Laurel Canyon is a quiet Los Angeles suburb nestled between the San Fernando Valley and the heart of Hollywood. Developers have infiltrated the area with multi-million dollar homes but the hills remain dotted with ramshackle cabins, funky tudor houses and concrete oddities built by hippie renegades. While the city drones in the background, hawks fly overhead and deer still frolic in backyards.
In 1910, developer Charles Spencer Mann wanted to create a community that would become a forested oasis. He dubbed the area “Bungalow Land” and commissioned a trackless trolley from Sunset Boulevard to the top of Lookout Mountain. He built rustic lodges and hunting cabins. The homes were surrounded by eucalyptus and oak trees and colorful wildflowers. The area attracted movie stars like Tom Mix, Mary Astor and Clara Bow. Young actors like Errol Flynn and Orson Welles moved to Laurel Canyon and the area became known for secret parties and hidden speakeasies.
In 1948, actor Robert Mitchum was arrested for marijuana possession at his Laurel Canyon home. The LAPD referred to Laurel Canyon as a “reefer resort.” Artists and musicians flocked to the area in the 50’s and 60’s. In 1964, 19-year old guitarist Chris Hillman (The Byrds) rented the lower part of a home on Magnolia Lane owned by a dentist. Other rock stars followed including Carole King, David Crosby, Cass Elliot and Jim Morrison. Joni Mitchell moved into a house on Lookout Mountain Avenue.
“Ask anyone in Hollywood where the craziest people live and they’ll say Laurel Canyon,” Mitchell said.
Laurel Canyon spawned a musical revolution. This is where Joni Mitchell wrote Ladies of the Canyon and Graham Nash wrote Our House. Frank Zappa’s tree-house cabin on Lookout Mountain was the focal point of the scene. The cabin remains intact but has been unoccupied for years. A small pond fed by an underground spring rests undisturbed in front of the cabin. The previous tenant stocked the pond with bass and left out a fishing pole so wandering homeless people could eat.
Next door to the cabin is the sprawling Houdini Mansion. Famous residents have included Harry Houdini, Errol Flynn, Bugsy Siegel and W.C. Fields. Music producer Rick Rubin owns the mansion and bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Linkin Park have recorded…