December 7, 2017 § 2 Comments
Waking to the news that the Sepulveda Pass was burning yesterday, I immediately thought of the last major wildfire to hit the area. On November 5th, 1961, the Bel Air Fire raced through the Hollywood Hills, burning 16,000 acres and destroying 484 houses. Though there were no fatalities, it was the largest fire to strike the City of Los Angeles, unrivaled until the current one began late Tuesday night.
The Bel Air and Skirball Fires began in similar conditions: fires from ignited brush were spread by Santa Ana winds at the end of an unusually long dry season. Without measurable precipitation or humidity, both catastrophes progressed quickly, flames racing from canyon to canyon along the ridge line of the Santa Monica mountains.
In Beachwood Canyon, the 1961 fire claimed 17 houses, including that of the writer Aldous Huxley and his wife Laura. When I interviewed Laura Archera Huxley in 2007, she vividly remembered being mesmerized by the flames near their house on Deronda Drive. Unable to grasp the urgency of the situation, she and Aldous waited too long to evacuate and lost nearly all their possessions as well as their home.
The Skirball Fire is being blown west instead of east, so Beachwood Canyon isn’t in danger from it. But bone dry conditions combined with tourists who smoke with impunity near the Hollywood Sign puts those of us who live here in constant jeopardy. When I learned that firefighters from our area were being deployed to fight the Skirball Fire, I started packing my bags.
Twenty-four hours later, the situation seems to be improving. But until this winter’s rains begin, fire danger remains, as does our fear. Visitors who ignore Beachwood Canyon’s No Smoking signs should know that all it takes is a single flick of a cigarette to destroy homes and lives. For those who don’t care, there’s a hefty fine for smoking. Let’s hope the City enforces it.
December 24, 2015 § Leave a comment
The photo above shows California holly (toyon) in bloom in the Hollywood Hills. Some believe this plant inspired the name Hollywood, although it was more likely a random choice by Daeida Wilcox, who met a woman on the cross-country train with a vacation house of that name. You can read more about California holly here: https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/the-hills-are-alive-with-california-holly/
This is the seventh Christmas for Under the Hollywood Sign. As regular readers know, I began the blog to promote my documentary of the same name. That film, as well as my others, is now on sale at half price (that’s $12.50 for features; $6 for the short) on my website http://www.hopeandersonproductions.com The sale continues through the end of the month; please check it out.
August 24, 2014 § 1 Comment
On Friday night, I looked north and to my surprise saw an unusual amount of cloud cover at the Hollywood Sign. It seemed to be a harbinger of better days to come, so I got my camera and took this photo.
June 10, 2014 § 2 Comments
As soon as I moved into my house in Hollywoodland in 2005, I started planting fruit trees. Over the years, I’ve planted Meyer lemons, a Bearss lime, a Valencia orange, two peaches (one of which died a sudden fungal death, and a recently planted O’Henry), a Green Gage plum and a Royal Blenheim apricot. Most of my trees have struggled in the rocky, arid soil, but the apricot–now in its fourth year–has produced superb fruit in exponential quantities. The photo above represents less than a third of the 2014 harvest, all of it picked today.
A look at Beachwood Canyon’s history proves my apricot tree is no anomaly. Before 1911, Beachwood Drive ended at what is now Graciosa Street. Beyond the paved road lay orchards that grew apricots. And beyond the apricot orchards was a single ranch, the future Hollywoodland.
May 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
Before anyone writes, “You knew the Sign was there when you moved here!,” or in the case of LA Curbed, “NIMBY,” let me say that before GPS became standard on cell phones, such emergencies rarely occurred. Moreover, this is the third incident in the same area during the past five days. And it’s only May 30th.
Here’s a recap:
1. Sunday, May 25th, 10:30pm: A woman walking her dog in the dark along the high wall at the dead-end of Mulholland Highway falls off, breaking her arm. She is rescued by the LAFD after a lengthy spate of sirens and helicopters. The dog is OK.
2. Monday, May 26th, 6:30pm: A car–apparently belonging to the owner of one of the tour bus companies–hits the fire hydrant near the same end of Mulholland Highway, sending a plume of water down Ledgewood. Fire trucks are called to stop the flooding. (This has happened several times before, yet no barrier has been erected to protect the hydrant.)
3. Friday, May 30th, 3pm: See above.
To those planning to visit Beachwood Canyon, those signs that say “no smoking” and “no trespassing” are there for good reason: your safety. And it’s really best to stay away from that hydrant.
April 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
Park rangers have treated P-22, so it’s possible that it will recover. But when the story broke, a neighbor reported another source of poison: the fetid water in the pool of a long-vacant house on Hollyridge Drive. P22 was seen drinking from the pool after the City dumped in mosquito-abating chemicals. When I went up to see the house yesterday, its appearance was dire:
The good news is that the house has just been sold. Let’s hope the new owner will drain the pool before tackling what promises to be a lengthy and arduous renovation.
April 15, 2014 § 1 Comment
Last night a neighbor of mine went up to the vista above Lake Hollywood to look at the lunar eclipse. So did a number of people from outside the Canyon, some of whom were smoking despite the signs forbidding it. (The photo above is from 2011; since then, Councilman Tom LaBonge’s office has installed even larger signs, including one featuring Smokey the Bear, to little result.) Although all but one of the smokers put out their cigarettes after my neighbor asked them to, one pointedly refused.
Yet one cigarette is all it takes to start a fire in the dry brush. A couple of years ago, a fire caused by a tourist’s flicked cigarette burned an acre at the vista in minutes before firefighters arrived. I wrote about it here:
This year California’s long drought was declared the worst in its recorded history. With below average rainfall for eleven of the past fifteen years, including almost no rain last year and the year before, conditions are now so dry that any spark could threaten every home in Beachwood Canyon. That’s why we have No Smoking signs, and why we get so upset when smokers ignore them.
Postscript: There was a brush fire in Griffith Park during the early morning hours of April 16th–probably a side effect of someone smoking during the lunar eclipse. http://hollywood.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/firefighters-battle-flames-in-hollywood-hills
March 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
In response to the tourist gridlock at the end of Beachwood Drive, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks will begin construction tomorrow on a wrought iron gate at the northern end of Beachwood Drive, where Griffith Park begins. When the project is completed in 6-8 weeks, pedestrians will have access to the Hollyridge Trail between sunrise and sunset. However, no vehicles will be allowed past the gate, with the exception of Rec and Parks vehicles and those of visitors to Sunset Ranch.
For those who wonder why this measure is necessary, here’s a link to a video shot by Tjardus Greidanus a block above Beachwood Village one Saturday:
Update, April 13, 2017: The Beachwood Drive gate is now closed to pedestrian access
March 11, 2014 § Leave a comment
As musical canyons go, Beachwood has never been as famous as Laurel, whose reputation was burnished by Joni Mitchell (see “Ladies of the Canyon”). Nevertheless, Beachwood Canyon had its share of 60s and 70s musicians, including The Doors, J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt, as I found out while doing research for my documentary Under the Hollywood Sign.
Though I already knew that The Doors had taken their name from Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception , it was his widow Laura Huxley’s assistant, Stephanie Horsley, who verified that the band also lived in Beachwood Canyon. Horsley lived on Hollyridge Drive in the late 1960s, in a house overlooking the one The Doors were renting. In her interview, she recalled window-rattling jam sessions, after which the band members and their girlfriends would sleep out on the roof.
Another of my interviewees was the musician and producer Alan Brackett, whose band The Peanut Butter Conspiracy was active from 1966 to 1970. The PBC made three albums, contributed songs to movies such as “Run Angel Run” and had a Billboard hit, “It’s a Happening Thing.” Now Alan has announced a new CD featuring (and named for) the band’s late, great vocalist Barbara “Sandi” Robison. “Barbara,” which includes five previously unreleased songs, is available for sale at https://www.createspace.com/2050813
For more information and tracks, visit http://www.peanutbutterconspiracy.com
March 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
Two back-to-back storms have brought more rain to Los Angeles in the past three days than has fallen in the past year–in some areas, twice as much. In Beachwood Canyon at least two trees have fallen, and one of them caused a power failure for some residents last night. There has been some flooding and a lot of mud, but today the Canyon looks green and fresh. From the Farmer’s Market this morning the Hollywood Sign was invisible, shrouded in mist and clouds.
Grey weather and intermittant showers have reduced the Canyon’s tourist traffic dramatically, since most people want their photos of the Hollywood Sign against a blue background. But while walking around the neighborhood a little while ago, I met a visitor from Antwerp who was undeterred by the less-than-ideal conditions. It was his only day to see the Sign, and I was glad to direct him to a good–and no doubt uncrowded–spot for picture-taking.