Walking Distance

Chronicle Staff

By Jordan Freisleben


French teacher and Head of Financial Aid Geoffrey Bird arguably has the best commute to work every day. He and his wife, Upper School Dean Mike Bird, are two of the several administrators and employees who live in school-owned residences on the east side of the Upper School.

The seven residences are on Hacienda Drive, which starts just north of the junior lot and continues up the hill east of the upper school campus.

After the school took control of the street from the city, it was marked for parking spaces for faculty.

The Birds came to Harvard-Westlake shortly after head of campus operations Jim DeMatté started buying the residences for the school in 2000.

“When we were hired, I was a little panicked coming into a brand new situation,” Geoffrey Bird said. “We’d been away from California, so this was a totally new thing for us. I e-mailed the school and asked them any ideas of where I could be looking for housing in the area, just to get started.”

Geoffrey Bird said that his wife’s job to allowing them to get the house. DeMatté said that he, President Tom Hudnut and Chief Financial Officer Rob Levin took the renters’ job titles into account before renting the homes.

“If you expect somebody to be there – all of those people, they don’t get overtime,” DeMatté said. “Being on call 24-hours, it’s hard if you’re 20, 30 miles away. It’s better to be close and it’s very cost-effective for Harvard-Westlake to have administrators and other people like that literally feet away from campus.”

Head of Athletics Audrius Barzdukas has lived in one of the school-owned homes for seven years.

“The nature of sports is that there’s a game almost every night and my first year here, I lived on the other side of the hill,” he said. “Every night was like ‘Do I drive home, spend 20 minutes with the kids and then come back?’ It would be virtually impossible for me to do my job the way I do it without living within the proximity.”

In addition to Barzdukas and the Birds, other homes are rented by Upper School Plant Manager Felipe Anguiano, theater teacher Chris Moore, Middle School Plant Manager Dave Mintz and chaplain Father J. Young. The residence that is closest to the center of the campus has been converted into an office for Hudnut.

It took DeMatté apporoximately five years to acquire all of the houses on Hacienda after he started acquiring them in 2000.

“We just bought the land because we figured it’s best to be your own neighbor,” he said. “If you don’t have neighbors by the school, you get less grief, honestly. It was cheap to buy property at that point—property gets more and more expensive on average. It was time to purchase them all, so we did.”

After the school owned all of the houses on the street, it took possession of the street in 2007.

“We own houses on both sides of a street that ends in a cul-de-sac, so you can petition to vacate the land,” DeMatté said. “It took me about two years to do with the city and [then] we were able to get that whole street. That’s a couple million dollars for flat land there alone that we got basically for free. That was another motivation to buy all of these homes: we knew we could get the street in the long run for basically nothing.”

DeMatté said he’s not sure of what will come of the school-owned residences and the property.

“It was really purchased as a buffer and it’s land for the future,” he said. “Who knows what we’ll do with it?” he said. “Maybe it’ll be a parking garage some day, maybe it’ll be a building and maybe we’ll have the houses there forever.”