Setting Our House on Fire: Hollywood Sign Tourists and Their Cigarettes

July 22, 2012 § 5 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:

LAFD Squashes Hollywood Brush Fire

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:

Foundations of the Pfeiffer House on Deronda Drive/Hope Anderson Productions

Additional source: LAFD archives

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Further Evidence of Illiteracy in Beachwood Canyon: Lake Hollywood Park

August 17, 2011 § 3 Comments

Excessive Punctuation in Lake Hollywood Park/Hope Anderson Productions

Dear City of Los Angeles:

This tag has been up for about three months and seems to have become a permanent fixture in the Park. What happened to your campaign to eradicate graffiti? Was it that show at MOCA that led you to give up? Is this one tolerated because of the sentiment–or because the tagger is obviously female?

If cost is the problem,  just paint over the apostrophe. Please.

https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/graphic-evidence-of-educational-decline-found-on-mulholland-highway/

Canyon Lake Lookout During Carmageddon: Tourism As Usual

July 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

All Photos Hope Anderson Productions

These photos were taken around 7pm on Saturday, July 16th. Though Angelenos were warned against driving during the 405 shutdown, many tourists were undeterred–after all, what’s more important than posing in front of the Hollywood Sign?

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.

Scenes from Today’s Rally at Lake Hollywood Park

April 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Save the Peak Rally to be held Saturday, April 10th, at Lake Hollywood Park

April 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Photo by Hope Anderson Productions

 With 4 days left until the April 14th deadline, the rally supports the Trust for Public Land’s drive to Save the Peak. The Park is located on the 3200 block of Canyon Lake Drive. See you there!

Lost (Mulholland) Highway: The Trail from the Madonna House to Wolf’s Lair

December 20, 2009 § 4 Comments

The Trail/All Photos by Hope Anderson Productions

Near the intersection of Mulholland Highway and Canyon Lake Drive, a mile-long trail runs from Castillo del Lago–a.k.a. the Madonna House, nicknamed for you-know-who, though she no longer lives there–to Wolf’s Lair, a sprawling white castle on Durand Drive.  (More on both those landmarks in future posts.) The trail, which features spectacular views of Lake Hollywood, is a favorite of Beachwood Canyon hikers and their dogs.

California Holly 12/20/09

It’s a magical spot, one of a handful in Los Angeles that makes people forget they’re living in a city. In springtime, wild grasses grow so luxuriantly that the trail seems new and untouched. During the summer the dense foliage turns brown, leaving the trail wildly unkempt and hard to navigate. In autumn the trail comes to life again, growing green after the first rains. And late in the year, there’s a surprise: red berries on the native holly trees (toyon) that grow alongside it.

California Pepper Tree by the Madonna House

The trail has landmarks: a huge California pepper tree, abused last year by vandals, flourishes near the striped retaining wall of the Madonna House. Closer to Wolf’s Lair there’s a large flat rock decorated with stones, flowers and branches to resemble a face. Constantly rearranged by passersby, the Face Rock is an almost human presence, marking both the seasons and one’s progress on the trail. 

Face Rock

Looking down at Lake Hollywood, one can spot herons and other waterfowl that make their home there. Built at the same time as Hollywoodland (1923 to 1925), the Lake is the crown jewel of the water system built by William Mulholland, the chief engineer of Los Angeles.

Lake Hollywood from below Wolf's Lair

After I moved to Hollywoodland in late 2005, I took to hiking the trail with my dog and wondered about its origins until my neighbor Anita Gordon (now sadly deceased) told me it was intended as an extension of Mulholland Highway. The evidence is clear: although for the most part packed dirt, there are paved sections that poke up at odd angles amid the grasses. The paving–concrete studded with pebbles– dates from  Hollywoodland’s beginnings in the mid-1920’s. If  fully paved, there would have been a drivable road to Toluca Lake.

Paved Section of the Trail

Why did the paving stop? Perhaps the tract owners, along with developer S.H. Woodruff,  decided Hollywoodland’s appeal depended on its isolation both from Hollywood and the Valley. By making the neighborhood accessible only via Beachwood Drive, the tract would maintain its tranquility and rural character–the very qualities promised by radio and print ads across the nation. 

It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that Canyon Lake Drive was built, connecting Beachwood Canyon to Toluca Lake.  Still, the route to the Valley remained relatively unknown until a 1989 book called LA Shortcuts revealed it;  Beachwood Canyon has been plagued by commuter traffic ever since.

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