fertile soil. Citrus production and other agriculture thrived there.

In 1928, the Jewish Relief Assn. opened a tuberculosis sanitarium on 40 acres south of Duarte Road, which later evolved into the City of Hope National Medical Center.





Drawing card

Those who can't afford homes in Pasadena, Arcadia and Monrovia don't need much persuasion to buy in ethnically diverse Duarte.

Although residents say they suffer a bit of a stigma from their upscale neighbors to the east and west — "Oh, you live in Duarte?" — longtime Duarteans say they dismiss that snobbery easily after they move into their nice but less expensive homes in a setting that begs an outdoors lifestyle.

"I wasn't familiar with Duarte when I first started looking," said Carmen Pesiri, an insurance company claim consultant who lives in a two-bedroom attached home near the Bradbury border. "But I was immediately impressed."

OK, so there's no central downtown gathering place for dining, entertainment and shopping. Instead, families of all stripes flock to Royal Oaks Drive most weekends to work out along the miles-long, tree-lined bike, pedestrian and equestrian paths. A bike path also runs next to the San Gabriel River and meanders all the way to Long Beach. And then there are the San Gabriels in their backyard for hikers who embrace a vertical challenge.

If sports fail to attract the curious to Duarte, the home prices certainly do.

The area south of the 210 Freeway is where first-time buyers can still find small homes starting at about $400,000, said Beverly Firth, an agent with Century 21. Golf enthusiasts — and those who just enjoy looking out on fairways — can own homes practically on the Rancho Duarte Golf Course for $600,000 and up.

Head up Mt. Olive Drive and enter a whole new world of higher-end but under-$1-million homes in neighborhoods called Fish Canyon, Duarte Mesa and Hearthstone. The canyons and mountains there have an assortment of backyard fauna and provide vistas that rival any along the coast.



Good news, bad news

Home buyers get bargains in Duarte — good news. Those who get the big bargains on the "other side" of the 210 Freeway suffer a bit of "south-of-Huntington Drive" condescension from their northern neighbors — bad news. But such minor prejudices seem to fall away at the community's common ground: Duarte's big-box shopping centers, where residents hunt for good buys.

Although shoppers can find just about everything they need at the local Target and WalMart, those who must have their Nordstrom and Macy's too have to drive to the Santa Anita Fashion Park in Arcadia, which some say feels inconvenient. And although plenty of less expensive, smaller eateries can be found in Duarte, the wine-and-white-linen crowd prefers the more upscale Monrovia, where plenty of fine dining is available.



Housing stock

Duarte consists mostly of a mix of single-family residences, from small — in the area south of Huntington Drive — to spacious — north of the main street, primarily in the foothills. Most of the 5,837 single-family homes are on residential streets; 730 condos occupy the main boulevard.

Like most of Southern California, prices in Duarte, which traditionally have been low to moderate, have increased dramatically, but they're still lower than those in many nearby San Gabriel Valley towns. There were 46 homes and five condos and town homes on the market at mid-month priced from $405,000 to $799,000. Condos at mid-month started at $355,000 and climbed to $415,000.