Beachwood Canyon from Above, Circa 1925

December 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

This aerial photograph shows Beachwood and the original Hollywood Sign, along with its searchlight–the dot below it. Taken around 1925, it shows a canyon in transition. While houses are plentiful in lower Beachwood, the Hollywoodland tract is still being built, with only a few houses visible. The roads have been cut and are the same roads we use today. Though not obvious, the network of retaining walls and steps are moving towards completion. Within four years, Southern California’s first hillside tract community will boast scores of new houses, its own country club and a distinct identity.

The biggest surprise in the photo is Burbank, stretching beyond Mt. Lee. Still largely farmland, it shows little sign of its future as a studio town and densely populated suburb.

The H to the left of the Hollywood Sign is not, as an English visitor assumed, a spare for the H in the Sign. It was placed on the hillside by Hollywood High School, and vanished long ago.

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Krotona Flight: Beachwood’s Original Staircase

August 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

Krotona Flight from Visa del Mar Avenue

Krotona Flight from Visa del Mar Avenue/Hope Anderson Productions

Krotona Flight is a monumental staircase located on Vista del Mar Avenue, at the southwestern edge of  Beachwood Canyon. Though less famous than the granite staircases of Hollywoodland to the north, it is arguably more fascinating. Like the Hollywoodland stairs, Krotona Flight had its practical and decorative uses but also an equally important symbolic function.

Designed by the architectural firm of Mead and Requa, Krotona Flight was built in 1914-1915. The stairs not only provided access to the Knudsen residence to the east but served as the south entrance to the hillside Krotona Colony, the utopian community founded by the Theosophical Society in 1912.

Krotona colonists used the stairs to get to and from the trolley hub at Argyle and Franklin Avenues. Returning from their jobs in Hollywood and Los Angeles, they only had to walk uphill for a couple of blocks–passing land that was then mostly fields–before reaching the stairs. Although the original plans called for a large gateway at the bottom of Krotona Flight, it was never built. Instead, the stairs fulfilled the function of delineating the Colony from the ordinary world.

The fountain on the first landing, though no longer working, makes it plain the stairs were more than functional. Writes the architectural historian Alfred Willis of Krotona Flight: “Simple yet grand, this staircase once symbolized for those who climbed it the ascent into those spiritual realms of which Krotona in Hollywood was a kind of earthly correspondent.” (Architronic v. 8, 1998)
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For more about the Krotona Colony, purchase the documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign” at http://hopeandersonproductions.com/?page_id=3361
The film is also available for rent at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/uths

The Big Parade’s Final Leg in Hollywoodland

July 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

Though running 1 1/2 hours late, thirty to forty intrepid walkers finally reached the Belden Steps sometime after 7:30pm, where I was waiting with water and an overview of Beachwood’s landmarks and history. Then they took off for the Hollywood Sign, which they reached in darkness.

The Belden Stairs

The Belden Stairs/Hope Anderson Productions

Big Paraders

Big Paraders/Hope Anderson Productions

The Granite Stairs of Hollywoodland…and This Weekend’s Big Parade

July 16, 2009 § 2 Comments

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The Beachwood-Westshire Stairs/Courtesy Hope Anderson Productions

There are six of them, staircases that connect the lower and upper streets of Beachwood Canyon north of the Gates. They were part of the original design of Hollywoodland, a housing development conceived by Harry Chandler, whose main occupation was business manager (and later publisher) of the LA Times.

Hollywoodland was the first housing tract in the Los Angeles hills, which had yet to attain desirability among homebuyers. Perhaps in an effort to make hillside living safer and more appealing, Chandler and his developers, Tracey E. Shoults and S. H. Woodward, imported a crew of stone masons from Italy to construct not only the impressive Hollywoodland gates and staircases but a network of massive retaining walls.

The masons lived in a tented camp at the end of Beachwood Drive, just before the end of the paved road and the stables. (Houses were built there in the early 1960s.) From 1923 to 1925, they built miles of walls and stairs using granite from the Union Rock Quarry in Bronson Canyon, just over the hill to the east of Beachwood.  All the granite for the chimneys, hearths, steps, terraces and walkways of the original Hollywoodland houses came from the Bronson quarry. (It is now commonly known as the Bat Caves because its main tunnel–through which trolley cars transported the stone to Beachwood–was used in the “Batman” TV series and 1960s movie.)

The Sign from the Bronson Quarry/Courtesy Ken Pries

The Sign from the Bronson Quarry/Courtesy Ken Pries

This weekend, a 2-day walking tour of the historic steps of Los Angeles begins on Saturday morning at Angel’s Flight and ends on Sunday evening at the Hollywood Sign. Called The Big Parade, the event has as its midpoint the historic Music Box Stairs in  Silver Lake, where Laurel and Hardy pushed, pulled and lost a crated piano in the 1932 film, “The Music Box.” On Sunday, just before the final leg to the Sign, I’ll be giving a brief talk on history of the Hollywoodland granite stairs. For more information and a schedule, please go to www.bigparadela.com

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