This blog entry is about Laurel Canyon.
What’s now Los Angeles was first populated by Paleoamericans at least 13,000 years ago. Roughly 3,500 years ago, the Tongva arrived from the Sonoran Desert to the east and settled in the Los Angeles Basin, including the woodsy canyons of the Hollywood Hills. 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 Corridor in 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.
Famed cowboy star Tom Mix bought the Laurel Tavern and converted it into his residence. Mary Astor had a love nest on Appian Way. Gay Mexican “Latin Lover” Ramón Novarro lived there until his murder in 1968. Though better known as an escapologist, Hungarian magician Harry Houdini sometimes acted in the silent era and was another resident of 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.
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 was 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 Byrds’ Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, The Doors’ Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger, The Mamas & Papas’ Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot, The Turtles’ Mark Volman, The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, Troy Donahue, Fabian, The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, Buffalo Springfield’s Neil Young, and The Mothers of Invention’s Frank Zappa.
In 1968, Laurel Canyon’s navel-gazing 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 like Jackson Browne, Carole King, James Taylor, Judee Sill, Linda Ronstadt, and members of The Eagles and America. In 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sang “Our House” about Nash and Mitchell’s home. The transition from acid rock psychonauts to 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 Carolla and Tom Leykis moved there (albeit not together).
In the ’90s, the neighborhood became the home of mainstream darlings including Jennifer Aniston, Neve Campbell, and Trent Reznor. A new generation began to conjure up mellow country rock vibes 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.
Today, Laurel Canyon still exudes considerable charm. The whimsical houses are in a variety of styles, although the residents I encountered were unfailingly scowly types wearing yoga pants and carrying dogs in their purses. Their chilly expressions, though, were somewhat fitting in a neighborhood that, despite being surrounded by urban Los Angeles, conveys a convincingly autumnal vibe.
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