Cars park along Solar Drive in the Hollywood Hills. Residents got permission… (Christina House / For the…)
L.A.'s next gated community lies high in the Hollywood Hills on a curvy cul-de-sac that boasts sweeping views, slick, mid-century modern homes and a popular public access point for hikers heading into Runyon Canyon Park.
For many years, the nights were quiet on Solar Drive — until an abandoned mansion was overrun by squatters and ravers, and the road became one of the city's most popular spots to park and party.
Now, residents spend their mornings armed with trash bags, cleaning up used condoms, beer bottles and drug paraphernalia. It's gross and disruptive, they say, so they asked permission to install a gate at the end of the block to keep troublemakers out.
The Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to approve the plan on a temporary basis. The installation of a gate for 18 months will give residents peace and privacy for a little while, officials say, but it also will hamper public access to Runyon Canyon, whose rugged hills have been described as Hollywood's "StairMaster."
Hikers will now have to park outside the gate, enter Solar Drive through a small pedestrian opening, and walk along the street to the entrance to Runyon Canyon Park. They also can still enter the canyon at the park's other entrances.
But Rick Dickey, who has hiked in the canyon since the 1980s, and who often parks on Solar Drive, said those other trailheads are often crowded. Besides, he said, there is something unseemly about officials cutting off access to what is already a very exclusive part of the city.
"It's a public road and we pay for it with public money," Dickey said. "It should be for all."
It was just before sunset one recent evening and Dickey was returning to his car with his dog, Luke, after a heart-pumping hike. Beneath him stretched acres of rolling canyon and, beyond that, the vast metropolis. All that could be heard was the occasional huff of hikers and the vacuum roar of distant freeways.
There are only about a dozen houses on Solar Drive. Most of them are set back from the road, with stylish, low-slung rooflines. At the end of the street sits an anomaly: a flamboyant, Mediterranean-style manse with five bedrooms, seven bathrooms and a bad reputation.
Built in the 1990s for a couple who split up during its construction, the nearly 10,000-square-foot house was abandoned for years, according to real estate agent Richard Klug.
It was used at various times as a drug den, a gang clubhouse and a place to hold raves. The evidence is in the broken windows and graffiti.
When its current owner put the mansion on the market earlier this year — with an asking price of $15.2 million — the house and its strange history made headlines.
Klug said the current owner, former record executive Timothy Devine, has hired a live-in security guard to keep vandals out. A sign outside features the barrel of a handgun and a warning: "Never mind the dog. Beware of owner."
Although the raves have been stamped out, neighbors say Solar Drive's popularity as a place to party has not waned.
Despite the "no loitering" signs that line her street, Amy Dantzler says she has seen people drinking, smoking and having sex in cars. She's also witnessed drug deals.
That's not what she signed up for six years ago when she moved into the neighborhood. A selling point of Solar Drive, she said, was that it seemed "off the beaten path."
Occasionally, she asks strangers to move along. "But some of the people do not look like people you'd want to confront," she said.
City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the Hollywood Hills, described the revelers this way: "These are not hikers looking at the stars. These are people getting liquored up before going to the clubs in Hollywood."
Police have made several arrests on charges of trespassing and drinking in public, but LaBonge said police don't have the manpower for regular patrols. A gate, police decided, was the best solution.
Residents will pay for it and give the keys to city officials. That's the practice on a few other streets in the Hollywood Hills that were gated decades ago for similar reasons.
Susan Mullins, president of the Upper Nichols Canyon Neighborhood Assn., said the gate will protect residents' privacy and also the canyon.
"We've watched Griffith Park burn twice and you see how fast disaster can hit," she said. "It just takes one cigarette for the whole hillside to go up."
Lonnie Saunders, who some days hikes in Runyon Canyon "as an excuse not to go to the gym," sympathized with residents.
"If I paid as much as they do to live here, I wouldn't want to deal with that stuff," he said. "But then again, I'm such a snob. I grew up in a gated community. As my mother would say, gates keep the riffraff out."