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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE

Serene, scenic enclave born in 'Hollywoodland' days

December 07, 2003|H. May Spitz | Special to The Times

Between the Hollywood sign and the bustle of Hollywood itself is a canyon community that more than 22,000 call home. The uppermost portion of the canyon, originally dubbed "Hollywoodland" in the 1920s, was developed first. Today, the area stretching along Beachwood Drive from Franklin Avenue to the Hollywood sign is called Beachwood Canyon.

A star is born

Back in 1923, developer S.H. Woodruff paved Beachwood Drive to build Hollywoodland, in the hills of Beachwood Canyon. Woodruff envisioned his development as "one of the showplaces of the world," with custom homes featuring "glorious scenic views." Smaller homes in the wooded glen were also available from the same developer.

The sign itself, placed atop Mt. Lee, was emblazoned with thousands of blinking lights as a publicity stunt to attract buyers to his development of the same name. Ads proclaimed, "Buy where there's action, Hollywoodland sets the pace."

Architecture included Mediterranean, French and English styles. In the hub of the development, a small Spanish-style retail building was built, with a drugstore, market and several boutiques.

The original Hollywoodland tract office, built in 1923 in a Hansel and Gretel style, is today a realty and commercial office.

Drawing card

The serene canyon offers natural beauty and privacy, with the convenience of the city nearby. The views have long been a draw for celebrity residents, including Doris Day, Bela Lugosi and Humphrey Bogart.

Wow factor

Winding tree-lined streets provide views that can stretch from the ocean to downtown L.A. Starting at Franklin Avenue and heading north up Beachwood Drive, the Hollywood sign is straight ahead, framed by majestic palm trees. Towering stone gates flank the road halfway up with signs reading "Welcome to Hollywoodland, now slow down and relax." Tourists can often be seen standing in the middle of Beachwood Drive, seeking the perfect photograph. Signs warn "No access to Hollywood sign," and hiking to the sign is prohibited.

Hot spots

In the shadow of the Hollywood sign, Sunset Ranch offers horseback riding and boarding at the top of Beachwood Canyon. The Friday night margarita ride takes participants through Griffith Park to a Mexican restaurant for dinner and drinks, then back again in four hours.

Hiking is also a favorite pastime in the canyon. Six sets of 1920s-era stairs, created by the European stonemasons who built the roadway walls of Hollywoodland, remain today, connecting hillside streets with the canyon floor. One set of stairs features cascading ponds.

Directors have favored the canyon over the years, so movies such as the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" were filmed there, with terrorized masses running down Belden Drive. Within a mile are the Hollywood Bowl, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and numerous restaurants, nightclubs and boutiques.

Insider's view

Jeff Meyer, longtime resident and proprietor of Hollywoodland Antiques, said he appreciates the area's strong sense of community. The original commercial center is still vibrant. A bulletin board featuring local activities, rooms for rent and various available services hangs outside the popular Village Coffee Shop. According to resident Miranda Carnessale, "Everything is here or close by."

Good news, bad news

Once an enclave of writers and bohemian artists, the area has become pricier and its mix has changed to include many professionals who work elsewhere.

But residents care about quality-of-life issues and are well organized. Neighborhood watch efforts recently helped apprehend a burglary suspect.

The addition of Modern-style homes in the 1940s, including cantilevered cliffhangers, caused aesthetic and environmental concern among some residents. Today, the Hollywoodland area is a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, and residences are subject to design review.

On the market

About 20 homes are for sale. A seven-bedroom, six-bath home with city-to-ocean views is listed at $2,750,000. A remodeled Paul Williams-designed Spanish villa with two bedrooms and two baths is listed for $719,000.

Report card

Beachwood Canyon is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Scores on the 2003 Academic Performance Index at schools drawing students from the area include 693 at Cheremoya Elementary School and 573 at Le Conte Middle School, out of a possible 1,000. Hollywood High scored 556.

Historical values

Single-family detached resales:

Year...Median Price

1990...$450,000

1995...$309,090

2000...$512,500

2002...$628,000

2003*...$706,000

*year to date

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, http://factfinder.census.gov; Los Angeles Unified School District, www.lausd.k12.ca.us; Beachwood Canyon Homeowners Assn., www.beachwoodcanyon.org; Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn., www.hollywoodland.org; www.Beachwoodvoice.com; Sunset Ranch Hollywood, www.sunsetranchhollywood.com, The Multiple Listing Service, www.themls.com, DataQuick Information Systems.

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