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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

HOT SPOTS in CA: Hollywoodland

Don't mind if I do...

The thing about Hollywood is that it's very much alive, even while being haunted. In truth, despite all of the sordidness and usary, the hypocrisy and superficiality, you kind of can't help loving this city. I guess what it all comes down to is that, while I myself often can't stand what Hollywood currently stands for, I still marvel at what it was built upon. Vision, integrity, imaginiation, grit, artistry, beauty, determination-- these things all came together inexplicably when man embraced his latest invention and found himself encroaching on modern genius. This is why Hollywood will forever have my heart, and while I cynically enjoy driving down the paved streets in need of serious repair, past the electric lights pointing me toward the nearest bar, strip joint, or medical marijuanna emporium (which are sprouting up everywhere like... weeds), there is something equally yet contradictorally invigorating about the open landscapes and unknown wildernesses that indicate what once was-- the Hollywood that Cecil B. DeMille stumbled upon in 1914 after he overruled AZ as the shooting locale of The Squaw Man.

Original Stone Gate at the Hollywood Entryway.

The real estate development venture known as Hollywoodland still exists. This is a fact that I myself did not know. I assumed that whatever properties had once been established by Harvey and Daeida Wilcox had long since been demolished and buried beneath the latest architectural ventures Los Angeles has had to offer. However, on a whim, and with a little luck from Living Social, I encountered a tour meant to take me on a narrated hike around the Hollywood sign. Twenty bucks later, I found myself walking up Beachwood Canyon into a small, tucked away neighborhood known as Hollywoodland. My jaw dropped, my eyes bulged, and I very nearly kissed the pavement beneath me when my brain accepted what my eyes were seeing, but I stilled myself for fear of frightening the other hikers.

Site of today's Hollywoodland Realty.

Yes, H-land is still very much alive, and despite the array of modern cars lining the streets, it remains very much untouched by time. Upon entering the stone entryway, complete with turrets and a large clock, one will see the Village Coffee Shop (great Eggs Benedict, left) and the local market, where a scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers was filmed. A few small shops and private businesses greet the eye, and then a slew of streets take one up into the hills above Hollywood. Of course, there have been modern renovations and new homes built, but many of the buildings are reminiscent of or actually are the original structures regimented by the original neighborhood rules: homeowners were once given a choice of French Normandy, English Tudor, Mediterranean Revival, or Spanish Revival styles of design.

Example of classic architecture and original
supporting stone walls.

When walking up Ledgewood, one can get pretty close to the notorious Hollywood sign, and on the hike up I was too able to spot an interesting bit of property known as The Garden of Oz. Since Frank Baum was an early resident in Hollywood, and his The Wizard of Oz went onto become one of the greatest films of all time, it makes sense that there be a little tribute to him. I'm not sure what the whole story is, and the doors were locked, so I couldn't go inside, but I got a peek. Inside the closed gates there seemed to be a child-sized world resembling Willy Wonka's chocolate factory-- minus the chocolate. It appears to be private property accessible only to the neighborhood children, who each have a key.

The Garden of Oz.

Perhaps the most surprising moment was when I laid my eyes on Hollywoodland's greatest secret-- Lake Hollywood. Man-made by engineer William Mulholland, this vessel holds 2.5 billion gallons of water and once kept nearby inhabitants very hydrated during the hot and dry summer months, (we all know Los Angeles isn't known for its rain). Begun in 1923 and finished in 1925, it used to be a very popular swimming hole for local residents and sunbathers. It is still there, visible, but untouchable and off limits after the disaster of 9/11.

Lake Hollywood

Different homes were also pointed out on the tour: one that belonged to both Madonna and Bugsy Siegel (Castillo de Lago- Wolf's Lair), one that belonged to Debbie Reynolds, but the most interesting and lasting structures are perhaps the still remaining, original staircases (right) that early residents used to climb the vast hills of their neighborhood. It really puts things in perspective when you realize that people didn't always have the privileges we take for granted today: paved roads, cars, and highways that can take us up and over anything in a few minutes. There are several steps still around, but you have to look a little bit to find them. Surmounting them makes you realize why everyone was in much better shape in the days of yesteryear. Many people use the stairs today to exercise. One staircase in particular had a counter at the top, so joggers could keep track of their laps-- aka insanity.

Original Staircase Marker.

At the end of my two hour hike, I was sad to leave. This small little gem, tucked away in the hills behind Franklin, felt much more like Hollywood to me than today's Hollywood, which is loud, littered, and overcrowded. Standing back and over the city on Mt. Lee and taking a glimpse at all of the structures we have built, the bright lights, and the social achievement is one thing, but there is something even more interesting about turning in the opposite direction and facing only green hills and rugged terrain. One direction is this city's past; one is its present. If you are ever in the area and are bored or in the need of a little mental and physical exercise, I suggest you take the hike up to Hollywoodland. It is truly wonderful that this small patch of earth remains somehow untainted and pure. As the starting point for all that Hollywood has become, it remains the still beating heart from which the unruly Los Angeles spread out to take over the world. Just dallying around and grabbing a cup o' joe, you can feel the nostagia and reminisce about the way we were and how amazing it is that such a great something came from a little nothing. But, I guess that is the story of all America. While others will surely extol the praises of their own hometown or self-proclaimed favorite city, I can not part from mine. I guess I left my heart in Hollywood.

Hollywoodland was but one of many signs that went up (in 1928) 
to mark regional real estate development sectors, yet it is the
only one that remains, thanks to the movies.

If you're in town and want to take a great tour through the hills around the Hollywood sign, go to LA Active Adventures.

Hahaha, oh Hollywood...


  1. Meredith, isn't it a wonderful feeling when you discover something new. My heart skips a beat every time I discover a something new. Last month I was returning to Westwood from Culver City, I found myself in front of the studio Wm Fox built on Pico. I about died! I must share an experience I had with Beechwood Canyon. About 3 years ago , I was driving up there around midnight and out of the corner of my eye there was a woman in a cloche hat with a long overcoat with a fur collar. As I drove passed her a quick thought : PEG??? I swear! I whipped a quick Ueee and she was gone! Ok maybe I'm nuts. But I love that area. Thanks for the post.

  2. Wow, incredible story Bill! I totally believe you. I once got up pretty close to the sign myself with a friend and started getting the heeby-geebies. I'm sure Peg is still making that sad trek all the time. What an amazing and spooky experience!!! Have a great weekend!