Built on Granite: Hollywoodland’s Unshakable Foundations

November 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

The Foundations of a New House on Westshire Drive, 11/26/12/Hope Anderson Productions

Since I moved to Beachwood Canyon seven years ago, there have been hundreds of earthquakes in the area–not that I’ve felt the vast majority of them. Unless they are very strong, tremors are rendered imperceptible by the deep shelf of granite that underlies Hollywoodland. My circumstances have led to phone conversations like this:

–Did you feel the earthquake?
–What earthquake?

Just to the east, Bronson Canyon has a similar geologic makeup, with a dramatic difference: until 1929, the north end of the Canyon was a productive quarry called the Union Rock Company. Now popularly known as the Bat Cave because of its appearance in the old “Batman” TV show, the quarry supplied all the granite for Hollywoodland’s public retaining walls, stone gates and stairs, as well as the walls, chimneys and walkways of its houses.

My first inkling of my new home’s underpinnings came during escrow, when I met the engineer who supplied the requisite site report. “Because of where you are, you really don’t have to worry about movement,” he said. He wasn’t kidding. I later learned that in 1994, a post-Northridge Earthquake survey of Beachwood Canyon houses–which number in the hundreds–turned up no damage at all.

At the time of the Northridge Earthquake, I lived in Hancock Park, which lies on the floodplain of the Los Angeles River. Hancock Park stands on clay, and the neighborhood shook violently that night. Power lines, brick walls and chimneys fell. Although the extent of the structural damage to my house there wasn’t apparent at first, a low crack in my chimney called for it to be replaced; when it came down, the house started to collapse. Long-term termite damage was exacerbated by the quake, and the house had to be completely reframed. None of the work was covered by FEMA.

After that nightmare, I was happy to move to a neighborhood that is the geologic opposite of Hancock Park, a place so solid you can feel it underfoot. The photo–of a newly excavated hillside on Westshire Drive–shows the thick granite foundations on which Hollywoodland was built nearly ninety years ago.

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§ One Response to Built on Granite: Hollywoodland’s Unshakable Foundations

  • pms says:

    thanks for this… the original owner of our house Dr. John Nigra was a doctor of geology and wrote about this in the 70s in the LA Times… we have a very safe canyon!!!

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