November 27, 2012 § 1 Comment
–Did you feel the earthquake?
Just to the east, Bronson Canyon has a similar geologic makeup, with a dramatic difference: until 1929, the north end of the Canyon was a productive quarry called the Union Rock Company. Now popularly known as the Bat Cave because of its appearance in the old “Batman” TV show, the quarry supplied all the granite for Hollywoodland’s public retaining walls, stone gates and stairs, as well as the walls, chimneys and walkways of its houses.
My first inkling of my new home’s underpinnings came during escrow, when I met the engineer who supplied the requisite site report. “Because of where you are, you really don’t have to worry about movement,” he said. He wasn’t kidding. I later learned that in 1994, a post-Northridge Earthquake survey of Beachwood Canyon houses–which number in the hundreds–turned up no damage at all.
At the time of the Northridge Earthquake, I lived in Hancock Park, which lies on the floodplain of the Los Angeles River. Hancock Park stands on clay, and the neighborhood shook violently that night. Power lines, brick walls and chimneys fell. Although the extent of the structural damage to my house there wasn’t apparent at first, a low crack in my chimney called for it to be replaced; when it came down, the house started to collapse. Long-term termite damage was exacerbated by the quake, and the house had to be completely reframed. None of the work was covered by FEMA.
After that nightmare, I was happy to move to a neighborhood that is the geologic opposite of Hancock Park, a place so solid you can feel it underfoot. The photo–of a newly excavated hillside on Westshire Drive–shows the thick granite foundations on which Hollywoodland was built nearly ninety years ago.
August 14, 2012 § Leave a Comment
When I heard sirens coming up Beachwood Drive this afternoon, I wondered if another fire had started near the Hollywood Sign. As it turns out, a busload of New Jersey teenagers–who for some reason were “dropped off” by their leader–had started hiking toward the Sign carrying little or no water, and probably no hats. When several collapsed from heat exposure, emergency vehicles were called to the scene. I’d love to know how much this wrong-headed experiment cost us taxpayers, and whether the supervisor of these kids can be prosecuted for endangering their safety.
Every time I think of heatstroke, I remember the September 2010 death of the film editor Sally Menke in Bronson Canyon. She collapsed while hiking with her dog in 113 degree heat; her body was found hours later, in a ravine below the trail to the Hollywood Sign. Being cinematically inclined, I also think of the wedding scene in “Out of Africa,” where Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) first encounters Felicity (Suzanna Hamilton), a Kenya-born tomboy modeled after the aviator Beryl Markham:
Felicity: I do like your dress. Not much of a hat, though.
Karen: It’s meant to be stunning.
Felicity: We die of heatstroke here.
We die of heatstroke here, too. As it happens, the climate of East Africa is very much like that of Southern California, with similarly strong sunlight. But while people in Africa are aware of the dangers of heat and know how to protect themselves, most Americans are woefully unprepared. No one should hike in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, or go without a hat and adequate water supply even in lower temperatures. With another month or more of hot weather to go, it’s up to all of us to use our heads.
January 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The day began with grey skies after a light overnight rain–our first precipitation in over a month. By afternoon, it was crisp and sunny, so I took my dog to Bronson Canyon for a hike.
The trail where police conducted an an exhaustive search for body parts Wednesday and Thursday was scattered only with fallen leaves. The only thing out of the ordinary was the ruts left behind by their vehicles .
One is never entirely alone on the trail, and today I had the company of at least two dozen other hikers and their dogs. Everyone seemed assiduous in their avoidance of the obvious topic of conversation. Still, talk of the murder broke through a few times in overheard conversations.
Meanwhile, the investigation progresses. What I assumed at first to be a gangland slaying seems to have been a different kind of crime. According to the LA Times blog:
Andrew Hill, who lives on the second floor of the apartment building, told The Times he heard a lot of commotion on the floor above him at about 3 a.m. about three weeks ago. He said he heard furniture moving as well as screaming and yelling. He said he spoke to police detectives Thursday and they asked him when the garbage was taken out.
Medellin’s friend Vilma Aguilar told KCBS-TV Channel 2 that Medellin hiked through Griffith Park. During one hike last year, she said, he met a new friend.
Additional source: www. latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow
January 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The man whose head, hands and feet were found in Bronson Canyon this week was Hervey Medellin, a 66-year-old retiree who lived at 6238 DeLongpre Avenue in Hollywood. According to neighbors, Medellin had gone to Tijuana before New Year’s and not returned. His car was impounded from the garage of the apartment building as the police investigation continued.
Medellin worked for Mexicana Airlines before his retirement and apparently had no family in the area.
Bronson Canyon Park reopened to the public today. The park was combed by more than 120 law enforcement officers during the two-day search.
January 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
According to CNN.com, the owner of the head, hands and feet found earlier this week in Bronson Canyon has been identified. The police have not released his name.
The article also contains this tidbit:
The recent discovery of a severed head, two hands and two feet in the Hollywood hills is near the home of actor Brad Pitt, and authorities have interviewed his bodyguard for possible leads, police said Thursday.
“It’s standard procedure for us to have our detectives canvass the neighborhood,” Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said. The bodyguard saw nothing unusual, he added.
In an unusual coincidence, Pitt starred in the film “Seven,” in which he plays a detective and a severed head is found in a box.
Apparently I’m not the only one who thought of “Se7en.” I didn’t mention the proximity of Brad Pitt’s house to the murder scene because I wanted to protect what little privacy he has left. So much for that antiquated idea!
January 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
Is there any more arresting image than that of a severed human head? As the search for additional body parts continues in Bronson Canyon, one has to feel particularly sorry for the two traumatized women–a professional dogwalker and her mother–who discovered the head on Tuesday afternoon. Conversely, everyone else in the Hollywood Hills is grateful their canine companions weren’t involved. (My own dog not only has a penchant for finding hidden objects–she once pulled an old bra out of a hedge–but for putting mysterious things in her mouth. Needless to say, she would have been all over a severed head.)
Perhaps because no additional body parts were discovered today, the LA Times blog has published a story memorably titled, L.A. has head, hands, feet; Arizona has body, but match unlikely. Yes, a headless torso was found in Tucson, but it’s not our torso.
Which brings us, naturally, to the movies. The strange and horrible cinematic quality of the crime in Bronson Canyon has been noted by journalists and interviewees alike. “My mom and I thought it was a movie prop,” said Lauren Kornberg, the dogwalker. Others have alluded to police dramas and “The Sopranos.”
Right after the discovery, a neighbor emailed me the following YouTube link to a clip from Roman Polanski’s “MacBeth,” which I hadn’t seen before. Apparently it’s considered the best cinematic beheading:
It brought back memories of David Fincher’s “Se7en,” which ends with the delivery of a box containing a woman’s severed head–Gwyneth Paltrow’s–to her husband, a police detective played by Brad Pitt. Although we (mercifully) never see the head, the moment is so horrifying that it’s as though we did.
Back at Bronson Canyon, the investigation is coming to a close. The park is due to reopen sometime tomorrow.
January 18, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Investigators and search dogs combed Bronson Canyon today, finding a pair of hands and a pair of feet near the site of yesterday’s discovery of a severed head. According to a friend who tried to walk his dogs there this morning, Bronson Canyon Park–which includes the former quarry (aka “Bat Cave”) and trails leading to the Hollywood Sign–was closed to the public.
Police believe the murder was committed elsewhere and will use dental records to identify the victim. According to LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith, “There’s no other evidence that this is anything besides a single, individual isolated occurrence.”
It would be sad if Bronson Canyon became known for this macabre event. A a regular visitor, I intend to return for a hike as soon as I can. I hope others will do the same.
January 17, 2012 § 2 Comments
For the past 1 1/2 hours, helicopters have been circling and hovering overhead–an unusually long time for the Hollywood Hills. I soon learned why from a neighbor, who emailed me this link:
Those who hike in Bronson Canyon can attest to the ease with which they can leave the city and hit the trails. The last time I was there, on Christmas Day, my visiting sister was amazed at how quickly we reached wilderness from my house: 10 minutes by car and another 5 on foot. She remarked that it would take her more than half an hour to drive to a comparable area from her much less densely populated city on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Since moving to Beachwood Canyon, I’ve experienced two other incidents of prolonged helicopter surveillance. The first occurred around 2007, when two hikers got stuck on one of the steep trails near the quarry. One was injured, and both required rescue. The second incident, in 2010, was the tragic death of Sally Menke, best known as Quentin Tarantino’s film editor, who collapsed in Bronson Canyon while hiking in record-breaking heat.
According to the latest report, today’s emergency began when a dog discovered a human head in a bag. Leaving aside uncanny similarities to the work of Tarantino (and David Lynch), I have to wonder at this sentence from a press release I just received: The detectives are treating the case as a possible homicide. Possible?
According to breaking news on the LA Times blog, the head is believed to be that of a recently murdered Armenian man in his 40s. Police are looking for “additional body parts in the area.” Hikers–and their dogs–beware.
Update, 12:40am: The search was suspended at 8pm and will resume at sunrise on Wed., January 18th. Better hike elsewhere today.
December 31, 2010 § Leave a Comment
This aerial photograph shows Beachwood and the original Hollywood Sign, along with its searchlight–the dot below it. Taken around 1925, it shows a canyon in transition. While houses are plentiful in lower Beachwood, the Hollywoodland tract is still being built, with only a few houses visible. The roads have been cut and are the same roads we use today. Though not obvious, the network of retaining walls and steps are moving towards completion. Within four years, Southern California’s first hillside tract community will boast scores of new houses, its own country club and a distinct identity.
The biggest surprise in the photo is Burbank, stretching beyond Mt. Lee. Still largely farmland, it shows little sign of its future as a studio town and densely populated suburb.
The H to the left of the Hollywood Sign is not, as an English visitor assumed, a spare for the H in the Sign. It was placed on the hillside by Hollywood High School, and vanished long ago.
October 27, 2010 § 1 Comment
I met Anita Gordon soon after I moved to Beachwood Canyon in late 2005, on the street outside my house. Like me, she was walking her dog, so we spoke about dogs and the neighborhood, whose history she knew in great detail. More conversations followed, and we quickly became the sort of neighbors who would see each other frequently, but always by chance. Invitations to see my house were refused because our dogs complicated matters, but Anita was always available to chat and answer questions. It was she who first told me the Canyon’s name–so often misspelled “Beechwood”–came from its developer, Albert Beach, and that the Bronson Caves were actually tunnels excavated in the old Union Rock quarry so that trolleys could transport the granite out of the Canyon. Much of the stone traveled only as far as Hollywoodland, where it was used to build the Canyon’s massive retaining walls and staircases as well as the chimneys, garden walls and terraces of the new development’s houses. Anita also surmised that the Castillo del Lago-Wolf’s Lair trail was built as a continuation of Mulholland Highway, as evidenced by its paved portions, and then abandoned.
Naturally, Anita was the first person I asked to be an interviewee for ”Under the Hollywood Sign.” Because she immediately agreed to participate, I gave her a choice of interview locations, and Anita chose the Bronson Caves. On a beautiful early November day, we trooped up into the remains of the quarry for a long chat about the Caves’ history, the Hollywood Sign, the significance of holly (both native and English) and, of course, the trails. A cardiac intensive care nurse at St. John’s, Anita overcame the stresses of her job by hiking in Bronson Canyon with her dog, Sadie. She particularly loved the quiet of the Caves, which she called “my cathedral.”
After several months of shooting, I put an early preview of the documentary on YouTube that prominently featured Anita’s interview. She seemed pleased when I told her, but not particularly eager to see it. Because Anita didn’t use a computer, I offered to show it to her; still, she demurred. Meanwhile, I kept going on the documentary, eventually amassing more than 40 hours of footage. I made a short black-and-white re-enactment of Peg Entwistle’s last hour, which I turned into a short silent film and put on YouTube. I interviewed 34 others and did a helicopter shot of the Sign and the surrounding area. And I kept writing and researching, until the little neighborhood documentary I’d set out to make grew into a 2 1/2-year project, on which I worked seven days a week.
Whether Anita ever saw any of it, I’m not sure. Though I’m told she was proud of her interview, watching it obviously was beside the point. Anita never saw the finished documentary, either: she died unexpectedly in October of 2008, less than three months before I screened the first cut for neighbors, crew, family and friends. There was a memorial service in the Village and another on Larchmont, where her various circles–Beachwood, St. John’s and family–came together for the first–and last–time.
Anita was much mourned; she still is. Two years later, I regularly have to remind myself there’s no chance I’ll run into her outside my front gate, and that we won’t talk about Beachwood, or anything else, ever again.