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Goodbye to La Mirada, my childhood home

LA MIRADANS : from left to right the writer Mark Orwoll, his brother Bob, and his sister Vickie in front of their family home in La Mirada in the early 1960s. Photo courtesy Mark Orwell.

By Mark Orwoll • June 25, 2024

The Orwolls are leaving La Mirada.

Maybe you don’t know us, but it’s still a pretty big deal, at least to us. Three generations of our family have lived in our place on Elmbrook Drive since August 1955. There aren’t many people who have been in the same house in La Mirada longer. And now, for practical reasons, we’ve sold the family home.

Mom died a few years back. Her husband, Fred, my stepfather, passed away last year. My sister, my brother and I have all made our own lives elsewhere. So we put the old place up for sale.

I was only 18 months old when my mom and dad moved from a tiny apartment in South Gate into our new La Mirada three-bedroom. It was the only home I knew for the next 18 years. My sister, Vicki, was born there a couple of years later, then came Bob, then Matt (RIP). As the only girl, Vicki got to have her own bedroom, while we boys had to share.

We could change channels on the TV in the living room only by using pliers, because we broke the channel changer during our many fights over which program to watch. There was a man in the 1950s and early ’60s who would go house to house with a camera and Shetland pony and take pictures of the kids on horseback. We still have some of those photos.

At a certain point, Dad realized we needed more room. I don’t know if they won a sweepstakes or just took out a big loan, but eventually my folks decided to add on to the back of the house, including a den with a fireplace and a huge bedroom suite. But even though our house got bigger, we weren’t big shots. Oil still leaked from our worn-out 1953 Chevy Bel Air, leaving big stains on the driveway.

Sidewalks were added to our street in 1963, and that meant we could skateboard. I dismantled a pair of Vicki’s roller skates (with metal wheels) and nailed them to a 2-foot-long piece of wood. Southern Californians invented skateboarding as we know it sometime in the decade or so prior, and we La Mirada kids were there, part of it all, as it grew more and more popular, building jump ramps from warped plywood and listening to the Beach Boys.

At 6:30 every morning, my job was to run out to the driveway and bring The Times to my dad at the kitchen table. That’s where I learned to love the literary sporting insights of Jim Murray and the folksy humor of Jack Smith. It’s also where I learned to like coffee, reading the news with my old man.

From our house we could walk to school at Escalona Elementary. McNally Intermediate was a little bit farther, but you could still hoof it (although a bike was easier). And Neff High was less than 15 minutes on foot.

As teenagers my friends and I surfed. We hitchhiked up and down Beach Boulevard. We smoked weed in Neff Park, Wind- ermere Park or any park, really, as long as we had an exit strategy in case the cops showed up.

We lived just a block from the shopping mall and the triple-scoop ice cream cones for 15 cents at Thrifty and sodas and hot dogs at the counter of J.J. Newberry. My family got “fancy” goods at Ohrbach’s, and at Allied Arts Vicki took dance and I learned guitar. We all swooned at the two-wheelers at Spence’s Bikes and bought penny candy at the Karmel Korn shop.

Back then in La Mirada you could go anywhere as a kid — it was a safe place, friendly. On our block we would often hear some neighbor shout their kids’ names from the front porch at 7 p.m. Streetlights were on. Dinner was on the table. Time to come inside.

A lot of people leave their hometowns and never want to look back. Not me. After I went off to college, then to San Diego, San Francisco and New York, I loved coming home to La Mirada.

After my parents became empty-nesters, our house continued to host plenty of gatherings and eventually visits from fun, noisy grandchildren. My brother and his family remained in town for many years and my sister’s family moved to Riverside. And although the house didn’t change much, La Mirada did. The shopping mall is now half the size; much of its land has been taken over by a housing development. Our old high school, Neff, was razed and replaced by a warehouse. And the town is more upscale. Yet, I always feel like I am entering a time warp when I come back.

But being sad that the Orwoll family would no longer be La Mirada residents wasn’t a good enough reason to keep the house after my stepfather died. And after it was on the market for just a few weeks, someone made a solid offer.

I almost wish they hadn’t.

Mark Orwoll is a writer who lives in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley. But he’s still a La Miradan at heart.

MARK ORWOLL is a journalist and author with more than four decades of experience in newspapers, magazines, and digital publishing. He has written for Town & Country, Condé Nast Traveler, The Saturday Evening Post, AARP, Robb Report, Frommer’s Travel, and dozens of other national magazines and websites. 

His article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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