Revisiting the Scene of Saturday’s Beachwood Drive Accident, and Encountering Another
May 19, 2014 § 1 Comment
After I posted about Saturday’s manure truck accident, my neighbor Christine Kent wrote, “what your photo doesn’t show is that if someone was in that car they would be seriously injured or dead…the driver side is completely crushed.” From her photo, it’s easy to see what would have happened if the parked vehicle hadn’t been empty.
She also suggested I go up to see the marks left behind from the car’s dragging, so late this afternoon I walked up and took these pictures. Not only did I find long drag marks but actual gouges from the impact of the overturned rig.
Walking north on Beachwood Drive is always a bit scary. The sidewalk ends soon after the intersection of Beachwood and Westshire, leaving no alternative to walking in the street. This is what throngs of hikers do, almost always several abreast, but even single file isn’t safe on such a narrow street. After I took my pictures, I walked south along the west side of the street, hugging the edge of the road as cars whizzed by. I was glad to get home uneventfully. Half an hour later I heard a loud bang, followed by sirens. I went out to find this scene:
Apparently only the driver of one of the cars was hurt, something of a miracle at a time when dog walkers and bicyclists are always on the street. If the Hollyridge Trailhead weren’t temporarily closed, there probably would have been a group of tourists walking where the accident took place. There’s no doubt there will be future accidents on Beachwood Drive–the road will always be narrow and winding, with too much vehicular traffic. But if the City reopens the Hollyridge Trailhead as planned, the next accident might have much graver consequences.
Why We Freak Out When You Smoke in Beachwood Canyon
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
Silver Lake Reservoir: How An Unused Body of Water Could Become an Urban Oasis
February 17, 2014 § 1 Comment
It was with great interest that I read this article on proposed plans for Silver Lake Reservoir, which will soon be decommissioned as LA’s water supply is moved underground. There are proposals for a swimming area, a beach and an esplanade, any of which would be a boon for park-starved Angelenos.
New recreational facilities would make Silver Lake Reservoir a welcome destination for tourists as well. Perhaps the redesigned Reservoir would grow popular enough to siphon some of the Beachwood’s tourist traffic to an area that is far more accessible than Beachwood Canyon. I can dream, can’t I?
Tom LaBonge’s Tourist Trade
August 11, 2013 § 6 Comments
A few years ago, after weekends of gridlock on the Canyon’s northwestern streets left residents unable to leave or return to their houses, LaBonge responded by clearing a hillside above Lake Hollywood Park so that tourists could take pictures near the Sign. Eliminating some of the brush was probably a good idea, but cars and buses came in ever-increasing numbers, creating havoc on Mulholland Highway and Canyon Lake Drive. It wasn’t long before a wildfire broke out from a cigarette flicked into the chaparral by a tourist. But it’s all good according Tom LaBonge, who once wanted to build a lookout tower in Beachwood Village for tourists. Never mind that he proposed putting the tower in the parking lot of the Beachwood Market, which happens to be private property, or that very few tourists want to walk, let alone climb steps, for a look at the Hollywood Sign. For Tom LaBonge, it’s about the tourists all the time; we residents can go hang. (I often wonder where he thinks his salary comes from.)
His latest idea for Hollywoodland is jaw-dropping, even by past standards. LaBonge has proposed an immediate elimination of 50% of the parking on Beachwood Drive north of Beachwood Village, meaning that one side of the Canyon’s only thoroughfare would be permanently off-limits to parked cars. The reason for this is obvious: LaBonge, a lame duck, wants cement his tourism-centric legacy by granting even greater access to sightseeing buses and vans (all of which exceed weight limits, not that this is ever enforced). The implications of this plan are devastating, not only to those residents who have nowhere else to park but to those of us who have garages. Apparently LaBonge thinks no one will ever need parking spaces for visiting friends, family or workmen, and that upper Beachwood Drive is his for the taking.
There’s a hearing about the proposal scheduled for Wednesday, August 14th at 7pm at 6501 Fountain Avenue. I’ll be there, and I hope other Beachwooders–particularly those who live on Beachwood Drive–will attend as well.
Winter Rains–and Peace–Descend on Hollywoodland
December 2, 2012 § 1 Comment
Four days of intermittent rain have brought clouds and mist to Beachwood Canyon, which in turn have completely shrouded the Hollywood Sign. In the above photo, the Sign should stand to the right of the turreted house, as it does in any number of photos on this blog. But it’s not there–and if you didn’t know where to look, you’d never guess its location.
Given the arid local climate, the Sign’s disappearance is a rare occurrence, and I can remember only a handful of days during my seven years here when I couldn’t see it from my house. Ironically, on the first of them I was trying to show the Sign to Kelly Brand, the actress I cast as Peg Entwistle in my short film “Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk.” Although we were probably only 100 feet below the Sign at one point, we couldn’t see it at all.
But today the Sign’s invisibility was a gift. Normally Sundays bring nonstop tourist traffic up Beachwood Drive, and a Grand Prix-like roar that doesn’t stop until sundown. But all day long, traffic was light; with nothing to see, no one came.
Deliver Us From Lollygagging: The Glacial Pace of Tourist Traffic on Beachwood Drive
August 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
While this might not sound like a serious problem, it is huge for those of us who live in the Canyon and have schedules to keep. Once we get stuck behind crawling tourist traffic, we are trapped for a mile. Drivers are completely unable to pass north of Graciosa, where Beachwood Drive is a narrow, two-lane ribbon. South of Graciosa, where the road is considerably wider, passing is possible but fraught with hazard. Sudden stops and swerves are common tourist driving tactics, as is road rage: How dare you pass us! seems to be the general attitude, as if no one should have anything better to do than chug up and down Beachwood Drive at 2/3 the legal speed. (I’m neglecting the fact that some tourists go even slower than 20 mph. 15 mph is common.)
The mile-long stretch between Franklin Avenue and the Gates has no stop lights and only two stop signs. At the posted speed of 30 mph, it took me 1 1/2 minutes to drive it at 6:45pm today. Yet it often takes five times as long, an inexcusable length of time for such a short distance. Getting stuck behind tourist traffic on Beachwood Drive is getting more common–and more frustrating–every day.
If you’re reading this and contemplating a visit to the Hollywood Sign, please drive at the posted speed. If you need to take a photo, please pull over, signalling first, and let the driver behind you pass. I’m thanking you in advance, not just for myself but for everyone concerned.
Setting Our House on Fire: Hollywood Sign Tourists and Their Cigarettes
July 22, 2012 § 6 Comments
Around 6pm on Monday, July 9th, fire trucks roared up Beachwood Drive, setting off a chorus of howls among the Canyon’s coyotes (as well as a certain rescue dog who, I discovered, can howl while she walks). The LAFD was responding to a brush fire that started when a tourist tossed a cigarette into the dry brush at the Lookout on Canyon Lake Drive. This careless action–made in spite of No Smoking signs at site–threatened hundreds of homes, which is why 75 firefighters were deployed to extinguish it. Here’s an LAFD photo of the aftermath:
As someone who not only lives in the Canyon but spends time at Lake Hollywood Park, just below the lookout, I wasn’t surprised by the fire. I often see people, both tourists and Angelenos, smoking there, and they all do it with impunity. In the past couple of years, I’ve started telling smokers about the fire danger and asking them to put their cigarettes out; usually they do it without complaint. The only person who has refused, ironically, is an acquaintance of mine, who clearly felt I was overreacting because it wasn’t particularly hot or dry that day. Like most people, he didn’t think he could cause an accidental fire. One local woman takes cell phone photos of non-compliant smokers; when they ask why, she says so if there’s a fire I can show it to the police. I wish I could be so brave.
This might be a good time to remember the Hollywood Hills fire of May 12, 1961, which started at the northern edge of Beachwood Canyon and caused enormous devastation before it was extinguished the next day. An LAFD report by Inspector Otto Firgens reads:
Due to the heavy brush, high winds, low humidity and rugged terrain the fire developed into major proportions within 15 minutes of the original alarm. A Major Emergency was declared at 7:59 pm….The fire continued to burn out of control toward Mt. Lee and the Griffith Park Observatory to the east. It was spreading and had already developed a 4 or 5 mile perimeter. It raced up one canyon and down the other, driven by winds which at times reached 67 miles per hour.
In the end, 17 houses in Beachwood Canyon were either damaged or destroyed by the fire. Among the total losses was the home of Laura and Aldous Huxley. Because they left with only what they could carry, they lost not only most of their possessions but all of Aldous’s papers and manuscripts. The only manuscript Huxley saved was his book in progress, Island. Also burned to the ground was the home of their friend Ginny Pfeiffer. More than 50 years later, neither house has been rebuilt, though the Huxley property was sold after Laura’s death in 2007. The foundations of Pfeiffer’s house on Deronda Drive are visible to tourists trying to reach the Hollywood Sign, but I doubt anyone notices. Here’s what the fire left behind:
Additional source: LAFD archives
Hargobind Singh’s Walking Tours of Hollywoodland
July 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
I first noticed Hargobind Singh several months ago, climbing the historic stairs near my house. As many people use the stairs, it wasn’t until I saw him several times in a single weekend that I realized he was leading a tour group.
What drew you to being a tour guide?
I have always been into the outdoors, and when people would come visit I would take them around to see some of LA’s natural beauty in the Santa Monica Mountains and to explore unique neighborhoods around LA. My guests would have such a great time that they said that their trip to LA was one of the best vacations they have ever had. Several of my friends and relatives suggested that I start a tour company so that I could share this experience with others. So 3 years ago I started my company LA Active Adventures.
How did you promote your business?
When I first started, the economy just started to go down so it was slow going at first. I started off going to hotels and informed the concierge about my tour company and my unique tours. I even took a few concierges on my tours. I had my big break last December when I contacted Living Social and offered to list my Hollywood Sign Adventure with them. I wasn’t expecting much, since I had 3 years of slow business. I ended up selling about 1700 of that one tour. It has been mostly locals that purchased the deal. Now I am getting referrals from people that have done my tours.
How long have you been guiding tours of Hollywoodland?
After discovering this neighborhood last May, I thought it would be a good addition. Since I did the deal with Living Social, I have been doing the Hollywoodland tour almost every day since December 9th.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to continue to share this unique experience with locals and visitors.
Hollywood Sign Mania: The Week in Review
March 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
A few Sundays ago, my visiting sister–after countless cars roared by the house on their way towards the Sign–remarked, “I couldn’t care less about seeing the Hollywood Sign.” If only more people felt the same way.
Since the “Hollywood Sign Scenic View” signs came down, GPS-enabled gridlock has returned to a certain Hollywoodland street. For those who haven’t seen the YouTube video from last weekend, here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC6tSAZTh1k
A couple of warm days have given us a taste of the chaos to come in tourist traffic. Yesterday at about 4:30pm, I was driving up Beachwood by the Glens when a woman in pink not only ran into traffic but zig-zagged through moving cars in both lanes, shrieking and laughing as she was photographed. I hit the horn and then the brakes, but she was still running around in the street as I passed. I can only assume this is a Sign-induced variation on Stendahl Syndrome, and I pray it’s not catching.
Later, after finishing a hike, I came upon the following shoots wrapping up on Mulholland Highway: a music video featuring a French male singer and two female back-ups, and one featuring a guy in what appeared to be a bear suit. Except perhaps for the bear suit, none of this was unusual. Earlier in the week, as I dodged tourists at the Lake Hollywood Lookout, I nearly ran over a photographer who was in the street shooting a model in a vintage convertible. The convertible blocked Mulholland Highway at the intersection of Canyon Lake Drive, creating a very dangerous situation for cars moving in both directions. Naturally, there was no one directing traffic. As none of these people pay fees of any kind–film crews of six or fewer people are exempt from permits, and still photography doesn’t require them–shoots like these go on every day.
Last but not least, someone is giving the Hollywood Sign the scholarly treatment–and explaining its magical powers of attraction. As three people, including one in Wisconsin, have emailed me about this lecture by Leo Braudy at the Architecture + Design Museum this afternoon, I feel compelled to attend:
The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon
Hollywood’s famous sign, constructed of massive white block letters set into a steep hillside, is an emblem of the movie capital it looms over and an international symbol of glamour and star power. To so many who see its image, the sign represents the earthly home of that otherwise ethereal world of fame, stardom and celebrity–the goal of American and worldwide aspiration to be in the limelight, to be, like the Hollywood sign itself, instantly recognizable. Leo Braudy is currently University Professor and Leo S. Bing Chair in English and American Literature at the University of Southern California and was recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Saturday, March 12, 2011 – 5:00pm to 8:00pm
Blame the Documentarian: The Hollywood Sign, Tourism and Me
March 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
From late 2006 until early 2009, I conducted interviews and shot footage for “Under the Hollywood Sign,” my documentary on the history and culture of Beachwood Canyon. Some of that footage showed the Hollywood Sign, whose history I traced from its beginnings as a billboard in 1923 to its rebuilding in 1978 and beyond. I also filmed, with the permission of the Hollywood Sign Trust, at the Sign itself. During the 2 1/2 years I worked on this project, I worried that my neighbors would object to the attention my work might bring to the area. But no one ever did–until last Tuesday night’s meeting of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Association.
As the meeting ended, a woman approached me and said, “Hope, I’ve heard your video encourages people to climb to the Sign.” “That’s absolutely untrue,” I said, explaining that while I had documented people climbing to the Sign, I was a bystander who had nothing to do with their decision. (On one occasion, I showed up at a legal spot to shoot b-roll and was amazed to see three people at the base of the Sign, and a couple on their way up.) But what I was thinking was, if I had made a documentary about Afghanistan, would she accuse me of promoting warfare? And shouldn’t she have watched it before insinuating this?
I might have pointed out that “Under the Hollywood Sign,” which to date has not been broadcast, has been seen mostly by people who live in the neighborhood, and that it clearly states that climbing to the Sign is illegal. While additional viewers have seen my YouTube channel, my clips show up alongside many other people’s videos of the Hollywood Sign, including some that promote climbing to it.
Nevertheless, it’s true that in the 5 years I’ve lived in Hollywoodland, tourist traffic has increased noticeably. My opinion–shared by many–is that the ubiquity of GPS and the recent advent of small, open tour vans are the main causes. Previously, tourists without cars would take the Starlines trolley bus as far as Beachwood Village. Now they can take a van up the residential streets near the Sign where they stop for pictures–and create gridlock.
On Saturday, I recounted the incident to Jim Hollander, a Beachwood resident and journalist. He said, “”That happens to reporters all the time. They write about someone or something small and unknown, and then suddenly it’s a big deal, and people feel as though they have been put at a loss. These people must think documentaries are the devil’s work!” Coincidentally, that very day the Times ran an article about the problems of tourist traffic. Because it focuses on Beachwood Canyon, I’m hoping the Times will share in the blame. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-0305-tourbus-noise-20110305,0,6673141.story
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