Beachwood may be the heart of the Hollywood Hills, but Laurel Canyon is its soul.
At first glance, Laurel Canyon is simply a another busy thoroughfare slicing across the hills connecting West Hollywood with the San Fernando Valley. To the east, lies the somewhat more urbane landscape of Nichols Canyon and to the west, the tony foothills of Beverly Hills. The real Laurel Canyon is just beyond the treeline along the side roads clawing their way toward the crest. Some are scarcely roads at all, narrowing into single lane affairs until simply vanishing. If you were looking for a place to hide out, you’d probably find it here in these rustic and rugged hillsides.
And, more than likely, that’s just the way many of the Canyonites prefer it. Laurel Canyon is a place where, in the words of author Michael Walker, “totally original and free-spirited residents” can celebrate their own uniqueness. Laurel Canyon might have well become just another laid back enclave in the Hollywood Hills if it weren’t for a chance meeting between a few folks who happened to sing and play the guitar.
It’s 1968. Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, recently departed from their respective bands Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds, were hanging out in the backyard of Mama Cass. It was there they met a young and, as yet, unheard of musician, David Crosby. That afternoon, the trio discovered the legendary harmonies that would become the hallmark of the California sound. Those three, of course, would become Crosby, Stills and Nash. Their neighbors at the time included Joni Mitchell, Gram Parsons, Frank Zappa and Jim Morrison.
In the months that followed, Laurel Canyon exploded with musical creativity and became a cultural epicenter every bit as influential as Haight-Ashbury or Greenwich Village. Soon, the Canyon became a regular stop for the free-wheeling rock and roll circus. The Rolling Stones and members of Led Zeppelin made regular visits here. And so did countless other acts. At one time, there were so many British rockers passing through that the local grocer devoted an entire aisle to treats for homesick Englishmen.
Our house is a very, very, very fine house
These days, Laurel Canyon has traded in its black leather jeans for J.Crew chinos. Ladies of the canyon are more likely spending their mornings dropping their kids off at school rather than waking up in a recording studio.
As affluent Angelenos began flocking toward the hills, many of the original shacks and hunting retreats were replaced by Mediterraneans, Tudors and English Cottages. After World War II, the hard-edged practicality of the modernist style began to appear. Two examples are Koenig’s Case Study No. 21, and the magnificent and iconic Stahl House.
The neighborhood may have matured a bit, but much the original charm remains. Humble cabins were expanded bit by bit over the years by their succession of owners. Much of the aesthetic of Laurel Canyon evokes an expressive “handbuilt” character, evolving over the years according to the whims of their owners.
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I see you live on Love Street
The Laurel Canyon Country Store has served as the tribal center from the very beginning. The Store began life as the Bungalow Lodge in the early 1900s and mainly served hunters in the area. By the 1960s, the Store was the community meeting place for a different set of buckskin-wearing pioneers who rode Harleys instead of horses. Mick Jagger stopped by regularly for English Kit Kat bars and David Bowie stocked up on his favorite Cadbury chocolate bar, Flakes. Behind the store is the Jim Morrison house, since remodeled after an arson fire in 2009. It was here that Morrison penned “Love Street,” almost certainly inspired by the Flower Children who wandered into the store day and night.
For parents, one of the biggest attractions of Laurel Canyon is the highly-touted and award-winning public elementary school, Wonderland Avenue School. Wonderland is one of the very few marquee name public schools in Los Angeles.
Like other Los Angeles hillside neighborhoods, outdoor recreation is a big part of the Laurel Canyon lifestyle. Just west of the intersection of Laurel Canyon Drive and Mulholland Drive is Laurel Canyon Park, a spacious off-leash dog park. Just a bit further is Fryman Canyon Park with sweeping Valley views and hiking and equestrian trails. The Dearing Trail runs through Fryman Canyon and connects Wilacre Park, Franklin Canyon Park and Coldwater Canyon Park. To the east of Laurel Canyon is Wattles Garden Park, site of the still intact Wattles Mansion and the most popular hiking trail in Los Angeles, Runyon Canyon.
At the base of Laurel Canyon is the gateway to the notoriously famous Sunset Strip. Though far tamer now than years past, you can still find many of the decadent backdrops. The Chateau Marmont, Whiskey a Go Go, the Viper Room, The Laugh Factory and the Comedy Store are all alive and well.
There’s no question that Laurel Canyon has a distinct flavor that sets it apart from anywhere else in Los Angeles. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, for those looking for a convenient neighborhood with a bit of bohemian rebellion, Laurel Canyon is hard to beat.