rom Tommy Dangcil's postcard collection comes this magnificent view of Hollywoodland and Lake Hollywood by night. Its date is obvious from the handful of houses sprinkling the hills: no later than 1925. At that point, Hollywoodland was just two years old, and what houses existed were newly built. In the coming decades, hundreds of new houses would spring up in Hollywoodland, but the contours of the land would remain the same. Also unchanged is Lake Hollywood, whose shape was determined by the canyon--Holly Canyon--that was flooded for its construction.
For me, the song captures what I think of as the era of California Exceptionalism--the period between 1900 and 1940 when California had a burgeoning population and geographical remoteness from the East Coast and its culture. Californians--whether established or new--reveled in their state's differentness: its non-European culture, its climate, its exotic crops, its dramatically varied topography. That California was a popular name for both boys and girls before WWII says a lot about state pride, as do the sentiments expressed in "I Love You, California."
In early 20th century Los Angeles, it was stylish to send postcards of local houses--whether your own, a friend's or a movie star's--to the folks back home. When I met the local historian Tommy Dangcil last month, I was struck by the number of such cards in his collection. Because he had published a collection of postcards that included Hollywood homes (Hollywood 1900-1950 in Vintage Postcards, Arcadia) I knew about the phenomenon, particularly in regards to the mansions of local grandees. But I was more impressed by postcards of houses that were utterly ordinary--except, of course, for their exotic location.
Last Sunday I stopped by the Antiquarian Book Fair at the Santa Monica Civic. I was there to meet John Howell, a rare book dealer who had emailed to tell me about one of his offerings, a pristine pamphlet advertising the long-defunct Hollywoodland Riding Club.
Because all of Hollywoodland was once a ranch, there have always been horses at the end of Beachwood Drive. In recent decades, horses have lived at Sunset Ranch, which offers boarding, lessons and trail rides to the public. But when Hollywoodland began in 1923, there was a riding club where homeowners could board their horses and learn to ride English-style, if they didn't already know how. The allure of riding in the Hollywood Hills was a selling point for house lots, and figured prominently in radio ads for Hollywoodland: