YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


The heart of hipdom

June 10, 2007|Diane Wedner | Times Staff Writer

Actors, musicians, moguls and the not-so-famous have gladly settled in unpretentious Laurel Canyon over the last century. Why? Because it's rustic, reclusive and rockin'.


Laurel Canyon was one of the region's first weekend-escape destinations, a rural refuge to which city residents headed on horseback. After the movie industry took off in L.A., notables such as Clara Bow, Errol Flynn and Tom Mix established roots here, according to the Laurel Canyon Assn.

In 1913, Charles Spencer Mann, one of the canyon's first developers, brought in a trackless trolley to transport residents and prospective buyers to the hills. Two of the first communities established in the Lookout Mountain bowl were Bungalow Land and Wonderland Park. They set the style for the narrow streets and lots that still exist.

The '60s brought hippies, many of whom bought up the funky old cottages and cabins. Since the 1980s, gentrification has sparked a new wave of larger homes and remodels.

The lore and the lurid

Laurel Canyon has long enjoyed a party rep; Harry Houdini's soirees were legendary. For the amusement of his guests, a narrow, subterranean tunnel was dug to connect the so-called Houdini House on the east side of Laurel Canyon Boulevard at Lookout Mountain to a log cabin across the street. The cabin later was owned by rock icon Frank Zappa and destroyed by fire.

The sweet, laid-back canyon life of the '60s and '70s was immortalized in odes by resident singers Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash. Back then, the canyon housed a veritable Who's Who of musicians, including Jim Morrison, Carole King, Brian Wilson and Mama Cass Elliot.

The canyon's reputation as a low-rent bohemian haven also attracted the unsavory: In 1981, four drug dealers were murdered in a Wonderland Avenue home just a few doors away from the home of then-Gov. Jerry Brown.

Porn star John Holmes lived on the street too and was charged with, then later acquitted of, the killings. Former Hollywood nightclub owner Eddie Nash acknowledged in a September 2001 court appearance that he had conspired to commit the murders. The saga is the basis of the 2003 movie "Wonderland."

Drawing card

Buyers flock to Laurel Canyon for its prime location, which allows them to live a country life just minutes from the Hollywood hubbub for less money than homes in the nearby canyons.

And then there's the eclectic architecture: the Lookout Mountain estate (castle?) that boasts turrets and a church that was disassembled in New Jersey and rebuilt on the canyon property; the house on the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Lookout Mountain with a stream running under it; and two homes on Oak Court, which are reached only by a funicular. "Everyone marches to the beat of their own drummer up here," said Thomas O'Rourke, an agent at Prudential California Realty, John Aaroe Division in Los Angeles.

Insider's viewpoint

Cassandra Barrere moved to the canyon in 1970 and remembers well the counterculture scene of tie-dyed clothing and anything goes. Today, she and her husband, Michel, both of whom were part of the '70s music scene, own a compound with three houses in which they and various family members live.

The Canyon Country Store, a longtime gathering place on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, once sold all-organic foods, Cassandra Barrere said. Today residents can pick up a deli sandwich and fine wine but still lounge on the store's terrace listening to classic Joni Mitchell. Each year, dozens of the canyon's residents gather on the store's porch for a group photograph, a longtime tradition, Barrere said.

Good news, bad news

As is the case with other local canyons, Laurel Canyon's solitude, views and history draw buyers, but mansionization controversies have followed. Rocky hills that until recently were thought to be off-limits to construction are now the sites of huge retaining walls and large homes. Longtime residents also complain about oversized structures going up on small lots that were occupied by small, cottage-style homes, ruining, they say, the laid-back atmosphere for which the canyon is known.

Report card

Laurel Canyon is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Student scores on the 2006 Base Academic Performance Index Report were 955 out of a possible 1,000 at Wonderland Avenue School, 690 at Bancroft Middle School and 642 at Fairfax High School.

Housing stock

Laurel Canyon is made up primarily of single-family residences. Some of the original, early 20th century cottages still exist. Recently, there were 22 homes on the market, among them a one-bedroom, one-bathroom house in 600 square feet for $599,000. At the other end of the price spectrum, a four-bedroom, three-bath home in 7,000 square feet with a pool and guesthouse was listed for $6.9 million.


Sources: ;

Los Angeles Times Articles