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NORTH HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

Over the Pass and Through to the “Wood”

History gives us a context for who we are now and how we got here, which, with names and places to remind us and lessons learned, will take us to a better future.

Let´s start our tour at the crossroads of Ventura and Lankershim Boulevards. Think back to the year 1851, when these were the only two roads through the Valley; Ventura Street which led us to Santa Barbara and Lankershim (then Tulare Road) which led us to Ft. Tejon and the gold mines of northern California. Turning the corner onto Lankershim Boulevard, the Valley´s first paved road (1923), we head north, and on the left, Campo de Cahuenga.

What we see today is a replica of the adobe formerly owned by Tomas Feliz. The first battles of the ongoing Mexican-American War took place in this area, but the adobe is best remembered as the place where, in 1847, Lieutenant Colonel John Charles Frémont signed the Treaty of Cahuenga and General Andrés Pico handed over California to the Americans. Later, Frémont would become the Republican Party´s first presidential nominee, but being anti-slavery and Catholic he didn´t have a chance. The City of Los Angeles has established a museum here and during the recent road construction for the MTA subway stop, original tiles and foundations were discovered.

Across the street from the Campo is Universal City, the history of which could fill a book by itself. German immigrant Carl, Laemmmle (Lem-ly), opened the gates of Universal City to the public in 1915 as head of the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, calling it “The Wonder City of the World”. He invited the public to watch the magic of moviemaking as posters across the country cried, “C´mon out!3; [watch us] make the people laugh or cry or sit on the edge of their chairs the World over! C´mon out! Aw, c´mon!”

In 1914 UFMC manager, made a $3,500 downpayment for 230 acres adjoining the Taylor Ranch in the township of Lankershim (N. Hollywood) and Universal was born. Laemmle was quoted as saying, “I hope I didn´t make a mistake coming out here.” (We hope he is at peace on that issue.) Universal filmed such greats as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Phantom of the Opera” staring Lon Chaney under the backdrop of Mt. Cahuenga. Resisting the talkies because “Uncle Carl” thought they would die, he eventually capitulated, forcing an end to their public tours because of crowd background noise. Universal did not reopen to the public until 1964. They continued to make horror flicks with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but the money spent did not equal the money taken in and the Laemmel´s had to sell out to their mortgagers in 1936.

Continuing north on Lankershim Boulevard, we can imagine the vast Valley in 1869 when Isaac Lankershim arrived here from northern California. A rancher, he liked the Valley´s high wild oats. With a consortium, including Levi Strauss, stockholder and son-in-law, Isaac Newton Van Nuys and son, James Boon (JB) Lankershim, they began raising cattle, then sheep and when in 1875 drought wiped out their herd, they put everything into wheat. As you drive north you can imagine vast wheat fields, ranchhands and horse-drawn thrashing machines. There were few trees, fewer buildings and hundreds of rabitts, quail and the occasional deer and antelope, acorns, and grasses, surrounding a tule marsh called Toluca.

Soon we pass Weddington Park, named after the pioneer family who settled the area and whose descendants remain active in the community. At the five corners of Lankershim, Vineland and Camarillo, there is a plaque erected by the North Hollywood Jaycees to honor of one of the original Toluca Lake residents, explorer/aviator Amelia Earhart, who disappeared in 1937. Going further north we enter today´s NoHo Arts District.

At 5108 Lankershim is the DWP Building, a 1930 design by S. Charles Lee (architect of the Tower and Los Angeles Theatres downtown and La Reina Theatre on Ventura Boulevard). This Streamline Moderne façade is now the Lankershim Arts Center, a California State Historic Landmark. At this point, to the west of Lankershim are Bakman and Klump Avenues (named for two of the early North Hollywood families) and Peach Grove Street, no doubt named for the numerous peach groves that covered this area. Continuing up Lankershim we cross Hartsook Street, another early ranch name, of which we will talk more.

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A couple blocks west of Lankershim is North Hollywood Park bisected by Magnolia Boulevard. Well after the Price family erected large fruit dryers on their 32-acre ranch for their dried fruit business, the park was purchased by the City of Los Angeles for $378,000, making it the largest greenspace in the Valley at the time.

The northern section of the park boasts the recently refurbished Los Angeles County Regional Library, Amelia Earhart Branch (1929), with its newly restored statue dedicated in 1971 to its namesake. And just north of the library, the tennis courts might remind you that the Davies family owned a ranch at Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Moorpark Avenue and brought the sport to this area from their native England. In past times, instead of lingering in the park, you might feel like stopping by Hartsook´s Holstein dairy ranch and picking up a can of milk. Oh, and while you´re there, take a peek at photographic portraits of Henry Ford, Lilian Gish or any number of other movie stars in Fred Hartsook´s back parlor.

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Back on Lankershim and Magnolia, the point at which in past years fruit pickers had a tent city near a eucalyptus grove (now the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences headquarters), we enter the heart of the old town of Toluca/Lankershim/North Hollywood.

Just north of Magnolia, on the west side of Lankershim, we find the El Portal Theatre. Built in 1926 as a vaudeville and silent film house, it is has been restored and adapted for live theatre. From the theatre you might drive down Weddington Street and find yourself imagining you are Wilson C. Weddington (the park we mentioned before?) having just arrived in this area in 1889 from Iowa. You envision the possibilities of agricultural prosperity and purchase 12 acres from James Boon Lankershim (Isaac´s son), for $720. It is a good deal. Lankershim had been selling ready-made farms, complete with peach, apple, pear, apricot and walnut trees (50,000 in total) in order to attract new homesteaders to this area called Toluca (Native-American for “fertile valley”). W.H. Andrews who had helped transform Rancho Providencia into Burbank (1887) was made superintendent of JB´s original 12,000 acres. He and wife, Mollie (Weddington´s sister-in-law), lived in the only house on the Ranch at Vineland Avenue, just South of 3rd Street (now Riverside Drive). It was not unusual for Victorians to take their homes with them when they moved, so Wilson and sons Guy and Fred, returned to Iowa, dismantled their house and reconstructed it on land at the corner of what is now Lankershim Boulevard and Weddington Street. You have now been transported back to the town nicknamed, “The “Home of the Peach”; stick around ? it will soon be called “The Home of the Hen.”

You could also walk into the Cecil and Chauncy Wilcox´s grocery store (1889) and see any number of people you know. Hang around until 1911 and you can argue about changing the name from “Toluca” (the name on the Post Office) to “Lankershim”, the name on the train depot; “Ship the merchandise to Lankershim; bill it to Toluca” was a familiar phrase. (Built in the 1895 the depot remains, directly across from the subway station). Of course, in 1927, there wasn´t as much argument over changing the name to North Hollywood, as the Hollywood film craze was a train upon which even die-hard “Lankershim-ites” wanted to board. People did resist the idea in the 1970´s to rename Lankershim Blvd. to Universal Blvd. The Wilcox Brothers also started the Lankershim Laconic, the first area newspaper (4 pages at $1 a year) which once touted Lankershim as “Home of the Peach,” “No saloons”, “no mud.”

Just northeast of Lankershim and Chandler is Bonner Avenue, named for the nearby Bonner Fruit Company & Cannery (est. 1897), an important early business. J.M. Bonner owned a 110 acre ranch here, eventually purchased by Guy Weddington in 1910.

Lankershim Boulevard and surrounding blocks are rife with history. Hopefully, in later issues, we can detail the many buildings and stories that reside in North Hollywood.

(The North Hollywood Train Depot, as mentioned before in this article, is in need of our support. It stands vulnerable to potential development and your involvement could help save and restore it to be an icon for the area. For further information, call me at (818) 380-2139, or go online at: www.lankershimtraindepot.com.)

 

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