“Los Angeles is seventy-two suburbs in search of a city.” – Dorothy Parker.
Or, Aldous Huxley. Or, was it… H.L. Menken?
Whatever the origins of that famous quip, it’s hard to deny the grain of truth behind it.
Los Angeles is a tangled sprawl.
It’s a place that was built by free thinkers and opportunists with little patience for master planning. Neighborhoods arose wherever their dreams took them.
And the city is shaped as much by mountains, canyons, and water as concrete.
New York is a grid. LA swings.
Look beyond the billboards, the onramps, and tawdry strip malls, and you’ll often find the hidden gems. Those are the special neighborhoods you just want to keep to yourself.
The Hollywood Dell is such a place.
So, why did Los Angeles Magazine name this Hollywood Hills enclave as one of its “10 Best Neighborhoods You Never Heard Of” in the December 2004 issue?
Tucked in a small lush valley under the Mulholland Dam, the Dell is home to a little more than 1,000 homes. The Dell is sits above Franklin Boulevard between Cahuenga Boulevard and Vine Street. Yet, despite it’s small size, it remains an active community with plenty of local pride.
When development threatened a favorite green space and hiking trail, Dell neighbors banded together to purchase the land and preserve the open space. Now known as La Rocha Trail, it is one of several hiking spots around the area.
Like much of the Hollywood Hills, the Dell offers a lifestyle that’s close to nature, yet nearby to urban conveniences.
The Dell first developed in the 1920s as the movies business pushed west from Echo Park. With Columbia Pictures and other studios just down the street, stars could find easy refuge mere blocks away. With star power came estates and mansions. Lavish Spanish villas sprang up around the Dell and adjacent Whitley Heights. With superstar residents such as Rudolf Valentino, the Dell and Whitley Heights became the Beverly Hills of its day.
Although big sister Beachwood Canyon gets most of the attention, many celebrities have sought the quieter side streets of the Hollywood Dell. Over the years, famous Dell residents have included Mary Astor, Charlie Chaplin, the Rolling Stones, Minnie Driver, Goldie Hawn, Lindsey Lohan, and many others.
While Beachwood has the Hollywood sign, the Dell has the Hollywood Bowl and the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. You can read all about how a pair of enterprising women created the “Athens of America” right here.
Lake Hollywood is an oasis you won’t believe exists in the heart of Los Angeles
As any fan of the movie Chinatown can tell you, water gave life to Los Angeles. And there was no larger figure in the creation of LA than its early water czar William Mulholland.
It was Mulholland who masterminded the vast network of waterways that brought water into arid the Southland. The Mulholland Dam, completed in 1925, remains an engineering marvel. The dam created Lake Hollywood (aka, Hollywood Reservoir.)
From a small brook trickling into the Dell, Mulholland Dam created a vast water reservoir for the growing town of Hollywood.
Since the reservoir is fenced and closed to the public, this human-made lake has remained fairly pristine. And while you can’t actually get to the water’s edge, you can enjoy the lake by taking a stroll around the service road. It’s a simple, flat loop about 3.5 miles around and open from dawn to dusk.
There are several entrances to the pathway but I think you’ll find the best way to start is at the Weidlake gate. Head up Holly Drive, take the sharp turn at Deep Dell and continue on to Weidlake.
You have your choice of a clockwise or counterclockwise path. Either way works but the best views are on the west side of the lake. Once over the dam, continue on until you see a clearing. From across the lake is the Hollywood sign and two architectural landmarks, Wolf’s Lair and Castillo del Lago. The latter was once owned by Madonna who notoriously painted stripes across the home’s prominent tower.
Once you’ve made about half way around the loop, stop for a moment and listen. Most days, your soundtrack will be nothing but water birds and cicadas.
Finding God in Hollywood
Much of the charm and eccentricity of the Hollywood Dell can be traced to the arrival of the Theosophists at the turn of the Twentieth century.
According to founder Madam Blavatsky, Theosophy was “the synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy.” The movement came out of the resurgent interest in Eastern spiritualism during the Victorian era. Theosophy doctrine borrows mystical elements from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity as a way of unifying beliefs into a single pursuit of truth.
When searching for their U.S. headquarters, the group settled on a 10 acre tract of farm land next to Beachwood Canyon in 1912. There, they formed the Krotona Institute which lasted until 1924. The bustle of nearby Hollywood drove members to more peaceful digs in Ojai, where the Institute exists today.
Theosophist members left behind a colony of whimsical homes that were often mashups of Moorish, Spanish, and Mediterranean styles. The Krotona Apartments on Vista Del Mar was originally the Krotona Inn serving visitors to the Institute.
By far the most lasting legacy of the Theosophists is the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. The outdoor performing space was the brainchild of Mrs. Christine Stevenson conceived as a place to stage her spiritual plays, such as *The Light of Asia*, an account of the Buddha’s early years. The prominent white cross above the theater was erected in memoriam to Stevenson by her friends and admirers.
Architecture in the Hollywood Dell
With the construction of the 101 freeway through Cahuenga Pass, the Dell was cut off from its neighbors to the west and south.
For many, the somewhat isolated feel is the point. The Dell offers a serene alternative to the often crowded streets of Beachwood Canyon.
Architectural styles range from cozy Craftsman-style bungalows along Holly Drive to dramatic modern homes hanging from the hillsides above.
Two notable landmarks are Pierre Koenig’s Case Study No. 22 and the southern plantation mansion nicknamed “Tara.” Koenig was the architect of the famous Stahl House.
Unlike many other urban centers, the real charms of Los Angeles tend to be out of sight. But for those willing to venture a little further off the trail, the rewards are many.