Reviving Bananas in Beachwood Canyon

September 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Banana Tree/Photos by Hope Anderson Productions

Last October I wrote about Beachwood Canyon’s early 20th century fame as a producer of bananas, avocados and pineapples. (https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/bananas-of-beachwood-canyon-and-los-feliz/) J.B. Rapp’s Farm, located near Franklin Avenue and Gower Street, was the first place in the continental United States to produce such exotic crops commercially, and there is no reason to it wouldn’t have continued to do so if land values had stayed low. But Hollywood’s rapid transformation–first into a garden suburb of Los Angeles, then the center of the movie industry–caused land values to rise dramatically after 1900. By 1920, Hollywood was a city, its recent agrarian history remembered mainly in old photographs of farms and orchards, and by its street names–Orange Grove, Lemon Grove, Cherimoya and Tamarind.

For the Theosophical Society, Beachwood Canyon’s mild, frost-free climate was the deciding factor in its relocation here in 1911. The Theosophists wanted nothing less than to create a new Garden of Eden, and their colony, Krotona, was dotted with gardens. After the Theosophists moved to Ojai in 1926, their gardens became houses, forgotten except for a map and a few photographs.

Recently I decided that my living room needed a better view, so I planted four banana trees with red-green fronds outside. They instantly provided shade, color and movement, transforming the house as well as the hillside on which they were planted. Watching the fronds wave gracefully in the breeze has been a respite for me in an otherwise vacationless summer.

Because I was focused on appearance, I chose trees that produce a flower but no edible fruit. But my next purchase will be a fruiting banana–if possible the Lacatan, which produces small, creamy-textured bananas with red skins. (I don’t like the Cavendish, the yellow banana that has been the world’s commercial crop since the 1930s, but know it will grow in Southern California.) In time, I hope to have a small grove of banana trees–a living reminder of what the Canyon once was.

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