Vintage Hollywood by Night, Part II

March 14, 2013 § 2 Comments

Hollywoodland and Lake Hollywood, Circa 1925/Courtesy Martijn Veltman

Hollywoodland and Lake Hollywood, Circa 1925/Courtesy Martjin Veltman


Hollywoodland resident Martijn Veltman sent me this photo after seeing Tommy Dangcil’s postcard in the previous post. He found it in a book on S. H. Woodruff, Hollywoodland’s developer, and we both agree it’s the same image, though heavily painted in the postcard version.

Vintage Hollywoodland by Night

March 12, 2013 § 3 Comments

Lake Hollywood and Hollywoodland/Courtesy Tommy Dangcil

Lake Hollywood and Hollywoodland, Circa 1925/Courtesy Tommy Dangcil

From Tommy Dangcil’s postcard collection comes this magnificent view of Hollywoodland and Lake Hollywood by night. Its date is obvious from the handful of houses sprinkling the hills: no later than 1925. At that point, Hollywoodland was just two years old, and what houses existed were newly built. In the coming decades, hundreds of new houses would spring up in Holllywoodland, but the contours of the land would remain the same. Also unchanged is Lake Hollywood, whose shape was determined by the canyon–Holly Canyon–that was flooded for its construction.

Apples and Oranges: The Pointlessness of Comparing Los Angeles to New York, and the Comparison That Fits

March 19, 2012 § 2 Comments

New York City/Courtesy favim.com

The Los Angeles Basin/Courtesy skykeepers.org

A few weeks ago I was waiting in line at the register of a store on Larchmont when I overheard the following from a visiting New Yorker. “I really love LA,” said the woman to an employee, “but I couldn’t live here. It’s so suburban–I mean, I’ve been in my car all day!”

Once again I was forced to wonder why so many New Yorkers equate driving with suburban living. After all, cities everywhere, New York included, are full of cars driven by their residents. In fact, I know some New Yorkers–Manhattanites, no less–who not only have cars but drive them daily, which they don’t find suburban in the least. Perhaps because the woman from New York was a walking, talking cliché, dressed in the kind of outfit–shorts, sandals and tank top–no Angeleno her age would wear off the beach, let alone in February, she made me wonder isn’t it about time these comparisons stopped?

It doesn’t take more than a glance to see that New York is an older, vertical, European-style city, sited on a navigable river and a deep water harbor, and that Los Angeles is a younger*, horizontal, sprawling metropolis that–alone among the world’s great cities–lacks a navigable river. It does have a harbor, albeit one that was created less than a century ago and located some thirty miles south of downtown, in another city. But the most important difference between the two cities is that Los Angeles isn’t European at all, despite once having been the westernmost outpost of the Spanish Empire. In the modern era, its appearance has been influenced more by the American Midwest and Asia than by Europe, and in all aspects of its culture, Los Angeles has looked away from Europe. In short, there are so many more differences than similarities between New York and Los Angeles that to compare them at all seems an exercise in futility.

But there is a city that shares many of Los Angeles’s characteristics–Tokyo. Both cities sprawl across vast plains, incorporating not only former farmland but substantial former towns. Both have historic centers but also multiple newer downtowns–urban hubs that could serve as the centers for sizable cities. Just as greater Los Angeles boasts commercial districts in Pasadena, Hollywood, Mid-Wilshire, Westwood, Long Beach and Santa Monica, Tokyo has such hubs as Shinjuku, Ueno, Shibuya, Roppongi and Shinagawa.

Metropolitan Tokyo from Mt. Tsukuba/Courtesy mytoyota.jp

Another similarity is their relative inaccessibility to visitors. Tourists can visit such well-trod attractions as Omotesando and Rodeo Drive, but the best of Tokyo and Los Angeles remains tucked away from major thoroughfares, out of visitors’ sight. Both cities save their charm for natives, revealing their secrets so gradually that even longtime residents are forever discovering something new. Just as I found the route to Lake Hollywood only after a decade of living in Hancock Park, each visit to Tokyo–where I lived from one to thirteen–brings a new revelation. Once I toured a walled garden in a monks’ residence near Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple (est. 645). Though thousands of Tokyoites and tourists visit the temple and surrounding neighborhood daily, the garden was unmarked and hidden from view; if not for a Japanese friend, I never would have known it was there.

As many features as Los Angeles and Tokyo share, however, there is one aspect in which they differ hugely. For the past four hundred years, no one in Japan has thought Tokyo wasn’t the most important place in Japan and the capital of everything; whereas Los Angeles so often has been the Rodney Dangerfield of major cities, disparaged by residents and non-residents alike. But that attitude is changing, and it’s about time.

*Nevertheless, it isn’t quite the young city portrayed by Anglo-centrics who conveniently ignore both its millennia of Native American settlement and its decades (1781-1848) under Spanish Colonial and Mexican rule.

Next time: how the events of the past two decades have transformed the civic mood.

Related articles:

https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/no-more-la-la-land-part-i-changing-references-to-los-angeles-in-the-new-york-times/
https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/no-more-la-la-land-part-ii-how-los-angeles-became-the-center-of-the-art-world/

Hollywood Sign Tourism: Joys of the Low Season

November 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

On Monday, I took a first-time visitor to Los Angeles from Hollywood to the Pacific, via Sunset Blvd. We wound up at a restaurant overlooking Santa Monica Beach, which was empty of people. “Where is everyone?” he asked. “Well, it’s winter,” I said. “But it feels like summer,” he said. No matter: despite its relatively balmy climate, Los Angeles does have a low season, and this is it. 

That’s why November thru February is my favorite time of year. It’s not just that there are fewer tourists; there are fewer Angelenos, as hordes leave for Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Some manage to stay away during the weeks between the holidays, while others clear out from mid-December until after Sundance.) For those of us who stay behind, there’s less traffic, more parking and more quiet. And in Hollywoodland, tourism that intermittently reaches manageable levels.

These photos were taken in the western part of Beachwood Canyon around 4pm yesterday. The recently cleared picture-posing area, which in summer held crowds of a hundred or more, was empty.

Across the road, the Lake Hollywood lookout had fewer than a dozen tourists.

On the blind curves of Mulholland Highway, there were no illegally stopped cars, only a couple of walkers and a dog. If not for the ubiquitous trash cans (the same ones that took out my passenger’s side mirror last spring as I dodged an oncoming car), my view of the Hollywood Sign would have been perfect.

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

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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