Discovering a Piece of Hollywoodland’s Equestrian Past

February 14, 2013 § 2 Comments

The Front and Back Covers of a Hollywoodland Riding Club pamphlet, circa 1923/All Photos Hope Anderson Productions

The Front and Back Covers of a Hollywoodland Riding Club pamphlet, circa 1923/HopeAnderson Productions

Last Sunday I stopped by the Antiquarian Book Fair at the Santa Monica Civic. I was there to meet John Howell, a rare book dealer who had emailed to tell me about one of his offerings, a pristine pamphlet advertising the long-defunct Hollywoodland Riding Club.

Because all of Hollywoodland was once a ranch, there have been horses at the end of Beachwood Drive for as long as anyone can remember. In recent decades, horses have lived at Sunset Ranch, which offers boarding, lessons and trail rides to the public. But when Hollywoodland began in 1923, there was a riding club where homeowners could board their horses and learn to ride English-style, if they didn’t already know how. The allure of riding in the Hollywood Hills was a selling point for house lots, and figured prominently in radio ads for Hollywoodland:

Listen–the horses are stamping in their stalls-the sea breeze kisses the hilltops-while the birds weave melodies of happiness on the open trail. Your day in Hollywoodland-in-California begins with a song, and for a brief hour you canter on the wings of the morning–a shower-breakfast-and away for a day at the office, to return at eventide to the calmness of the hills, and there below you, watch a myriad of millions of lights twinkling in the distance.

Inside the Pamphlet, a Map of Hollywoodland/Hope Anderson Productions

Inside the Pamphlet, a Map of Hollywoodland

Although I had seen the pamphlet in a larger format, I wasn’t aware it was produced in this compact size. I wasn’t planning to buy it, but in the end I did, impressed by its excellent condition and historical significance. Anyone with an interest in California history should check out John Howell’s website, which offers a variety of books and images: johnhowellforbooks.com

John Howell

John Howell

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The Hollywood Sign’s Renovation, Week Six: Painting the Y

November 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Hollywood Sign at Midday, 11/9/12/Hope Anderson Productions

Yesterday it rained; today, along with sunshine, there is a beautiful bank of clouds behind the Hollywood Sign instead of the usual cloudless blue sky. The painters have reached the Y which, some will remember, is the letter Hugh Hefner chose to pay for when Sign was rebuilt in 1978.

Without Hugh Hefner’s fundraising efforts, the Hollywood Sign would not exist today. In 1978, the original 1923 Sign was in ruins, and no one else seemed particularly concerned about its fate. It took someone of Hefner’s stature to draw attention to the eyesore on Mt. Lee and do something about it.

In the decades since, the Hollywood Sign has become a huge tourist draw, creating headaches for those of us who live near it. Nevertheless, it would be hard to find anyone here who doesn’t enjoy looking at the Sign. Whether we regard it as a historical monument, a mascot and or a navigational device, Hollywoodlanders love the Hollywood Sign as much as tourists do, and–because it began as our neighborhood’s billboard–perhaps a little more.

As Work Continues, the Hollywood Sign Evolves

October 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

The Hollywood Sign from Canyon Lake Drive, 10/16/12/Hope Anderson Productions

Leaving town for a week made me notice the changes in the Sign’s appearance more than I might have if I had been within sight of it the whole time. Yesterday the “H” appeared blueish as it was stripped of paint; today a platform appeared in front of it as it was painted. This evening, the first “L” appears blueish in the evening light.

The Sign from Beachwood Drive This Evening/Hope Anderson Productions


For a static monument, the Hollywood Sign is remarkably changeable. It can look narrow and almost delicate when viewed from the east or west, and massive when seen from the south. Its paint captures changes in light, so that it can appear blindingly white, golden, grey or even pink, depending on the time of day. In its current restoration, a run-up to the 90th anniversary of the original Sign (and Hollywoodland itself), it is even more mutable than usual, and to my eyes more fascinating.

Gloria Swanson in Hollywoodland: A Silent Star’s Hideaway

June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Swanson--Fashion Icon and Silent Film Star--in an undated portrait

Gloria Swanson is best known for her blockbuster role as the 50-year-old, over-the-hill film goddess Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” but her early, wide-ranging Silent film career deserves equal notice. Unlike most actresses of her era, Swanson excelled in both comedic and dramatic roles, beginning in comedies as a 17-year-old at Essenay Studio in Chicago. She soon moved to Los Angeles, where Mack Sennett turned her into a Keystone star. But Swanson wanted to be more than a comedienne: she was determined to be a romantic leading lady. In Cecil B. DeMille’s 1919 hit, “Don’t Change Your Husband,” she became one.

She was only 20 when DeMille made her a dramatic star, but she had already been married and divorced, having entered a disastrous 2-month marriage (at 17) to Wallace Beery. Beery not only raped her on their wedding night but, upon discovering she was pregnant, gave her an abortion-inducing drug. She would soon embark on the second of six brief marriages, only the last of which, undertaken in her late 70s, lasted longer than five years.

Joseph P. Kennedy: Patriarch, Ambassador and Failed Film Producer

Nevertheless, it was her not-so-secret romance with Joseph P. Kennedy, circa 1927-1930, that cemented Swanson’s reputation as a femme fatale off-screen as well as on.  Kennedy was not only a permanently married Catholic but a father of seven children (with two yet to come). Such was Swanson’s appeal that he rapidly became not only her paramour (she was married at the time to the poshest of her husbands, the Marquis Le Bailly de la Falaise de la Coudraye) but her film producer and business partner. Swanson and Kennedy’s most famous collaboration, “Queen Kelly,” was considered a disaster upon its release but later grew to be considered one of Swanson’s best films.

Swanson in "Queen Kelly"

When the couple split in 1930, it was over money–Kennedy’s flagrant spending of Swanson’s, which the actress complained about throughout her life. Fortunately, Swanson was a canny investor in real estate. In addition to her magnificent Beverly Hills home–the 22-room King Gillette mansion at 904 N. Cresent Drive–she at various times owned valuable properties in London, New York and Portugal, and seems never to have owned fewer than two houses at a time. 

She also had a secret home in Los Angeles: this mid-twenties Norman manor in Hollywoodland.

Swanson's Storybook Hideaway/Hope Anderson Productions

Although it was never her official residence, Swanson certainly spent time at the house, a fact confirmed by an elderly neighbor when the current owner bought it during the 1970s. It seems more than likely that the house was a love nest for Swanson and Kennedy, a place for them to enjoy each other’s company out of the public eye. She couldn’t have chosen a better location: even if her neighbors knew about the affair, they were unlikely to have gossipped about it–privacy having been a hallmark of Hollywoodland since its beginnings in 1923.

Bronze Plaques Stolen off the Hollywoodland Gates

April 19, 2011 § 7 Comments

The West Gate to Hollywoodland, with one of the missing plaques at top/Hope Anderson Productions

Christine O’Brien has alerted me to the fact that the bronze plaques on the historic Hollywoodland gates have been stolen. They measure approximately 24” x 18” and read HOLLYWOODLAND  est.1923  Anyone knowing their whereabouts should contact: info@ Hollywoodland.org

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