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A Drive to the Twilight Zone

February 23, 1986|EVELYN De WOLFE

Back in the '20s when Hudson Terraplanes, Packard touring cars and Model-T Fords were revved up for a drive to Los Angeles' Westside "wilderness," motorists looked forward to an uncommon experience.

They frequently detoured to Magnetic Hill--an unpaved incline close to Doheny Drive and north of Sunset Boulevard that veered off at a 90-degree angle toward Santa Monica Boulevard. For a few brief moments they entered the Twilight Zone.

"Everyone knew about Magnetic Hill in those days," said Phil Cobern, a builder for the past 35 years who left his native Ohio for Los Angeles in 1924.

"It was customary to take out-of-towners there to experience a truly unique sensation of going downhill when you were actually going uphill and of going uphill when you were actually going downhill."

Cornelius & Blaisdell, sales agents for hillside properties in the area, erected a sign in 1924 that explained the legend of the hill and the optical and magnetic illusions provided by the road.

One early newspaper account describing Magnetic Hill's drawing power pinpoints the mysterious force along Villa Drive, a stretch later renamed St. Ives Drive above Sunset Boulevard.

The legend, attributed to a tribe of Flatland Indians who had migrated to the area long ago, tells of the wrath of the Great Spirit upon discovering that the tribe had no appreciation for the beauty of the hills that surrounded them.

Angered, the Great Spirit had hurled a meteor from the skies that buried itself deep into the hill. The tribe fled the slopes in terror when the chief's iron water jug was pulled away from his lips by the meteor's magnetic force.

A much later generation of motorists traveling that stretch of road, swore they could "coast uphill" effortlessly as if drawn by a supernatural force.

Cobern recalls how remote Magnetic Hill seemed in those early days. "One could only visit the area by automobile, since the Red Car line to Hollywood ended at El Centro Avenue, just east of Vine Street,"he said.

Magnetic Hill may no longer be a tourist attraction, but in this land of the ultimate illusion, there always will be something extraordinary to record.

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