February 26, 2011 § 4 Comments
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.
March 30, 2010 § 2 Comments
Heather Drive is a winding residential street that runs south off Ledgewood Drive in Hollywoodland. Those who visit Lake Hollywood Park often take it to escape the tourist vans that inch up Ledgewood, as both streets lead to Mulholland Highway. Once on Heather, drivers face a blind uphill curve on a road often narrowed to a single lane by parked cars. Then comes the sharp uphill right turn onto Durand Drive that briefly forces them into the oncoming lane. Mercifully, cross-traffic is sparse.
Heather Drive entered American literature in 1937, in Raymond Chandler’s short story “Take the Girl.” Though he calls it Heather Street, the description is unmistakable:
Heather Street was a gash in the side of a steep flat slope, at the top of Beachwood Drive. It curved around the shoulder enough so that even by daylight you couldn’t have seen much more than half a block of it at one time while you were on it.
As his works make clear, Raymond Chandler was an automotive man, crisscrossing Los Angeles by car. His gumshoe protagonists drive everywhere, traversing the LA Basin from downtown to the San Fernando Valley, Silver Lake to Santa Monica. Unlike Charles Bukowski, who set his books in Hollywood and San Pedro, and John Fante, who specialized in downtown Los Angeles, Chandler claimed all of Los Angeles as his territory. So it’s not surprising that he knew Beachwood Canyon intimately, or that he could perfectly describe a certain style of Hollywoodland house:
The house I wanted was built downward, one of those clinging-vine effects, with a front door below the street level, a patio on the roof, a bedroom or two possibly in the basement, and a garage as easy to drive into as an olive bottle.
Such upside-down houses still dot Heather, mixing charm and risk. In late 2006, a partygoer returning to his car lost his footing and fell down the hill, stopping just short of a 30-foot drop. The resulting rescue involved firefighters and helicopters; the man suffered broken bones but no permanent injuries. (Footage of the rescue, shot by DP Tjardus Greidanus, appears in my documentary, “Under the Hollywood Sign.”)
But in August of the same year, a far more serious accident occurred on Heather when a bicyclist, resting his foot on the curb at the bend, lost his balance and fell over the side, landing on the patio of a neighboring house. Left a paraplegic, he sued the City for negligence, receiving a $5 million settlement. Although the same stretch had been the site of several car crashes, at least one of them fatal, this apparently marked the first time the City was sued for damages. After the settlement was announced in 2009, yellow hazard signs went up along the curve and plans were announced to build a permanent, vista-blocking barrier.
No such modifications were thought necessary from 1923, when Heather Drive was built, until then. Somehow drivers managed to negotiate Heather Drive (or not) without involving the City. But times have changed. Ironically, the bicyclist was no stranger to the topographical challenges of the neighborhood, as he lived in Hollywoodland.
January 4, 2010 § 13 Comments
Chief among the misconceptions about Wolf’s Lair, the beautiful Loire-style castle on Durand Drive, is that its name has something to do with wolves; certainly the wolf’s head placard on the front gate implies it. Nevertheless, Wolf’s Lair was named not for the animal but the man who built it: Bud Wolf.
Wolf was a real estate developer; he also owned the Texaco station that stood on the site of Beachwood Market’s parking lot. As lord and master of Wolf’s Lair, he also may have been the archetypal early Hollywoodlander: an eccentric bon vivant. When not at home in his splendid turreted mansion with views of Lake Hollywood, the Hollywood Sign and the Observatory, Wolf enjoyed playing golf and driving his gull-wing Mercedes. He had a mistress named Diane. (His wife suffered from mental illness.) He employed the alcoholic former caretaker of the Hollywoodland Sign as a full-time handyman. He also kept an exotic pet: a gibbon whose howls ricocheted around the canyon. The gibbon lived in a tree during the day; at night he supposedly retired to a room in one of the turrets.
Wolf’s Lair is notable not only as a fine example of the French château architecture that was the rage in Hollywood during the 1920’s but as an example of mid-century architecture as well, as Wolf later commissioned a guest house by the architect John Lautner. Although the exterior resembles a plainer version of the main house, its interior is pure Lautner, with wood-beamed ceilings, stone pillars and lots of glass. The guest house is one of three commissions John Lautner designed in Beachwood Canyon, the most famous of which is the glass-fronted addition of Beachwood Market, built in 1952.
Until I went up to Wolf’s Lair the other day to take pictures of its neighbor, Castillo del Lago, I hadn’t realized it too was for sale. (How long has it been since both lakeside mansions were on the market simultaneously?) Price:$4.695 million, for 3.3 acres, 8 bedrooms, six baths, a pool and gardens. And the most enormous stone walls imaginable, from granite quarried in Bronson Canyon. (Agent: Ernie Carswell, Teles Properties)
Even by the fairytale standards set by Hollywoodland’s developers, Wolf’s Lair’s charm is exceptional. At once massive and delicate, it rises above Lake Hollywood like something out of a dream.
I am grateful to Harry Williams for biographical information about Bud Wolf.