Monday, January 31, 2011

Thematic Photographic - Curves

"Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is CURVES.

Morning traffic going down the S-curves

Living where I do, in a coastal canyon near Los Angeles, one of the first things that popped into my head when I read Carmi's theme "CURVES" was the road I travel every day - our infamous Topanga "S-curves."

On a map, the ten or so miles of California state route number 27 between the 101 freeway and Pacific Coast highway looks like a strand of linguine dropped onto a tablecloth. It wriggles and twists and curves back on itself.

It's a two-lane blacktop road that follows the path of the creek that carved this canyon, and it's the only way in or out of the place we live.

At the foot of the curves, on a rainy night

When you turn into the canyon from Pacific Coast Highway, you're about 10 feet above sea level. Although the twists and turns the rise is at first imperceptible, but suddenly you find yourself surrounded by cliffs looming on each side.

Around a deep curve to the right, you soon see it - the road clinging to the side of the cliff as it climbs. During the winter evening rush-hour, the string of red tail-lights coils up the mountain like a garland. Sheer cliffs rise on one side, and on the other a deep chasm looms to the creek, with more cliffs beyond.

The switchbacks can be terrifying the first time you drive them, but for us they've become routine. Topanga kids learn to drive on these roads, and I remember the first time I sat in the passenger seat while Our Son, at sixteen, steered our car down the slaloms.

That's a signature moment in parent-child relationships.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What did I do this weekend?

Yesterday it was clear and bright, the sky incredibly blue, with a pale mist coming into the canyon from the ocean.

You can see it, as it fades the mountains on the other side of the canyon into a soft pastel. This is the kind of day that makes me understand what Maxfield Parrish was seeing when he was painting.

Today it rained in the morning and into the early afternoon. [The Man I Love] and I went into town to see a movie, "The King's Speech." We had a glass of wine and some nibbles at a place near the theatre, then came home.

A good weekend. How was yours?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thematic Photographic - Curves

"Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is CURVES.

Against the blue sky, this is the top of One California Plaza in downtown Los Angeles, on Bunker Hill. Its curving facade reflects back the sky.

I don't much like the soul-less high-rises that replaced the old Victorian buildings of Bunker Hill, but today I found beauty here.

Here's the building at its full height.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Thematic Photographic - Blue

"Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is BLUE.

When I was looking through my files for photos that fit the theme "BLUE" , this photo from last spring's garden tour jumped right out at me from the thumbnail.

This is a selected variety of sage, or Salvia. I didn't write down the variety when I photographed it, but I believe it is Salvia guaranitica, or blue anise sage.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

City of heretics

Aimee Semple McPherson in 1923

"Paradoxical in all things, Southern California is a land of exaggerated religiosity and also of careless skepticism, where old faiths die and new cults are born.” – Wrote journalist and historian Carey McWilliams in his book "Southern California: An Island on the Land."

L.A. has a reputation as a place where people embrace wacky ideas, strange religions, arcane philosophy, peculiar diets and odd disciplines. Cults and communes, communities and teachers devoted to disciplines expanding the mind, transforming the body, and inspiring spiritual thought have made their homes and lots of money here in Southern California. It's not surprising in a town where the biggest industry is creating fantasy, that some will create fantastic ways of life.

These efforts are deeply rooted in the city's history. Right from the start, Southern California was marketed as a place that would transform your life. Sick people came here for the cure. People who lived in chill, dreary Eastern cities came for tropical paradise. People who wanted to remake themselves found plenty of opportunities. People who want to make money off those people found an equal number of opportunities.

The magician Satani, with a crystal ball, in 1925 from a photo at the Los Angeles Public Library

In 1913, Willard Huntington Wright, editor of the literary magazine “Smart Set” did not think well of early Los Angeles. In one essay called "Los Angeles- The Chemically Pure", he called it a city without a heritage. The rapid growth and the influx of rootless people overran its historic Spanish heritage, and in its place people who sought to belong turned to
faddists and mountebanks, spiritualists, mediums, astrologists, phrenologists, palmists and all other breeds of esoteric windjammers… Whole buildings are devoted to occult and outlandish orders – mazadazan clubs, yogi sects, houses of truth, cults of cosmic fluidists, astral planers, Emmanuel movers, Rosicrucians and other boozy transcendentalists.
Photo by A Eisenstaedt, from Life magazine, 1929

The occult was very popular in the early decades of the Twentieth Century, especially among show people. In 1919 the author Aleister Crowley described a “cinema crowd of cocaine-crazed sexual lunatics, and the swarming maggots of near-occultists.” He would know.

Magic store, Hollywood, 1926

The Hollywood culture of hucksterism was adopted even by what most thought to be mainstream religions. It was the era of the celebrity evangelist, and the most famous of all was Aimee Semple McPherson, who brought her theatrical brand of Christian revivalism to Los Angeles in 1920 or thereabouts. She was so popular she built a huge church in Echo Park, called the Angelus Temple. It could accommodate 5000 adoring worshipers, and McPherson's church-owned radio station could reach tens of thousands more.

Aimee had her perks, L.A. style - reserved parking. Photo from the Los Angeles Public Library

In 1926, H.L. Mencken, when asked to comment on the popularity of Aimee Semple McPherson, replied
there were more morons collected in Los Angeles than in any other place on earth….it swarmed with swami spiritualists, Christian Scientists, crystal-gazers and the allied necromancers.
A personal scandal in 1926 tarnished Aimee's reputation, and a new marriage - her third - to an actor damaged her brand further when it fell apart over accusations of cheating. She died in 1944 from an unintended overdose of sleeping pills.

Her shameless self-promotion inspired the creation of memorable literary characters, including the preacher Eli Sunday in Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil!" - which was adapted for the recent film "There Will Be Blood."

"Apparition Over Los Angeles" - Barse Miller

In 1930, artist Barse Miller was awarded a prize for his satirical painting, "Apparition Over Los Angeles" which showed McPherson, her mother, and her husband as a holy trinity hovering in the clouds above the Angelus Temple, along with a pile of heavenly money-bags. It was deemed so controversial it was withdrawn from the exhibit.

Los Angeles was a place where nothing was too wacky to be believed.

Nathanael West, in his novel “Day of the Locust” creates a fictional version of the cults he observed in Los Angeles, including
the Tabernacle of the Third Coming where a woman in male clothing preached the Crusade Against Salt and the Temple Moderne, under whose glass and chromium roof "Brain breathing, the Secret of the Aztecs’"was taught.
Lest we think West exaggerates, Carey McWilliams relates his own experience:
In Los Angeles, I have attended the services of the Agabeg Occult church, where the woman pastor had violet hair and green-painted eyelids; of the Great White Brotherhood, whose yellow-robed followers celebrate the full moon of May with a special ritual; of the Ancient Mystic Brotherhood of Melchizedek, of the Temple of the Jeweled Cross….of the Self-Realization Fellowship of America,which proposes to construct a $400,000 Golden Lotus Yoga Dream Hermitage.
He offers as example the directory of tenants of a single office building in downtown L.A.
Spiritual Mystic Astrologer; Spiritual Psychic Science Church…; Circle of Truth Church; First Church of Divine Love and Wisdom; Reverend Eva Coram, Giving her Wonderful Cosmic Reading; Divine Healing Daily; Spiritual Science Church of the Master, Special Rose Light Circle.

The former Chateau Elysee

What was it about Los Angeles that seemed to draw them all here? That still seems to draw seekers to the city?

One writer of the time, Emma Harding, in a history of spiritualism, thought that cults thrived on the Pacific coast because of the mineral magnetism from California's gold mines, which caused beneficial vibrations. The strong enthusiasm of the long-dead spirits of the miners also contributed to the attraction, apparently.

The Theosophists who founded the colony at Krotona in the Hollywood hills were part of this wave of spiritual seekers, and though they may have been sincere, their colony fell prey to the natural tendency for corruption and conflict that afflicts all human organizations.

Vintage postcard of the Theosophist colony in Point Loma near San Diego.

Another Theosophist colony had been established near San Diego, and were viewed by suspicion by the members of the Krotona colony, because of rifts between their leader and Mrs. Annie Besant, the "Dear Mother" of Krotona. This rivalry is revealed in snarky and gossipy asides in letters between the colony and Mrs. Besant. The fact that they believed in reincarnation lent an extra dimension to the gossip, bringing otherwordly creatures into their petty spats:
Mrs.Tingley's persecution of Mrs. Besant has been so steady and so heartfelt, that it makes one believe that she must be an old persecutor, probably one of the Catholics in the past who have given our beloved leader so much trouble.
- A. P. Warrington to C. Jinarajadasa, 2/13/1913
Theosophy was even ripped off in the 1930s by a pair of grifters named Guy and Edna Ballard. Ballard claimed to have encountered one of Theosophy's great masters while on a hike on Mt. Shasta. He and his wife formed a movement they called the "I AM" movement, that expanded on Theosophy's ideas with some profitable extras, including tokens, rings, signed photos, special charts, and even a New Age Cold Cream you could get by mail order. Ballard claimed to be the reincarnation of George Washington, an Egyptian priest, and a French musician. They were so popular they drew a crowd of 6000 to the Shrine Auditorium in 1935.

It's funny to learn that one of the contemporary figures trying to debunk the fad of the occult was none other than the famed magician Harry Houdini. Houdini, who used physical skills to perform his sensational acts of dare-devil escape, despised self-proclaimed mediums and spiritualists, and after his beloved mother died in 1920, he dedicated himself to debunking the fakes.

Ironically,when Houdini died of peritonitis in 1926, his grief-stricken wife Bess spent the next ten years holding seances to raise him from the grave. She finally quit, after a media-staged attempt held at the Knickerbocker Hotel resulted in the usual failure.

Well, that's Hollywood for you.

L.A.'s other Theosophists - Theosophy Hall on Grand Street south of downtown

Although it was written in 1946, Carey McWilliams' book is still fresh today. Anyone who's interested in the history of Southern California should read it. The ability of California - and Los Angeles in particular - to allow its residents to delete their past, to create new realities, is one of its strangest qualities.

In writer Frank Fenton's first novel "A Place in the Sun", the author elaborates on the paradox that Carey McWilliams puts so succinctly in the quote that opens this post:
This was a city of heretics. A themeless city with every theme. Chicago, St. Louis and Denver had each been different; each had its own sordidness and strength and fury. Each was lusty and titanic in its own way, joyful and somber in its own way, and each was indubitably American. But not this Los Angeles. It had an air of not belonging to America, though all its motley ways were American. It was a city of refugees from America; it was purely itself in a banishment partly dreamed and partly real. It rested on a crust of earth at the edge of a sea that ended a world.
It was in this environment of personal and institutional re-invention that the Krotona colony came to Hollywood. And just like all other Hollywood newcomers, they adapted and became part of this new culture that created its own mythology, over the next few decades.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Thematic Photographic - Blue

"Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is BLUE.

Click to "embiggen"

Here's some blue for you. In the City of Bell, southeast of Los Angeles, on Gage Avenue, an old 1920's era Churrigueresque retail building has been painted the color of a swimming pool. Lamp-post ornaments celebrate Christmas and the city's name. Above it, the amazing blue sky of an L.A. winter day.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Light in Hollywood

Readers of this blog probably already know what happens when I start researching something that piques my curiosity. Together you've come with me to learn about the Passages of Paris and the tawdry world of an L.A. taxi-dance hall; you've joined me as I explore the journeys of my father's family and [The Man I Love]'s grandfather and his life in L.A.

Well, hop aboard, because our recent discovery of Hollywood's historic spiritual colony known as Krotona has uncovered some wonderful stories I'd like to share with you. This is Part One.

A postcard view of Krotona Court

In 1912, in Hollywood, California, Mr. A.P. Warrington, with donations from wealthy followers, purchased some 11 acres north of Franklin Avenue, in the foothills of Mount Hollywood, for a group called the Esoteric Society. There would be educational centers, meeting rooms, gardens and retreats. He called it Krotona, after the mythological school established by the Greek philosopher Pythagoras.

Warrington was a follower of Mrs. Annie Besant, leader of the Theosophical Society, a religious group based in Adyar, Madras, India, but begun in 1878 in New York State. Besant had taken over leadership of the Society after the death of its founder, Madame Helena Blavatsky. The Esoteric Society was an elite group, her inner circle.

Warrington described the site in a letter to Besant, whom he addressed reverently as “My dear Mother”:
This is the most choice little spot I have ever found. It is on an elevation and at the foot of the hill, to the South, lies Hollywood and Los Angeles, and immediately around the hill are palatial homes of the very rich. To the West the same, with an unusually beautiful view of a lovely little vale; to the East and extending on up into the mountains is a charming little canyon...And to the North, there are the beautiful mountains, our site being right in the lap of them. The trolley comes within one long block of our site.

Theosophy translates as "god-wisdom.” As Theosophists, Warrington and Besant both believed in noble beings who existed to guide humanity toward perfection, over the course of many reincarnated lives. The worlds’ religions were attempts by the Masters to lead humanity to the Absolute Truth, and thus all religions are valid. Truth was found in the study of philosophy, arts, science and astrology. They believed in the occult; and believed certain people – themselves – were naturally receptive to spiritual messages.

Hollywood viewed from Primrose Avenue in the Krotona Colony in 1925

Architects Arthur S. and Alfred Heineman were hired to design the campus. Buildings already on the site were remodeled for colony use. Small bungalows were quickly erected to house staff.

One of the original bungalows

On July 2, 1912 - an astrologically favorable date - a ceremony marked the laying of the colony cornerstone. A processional of robed guests, followed a Grand Marshall to the blast of a trumpet, “in the subdued summer sunlight, down the winding lane among flowers and trees.”

A copper casket was buried beneath the stone, decorated with palm fronds, bearing portraits of Society leaders, golden tokens, copies of Society by-laws, the works of Theosophist scholars, and copies of the local daily papers. According to Masonic customs the stone was squared, leveled and plumbed, and anointed with water, wine, oil and salt. A wealthy benefactress, Mrs. Broenniman gave a dramatic recitation of the Birth Chant of the Omaha Indians, calling to the Sun, Moon, all the elements of weather; to the hills of the Earth, and to all animals, birds and insects to smooth the colony’s future.

It’s unclear where the cornerstone was actually laid. An architectural rendering of the campus by the Heinemans show a large white administration building, but there appears to be no trace of such a structure in Krotona. An existing house on Primrose Avenue was remodeled for use as the main administration office. Two other houses called the Brown House and the Yellow House were home to colony activities.

The colony's Science Building, today a private residence

On July 5, 1912, the first Summer School term began. Some 80 – 90 pupils attended courses on theosophy and science, Esperanto, Parliamentary procedure, Pedagogy, Psychology and Vegetarian Diet.

As the summer went on, more workers joined the colony with their families. Their children played idyllically on the wooded slopes and swung on swings. The children were organized by age into groups, from the Lotus Circle for the youngest, to the Golden Chain, where they were taught to chant “I am a link in the Golden Chain of Love that stretches round the world…” Teenagers joined the Round Table, based on the Arthurian legend.

Life at Krotona was simple. Alcohol and tobacco were forbidden, and most members were vegetarians. In his book, "Krotona of Old Hollywood" Joseph E. Ross describes the daily routine. Everyone rose to work by 8:30. At 12:15 they ate a communal vegetarian lunch. They worked until dinnertime at 6:00 and then in the evening came together for meetings and classes. There were readings of inspirational literature and stories. Wednesday was for business. Mr. Augustus Knudsen taught a class on The Bhagavad-Gita. Friday evenings the Order of the Star in the East conducted ceremonial rituals. Saturdays were for music; piano, phonograph and song, selections from "Parsifal" by a gentleman member. Animated discussions debated what Beethoven would compose if he were reincarnated, or the techniques of harmonization in the Greek mode. Each night at 9:00 pm, an Evening Meeting sent all off to bed with serenity.

A side gallery of the Krotona Court

In fall of 1912, construction began on the Krotona Court. The building was designed by the architectural firm of Mead & Requa. It would house a library, a book publisher, and the magazine produced by the Society. Plans included dormitory space for visiting disciples or those who wanted to live more simply and a vegetarian cafeteria with an outdoor eating space. Mr. Warrington’s residential quarters were located on the second floor over the building entry.

The building was designed in the Spanish revival style, an arched entry leading to a central court with function rooms opening onto it. At the rear, a domed Esoteric Room opened off the second floor gallery. Within its Moorish-style interior was a built-in altar positioned to focus the energy of combined meditation toward the mystic East.

The courtyard at Krotona

On October 1, the birthday of Mrs. Besant was celebrated with readings, stories, and musical tributes. Each guest placed a flower before her portrait, whose frame was entwined with green branches.

On Halloween, the children performed a play, for a ten cents admission to fund a future childrens’ library. The stage was decorated with jack-o-lanterns, and the tickets with drawings of black cats.

In November, 27 of the colonists shared a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. The menu included a turkey substitute, made of lima beans, corn flakes, and “dressing,” served with mashed potatoes and gravy, spinach, a salad of cottage cheese, pimento and nuts, and cranberry sauce, olives, and other relishes. Dessert was raspberry ice cream and cakes. The table was decorated with bouquets of pink carnations.

Krotona Court, with the completed Temple of the Rosy Cross to the southwest

In spring of 1913, when Krotona Court was completed, Miss Sarah J. Eddy contributed three large inspirational paintings of mystical themes to hang in the Assembly Hall. Another donor gave an 18th century Japanese gong for ceremonial use.

The Knudsen house today

In 1914 A wealthy benefactor from Hawaii, Mr. Augustus Knudsen and his wife built their grand villa where Vista del Mar curved to climb the hill. The three-level villa had large rooms for entertaining that opened broad arcaded terraces to the views below. A flight of grand steps, with arches and fountains, led down to lower Vista del Mar, to access the trolley lines on Franklin.

A glimpse of the Temple today, converted to apartments

Also in 1914, a related group, led by Marie Russak, a Besant protégé, formed the Temple of the Rosy Cross, based on the ideas of medieval Rosicrucianism. The Krotona Court complex was expanded with a larger assembly hall Temple, featuring stained glass windows with the "Rosy Cross" motif.

The stained glass window of the Temple, now an apartment building

In 1915, a large rambling structure known as the Ternary was built on Temple Hill Drive. It was three dwellings connected by a courtyard, and the home of Grace Shaw Duff, a celebrated lecturer from New York and other members of the inner circle.

The Ternary today, converted to apartments

Beyond the Ternary lay a lotus pool and the Greek-style outdoor amphitheatre where music and dance programs were performed. Beyond that, an Italian Garden included a Moorish-style kiosk or pagoda. Poems and stories published in the Theosophist magazines described the beauty of Krotona.

As one visitor put it in 1914:
It is especially lovely at night when one gazes down on the thousands of twinkling lights as the sea reflecting the starry firmament above. But the most indescribable part is the wonderful atmosphere of serenity and peace and power that broods over it.

Another view of the courtyard

The history of the Theosophical Society is as complicated as that of any human institution. Internal conflicts split the group; the old guard weakened and incoming members brought new ideas. The Hollywood real estate boom destroyed the rural serenity of the site. The group eventually relocated to a site in Ojai, in Ventura County.

It is hard for me to write about this without being unintendingly condescending. I don't believe in the stuff they believed in. Reading the story from nearly 100 years later, and knowing the history of Hollywood’s penchant for cults, quackism, and charlatanry, it’s easy to judge these folks as naïve - or even goofy. I am not a religious person, and for me, the idea of spiritual visitations, messages beyond the grave, and reincarnation seems ridiculous.

Stained glass lights beside a door in Krotona Court

On the other hand, there is something touching about the sincerity of the foundation of Krotona, and the dedication of its original settlers. For a brief time, they seemed to transcend the intrigue and political scheming that soon convulsed the Theosophic Society, both in the U.S. and worldwide. For a few short years, from 1912 to 1922, by all accounts the colony was a special place to be. The contribution it made to Los Angeles in the arts, in film and in this neighborhood, is still remarkable.

We'll explore more about Krotona, its people, and the peculiar ability of Los Angeles to attract and nurture an amazing array of cults, fads, and spiritual seekers and self-improvers.

I learned a lot about Krotona from these two sources:

Joseph E. Ross, "Krotona of Old Hollywood, 1866-1913 Volume I," El Montecito Oaks Press, 1989

Alfred Willis, "A Survey of the Surviving Buildings of the Krotona Colony Hollywood," Architronic,

Historic photos from the Los Angeles Public Library.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Flowers of spring

Just breaking through the oak leaves in our front yard, these crocus blossoms are up.

Amazingly - I bought the corms at the 99 Cent store, $1 for a bag of perhaps a dozen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Behemoths at dawn

I hear them roaring in my sleep, and they color my dreams, a herd of preying beasts. I awake and it's still dark. I can hear them roaming the byways, skirting the hills of the canyon, prowling as the dawn comes, looking to feed their foul appetites.

They growl and bellow as they approach. Monstrous, colossal, they flatten all beneath massive black paws that grip the earth.

Their baleful eyes flash.

Any creature in the path veers and cowers as they pass.

Last night, we placed out offerings in special vessels to appease the beasts. Seized by huge hard dripping claws, with a snarl, they are emptied into the behemoth's yawning maw, shaken violently as the beast swallows each fragment, ground with its massive molars.

The beast, once sated, moves slowly on, turning to show its bulging, plated rump. The thunder dies away as it retreats.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A single room

I had the occasion to tour some apartments for rent. No, I'm not planning any life-style changes right now, I just happened to visit the building on other business.

But it made me wonder - what if I had to live in a small apartment? What would I choose? How would I remake my life?

This photo is a studio apartment in an old building. It's a single room, about 12 feet square, with high ceilings. The ceilings are so high that it can accommodate a small sleeping loft, reached by a narrow stairway lined with a prettily carved wooden banister. The floors are narrow-planked hardwood.

Underneath the stairway is a small counter with a bar-sized sink, a two-burner hotplate and a tiny refrigerator. There's a small bathroom with a pedestal sink and a stall shower.

It's on the second floor of a building on a hilltop. It has a southern exposure. There's a set of French doors leading onto a small wooden balcony built around a large eucalyptus tree. The neighborhood view is nice, but the close-up cinderblock wall and chainlink fences are not very nice. The sleeping loft has a window, too, with lots of southern light streaming in.

The room is bright, airy, freshly painted.

A door opens off a hallway lined with a dozen identical doors, leading to a dozen identical studio apartments. The laundry room is down a flight of steps. It comes with a parking place in a lot across the street. Gas, heat and water are included in the rent.

It reminded me of certain places I've been in the past. In 1977 or thereabouts, I helped a friend move in to a similar room - small, white, old and high-ceilinged - in Greenwich Village on Gay Street. The difference was that her room was perhaps 100 years older than this little room in Hollywood.

I've lived in small single rooms myself. One was a room I lived in for two weeks while on a temporary job in a strange city - only that room was darker, with fewer windows and much less clean. I lived out of my suitcase. The other was a Seattle apartment I rented for six months when I first moved there. Also tiny, it was high on a top floor, with similarly fine light, and I carefully chose every single thing I brought into it, from the dishtowels to the doorstops, to make the perfect environment. But I grew lonely, and soon went in with a girlfriend to share a rental house.

This isn't all that uncommon a possibility in the trajectory of a person's life - my Mom moved from a large cluttered house to a small room (well, a small suite) just a few years ago. Many people downsize when they get older. Single small rooms may well be in all of our futures.

How about you - could you live alone in a single small room? Have you lived in one before? What was it like? Did you like it, or was it difficult?

If you had to do it again, how would you craft your life?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Stairways to heaven

A gateway to a secluded home in the Temple Hill neighborhood

We're continuing to explore Los Angeles through Charles Flemings' book "Secret Stairs: A Walking guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles." Recently, we took walk number 35, through the Temple Hill neighborhood in Hollywood.

The walk started on Argyle Avenue north of Franklin, directly north of the famed Hollywood Tower Hotel. Once a fabulous French chateau-inspired luxury hotel, it declined in the past several decades to a flea-bag housing impoverished retirees, scuffling rockers, and drug dealers. Its faded decrepitude is said to have inspired the Disneyland adventure ride "Tower of Terror." But in recent years it's been revamped, revitalized, and restored and now condominium apartments are being sold with a marketing campaign that evokes the glamor of Hollywood past.

Argyle slopes steeply uphill north of Franklin, but the guide had us turn left, walking up equally steep Vine Street that curved at its apex, and looked over the 101 Hollywood freeway, with a view of the top of the Capitol Records building and some of the venerable old buildings on Hollywood Boulevard.

One associated Vine Street with the hustle and traffic of busy Hollywood, but here north of Franklin, it's a sleepy residential street, although the constant rush of freeway traffic keeps it from being very quiet.

We turn off Vine at narrow Vedanta, where an incredible cactus garden grew before one shabby cottage. Just past, Vedanta Place is a stub of a street but here we find a tiny treasure - the little Vedanta Temple.

The temple was built by the Vedanta Society, a religious sect lead by Swami Prabhavananda, in 1938. English author Christopher Isherwood was an adherant, writing about his experience in "My Guru and His Disciple." The temple serves as a monastery and a meditation center today.

We turn onto Ivar Avenue, and climb up. Along the street is a pretty Spanish revival apartment court. It's serene, but always the rush of the nearby freeway plays as a soundtrack.

At the corner of Longview there's an extraordinary French-Normand chateau that's been hideously bowdlerized first with an Italianate balustrade and a space-age rooftop enclosure of glass. It's an event venue, so you can go to the website HERE and tour it. Phew!

Up Longview to Vine, where we find at the corner a grand Italianate building that once belonged to singer Jeanette MacDonald, and now is said to be part of the Vedanta Society.

Across the street from this house is a Spanish-style home that once belonged to Hopalong Cassidy.

Turning left on Vine, we pass more Spanish style homes and apartments, including the entrance to this hidden apartment court, where Charlie Chaplin once is said to have lived.

Just a little past this, we find a staircase going up.

Gracefully curving, it brings us to Alcyona Drive.

This magnificent rambling Spanish villa lies at the top of the stairs. The street continues to climb. The guide takes us up steep Primrose Avenue, left onto Argyle, and then right again on Temple Hill Drive.

Some 11 acres of this neighborhood was once a religious colony, built between 1912 and 1919 for the elite Esoteric Society - a sub-group of the American Theosophical Society. The land was snapped up in the real estate boom of early Hollywood by wealthy benefactor A.P. Warrington, assisted by donations from followers. The group planned an educational and cultural institution where people attended lectures, made art, dance and music, and studied science and philosophy, all viewed through the multi-faceted lens of occultism, Rosicrucian, Hinduism, astrology and Free-masonry that made up the religious melting pot of Theosophy. They called the colony Krotona, after a legendary school founded by the Greek philosopher Pythagorus.

Theosophy was hugely popular at the time, especially among Hollywood's new creative population. "Wizard of Oz" author L. Frank Baum embraced Theosophism in 1897. Movie people like Charlie Chaplin, Clara Bow and director William Ince dabbled in Theosophism. The colony staged outdoor musical and dance pageants featuring leading choreographers of the day, like Ruth St. Denis.

Here on Temple Hill Avenue, where this modern garage shelters under the tall eucalyptus, a broad natural amphitheater once served as the venue for outdoor productions including "The Light in Asia," a dramatization of a poem celebrating the life of Buddha, and "Julius Caesar," presented to celebrate Shakespeare's 300 birthday.

This white rambling building with Moorish-style keyhole windows was known as the Ternary, and it was the residence of three dignitaries of the group. It's now an apartment house.

In keeping with their embrace of mystical orientalism, Krotona colonists added Moorish or Arabic touches to the Spanish revival style popular in Hollywood. As we walked up Temple Hill, we encountered another Krotona-era villa.

From here you can look across the canyon to another Krotona structure, a private home named Moorcrest. Designed by Theosophy heavy-hitter and architectural amateur Marie Russak Hotchener, it was leased to Charlie Chaplin for a time before being sold in the 1920s to the parents of movie star Mary Astor.

Everywhere we go we find a former home of Charlie Chaplin. He sure got around town!

Little of the house can be seen today behind tall hedges, but over the tree-tops you can see the onion domes of its roofline.

Here's another Krotona-influenced residence.

At the corner of Primrose and Vista del Mar lies the main Krotona structure. Here the colonists studied in their library, worshipped in a temple-like assembly hall, contemplated philosophy in a serene inner courtyard, and ate communal meals in a vegetarian cafeteria.

Today it's an apartment building. Here's a glimpse of the pretty courtyard.

Continuing down Vista del Mar, we encountered two large residential villas on our right, at the corner of Holly Mont Drive. One of these, on the downhill side, was the home of A. R. Knudsen, one of the wealthy founders of the colony. The home was built around a flight of steps leading from the colony's trails, landscaped gardens and meadows down to the sidewalk leading to the trolley stops at Franklin Boulevard.

It's a double flight of steps separated by fountain basins now planted with succulents. Walking down the steps, you pass arched gates leading to the residences on either side.

Before we took the flight down, though, the guide asked us to contemplate the house at 6215 Holly Mont Drive.

A rambling Spanish revival in somewhat poor repair, this house was once the home of actress Barbara Stanwyk. Its current owner has decorated the exterior with an amazing collection of statues and artifacts. The house is rumored to be haunted, and was the subject of a filmed investigation in the 1980s. I don't know about the ghosts, but it sure looks creepy in this photo.

A zen-inspired garden at a private home on Temple Hill Drive.

Something about this neighborhood must inspire a sense of serenity and contemplation, despite the rush of traffic and the faded past of Hollywood movie stars. In addition to Theosophists and Vedantists, the neighborhood is also home to the Convent of the Angels - a monastery housing Domincan nuns.

The monastery garden is a pretty retreat to visit. At the gift shop, you can buy rosaries, religious tokens, and scarves hand-knit by the nuns. Even better, you can buy nun-made pumpkin bread and chocolate fudge.


What a neighborhood! I'll explore its fascinating history in later posts.