Hollywoodland and Hancock Park: Two Silent-Era Los Angeles Neighborhoods, Reunited in “The Artist”

December 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in “The Artist”

Just over a year ago, I was drawn out of my house by the dreamlike appearance of vintage cars–and one 1920s bus–on Beachwood Drive. A PA informed me they were here for a French silent film about the advent of sound. Good luck with that, I thought. The sequence took about an hour to shoot, after which I wrote about it:  https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/back-to-the-roaring-twenties-briefly-on-beachwood-drive/  Then, because I assumed I’d never see the finished film, I put the episode out of my mind.

The other night, however, I saw the film. Called “The Artist,” it premiered last spring at Cannes, where its lead actor, Jean Dujardin, deservedly won the Best Actor award. Harvey Weinstein is propelling it towards the Academy Awards. The concensus of the audience I was in was charming. As a friend of mine said, “Can a dog win an Oscar? Because that one should.”

But back to the Beachwood sequence: after an establishing shot of the Hollywoodland Sign, we see the cloche-hatted heroine, Peppy Miller, riding the bus down Beachwood Drive, north of the Gates. Although it’s unlikely that an undiscovered starlet would have lived in Hollywoodland, a neighborhood of single-family houses with no rental units, the bus is historically accurate, except that the real one was private. During the 1920s, Hollywoodland ran a jitney up and down Beachwood Drive that took residents as far as Franklin Avenue, where there was a trolley stop . The jitney provided essential transportation in those days of single-car households, not only for non-drivers but for women whose husbands took the car to work.

The Bus in "The Artist"/Hope Anderson Productions

The use of Beachwood Drive also recalls some of the early films emulated by “The Artist.” During the Silent Era, Beachwood often was used for driving shots, while Larchmont Blvd., four miles to the south, was used for pedestrian shots.

Though Larchmont doesn’t appear in “The Artist,” its surrounding neighborhood frequently does. Hancock Park–more specifically, the deluxe subdistrict of Windsor Square–is the location of both George Valentin’s and (once she hits the big time) Peppy Miller’s houses. In the trailer, Windsor Square appears at the 2:10 mark: 


Again, the location is apt, if slightly anachronistic. In the mid-teens, as Hollywood grew congested with traffic and movie studios, film stars began moving south to Hancock Park, then a brand new residential neighborhood. Among those who bought houses there were John Garfield, W.C. Fields and Harold Lloyd. But by the late twenties, when “The Artist” begins, most actors actually had migrated to Beverly Hills, a planned community created, unlike the snobby and patrician Hancock Park, for movie folk. Yet for Silent stars, Hancock Park was the original aspirational neighborhood, and its Mediterranean mansions and spacious front lawns inspired similar versions in Beverly Hills.

For me, a former resident of Hancock Park and current resident of Hollywoodland, “The Artist” stirred up feelings of recognition, nostalgia (both personal and cinematic) and delight. Along with “Hugo,” “The Artist” looks back to show not only what film was, but what it should be–and so often isn’t. More on that, and “Hugo,” in a future post.

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Helicopters in Hollywoodland: A Perpetual Noise Overhead

August 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

Embarking on my Helicopter Shot, May 2007/Hope Anderson Productions

During daylight hours, Beachwood Drive is the scene of nonstop  car and truck traffic. It’s especially bad on weekends, when the roar of engines makes the street sound like a speedway, even from indoors.  

Those who live in the upper Canyon have it worse, however, since much of their traffic noise comes from helicopters. Whether the helicopters are being used by the police and fire departments, news channels, tour companies or camera crews, the result is the same: a nerve-wracking rat-tat-tat of blades as they hover overhead. Sometimes they come close enough to make the houses vibrate.

Incredibly, helicopter traffic over Los Angeles is unregulated by the FAA. Anyone with sufficient funds can charter a helicopter and fly wherever he wants, with minimal red tape. I know this because when I did the helicopter shot over Beachwood Canyon for my documentary, “Under the Hollywood Sign,” in 2007, my big logistical hurdle was renting a sophisticated aerial camera and having it rigged. The helicopter company did have to clear the flight plan with the ranger station on Mt. Lee, but that was because I planned to film the Hollywood Sign, front and back, at close range. (Yes, it was awesome; no, I’ll never do it again.)

Since then, the volume of helicopter traffic has increased tremendously. No one is be able to explain why, but there seems to be a helicopter over Beachwood Canyon at all times during the day, and not infrequently at night. According to Hollywoodland resident Martin Smith,

the tour helicopters as well as those that are shooting and therefore hovering, drive everyone up here mad… I have no idea why those that are filming don’t have to warn the residents beforehand… just as any other filming unit has to when shooting in our neighborhood….post 9/11, a no-fly zone seems sensible as the top of Mt. Lee is so essential to LA’s safety.

Soon after I promised Martin I’d write something about helicopter traffic, the New York Times published this article:


In contrast to the ho-hum reaction to prior complaints, the NYT article got an immediate, high-level response–from none other than Rep. Howard Berman, our U.S. Congressman.  He is sponsoring new legislation to regulate helicopter traffic over Los Angeles, something the FAA so far has refused to do:


From your mouth to the FAA’s ears, Congressman.

High Season for Tourists in Hollywoodland

July 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Lake Hollywood/Hope Anderson Productions

This weekend’s so-called Carmaggedon has lessened the volume of traffic on Beachwood Drive, at least for now. Normally the traffic roars up Beachwood Canyon all day long, but today there have been moments, and even a minute here and there, without a car. It won’t last.

Hollywoodland’s internecine feud–between those who favor signs toward to the Hollywood Sign and those who don’t–continues unabated. Since the directional signs that mysteriously appeared in the spring (and immediately increased the volume of traffic) came down, a few neighborhood activists have taken it upon themselves to direct traffic toward the Sign–something they don’t have the right to do in non-emergency circumstances. Their ad hoc policing has provoked heated exchanges on the street that must baffle tourists, none of whom seem to think their desire to reach the Hollywood Sign is the cause.

But it is. Whether driving up Beachwood Drive at 15 mph in a 30 mph zone while videotaping the Sign, blocking all northbound traffic, or simply parking their cars or bodies in the middle of Beachwood Drive for still photos, tourists prevent residents from getting home. Passing is not only prohibited but impossible on the narrow, winding stretch below the Gates where most tourists pose for photos, so residents are stuck behind cars moving at a crawl, if at all. Honking the horn earns us the middle finger, as I was reminded last weekend, when it took all my restraint to respond in kind.  The fact that this irritation occurs daily explains why so many Hollywoodlanders are in a perpetual state of frustration.  

Then there’s the truly terrifying matter of tourists’ smoking, which they tend to do at the lookout on Canyon Lake Drive and in Lake Hollywood Park. Both areas are extremely prone to fire and have “No Smoking” signs that deter no one. According to the Hollywood Homeowners’ Association, Griffith Park rangers and City officials who patrol the area are loath to ticket smokers because they don’t want to discourage tourist revenues. Yet it was tourists who started the 2007 brush fire that burned from the Oakwoods Apartments on Barham up to the Hollywood Sign–a 150-acre fire that put hundreds of homes in jeopardy and required 200 firefighters to put out. True to form, the City of Los Angeles declined to charge the teenagers who were at fault, no doubt because they were from Illinois.

No Smoking Sign at the Canyon Lake Lookout

In spite of all this, most Hollywoodlanders aren’t hostile to tourists who aren’t breaking the law. Those who drive and park legally (or better yet, walk) and don’t smoke get my full cooperation, including directions and answers to questions on neighborhood history. As a result, I’ve met people from all over the world, all of whom were thrilled by their proximity to the Hollywood Sign. Last Thursday in Lake Hollywood Park, I struck up a conversation with a nice family from Dubai. The father asked if there was a restaurant or cafe near Lake Hollywood where he could take his sons “for the view.” When I told him no, that it was a purely residential neighborhood, I recognized the oddness of the situation from his perspective. Virtually every country in the world clutters its beauty spots with hotels and restaurants, but America is justly famous for its unspoilt vistas. Despite its houses, Hollywoodland still resembles a park more than a town, which for its residents is both a blessing and a curse.

No Smoking Sign at Lake Hollywood Park

Beachwood Canyon’s Summers of Discontent

July 13, 2011 § 7 Comments

Hollywoodland Under Excavation 7/12/11/Hope Anderson Productions

Like a lot of other people, I moved to Beachwood for some peace–and much of the year, I get it. Birds sing, coyotes hunt, owls hoot–it’s a natural wonderland, especially at night. But not in summer. My six summers here have been noisy enough to drive me indoors during the day, while many nights have been almost sleepless, thanks to my neighbor’s 1am-6am parties.

The fact that Beachwood Village is a natural amphitheater–it was the precursor to the Hollywood Bowl–makes things exponentially worse.* Every sound is magnified. A couple of nights ago, two children and their father were calling for their dog on the street above me, but it might as well have been in my bedroom. People overhear neighbors’ bedroom intimacies, phone conversations and random comments from the Beachwood Market, whether they want to or not. The only good thing about this forced eavesdropping is that it’s often difficult to know where the noise is coming from, as sounds bounce back and forth across the Canyon. (On the other hand, the distortion makes it harder to tell the cops where to go to shut down the all-night party.)

In summer, construction-related noise makes it impossible to be outside during the day. Currently, we’re under siege because the streets are being dug up for new sewer lines. Trucks grind their way up Beachwood Drive at 7am, after which jackhammering goes on until 4:30pm, with an hour off for lunch. I work wearing Bose noise-cancelling headphones, as I did during my first and second summers here. During those years, my across-the-street neighbors built a 20-foot-high retaining wall and, the following summer, had it faced with stone that was cut, deafeningly, in front of their house. They managed to go on vacation during the worst of it, leaving their neighbors to endure weeks of ear-splitting noise.

Then there are the parties. There currently are four “party houses” in the upper Canyon–houses rented to tenants who hold all-night parties. This number doesn’t include houses, like the one around the corner from me, that are owned by people who party all night. After more than two years of sleepless Saturday nights, I finally impressed upon my neighbor that I wasn’t going to lose any more sleep over her noise–which, thanks to our topography, is funneled directly into my bedroom. The next step, I promised, would be lawyers.

Since then, her party noise has died down dramatically. Perhaps this is because of my threat, but I suspect it might have something to do with my neighbor’s loud nocturnal fights with her boyfriend. These can be heard two houses away, but at least they don’t go on all night.


Next time: High season for tourists.

Schadenfreude, Tour Bus Edition

April 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Busted in Beachwood/Courtesy tourcorp.com

Coming down Beachwood Drive just before 1pm today, I was amazed by the sight of a motorcycle patrolman ticketing the Starlines Tour trolley bus. Yes, the red-and-green bus that comes up to Hollywoodland several times a day was busted. What for? It might have been for running the stop sign at Scenic, but I’d guess it was for illegal stopping.

Normally this sort of lawlessness–tour bus drivers slamming on the brakes every so often, forcing all traffic behind them to stop–goes unpunished. The drivers take it as their right to stop wherever and whenever they want, regardless of the fact that Beachwood Drive is a two-lane road where passing is mostly prohibited.  They do it with impunity: the one time I confronted a tour van driver (from a rival company) who’d impeded my progress for the past mile, he refused to look at me, let alone respond. It was as if my demand that he pull over to give his spiel were unreasonable, if not crazy. Clearly, the idea that people actually live near the Hollywood Sign came as a shock to both him and his passengers, who stared silently into middle distance as I complained. 

So I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the Starlines trolley ticketed. Little did I know that a half an hour later, on my return trip, I would be further rewarded by the same officer, now ticketing a Hollywood Tours van in exactly the same place, just north of Scenic. Could this be the start of a crackdown? Please say yes, LAPD! And thank you for making my day.

HHA to Tourists: Drive On Up to the Hollywood Sign!

February 26, 2011 § 4 Comments

This Way to Gridlock/Hope Anderson Productions

Just when Hollywoodland residents thought congestion couldn’t get any worse, signs like the one pictured above appeared, as if by magic, to gin up tourist traffic to the Hollywood Sign. This turn of events came as a complete surprise to everyone I know, so it wasn’t until a flier appeared in my mailbox that I learned who was responsible: the Hollywood Homeowners Association. As one of the HHA’s dues-paying members–until now, that is–I would have expected some sort of written notice, and perhaps the opportunity to cast a vote, before the signs were made. But no: the HHA made the decision unilaterally, without notifying anyone who failed to attend a certain meeting, let alone the many Hollywoodland residents who would be affected. The issue went completely unpublicized, even on the HHA’s website.

Apparently the HHA’s aim was to redirect traffic from the dead-end on Durand Drive, where residents were trapped by gridlocked cars on weekends. The result has been a significant increase  of illegally parked cars on both Mulholland Highway and Canyon Lake Drive, not only on weekends but every day of the week. While GPS directed a certain amount of traffic to those streets before the signs went up, I never saw more than two cars at a time stopped illegally on the ridge above Lake Hollywood Park, as opposed to the four plus on any given day since. When recently I had to pass five parked cars in a row, I narrowly missed being hit head-on by an oncoming car on a blind curve–surely not the result intended by the HHA.

Then there’s the intersection of Mulholland Highway and Canyon Lake, where cars not only park illegally but double-park, reducing access to a single harrowing lane on a steep hill. What used to be a challenging route has become a death trap, yet the park rangers who patrol the area are interested only in issuing warnings to the owners of off-leash dogs in Lake Hollywood Park. As long as they’re driving cars, scofflaws get a free pass in Hollywoodland.

Today as I walked my dog on Beachwood Drive, I discovered the result of another unilateral decision: the sign pictured above has been covered by a black plastic trash bag. Score: HHA 1, Beleaguered Homeowners 1.

Back to the Roaring Twenties, Briefly, on Beachwood Drive

November 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

All Photos Hope Anderson Productions

Beachwood Canyon is rarely used for filming, but this morning there was a car shoot in Hollywoodland. According to crew members, the production is a French silent (!) film about the advent of Talkies.

It was exciting to see the cars–among them, a Model A and and a Model T with wood-spoked wheels.

Most interesting was the bus, a later version of the old Hollywoodland jitney, complete with passengers in period dress. Tres nostalgique!

Infinite Impressions of the Hollywood Sign

October 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

Hope Anderson Productions

Like everyone who lives in Beachwood, I encounter an amazing variety of visitors on their way to the Hollywood Sign. The Sign draws a diverse international demographic, including multi-generational familes, busloads of school children, Mormon missionaries, sari-clad Indian women, motorcyclists, aspiring models and TV announcers, guitar-toting musicians, Segway riders, brides and grooms and recent graduates in cap and gown.

The tourists most likely to hike up to the Sign are young Europeans and Asians. Americans–except for student groups–make the trip by car, although they often need to ask–or demand–directions. Until recently, I dutifully told them how to drive as close as possible to the Sign but lately, because of gridlock in the upper Canyon, I’ve been advising drivers to continue to the end of Beachwood Drive, where they can park before continuing on foot.  Never mind that the views of the Hollywood Sign are spectacular from the Hollyridge Trail: they always resist.

How different were the two elderly Asian women I once saw heading toward the Sign with the aid of walking sticks. Moving slowly but steadily uphill, they behaved more like pilgrims than tourists. I’m sure it never occurred to them to drive up.

A week ago, as I walked my dog on Beachwood Drive, a car suddenly pulled over just ahead of me. Expecting a request for directions, I slowed down as I approached the passenger’s side. The door flew open; a young woman jumped out and sprinted up the street. From the car came snatches of conversation, perhaps Swedish–I couldn’t tell. The driver spoke in aggrieved tones to  his backseat passenger, who responded calmly, waving an immaculate manicured hand. The door stayed open; the front seat passenger had disappeared. Walking on, I spotted her standing around the corner, one hand over her eyes, distraught. She was about 20 and model-slim, in a chic grey dress with a pleated skirt. She wore a scarf and gold jewelry. Although dressing up for pictures at the Hollywood Sign is not unknown, she was by far the most stylish tourist I had seen in the Canyon.  

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“Yes, no problem,” she said, waving me away.  But she didn’t move.

There was nothing more I could do, so I walked on. It occurred to me then that the experience of  the Hollywood Sign is colored by individual perception, and that there are as many perceptions of the Sign as individuals to see it. The possibilities, therefore, are infinite. Whatever the distraught young woman eventually thought of the Hollywood Sign, her recollection of it will be forever colored by whatever it was that made her flee her companions. Like the Hollywood Sign’s iconic power, the reason for her defection remains a mystery.

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