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Early Laurel Canyon History and Photos

              ** Click Here To See Photos **

In the early days, Laurel Canyon was a secluded valley that supplied water to farms at the base of the canyon and some hillside grazing to sheep ranchers. One of the earliest farming estates was owned by Charles F. Harper, and it dominated the entrance to Laurel Canyon. Harper was a Civil War veteran who immigrated to California and made his fortune in the hardware business. He retired in 1895 and moved to Hollywood, where he 'enjoyed the evening of his days' on his 480-acre estate in Laurel Canyon.  Visit hollywoodphotographs.com of see photos of Charles Harper’s home and orchards.

Early development of the canyon was set in motion by Charles Spencer Mann, an engineer and real estate investor. Mann and his partners bought property along Laurel Canyon Boulevard and up in the hills. Some of the first tracts to be developed in the Lookout Mountain bowl were Bungalow Land and Wonderland Park, both of which were moderately priced with narrow lots and a network of interconnecting lanes and foot paths.  In about 1910, Mann built the Lookout Mountain Inn (at the top of Lookout Mountain, just west of Laurel Canyon) and leased it to J.H. Hartwick.  The Inn consisted of twenty four rooms, a bandstand and pavilion and had an unobstructed 270 degree view of Los Angeles.  It wasn’t long before the Lookout Mountain Inn, whose specialty was chicken dinners, became a popular Hollywood attraction.  Because of the steep grade of the twisting road and the lack of engine power of automobiles guest were forced to spend about thirty minutes driving up the canyon to the Inn.  Go to the hollywoodphotographs.com web site to see photos of the Lookout Mountain Inn.

In 1912. as a stimulus to Bungalow Land, Charles Mann, a real estate operator, and Richard Shoemaker, engineer, established a trackless trolley service between the Sunset Blvd. terminus of the Pacific Electric trolley line at Laurel Ave., and the tavern at the junction of Laurel Canyon Road and Lookout Mountain Road. The car had two trolleys, one to a positivity and one to a ground overhead wire and was able to sway toothier side of the street.  For five or six years, the trackless trolley traveled up and down to meet the half-hour schedule to Los Angeles.  It was mechanically satisfactory, but insufficiently patronized.  It was discontinued when the Pacific Electric ceased to run cars between Gardener Street and Laurel Canyon Road, and realty interest failed to support it.  Hollywoodphotographs.com has wonderful photos of the trackless trolley.

On October 26, 1918, disaster struck the Lookout Mountain Inn and Laurel Canyon area when a fire , fanned by strong winds, burned about two hundred acres nd totally destroyed the famous lookout mountain Inn.  Several years later, Lew Ayers purchased the property and built his home on the top of the hill.

As was the custom in those days, restrictive covenants were attached to the new parcel deeds. These were thinly veiled attempts to limit ownership to white males of a certain class. While there are many references to the bigotry of land developers in our area, it would appear that some residents were also prone to bias and lawlessness.

By the 1920s, several celebrities were also attracted to Laurel Canyon. With the creation of the Hollywood film industry in 1910, the canyon attracted a host of 'photoplayers', including Wally Reid, Tom Mix, Clara Bow, Richard Dix, Norman Kerry, Ramon Navarro, Harry Houdini, Lew Ayers and Bessie Love. Errol Flynn lived in a huge mansion just north of Houdini's estate. Laurel Canyon was the BelAir of its day, and many of these actor's English Tudor and Spanish style homes can still be seen in the canyon today. One of the popular places to eat in the canyon was the Laurel Tavern. located at the corner of Laurel Canyon Blvd. and Lookout Mountain Road.

 The silent film era may have been long ago, but the actors who made Laurel Canyon their home had personal stories that touch our lives today. Ramon Navarro bucked the racial conventions of the day and became the first Hispanic actor in Hollywood. After retiring and in his seventies, he was murdered by burglars in his home, which was on Laurel Canyon Boulevard just past the Canyon Store.

By the time Harry Houdini had moved to Laurel Canyon, he was already a rich and famous celebrity. He had come to California to further his fortune in the Hollywood film industry. In actuality, he had spent little time at his lavish estate on Laurel Canyon Boulevard before he died. His wife, Bess, lived out her days at the estate's guest house, using the mansion to conduct seances with her dead husband.

While more lavish homes were built by Hollywood’s new movie star elite along Laurel Canyon Boulevard and up on the crest of Appian Way, the majority of homes built in the shadows of the canyon were more modest and cabin-like. The properties that were originally bought as vacation home retreats where now being purchased as primary residences. By the 1920’s, it was a proper community with a one-room schoolhouse, a local newspaper, a grocery and several restaurants.

The bucolic, somewhat isolated style of canyon life continued until the 1940’s. In this decade, the canyon was connected to the San Fernando Valley with an over-mountain highway. Suddenly the canyon was not so isolated anymore. With greater access came still more development, including an odd extension of the movie industry. 

Hollywoodphotographs.com has a rare collection of Laurel Canyon photos. All photographs are available for purchase.

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