Bel Air is a prominent residential community in the hills of the Westside of the city of Los Angeles, California. Together with Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills it forms the Platinum Triangle of Los Angeles neighborhoods.
Bel Air is situated about 17 miles west of downtown Los Angeles and includes some of the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. With is recognizable “West Gate” arch at the corner of Sunset and Bellagio, it is the grand border to the north side of UCLA. At the heart of the community sits the Bel Air Country Club. The community was founded in 1923 by Alphonzo E. Bell, Sr.
Bel Air is bordered by Brentwood on the west and southwest, Westwood on the south, Beverly Hills Post Office on the east, and Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley on the north.
Hilly and secluded, and entirely unlike any other suburb in Los Angeles, is is home to the lovely Hotel Bel Air on Stone Canyon, and has a winery, Moraga Vinyards, hidden in its midst. Residences in Bel Air tend to be private and hidden from the winding roads of the community. Most houses are not visible from the street, as they are surrounded by hedges or gates. Residences range from modest ranch style houses to multi-story configurations to mansions. While some houses in Bel Air seem quite modest from the outside, often lying only six feet from the street, they have large grounds.
In general, the higher up the mountain, the smaller the building lots and the more modest the houses. However, those residences along roads such as Stradella Road and Linda Flora Drive have panoramic views of the Los Angeles basin and Catalina Island. The most desirable houses are right off the main entrances of Bel Air and the country club entrance because these houses have both the views of the Bel-Air Country Club and the rest of Los Angeles. Lower Bel Air are among the most expensive homes in the community. This is because lower Bel Air is more desirable because of its proximity to Sunset Boulevard.
Multi-family housing is not permitted within the community and ordinances regarding architectural styles, landscaping, and lot sizes exist to preserve Bel Air. Unlike Beverly Hills, Bel Air has no residential sidewalks in attempts to discourage the public from walking around the community. Bel Air is also patrolled by local security companies Brentwood- Bel Air Fire
In 1961, a construction crew working in Sherman Oaks noticed the smoke and flames in a nearby pile of rubbish. Within minutes, Santa Ana winds gusting up to 60 mph sent burning brush aloft and ultimately seared Nov. 6, 1961, into Los Angeles’ civic memory.
Life magazine called it “A Tragedy Trimmed in Mink,” and glittering stars of stage and screen scrambled to do battle with the blaze that swept through Bel Air and Brentwood that day. Flaming embers danced from roof to wood-shingled roof, spreading the fire across the Santa Monica Mountains to the south and into the affluent Westside enclaves.
In Bel Air, some film stars stood their ground against the encroaching flames. Maureen O’Hara risked her life to remain at her home and hose down her wooden roof. Fred MacMurray battled the flames and contained damage to just a portion of his home. But comedian Joe E. Brown saw his home burn to the ground. Burt Lancaster and Zsa Zsa Gabor also lost their homes.
Former Vice President Richard M. Nixon and his chief researcher, Al Moscow, were working on a draft of Nixon’s “Six Crises” when the flames threatened his rented house on North Bundy Drive. Nixon and Moscow took to the roof to water down the wood shingles, saving the home.
More than 300 police officers helped evacuate 3,500 residents during the 12-hour fire, and more than 2,500 firefighters battled the blaze, pumping water from neighborhood swimming pools to douse flames in some areas. Pockets of the fire smoldered for several days. Even as firefighters battled what was to become the Bel Air disaster, a separate fire had erupted simultaneously in Santa Ynez Canyon to the west, further straining local firefighting resources. That blaze was contained the next day after consuming nearly 10,000 acres and nine structures and burning to within a mile of the inferno raging in Bel Air and Brentwood.
At least 200 firefighters were injured, many by the tar from the roofs of the homes, but no one was killed and 78% of the homes were saved. Still, the fires were the fifth worst conflagration in the nation’s history at the time, burning 16,090 acres, destroying more than 484 homes and 190 other structures and causing an estimated $30 million in damage.
Ultimately, that one day changed the face of Bel Air real estate forever. Along Sunset Boulevard and in the lower canyons, properties were built in the 1920’s through 1940’s in very traditional styles. Above the fireline, more modern mid century and ranch homes took over, and today, as you drive in Bel Air, the burn marks are gone, but the real estate still tells the story.
The community is within the Los Angeles Unified School District.
- Warner Avenue Elementary School,
- Emerson Middle School
- University High School
- Community Magnet School
Private schools in the Bel Air area include:
- John Thomas Dye School (K–6)
- Marymount High School
- Westland School (K-6)
- Berkeley Hall (Christian Science, K-8)
- Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary (Reform Jewish; K-6)
- Milken Community High School (Jewish; 7-12).
- The Mirman School (K-8)
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