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.

Beachwood’s Wildlife, Part 3: Deer, Owls and a Hard-Shelled Surprise

October 18, 2010 § 3 Comments

A Mule Deer/Courtesy

Until houses were built over them, there were five springs in Beachwood Canyon, an unusual amount of water for such a small, arid area.  Because of them, the Canyon once teemed with wildlife. The springs drew deer, raccoons, skunks and possums; there also were foxes that disappeared as the human population grew denser.

Following in their footsteps are Beachwood’s deer, victims of a shrinking habitat, speeding cars and, in at least one incident, illegal hunting. Not long ago, deer were as common here as coyotes. A friend who lived here  in the early 90’s told me her neighbors left their garage door open when they went out to dinner one night and came back to find a deer inside. Another neighbor was startled by a buck running through the Village one morning. Though I’ve seen deer on Ledgewood, Mulholland Highway and Canyon Lake Drive, in the past two years I’ve seen none.

Burrowing Owl/Courtesy

When I moved to the neighborhood in the fall of 2005, I was enchanted by the owls I heard hooting in the tree across the street. There were two that would call to each other late at night, one low-pitched and the other high-pitched. When I was editing “Under the Hollywood Sign” and wanted to record their sounds, however, the owls were conspicuously absent. I had heard one in Bronson Canyon and hiked up into the quarry to record it, but by the time I set up the equipment and turned it on, the owl had stopped calling. All I captured was the cawing of crows.

Though I didn’t know it that first year, owls only come to my part of Beachwood in the fall. For the last couple of years, I’ve heard only one, but recently a pair have taken up residence in my neighbor’s tree. Their high-low duet lulls me to sleep at night. (Here’s a link to a similar call:

That same neighbor recently discovered an unusual visitor in his garden: a tortoise that landed upside down in a flower pot during the first rains of the season. He righted the tortoise, took this picture and sent it on its way.

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

July 16, 2009 § 2 Comments


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

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