A New Home in the Hills: Augustus Knudsen in Beachwood Canyon, 1916

February 18, 2011 § 5 Comments

The Knudsen House on Vista del Mar Avenue, Hollywood

Augustus Knudsen outside his house, 1916/All photos courtesy Kauai Museum, Augustus Knudsen Archive

In 1916, the Krotona Colony was in its fifth year–and an established institution by the standards of Hollywood, then in its infancy. Augustus Knudsen’s position as a leading member of the Theosophical Society was underscored by the impressive house he commissioned in 1914 from the San Francisco firm of Mead and Requa. Interestingly, Anne Sinclair Knudsen, Augustus’s widowed mother, was the client of record, a clear indication that she funded the construction of her son’s new home. Located at 2117-2121 Vista del Mar Avenue, the house is now an apartment building, and very different in appearance.

Knudsen by the Arcade at the South End of the House

The photo below was taken not at the house but the Lotus Pond, a Krotona landmark that was located just west of Temple Hill Drive.

Augustus Knudsen at the Lotus Pond, 1916

Additional Source:

“A Survey of Surviving Buildings of the Krotona Colony in Hollywood,” by Alfred Willis. Architronic, 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 Krotona Colony’s Kaua’i Connection, Part IV: Augustus Knudsen’s Passage to India

February 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Theosophical Society Headquarters in Adyar, Madras/www.blavatskyarchive.com

In 1896, Augustus Knudsen left Kaua’i for San Francisco. From there, he intended to travel to India and study Hinduism. But in San Francisco, fate intervened when he met the president and co-founder of the Theosophical Society, Henry Steel Olcott.

Henry Steel Olcott, seated at center, and Helena Blavatsky, standing behind him, with spiritual leaders in India/www.ookaboo.com

Olcott (1832-1907) was famous not only as Madame Blavatsky’s partner in the Theosophical Society (which he served as lawyer as well as spiritual leader) but as the best-known, and probably first, person of European descent to convert to Buddhism. Before he embarked upon this unorthodox path, Olcott was a Civil War veteran who fought graft and investigated Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. In 1874, he was hired by the New York Sun and New York Graphic to investigate “spiritual manifestations” at Eddy Farm. There he encountered Madame Blavatsky, a meeting of minds which led to the founding of the Theosophical Society the following year, and to the establishment of its worldwide headquarters in Adyar, Madras (now Chennai) in 1883.

The late 19th century was a boom time for new religions, many of which were concerned with signs of life after death. Olcott’s social stature was shared by many fellow seekers: among his contemporaries who studied Theosophy were William James and Thomas Edison. Olcott’s background as a soldier, lawyer and patriot no doubt boosted the image of Theosophy for those who otherwise would have been skeptical of some of its tenets. 

What attracted Augustus Knudsen to Theosophy was the same thing that drew Olcott’s attentions away from Buddhism: psychic phenomena and occult rituals like seances. In 1896, the newly converted Knudsen traveled to Adyar, where he studied with Madame Blavatsky. By 1898 he was back in San Francisco, where he married Margaret Russell, a Californian with Southern roots.

After their daughter Ruth was born in 1901, Augustus and Margaret returned to Kaua’i. Valdemar had died in 1898, and with only his brother Eric left to run the family businesses, Augustus had a role there. (The youngest Knudsen brother, Arthur, suffered a mental breakdown in his 20’s and remained institutionalized in Boston.) But the marriage foundered when Margaret, a late-in-life mother, became physically and emotionally incapacitated by menopause. According to Ruth,   

[Augustus] kicked her out of the house. And told me later that her illness had interfered with his spiritual development.

The calamity of divorce allowed Augustus Knudsen to make a final break with his life on Kaua’i. Placing Ruth in the care of her grandmother, Anne Sinclair Knudsen, he left Hawai’i, remarried and settled in Hollywood. The house he commissioned on Vista del Mar Avenue would be the gateway to the Krotona Colony, a utopia made real by his devotion to Theosophy–and the family fortune made on Kaua’i.

Additional Sources:

Oral History of Ruth Knudsen Hanner, Courtesy Kauai Museum.

Theosophical Society Headquarters, Adyar.  http://www.ts-adyar.org/
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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

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

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