With locations all over the city and lots of books and other materials devoted to local history, libraries are a perfect springboard for exploring Los Angeles. This is the third in a series of blog posts that digs into local history near a Los Angeles Public Library branch. Let's explore the history, including the birthplace of California, near the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Branch Library.
The library has books, newspaper articles, Chamber of Commerce publications, maps, and photos devoted to the history of the San Fernando Valley and North Hollywood's place within that history. These resources can help you learn about the community that started as Toluca, became Lankershim, and, in 1927, settled on the name North Hollywood. A few aspects of North Hollywood's history include agricultural growth, the arrival of transportation and water, and pioneers whose namesake streets we drive on today (e.g., Lankershim, Weddington, Van Nuys, Whitsett, and more). This tour even has a theme song!
The 1943 hit song "San Fernando Valley" was written by Gordon Jenkins and popularized by Bing Crosby. Both men lived within three miles of the library, and biographies talk about their lives in the Valley. Several books listed in the resources below point to the song's popularity as one of the reasons GIs returning from World War II "settled down" and made the San Fernando Valley their home. Jenkins couldn't understand why his song had such an impact, "I never said anything good [in the lyrics] about the Valley….I just said I wanted to go." The song was also featured in the 1944 film San Fernando Valley starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
Birthplace of California
Campo de Cahuenga, approximately two miles south of the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Library, is often referred to as the birthplace of California. The building (a 1950 replica) represents the location of the signing of the Capitulation of Cahuenga between Lieutenant Colonel John C. Fremont and General Andres Pico on January 13, 1847, which ended the Mexican-American War in California. You can learn more about the Campo de Cahuenga in this digitized leaflet and in this illustrated blog post by the Photo Friends. Don't miss D.J. Waldie's Becoming Los Angeles for more information on the various written accounts of the Capitulation of Cahuenga. The library also has resources, too many to mention in this paragraph, on several interesting women tied to the Campo de Cahuenga history, including Dõna Maria Bernarda Ruiz de Rodriguez, Harrye Rebecca Piper Forbes (aka Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes), and Jessie Benton Fremont (wife of John C. Fremont and daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton). The library has many books by and about Mrs. Forbes and Mrs. Fremont. Check it out!
Agriculture dominated the area in the early twentieth century, and Toluca/Lankershim was known as the "Home of the Peach." Other crops grown in the area included English walnuts, apricots, plums, and pears. As a matter of fact, the land the library sits on, and the adjacent North Hollywood Park were once part of the Prince ranch. Photos in the library's collection show the ranch, and its fruit-drying operation, which was touted as the first in the community. Prize-winning cattle at the Hartsook Ranch also put Lankershim on the map (owner Fred Hartsook was a successful portrait photographer in Los Angeles before taking up ranching in the San Fernando Valley). The rural landscape attracted filmmakers, and nearby movie studios included Universal City and Republic Pictures. According to Mayers (see resources below), local farmhands were hired as extras and made more money than farmhands. Ranchers complained they were losing employees to the movies as a result.
Appropriately, because of the rural surroundings (or more precisely, the combination of rural and urban, or "rurban"), businesses devoted to the western lifestyle flourished. These businesses included stables and riding academies (the city directory reveals that the North Hollywood Stables on Whitsett were owned by G.C. Spahn, who later purchased what became known as Spahn Ranch), feed stores, saddleries, tractor supply stores, and, of course, Nudie.
You couldn't miss tailor Nudie Cohn or his vehicles. Nudie was known for the rhinestone-bedazzled suits he made for Western entertainers and wore himself in his North Hollywood shop. Entertainers such as Porter Wagoner, Gram Parsons, Elvis Presley (the gold lame suit!), Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, and many, many more. You can see each of these performers, in their Nudie-designed duds, sprinkled throughout the library's collection of movies and music.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Urbanization of the San Fernando Valley was underway by the time the (then named) Sidney Lanier Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library opened in July 1929. At the time, according to a Chamber of Commerce publication, the boundaries of North Hollywood were Mulholland Drive (south), San Fernando Road (north), Fulton (west), and Burbank city limits (east). Designed by architects Weston & Weston, the branch has undergone expansion twice and was renamed to honor Amelia Earhart in 1981. Learn more about the branch's long history here.
The "plane" connection is most evident in the renaming of the North Hollywood Library to honor nearby resident aviatrix Amelia Earhart. Ms. Earhart and her husband George P. Putnam rented a house at 10515 Valley Spring Lane in 1934 and later bought a house down the street. In letters to her mother, she talks about living in North Hollywood and persuades her mother to move there herself. A neighbor of Ms. Earhart's was aviator Paul Mantz. In addition to being Earhart's technical advisor and a movie stunt pilot, Mr. Mantz was known as the Honeymoon Pilot, flying people to destinations to get married. His biography covers all of these aspects; what a busy man! Aerospace also had a presence in North Hollywood– Don't miss Steven M. Graves' essay about the dichotomy of rusticity and aeronautics in his "Woody and Buzz: Landscape Motifs in the San Fernando Valley" chapter in LAtitudes (see resources).
Today, the Metro Red Line station is a short walk from the library, but the area first enjoyed rail service more than 100 years ago. The circa-1890s train depot still stands on Chandler Blvd and is now occupied by Groundworks Coffee (Groundworks' roastery is also located in North Hollywood). In addition to shipping the area's bountiful agricultural output to the port via the Southern Pacific Railroad at the beginning of the twentieth century, the station also served Pacific Electric Red Cars from 1911 to 1952. As the town of Lankershim morphed into North Hollywood, agricultural land gave way to residential and commercial construction.
The post-World War II population boom in the San Fernando Valley also meant more cars on the road. The busiest intersection in the San Fernando Valley and the site of the first traffic signal was at the corner of Ventura and Lankershim Blvds. Similarly, the first parking meters in the city were on Lankershim Blvd in June 1949 (sixty minutes of parking cost a nickel). Forward-thinking Pastor Norman L. Hammer at North Hollywood's Emmanuel Lutheran Church embraced automobile culture. In July 1949, he led the first drive-in Sunday sermon that allowed parishioners to remain in their vehicles while wearing the clothes that would allow them to enjoy the summer afternoon at the beach or mountains afterwards. The drive-in sermon was at 8:30 a.m., and the traditional 11 a.m. service took place inside the church. Drive-in church service lasted for years, as did local car culture. From 1961 until his death in 2015, the "King of the Kustomizers" George Barris could be found at his North Hollywood shop, the legendary Barris Kustom. In addition to books about Mr. Barris' fantastical custom cars, you can check out his cars in our photo collection, as well as in action on Batman, The Munsters, and The Beverly Hillbillies.
Art & Literature
Three miles northwest of the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Branch Library is the Great Wall of Los Angeles. The mural project began in 1976 when artist and activist Judy Baca enlisted the help of local youth, historians, and fellow artists to create art along the Tujunga Wash that featured California's history from the perspective of marginalized communities. The ongoing project, which currently spans from prehistoric California through the 1984 Olympics, is slated to include interpretive stations along the mural's path.
Writers, architects, and artists, along with many others, have historically been drawn to the San Fernando Valley and North Hollywood in particular. In the mid-1930s, Nathanael West (author of Day of the Locust) and his wife Eileen McKenney (the namesake of My Sister Eileen) bought a house down the street from the library on Magnolia. The West-McKenney home often hosted friends such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheila Graham. This was the last home the couple would live in before their untimely deaths. A biography of the couple, Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney, mentions the importance Eileen placed on getting her library card from the local library. Could it have been the North Hollywood Branch? Hard-boiled writer Jim Tully, known for his 1924 autobiographical story of riding the rails, Beggars of Life, built his dream home (which he named Tall Timbers) on 3.5 acres in Toluca Lake, not far from Ms. Earhart's home. In addition to books by and about Mr. Tully, the library has the 1932 film Beggars of Life (starring Richard Arlen, Wallace Berry, and Louise Brooks). Visit the library to find other movies that were filmed on North Hollywood's streets, including Licorice Pizza, Magnolia, Clueless, Pulp Fiction, and Big Lebowski.
Architect Robert Stacy-Judd (who designed the incredible Mayan Revival Aztec Hotel in Monrovia) lived on Whitsett in North Hollywood. With the help of a member of the local Masonic lodge, he designed the Mayan/Art Moderne Masonic temple at 5122 N. Tujunga, which opened in 1951 down the street from the library. In addition to his architectural career, Mr. Stacy-Judd was an explorer and writer. The library has the books he wrote on adventuring in the Yucatan and the lost city of Atlantis.
With the help of David Gebhard and Robert Winter's An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, you can find many architectural gems within a short drive of the library. Within a few miles, you can see residential buildings designed by John Lautner, R.M. Schindler, and Ray Kappe; Case Study House #1 designed by J.R. Davidson; the Streamline Moderne Los Angeles Water and Power Building on Lankershim, attributed to S. Charles Lee; and the barrel-shaped Idle Hour, a beautifully restored piece of Programmatic architecture.
So much more local history was made near the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Library than can fit in this blog post. As an example, the Valley Times Photo Collection, spanning 1946 to 1964, is chock full of innovative entrepreneurship. One success story is the first Renaissance Pleasure Faire, which took place in 1963 as a KPFK fundraiser at the Haskell Ranch on Vineland. Other business ventures included Coffee Concert, a 1958 coffeehouse in Valley Plaza that displayed local artists and played music on "Hi-fi and stereophonic" equipment so that customers could, according to the Valley Times, "experience stereo music properly presented in acoustically-correct surroundings."
Finally, if you have an hour to spare and want to stick close to the library, definitely check out the North Hollywood Angels Walk. The walking tour loop begins at the Metro Red Line Station but can easily be picked up at any stop along the way. Stanchions along the tour feature information and photos of local historical (and contemporary) spots, including the library, the 1896 train depot, Fire Station 60, El Portal Theater, and the former locations of Nudie's Rodeo Tailors and the Hartsook Ranch.