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Los Feliz - The Mideast Side's "Pill Hill"

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 16, 2010 12:00pm | Post a Comment

Pendersleigh & Sons Map of Los Feliz
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Los Feliz

Los Feliz is a neighborhood in Los Angeles' Mideast Side and Hollywood area, neighbored by Beachwood Canyon, Griffith Park, Atwater Village, Silver Lake, Franklin Hills, Sunset Junction, Little Armenia, Thai Town and Franklin Village. To vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods to be covered on the blog, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County communities, vote here.

Los Feliz Sign

Most Anglos pronounce the name of the neighborhood "Loss Filas" or "Los Filas" and generally make the claim that all Angelenos pronounce it that way (and always have, thank you). On the other hand, I have heard many Latinos and some non-Latinos pronounce it "Los Feliz." When I first moved to LA, in fact, I thought they were two different places. Maybe they are, in a metaphorical way. Tour guides and websites tend to throw around words like “funky,” “hip” and “trendy” and generally talk about supposedly outrageous neighborhood residents with piercings and tattoos. In fact, it those descriptions have little to do with most of the actual populace, which is 58% white (mostly Armenian), 19% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 14% Asian.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of the Mideast Side
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Mideast Side


The neighborhood was named after its land grantee, José Vicente Feliz, who most assuredly didn't pronounce it "filas" and whose 8,000 acre land grant included Griffith Park and other modern neighborhoods. Incidentally, "Rancho Los Feliz" was sometimes spelled "Rancho Los Felix" as Vicente's family name was also somespelled "Felix" and was, by some accounts, a reference to cats and not happiness (something that I was unaware of until after I'd made my map, obviously).

Accompanying me on this edition of the blog were movie critic and Hollywood Historian Matt Messbarger and frequent companion and knowledgeable filmmaker Diana Ward.

Don Antonio de Coronel   Griffith J. Griffith
                      Don Antonio de Coronel                                                        Griffith J. Griffith

EARLY HISTORY

For some 10,000 years before the arrival of the Spaniards, the area that became the Rancho Los Feliz was home to a Tongva village (whose name has been forgotten) located in Fern Dell Canyon. After the pesky savages were enslaved and obliterated in the name of European Enlightenment, it became first part of Spain, then Mexico and then the US.

Rancho Los Feliz belonged to the Feliz family until 1863, when Don Antonio died of smallpox. At that point, another "Don Antonio" assumed ownership, Don Antonio Coronel. Next, Leon "Lucky" Baldwin took over. In 1884, Welshman Colonel Griffith J. Griffith assumed ownership. Later, famed bullshitter Horace Bell claimed that there was some curse on the land, placed upon it by Don Antonio's blind niece, Petranilla

The last member of the Los Feliz family, Mrs. Rafaela De Garcia, (daughter of Anastacio Feliz), made her final home in Silver Lake at 2854 Rowena Avenue, where she died in 1939 at the age of 73. The home was demolished and since replaced with a vaguely-Polynesian apartment building in the early 1960s, and apartment of which was nicknamed "Pendersleigh" by yours truly.


LAUGHLIN PARK

Laughlin Park 1905  Wilbur Cummings's home
       Lounging on the hillside in Laughlin Park                               Wilbur Cummings's solar heated home

One of the first communities in the area was Laughlin Park, an exclusive gated community that was established in 1905, when gated communities were perhaps even more ridiculous and unnecessary then they are today given there were no presumably few tatterdemalions to keep out. The neighborhood was soon home to W.C. Fields, his detested (by him) Canadian child actor neighbor Deanna Durbin, English actor Charlie Chaplin and filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille.

W.C. Fields Deanna Durbin Charlie Chaplin 1920 Cecil B. DeMille

Today, it still remains off-limits to we common people and the residents celebrate their long history of hoity-toity exclusivity with screenings of Cecil B. DeMille films at their annual private autumn block party. They also eat Mexican food, presumably a nod to the people who clean their homes and maintain their yards. The feeling of living out their own cozy catastrophe is completed by the quarterly publication of the Laughlin Park Times. In what may have been the realization of the Laughlin Park residents' worst fear, in 1919, Griffith died and bequeathed his Los Feliz holdings to the city. Soon, Italianate-style homes popped up in the new, surrounding and non-exclusive (but still new money) neighborhood of Los Feliz. Due to the large number of physicians the upscale area attracted, it was nicknamed "Pill Hill" (a nickname applied to several hilly neighborhoods popular with doctors).

The Kuromi Family, 1926  Japanese Nursery in Los Feliz, 1940
                          The Kuromi Family in 1926                                                A Japanese Nursery in Los Feliz, 1940

It was also marked by a large number of Japanese nurseries, which lined the north side of Los Feliz Boulevard until the 1960s.

THE DANZIG HOUSE

Danzig House  Glenn Danzig

The Danzig House was built in 1907. I don't think it was originally called The Danzig House. I don't know much about it except that its current owner is Bobby Terrance-like singer Glenn Anzalone Danzig, formerly of the Misfits, Samhain and currently Danzig. The dim, bare light bulb on the porch is my favorite touch.


THE VISTA

Vista Theater Hand and Footprints in front of the Vista theater
                         Spanish on the outside                                                                  Egyptian on the Inside 

On October 16, 1923, one of the most celebrated theaters in Los Angeles today first opened. At the corner of Sunset and Hollywood, on the site of the Babylonian set for (overrated) director D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, a movie house first known as the Bard Hollywood Theater opened with a screening of the Baby Peggy vehicle Tips. The L.A.Smith-designed theater's exterior is in the Spanish-Revival style. However, during the construction of the venue, the tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered, awakening a taste for all things Egyptian and thus the interior was (and is still) pure Egyptian camp. It was re-named The Vista before the end of the decade and has, miraculously, remained a single screen theater and thus, one of the best and most-beloved in the city.

It was featured prominently on Mr. Show in the episode “The Velveteen Touch of a Dandy Fop." If memory serves me, I think it was featured in the Christopher Guest film The Big Picture as well.


THE ENNIS-BROWN HOUSE

The Ennis-Brown House

In 1924, construction of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Ennis-Brown House was completed for Charles and Mabel Ennis. The Mayan revival-style home was built with pre-cast concrete blocks, which began to fall apart before long. Efforts to restore and repair it are constant, as are its appearances in films and TV series, including the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blade Runner, Twin Peaks, Predator 2, House on Haunted Hill (1959), Rush Hour, The Thirteenth Floor, Black Rain, The Rocketeer, The Karate Kid III, The Replacement Killers, Grand Canyon, The Glimmer Man, The Day of the Locust, Moon 44, Terminal Man, the TV series Fallen Angels, Timestalkers, Blood Ties and House of Frankenstein (1997). Nonetheless, the Ennis House Foundation has decided that it can't sustain the expensive cost of maintaining, restoring and repairing the house and it's now on the market for a private owner.


THE LOS ANGELES BREAKFAST CLUB & RANCHO RIVERSIDE

Los Angeles Breakfast Club in the 1930s  Spade Cooley at Rancho Riverside
           The Los Angeles Breakfast Club in the 1930s                     Spade Cooley at Riverside Rancho

In 1925, the oldest eating club in Los Angeles was established in Los Feliz, the Los Angeles Breakfast Club. At first the secretive and originally fraternal organization met at Riverside Rancho, which was also a major venue for Western Swing and country acts like Spade Cooley, Ferlin Husky, Marty Robbins, Tex Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Speedy West and many others. The Los Angeles Breakfast Club later moved to a location in Atwater Village and after the venue closed it was burned down by the fire department as part of a 1959 training exercise. Then, in 1961 (the same year former headliner Cooley stomped his wife to death), the Friendship Auditorium was built almost on the same spot and the breakfast club returned. 85 years after it was established, the ham 'n' eggs-worshipers still perform their bizarre breakfast rituals every Wednesday morning.
 

JOHN SOWDEN HOUSE

Sowden House

The so-called "Jaws House" is a residence built in 1926 by Lloyd Wright. It supposedly resembles  the gaping open mouth of a great white shark but is built in the Mayan revival style popular, for a time, with Wright's more famous father. From 1945 through 1951 the house was owned by Dr. George Hodel, one of many suspects in the Black Dahlia murder. The house is depicted as the home of Ava Gardner in Martin Scorsese's Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle, The Aviator.

MICKEY MOUSE

Disney number one Mickey Mouse's birthplace
                     Site of the first Disney studio                                               A non-Disney-drawn Mickey

Many celebrities move to Los Feliz but few hail from there. However, one Los Feliz native is among the most famous, well-recognized figures in history: Mickey Mouse. In 1920, Walt Disney and Eert Ubbe Iwwerks formed Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists in Kansas City, Missouri. After they relocated to Los Angeles, they established the first Walt Disney studio at 4647 Kingswell Avenue.

In 1928, Ub Iwerks first drew Mickey as a replacement for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1928 and he first appeared in Plane Crazy (not Steamboat Willie), which debuted on May 15th of that year. The sound was added later, upon its re-release. Walt Disney and his wife Lillian later had a home built for them in 1932, at 4053 Woking Way.

Alan Ladd Estate

Another famous residence is the home at 4961 Cromwell Avenue, designed by Marshall P. Wilkinson. One of the coolest features was the inclusion of a speakeasy, the Silent Woman Pub. Sue Carol bought it from her bandleader husband, Nick Stuart, in 1931. In 1942, Alan Ladd, whose agent/manager was Carol, moved in. Ladd overdosed and died in 1964. The home was later purchased by Scott Cutler of barely-remembered band Ednaswap, whose song "Torn" was later covered by Natalie Imbruglia, another musician long forgotten by all except adoring polysomnambulist Brian Meehan.


MONOGRAM PICTURES


Monogram Studios Inside Monogram

Monogram Pictures opened in Los Feliz in 1931. A B-movie company, it was nonetheless considered one of the best studios in "Poverty Row." They produced popular yellowface series like Charlie Chan and Mr. Wong, gang kid series the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys, serials and the once-popular star of sagebrush sagas, Cisco Kid. The best film shot there was Johnny Guitar, after it became Republic Pictures.

In 1960, Jean-Luc Godard dedicated À bout de souffle to the studio. For years it was the home of KCET, which from 1964 to 2010 was Los Angeles' PBS station. In the 1980s, KCET razed most of the monogram buildings to make room for additional parking. In October, KCET broke from PBS and the building was purchased by Scientologists.


THE DRESDEN


Dresden

In 1933, a paint store opened on Vermont Ave, in the Los Feliz Village section of the neighborhood. A few years later it became Pucci's Cafe. In 1954, Carl Ferraro purchased it and he and his wife turned it into the Dresden. It remained largely unchanged until 1982, when musicians Marty and Elayne took up residence, two lounge singers with a stunningly large repertoire.

I randomly tossed out a request for Noel Coward's 1932 ode (supposedly to Cary Grant), "Mad About the Boy." Amazingly, they seemingly pulled out of the ether pieces of the song and were able to perform it perfectly. They still perform every Tuesday through Saturday. The bar/restaurant has been featured in the Los Feliz-centric film Swingers, and the Los Feliz-centric Mr. Show, in the episode. "Rudy Will Await Your Foundation." It's also been featured in In What Women Want, Anchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy and the X-Files.

THE LOS FELIZ THEATRE

Los Feliz Theatre

The next big theater to open in Los Feliz was the Los Feliz Theatre in 1934. For many years it seated 780, just a tad smaller than the Vista's 838. The Art Deco theater was used to screen new Disney Films through the 1950s. In the 1960s and '70s it primarily showed European art house films. Then, in the 1990s, it was mercilessly chopped into three rinky-dink theaters about the size of most peoples' living rooms and with screens about as good and large as that of a Sony Trinitron. Rather than restore it to its former grandeur, when a film proves too popular for the cramped rooms, the owners stuff the rooms with extra, uncomfortable, folding chairs.

THE MULHOLLAND FOUNTAIN

Kool-Aid Fountain - William Mulholland Memorial

On August 1st, 1940, the Mulholland Fountain was dedicated to infamous Irish-born water baron William Mulholland, five years after his death. It soon came to be known colloquially as "the Kool-Aid" fountain because of the changing illumination that makes it a popular backdrop for quinceañeras. It's also popular for local picnickers and fountain-waders. Of course, Mulholland was the basis for the film Chinatown, as well as two Frank Black songs, "Ole Mulholland" and "St. Francis Dam Disaster."


THE DERBY

Brown Derby Los Feliz

In 1942, a chicken restaurant named Willard's opened in Los Feliz. It was later purchased by Laughlin Park-resident Cecil B. DeMille, who converted it to a Brown Derby, ultimately the last one in operation. During that time its interior served as the interior of Mildred Pierce's joint in the film of the same name.

In 1960 it became Michaels of Los Feliz. In 1992, it became a nightclub, The Derby. The following year,Big Bad Voodoo Daddy became the house band. Although owing more to contemporary pop and jump blues, they were lumped in with what was bafflingly called the Swing Revival, a reference to mid-1930s jazz whose connection to bowling shirt-wearing frat boys never made sense to me. Three years later, as with the Dresden, it was featured in the film Swingers, about the misadventures of a group of unpleasant douches. The following year, the also unpleasant Cherry Poppin' Daddies recorded a song, "The Brown Derby Jump." Not everything about the Derby was bad, however. I once saw a band there whose drummer was lobbying for them to change their name to Brightwell. They ultimately screwed up and went with the unfortunate and inferior "Gran Ronde" and were rewarded by promptly sinking into obscurity. It was also at the Derby that I met Roxanne Clifford, coverstar of Belle & Sebastian singles, star of Belle & Sebastian videos, former member of The Royal We and current member of Veronica FallsEven though the Derby's place in the swing revival scene was more than enough justification for highly publicized public demolition, the city of Los Angeles have found the strength to look beyond the blight in musical history that was the not-short-lived-enough neo-swing scene and designated the building as an Historical Cultural Monument.


SCHUMACHER HOUSE/PERELSON MANSION/LOS FELIZ MURDER HOUSE

SCHUMACHER HOUSE
The Schumacher House (image source: Michael Locke)

The so-called Los Feliz Murder House (2475 Glendower Place) is a creepy destination for crime site tourists, residential haikyo fans, ghost hunters, and the like. The Spanish Colonial Revival house mansion was built in 1925 for Harry F. Schumacher by architect Harry E. Weiner. In 1930, it was home to producer/director Frederic Zelnik. However, it gained notoriety with its last residents, who vacated the premises more than half a century ago.

In the early morning hours of 6 December, Dr. Harold Perelson murdered his then-42-year-old wife, Lillian, with a ball-peen hammer. He severely injured their daughter, then-18-year-old Judye with the same weapon, sent the family's other, younger children (11-year old Debbie and 13-year-old Joel) back to bed assuring them that it was all just a nightmare before killing himself in the couple's bedroom by drinking, supposedly, battery acid. Police supposedly discovered a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy on the nightstand, opened to "Canto 1," to which some have attempted to attribute significance. The three children were afterward sent to the east coast although today Judye appears to be living in Los Angeles under a different name. 

  
Pictures of the home's interior (source: Jeneration Why?)

In 1960, Emily and Julian Enriquez of Lincoln Heights bought the house but never moved in and seems to have used it only for storage. Trespassers who've peaked through the homes windows have spotted what look like Christmas presents, old magazines and a cans of SpaghettiO's amidst the Perelson's old furniture giving rise to the rumor that the house has been preserved exactly as it was on that fateful and tragic day.

However, some have pointed out that SpaghettiO's were introduced in 1965, the issue of Life that someone photographed through the window is from 1960, and the family were Jewish (although if they did celebrate Christmas, they'd hardly be the first Jews to do so). I suppose the real mystery is why a couple from Lincoln Heights bought a three story mansion/murder house in Los Feliz and did little besides store junk there. After the Emily passed away in 1994, the Enriquez's son Rudy inherited it. In 2009 he was 77 and stated that he had no intentions of doing anything with it.

THE LABIANCA MURDERS

On 6 August, 1969, Leslie Van Houten, Steve "Clem" Grogan, Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian drove to Los Feliz's 3301 Waverly Drive, home of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, a dress shop co-owner. It was next door to a house at which the Manson Family had partied the previous year, Harold True's home at 3267.

Inside the home, Leno LaBianca was stabbed to death with a chrome-plated bayonet and someone carved "WAR" into his stomach. In a bedroom, Krenwinkel and Van Houten stabbed Rosemary LaBianca to death with a knife from their kitchen. Krenwinkel wrote "Rise" and "Death to pigs" on the walls and "Healter Skelter" on the refrigerator door. After the murders, the family members remained at the house where they ate from the LaBianca's refrigerator, played with the couple's dogs and showered before hitchhiking back to the Spahn Ranch.

The following evening, Rosemary's son Frank returned from Lake Isabella and was dropped off at the house on Waverly Drive. He became concerned, however, when he noticed that all of the shades in the windows were drawn, neither his mother nor stepfather answered the front door, and Leno's boat was parked on the street instead of the driveway. He called his older sister Suzan from a pay phone at a nearby hamburger stand, now Los Feliz eatery The Burrito King. The events and home were depicted in the excellent television movie, Helter Skelter.


MELROSE PLACE

Melrose Place

In 1992, the fabulous TV series Melrose Place debuted. Although the residence of the titular residential complex that housed Alison, Amanda, Billy, Jake, Jane, Michael, et al showed an exterior with an address at 4616 Melrose Place, the actual building is located at 4616 Greenwood Place -- building constructed in 1931. Unfortunately, the interiors were all shot on a soundstage and I don't even think that the building actually has a swimming pool in the courtyard.

THE ROWENA RESERVOIR 

The Rowena Reservoir

The Rowena Reservoir was built with way too much love and care. If the larger, nearby Silver Lake Reservoir is tempting to swimmers and landscape admirers, the Rowena Reservoir is practically irresistible. Trees, flowers, paths (!), white water, ducks and peninsulas invite and tease from behind bars. It's even become known colloquially as "Fantasy Island." It stopped functioning even as a reservoir in 1992, after $14 million was spent to beautify it. Let a dude hit that with a paddle boat!


THE GURDWARA VERMONT

Gurdwara Vermont


The Gurdwara Vermont was built in 1993. I don't know, I think it's kind of impressive. It used to have a little more color... 

THE LEONARDO DICAPRIO COMPUTER CENTER

Leonardo DiCaprio Computer Center

Los Feliz seemingly remained largely untouched by the urban blight and crack wars that made pretty much everywhere else scary as hell in the late 1980s and early '90s. The first Los Feliz Library opened in 195 but in 1999, Los Feliz was again newsworthy when the Barton Phelps-designed building received a massive gift from Leonardo DiCaprio, who dug deep into his estimated $43 million fortune to provide the $35,000 to necessary to build the Leonardo DiCaprio Computer Center -- a tiny tech center, decorated with framed pictures of his films, although conspicuously not including Critters 3.


LOS FELIZ ARTS

For a neighborhood so-celebrated for its supposed edginess and artsiness, Los Feliz's arts scene doesn't seem that robust. Happy shows art but focuses primarily on home accessories. So does Wacko, a soap plant/gift store/art gallery that has been ideal for creative gifts since 1974 and includes the La Luz De Jesus Gallery, a space devoted primarily to emerging pop-surrealists

LOS FELIZ IN FILM

Los Feliz Mural

As previously noted, Los Feliz has been a destination for movie stars since before there was a Los Feliz. However, my research hasn't turned up any film figures who actually were born in the neighborhood. On the other hand, many films and TV series have been shot in part or in whole in the neighborhood. In addition to those already mentioned, there's A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Ugly Truth, LA Confidential, Boy Meets World, Cique du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant, Grease, The Wonder Years, Pretty in Pink, Reign Over Me, Grosse Point Blank, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie), Melrose Place, Can’t Hardly Wait, Growing Pains, Rebel Without a Cause, Black Rain, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Dead Again, Falcon Crest, Grand Canyon, Adam-12, Highway to Heaven, Fastlane, Crimes of Passion, The Dog Problem, 13 Moons, Hang Time, Like Father Like Son, Book of Love, True Crime, Flipping Out, Long-Term Relationship, The Young Stranger, Archie – To Riverdale and Back Again, Peopletoys, (the TV Series) Uncle Buck, Oh Baby!, Witchouse 3 – Demon Fire, Babes in Bondage, Chain Camera, Bulldgo, Jersey Boy and Koreatown – Behind the Scenes


LOS FELIZ EATS


Litle Dom's  Fred 62

For a neighborhood as supposedly as trendy as Los Feliz is, there aren't that many amazing places to eat, and I feel that I can say that because I've dined at  Machos Tacos, Electric Lotus, House of PiesMexico City, San Sui, Green Leaves Vegan, Home, Burrito King (now gone), Alcove Café and Bakery, El Greco, Figaro Bistrot, Mixto, and Mako. Most were enjoyable whilst others were decidedly meh. Pattaya Bay, in particular, is very hit and miss -- sometimes delicious, sometimes inedibly salty and seemingly soapy (?!). I've tried El Chavo over the years and found it to be one of the worst Mexican places in the city (although the bar, El Chavito, is nice).

For this installment, Diana and I ate at Little Dom’s, which I found to be really quite good. Later, joined by Matt, we ate at Fred 62, which is fine, but the massive popularity of which is out of proportion with its quality.

I've yet to try Vermont, Agave, Tiger Lily, Palermo, Café Los Feliz, California Roll & Sushi Fishi, Yuca’s, Tropicalia, Lucifer’s Pizza, Mustard Seed Café, Robeks Juice, Olive, Simply Thai, Cruzer Pizza, Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, Mother Dough, or Hue Café.

LOS FELIZ DRINKS

The bar scene is a little more interesting in Los Feliz. Historically, Vida was a hipster (before the word was completely coopted by new knavers and pretendies) joint in the mid-1990s. Then, over the course of two weeks in the 2000s, was abandoned by the scenesters and it became the Chabaq Jewish Center. Tiki Ti opened in 1961 and is a very tiny, popular tiki bar that is only occasionally open although often unpleasantly smoky. I don't know when the Drawing Room opened, but it's a small, unpretentious dive that sometimes has karaoke. I once brought the place to its knees with a rendition of Juvie's "Back Dat Azz Up." Across the street is Ye Rustic Inn, which is supposedly British but more like Iowan. I've never been to England but my assumptions about their bars don't involve jersey-clad knuckle-draggers gorging on hot wings and yelling at televised baseball games. There's also The Rockwell, which is kind of like a gay Papas y Beer without the electric bull.

OTHER STUFF TO DO

Other stuff to do and see in Los Feliz include the Steve Allen Theater, the Los Feliz Farmers Market, the Los Feliz Street Fair, the incomparable Skylight Books and the LA River Bike Path. There's also this B&Z Electra King permanently parked on Rowena driveway.

B&Z Electra King



*****


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