California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Laurel Canyon

California Fool's Gold
*****
Laurel Canyon
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of Laurel Canyon
This blog entry is about Laurel Canyon. To vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

Streets of Laurel Canyon

The woodsy area in the Hollywood Hills now known as Laurel Canyon was originally inhabited by theTongva. A spring-fed stream attracted Mexican shepherds in the 18th century. After the region became part of the US, Anglos arrived. About 100 years ago, the area was divided up, cabins were erected and the area was marketed to vacationing tourists. The first movie made in Hollywood was shot in Yucca Corridorin 1910. Though the film industry remained centered in Edendale for a few years, it gradually shifted to Hollywood and Laurel Canyon became the home of some of the burgeoning industry’s photo-players.

Laurel Tavern

Famed cowboy star Tom Mix bought the Laurel Tavern and converted it into his residence. Mary Astorhad a love nest on Appian Way. Gay Mexican “Latin Lover” Ramón Novarro lived there until his murder in 1968.

Tom Mix Mary Astor Ramon Novarro Harry Houdini Louise Brooks

Though better known as an escapologist, Hungarian magician Harry Houdini sometimes acted in the silent era and was another resident to Laurel Canyon. Other stars of the silent screen who made Laurel Canyon their home include Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Theda Bara, Bessie Love, Wallace Reid and Norman Kerry.
Clara Boy Theda Bara Bessie Love Wallace Reid Norman Kerry
After most of the movie stars left, the rustic neighborhood was still a draw from some bohemian types. It was there, in 1948, that actors Robert Mitchum and Lila Leeds were busted for possession of jazz cigarettes. Mitchum moved away in the ’60s. The next influx of inhabitants were more often part of the music industry.

Located as it is, just up the hill from the famed hippie and folk-rock nexus The Troubadour, the nearby bucolic setting attracted members of that scene. In the 1960s, many musicians moved to the neighborhood including Love’s Arthur Lee, The ByrdsRoger McGuinn and David Crosby, The DoorsJim Morrisonand Robby Krieger, the Mamas & PapasDenny Doherty and Cass Elliot, The TurtlesMark VolmanThe Monkees’ Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, Troy Donahue, Fabian, The Beach BoysBrian Wilson,Buffalo Springfield’s Neil Young and The Mothers of Invention’s Frank Zappa.

Canyon Country Store
Laurel Canyon Country Store – “the place where the Creatures meet.”

In 1968, Laurel Canyon’s navelgazing period truly began — That year, Crosby, Stills and Nash formed one of the first supergroups, named after themselves, of course. The amount of musicians who referenced the neighborhood in their works is pretty humorous. The great, underrated Jackie DeShannon was first, with Laurel Canyon.  Two months later, John Mayall released Blues from Laurel Canyon. The following year, Joni Mitchell began recording Ladies of the Canyon. David Geffen moved to the neighborhood hoping to exploit the increasingly mellow singer-writer and soft rock scene embodied by new residents likeJackson Browne, Carole King, James Taylor, Judee Sill, Linda Ronstadt and members of The Eagles and America. In 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sang the highly irritating “Our House” about Nash and Mitchell’s home. The transition from acid rock psychonauts to self-worshiping cocaine cowboys was completed in 1973, when The Roxy opened down the hill in West Hollywood.

By the ‘80s, most of the singer-writer scene had dried up and blown away but the coke hadn’t. In 1981, four members of The Wonderland Gang (Laurel Canyon’s premier coke distributors), were murdered, leading to the arrest of porn star John C. Holmes. The sleaze quotient rose further when shock jocks Adam Carrola and Tom Leykis moved there (not together).
Wonderland Avenue
In the ’90s, the neighborhood became the home of mainstream darlings including Jennifer Aniston, Neve Campbell and Trent Reznor. A new generation of cocaine cowboys began to wax about the good old days of Laurel Canyon. In 2001, British band The Charlatans released their album Wonderland. Accepted into the scene, by the time of his solo debut a couple of years later, singer Tim Burgess seemed to embody the Laurel Canyon revival. In 2002, in true Laurel Canyon fashion, a movie about Laurel Canyon was released, titled Laurel Canyon.
Laurel Canyon Park
World’s largest dog park
Today, Laurel Canyon still exudes considerable charm. The whimsical houses are in a variety of styles, although their current residents are unfailingly scowly types with dogs in their purses and yoga pants on at all times. Their chilly expressions are somewhat fitting in a neighborhood that, despite being surrounded by urban Los Angeles, conveys an undeniably autumnal vibe.
Laurel Canyon

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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2 thoughts on “California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Laurel Canyon

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