Heather Drive, Past and Present
March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
Heather Drive is a winding residential street that runs south off Ledgewood Drive in Hollywoodland. Those who visit Lake Hollywood Park often take it to escape the tourist vans that inch up Ledgewood, as both streets lead to Mulholland Highway. Once on Heather, drivers face a blind uphill curve on a road often narrowed to a single lane by parked cars. Then comes the sharp uphill right turn onto Durand Drive that briefly forces them into the oncoming lane. Mercifully, cross-traffic is sparse.
Heather Drive entered American literature in 1937, in Raymond Chandler’s short story “Take the Girl.” Though he calls it Heather Street, the description is unmistakable:
Heather Street was a gash in the side of a steep flat slope, at the top of Beachwood Drive. It curved around the shoulder enough so that even by daylight you couldn’t have seen much more than half a block of it at one time while you were on it.
As his works make clear, Raymond Chandler was an automotive man, crisscrossing Los Angeles by car. His gumshoe protagonists drive everywhere, traversing the LA Basin from downtown to the San Fernando Valley, Silver Lake to Santa Monica. Unlike Charles Bukowski, who set his books in Hollywood and San Pedro, and John Fante, who specialized in downtown Los Angeles, Chandler claimed all of Los Angeles as his territory. So it’s not surprising that he knew Beachwood Canyon intimately, or that he could perfectly describe a certain style of Hollywoodland house:
The house I wanted was built downward, one of those clinging-vine effects, with a front door below the street level, a patio on the roof, a bedroom or two possibly in the basement, and a garage as easy to drive into as an olive bottle.
Such upside-down houses still dot Heather, mixing charm and risk. In late 2006, a partygoer returning to his car lost his footing and fell down the hill, stopping just short of a 30-foot drop. The resulting rescue involved firefighters and helicopters; the man suffered broken bones but no permanent injuries. (Footage of the rescue, shot by DP Tjardus Greidanus, appears in my documentary, “Under the Hollywood Sign.”)
But in August of the same year, a far more serious accident occurred on Heather when a bicyclist, resting his foot on the curb at the bend, lost his balance and fell over the side, landing on the patio of a neighboring house. Left a paraplegic, he sued the City for negligence, receiving a $5 million settlement. Although the same stretch had been the site of several car crashes, at least one of them fatal, this apparently marked the first time the City was sued for damages. After the settlement was announced in 2009, yellow hazard signs went up along the curve and plans were announced to build a permanent, vista-blocking barrier.
No such modifications were thought necessary from 1923, when Heather Drive was built, until then. Somehow drivers managed to negotiate Heather Drive (or not) without involving the City. But times have changed. Ironically, the bicyclist was no stranger to the topographical challenges of the neighborhood, as he lived in Hollywoodland.