Beachwood Canyon from Above, Circa 1925

December 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

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.

Double Rainbow at the Hollywood Sign Today

December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

About 3:30pm, December 22, 2010/Hope Anderson Productions

As I was frantically writing Christmas cards during today’s torrential rains, I suddenly realized the sun was out. Looking out the window, I was amazed to see a double rainbow over Mt. Lee, and went for my camera. It was only afterwards that I noticed the saucer-shaped object to the left. Although there have been many reports of  UFOs by the Sign, I can attest that this one was a splotch on the glass.

The rainbow was gorgeous–the talk of the neighborhood.

Peter the Hermit in Laurel Canyon, Part II: Media Coverage

December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

"Canyon Forms Queer Adjunct to Hollywood," Oakland Tribune, 3/22/31

James Zeruk sent the article about Peter that I mentioned in my last post. Dated 1931, it describes his Laurel Canyon outpost as “the film capital’s own Greenwich Village.”

A trendsetter in every aspect, Peter not only made himself a brand (in the 1920’s!) but dropped out of society in an era when doing so was decidedly odd. But the times eventually caught up with him: when Peter died, in 1969, the hippie era was in full swing. It must have been gratifying to see the back-to-the-land movement, which he apparently pioneered during the Depression, in full flower.

Peter the Hermit’s Laurel Canyon Phase, 1933

December 19, 2010 § 2 Comments


 Tom Montgomery sent this wonderful 1933 photograph of Peter the Hermit with his mother and aunts posed on his donkey. From left to right are Anne (Hicks) Siberell, Elizabeth (Hicks) Granfield, Dorothy (Hicks) Constantine, Margaret (Hicks) Montgomery, and Peter.  

As I learned from a news article, the Hermit fled Hollywood for the much more bucolic Laurel Canyon because of construction noise in the late 1920s. He probably commuted to Hollywood Boulevard by streetcar (see “Hollywood Before the Movies, Part III: Mansions and Streetcars,” July 6) in order to ply the tourist trade during this period and, as evidenced by the photo above, found additional subjects in Laurel Canyon. Eventually he returned to Beachwood Canyon, a much more convenient commute to Hollywood Boulevard.

If anyone knows the dates of his residence in Laurel Canyon, please let me know.

Beachwood’s Earthly Paradise: The Lost Gardens of the Krotona Colony

December 10, 2010 § 9 Comments

The Italian Gardens/All Photos Copyright Krishnamurti Foundation of America, except where noted

The Theosophical Society’s Beachwood Canyon sojourn lasted less than 15 years, from late 1911 until 1926, but it produced a planned community of distinctive public buildings and houses, roughly two dozen of which survive. The Krotona Colony’s buildings can be identified by their eccentric architecture, which includes domed roofs, keyhole windows, arched doorways and art glass panels. 

Hope Anderson Productions

Upon closer examination, one can make out details such as the star of David, cross, swastika (an ancient Hindu symbol used also by Buddhists) and lotus, which connote the melange of religions contained in the Theosophical doctrine.

Hope Anderson Productions

Gone forever are the lovely grounds of the Krotona Colony. As I wrote in my previous post, “The Agrarian Origins of Beachwood Canyon,” the Theosophists wanted to grow as much of their own food as possible, a desire reflected in the Colony’s fields and vegetable gardens. But–as the map shows–considerable attention and land were devoted to gardens whose purpose was recreational and contemplative. Chief among these was the Italian Gardens, located at the top of Temple Hill. Its formal layout was crowned by a magnificent Mogul-style pergola that provided members a place for reflection, as well as an impressive view of Hollywood to the south.

Map of the Krotona Colony

Hollywood’s burgeoning urbanism would drive the Theosophical Society to relocate to the Ojai Valley in 1926. The Krotona Colony’s public buildings were turned into apartments and private homes; its houses were sold to new, non-Theosophist owners. But the grounds, including the Italian Gardens, were subdivided into residential lots. Houses soon rose up, leaving no trace.
For more about the Krotona Colony, purchase the documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign” at
The film is also available for rent at

On A Clear Day, You Can See Catalina

December 1, 2010 § 3 Comments

The View from the Lookout on Canyon Lake Drive, 11/12/10/Hope Anderson Productions

The first time someone took me to the western edge of Beachwood Canyon, I was amazed. While the rest of the Canyon felt narrow and sheltered, Mulholland Highway ended in an expanse of light and space. The view was enormous, encompassing not only Lake Hollywood and the Hollywood Hills but the entire westward sweep of Los Angeles, all the way to the Pacific. Even more astonishing was what lay in the distance: the whale-like form of Catalina Island, clearly visible on fogless days. 

This vista explains the Canyon’s appeal to the Tongva Native Americans. Like other California tribes–the Chumash and Ohlone come to mind–the Tonga preferred high, sheltered areas with sweeping views. To be within sight of the ocean but safe from its dangers was ideal.  

When I moved to Beachwood, my realtor told me about a Malibu couple who leased a house here as an experiment. Though they enjoyed the neighborhood, they missed the ocean and soon moved back, quipping, “Where’s the beach in Beachwood?”  Though the Canyon was named for its developer, Albert Beach, there is a beach. It’s a dozen miles west but part of the scenery, and much photographed by tourists who come to see the Hollywood Sign.

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