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.

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