The Krotona Colony’s Kaua’i Roots, Part I: Anne Sinclair Knudsen and the Ahupua’a of Koloa

January 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

Anne Sinclair Knudsen

Anne Sinclair Knudsen (1839-1922) was not only the matriarch of one of Hawaii’s most distinguished kama’aina (non-native resident) families but a major landholder in her own right. When she married the much older Valdemar Knudsen in 1867, Anne Sinclair was already an heiress who lived on her family’s private island–Ni’ihau–off the western coast of Kaua’i.

Anne’s widowed mother, Eliza McHutchinson Sinclair, had purchased Ni’ihau from King Kamehameha IV in 1863. For this substantial but arid property, she paid $10,000. (The Sinclairs, a prosperous and highly adventuresome Scottish family, had come to Hawaii after two decades in New Zealand, where they raised cattle and played a significant role in the colony’s development.) Four years later, Mrs. Sinclair gave Anne $10,000 as a wedding present, which Anne used to buy the Ahupua’a of Koloa, a magnificent parcel on Kaua’i’s South Shore. The 6,500 acres stretched from what is now Highway 50 to the Pacific, and included Knudsen’s Gap, the town of Koloa, and Poipu Beach. Because her husband Valdemar also owned considerable acreage on Kaua’i, including the Kekaha Sugar Company, their combined holdings made the Knudsen family one of Hawaii’s largest landowners.

The Tree Tunnel in Knudsen's Gap, Kauai/Hope Anderson Productions

Upon Anne’s death, the Ahupua’a of Koloa passed to her two sons, Augustus and Eric. (A third son, Arthur, had developed major mental illness in his twenties, and died before his mother.) Anne had spent some of her long widowhood in Beachwood Canyon, where Augustus had moved in 1912. The Knudsen house on Vista del Mar Avenue, though Spanish Colonial in style, was Hawaiian in spirit, with terraces off all its room and a lanai that took up the entire third floor. One imagines the elderly Anne Sinclair Knudsen there, staring out over Hollywood while remembering a very different view: the blue waters off Kaua’i, and the whale-shaped island of Ni’ihau in the distance. 

Additional Sources:
Von Holt, Ida Elizabeth Knudsen. Stories of Long Ago: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu. Honolulu: Daughters of Hawaii, 1985.
The Knudsen Trust,
Alfred Willis, “The Surviving Buildings of the Krotona Colony in Hollywood,” Architronic, vol. 8 n. 1, 1998.

For more about the Krotona Colony, purchase the documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign” at
The film is also available for rent at

Under the Hollywood Sign Takes a Vacation (Sort of)

January 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

My trip to Kaua’i has included research at the Kaua’i Museum, whose curator, Chris Faye, kindly allowed me to see the Augustus Knudsen Archive.

Readers of this blog will remember him as one of the financial backers of the Krotona Colony in 1911. A dedicated Theosophist, Knudsen abandoned his family in Kauai to begin a new life in Beachwood Canyon. The Archive,  which includes photos from that era, is distinguished by an oral history by his daughter, Ruth Knudsen Hanner.

More on the Archive, and the Knudsens’ legacy on Kaua’i, in future posts.

Looking Southwest from Mt. Lee, Circa 1925

January 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hollywoodland (left) and Lake Hollywood (right), Circa 1925/Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

This photograph, probably taken from just below the Hollywoodland Sign, showcases the dramatic western view from Beachwood Canyon, circa 1925. At the time, Hollywoodland’s winding roads and Lake Hollywood Reservoir were brand new.

Though not apparent from above, the network of retaining walls that supported the roads was an engineering triumph in its own right. Hollywoodland’s developers, mindful of creating the first planned hillside development in Southern California, spared no expense in building the neighborhood’s infrastructure. Both the roads and retaining walls are structurally sound today.

Lake Hollywood, pride of the Los Angeles Department of Water’s Chief Engineer William Mulholland, owes its distinctive shape to Holly Canyon, which was flooded for the reservoir. In its design, Lake Hollywood is a virtual twin of the St. Francis Dam, whose failure in 1928 remains California’s greatest man-made disaster. That dam break, which killed some 600 people and flooded a 54-mile area from Santa Clarita to the ocean, prompted an immediate reinforcement of Lake Hollywood. Even so, Mulholland never dared to fill the Lake to capacity. Today, it holds just 2.5 billion gallons of water–as opposed to the 12.4 billion gallons held by the St. Francis Dam just before it broke. (Recent forensic studies have shown the St. Francis Dam disaster was caused by unsuitable geological conditions in the San Francisquito Canyon, in addition to design deficiencies.)

Looking beyond Hollywoodland and Lake Hollywood, one can make out the still largely undeveloped expanse of West Los Angeles. Only the Pacific looks the same, with Catalina faintly visible in the distance.

L. Frank Baum: The Wizard of Hollywood

January 7, 2011 § 4 Comments


L. Frank Baum/Courtesy Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Lyman Frank Baum was a former poultryman, actor, playwright, newspaper reporter, editor and traveling salesman who transformed his life in middle age by writing The Wizard of Oz. A groundbreaking best-seller that dispensed with the moralizing and scaremongering that had characterized children’s literature, The Wizard of Oz came to be considered the first modern children’s book, an instant classic whose appeal never faded. 

Though invented in Chicago, the Emerald City of Oz is in many ways similar to Hollywood at the turn of the century:
There were lovely patches of green sward all about, with stately trees bearing rich and luscious fruits. Banks of gorgeous flowers were on every hand, and birds with rare and brilliant plumage sat and fluttered in the trees and bushes. 
But the comparisons between Hollywood and Oz went beyond natural beauty and climate. For the tens of thousands of Chicagoans who relocated to Southern California between 1900 and 1930, Los Angeles represented a new kind of city. Unlike Chicago, Los Angeles was free of machine politics (a feature ensured by its weak mayoral system) and rigid social hierarchy–just like Oz. Writes Kevin Starr:
Oz was beautiful; it was also a tidy, prosperous utopia, recognizably mid-American in its benevolent technology and bourgeois prosperity….Unbothered by poverty, served by proper machines in lovely gardens, cared for by a benevolent political order, the citizens of Oz were able to concentrate on the business of living, which for them was the life of emotion and imagination….
 By moving to Hollywood, Frank Baum underscored its connection to Oz. (In the same vein, he named his cocker spaniel Toto.) Although he, his wife Maud and their four sons were already part-time Californians, having spent six previous winters at the Hotel del Coronado, they now would be full-time citizens of a real-life utopia.

Baum built his dream house at Cherokee and Yucca and named it Ozcot. The house featured an enormous fireplace, a library and solarium and, in typical Midwestern style, a large attic. As he had for the Hotel del Coronado, he designed beautiful lighting fixtures for the dining room. In the large garden, Baum grew dahlias and chrysanthemums that brought him fame as a serious, prize-winner horiculturalist.  He also raised chickens, as he had in his youth.

Ozcot/Courtesy Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Baum joined the Uplifter’s Club (now defunct but still remembered by local old-timers), as well as all the other clubs in Hollywood, and was an enthusiastic civic booster. Not content to be merely a famous author, he founded his own studio, the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, with fellow Uplifters in 1914. The studio produced ten films that were technologically advanced for the day, including the original, silent “Wizard of Oz,” before going broke and being sold to Universal.

Going broke was a familiar occurrence for the Baum family. Although Frank Baum was a prolific writer of novels–including 13 sequels to The Wizard of Oz–short stories, plays and poetry, he had money problems throughout his life. The product of a wealthy family, he lost vast sums on failed theatrical productions, one of which, “Fairylogue and Radio Plays” drove him into bankruptcy. The mind that created Oz (named for the O-Z drawer of his filing cabinet) was not adept at business of any kind. (From 1888 to 1890, the Baums owned a general store in the Dakota Territory; even that potential goldmine failed.) The funds for Ozcot, and probably the Oz Film Manufacturing  Company, came out of Maud’s inheritance from her mother, the feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage, and her father, a merchant. Maud, a Cornell graduate, took up sewing to keep the family afloat as Baum veered in and out of debt. 

Baum, second from left, with principals of the Oz Film Manufacturing Company/Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

 Frank Baum had suffered from heart problems for years, and the stress of his failed studio probably contributed to the stroke that killed him in 1919, at 63. His last words purportedly were, “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands,” a reference to his best-known book.  Although the Technicolor version of “The Wizard of Oz” would not appear until 1939, Maud and their sons were alive to see its success–and to reap $40,000 of its income .

Additional Sources:

“The Man Behind the Curtain: L. Frank Baum and The Wizard of Oz,” by Linda McGovern, 

Kevin Starr, Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920′s. Oxford University Press, 1990.

 Gregory Paul Williams, The Story of Hollywood. Los Angeles, CA:  BL Press, LLC, 2005


“Somewhere”: Sofia Coppola’s Quiet Masterpiece

January 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning in "Somewhere"/Courtesy Focus Features

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a movie star between shoots who is living in a suite at the Chateau Marmont, the Sunset Strip hotel/Young Hollywood clubhouse. Even before he stumbles down the staircase and breaks his arm, Johnny is adrift, a rudderless boat on a sea of celebrity. He deals with his considerable fame not boorishly, as one might expect, but with a politeness so stifling he can barely speak. When the world intrudes, whether by press conference, photo shoot or angry text message from some woman he has spurned, Johnny’s reaction invariably is bafflement, as if he can’t quite make the pieces of the puzzle fit. 

Johnny’s fame-induced passivity is reinforced by the Chateau, which provides effortless access to food, sex and novelty. With his arm in a cast, he smiles courteously as adorable twin pole dancers perform the most unerotic routine imaginable–one that puts him to sleep. Boredom, painkillers and alcohol are pushing Johnny into catatonia when his daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), arrives one morning and literally wakes him up.

Until that point, the film has been almost free of dialogue, a beautiful dream of small events and arresting images. Now, with Cleo present, the story gains momentum. Though Johnny and Cleo haven’t spent much time together, they obviously love one another and feel comfortable in each other’s presence. Dorff and Fanning have a lovely chemistry, the kind that allows them to communicate with the smallest of gestures–a glance here, an arched eyebrow there. When they do speak, their words are spare and natural, with none of the talky contrivances of family dramas. It helps that, in a feat of casting, they actually look like father and daughter, with astonishingly similar facial features and coloring.

On that first day, Johnny watches Cleo expertly perform an ice skating routine, a talent he knew nothing about. (Presumably, the three years she has been skating have coincided with his rise to fame.) After Cleo goes home, Johnny returns to the Chateau for more of the same: easy sex, partying and occasional work obligations. After a press conference where he is unable to answer the question, “Who is Johnny Marco,” Johnny is required to sit motionless for a special effects mask–40 minutes with his head covered in plaster.  It’s an effective metaphor for his current existence, and probably his future.

Fortunately, Cleo soon returns, courtesy of a maternal time-out, and breaks through Johnny’s armor. They plays Guitar Hero, go on a press junket to Milan, swim and shop for summer camp. Cleo cooks for him and his friend Sammy. By the time Johnny drops her off at camp, he has become a father–albeit one who shouts, “Sorry I haven’t been around,” while standing next to a  helicopter that drowns out his words. But he has awakened to the emptiness of his life and decides to make a change.

As others have noted, Coppola’s films owe more to European and Asian cinema than to American movies. “Somewhere,” which clocks in at 86 minutes, has only a 40-page script and at times resembles a silent film. Things happen, but much as they do in real life: as a series of events rather than a single big one. Those who think movies should have three acts, neatly tied-up plot lines and lots of action invariably find Coppola’s work slow and enigmatic. But “Somewhere,” which represents a quantum leap from her previous films, contains more beauty and emotional depth than any movie I’ve seen in the past year. It is a work of genius, one I thought about for days afterwards and couldn’t wait to see again.

2010 in review

January 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 35,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 68 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 112 posts. There were 150 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 247mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was November 4th with 704 views. The most popular post that day was Why the Hollywood Sign Isn’t Lit (and Never Will Be).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for blade runner, howard hughes, julia child, bladerunner, and mary astor.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Why the Hollywood Sign Isn’t Lit (and Never Will Be) November 2010
9 comments and 1 Like on,


“Blade Runner” Nearly Three Decades Later: How a Masterpiece of Production Design Left Its Mark On Los Angeles (and Vice Versa) April 2010
7 comments and 1 Like on,


Howard Hughes, Ginger Rogers and the Property on Cahuenga Peak June 2009
1 comment


Castillo del Lago: Bugsy Siegel’s Former House, and Madonna’s Too January 2010


Remembering Julia Child August 2009

Where Am I?

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