Photo: Janet Blair sits on the little platform off the banks of the Lakeside Golf Club. Courtesy of Mary Mallory
Surrounded by homes and the Lakeside Golf Club, Toluca Lake is all but obscured from view by the public. Like the movie stars that soon flocked to it, the attractive little lake helped sell the community that grew up around it.
This area of the San Fernando Valley originally fell under the auspices of the San Fernando Mission before being broken into segments and sold off in chunks to Southern California businessmen like Isaac Van Nuys and J. B.Lankershim, among others. Gen. Charles Forman bought up ranchland just north of the Cahuenga Pass, growing Bartlett pears, walnuts, citrus and other fruit. He suggested the name Toluca for the post office erected in 1893 across from the Chandler railroad depot in North Hollywood, also known as Lankershim.
Real estate developers Heffron, McCray, and St. John purchased 151 acres of the former Forman ranch just north of the Los Angeles River in 1924 to open a real estate tract called Toluca Lake Park, so named because of the eight-acre lake constructed in the middle of the property as an attractive selling feature.
Employing the overexaggerated prose of the day, the development’s first Los Angeles Times ad on Feb. 3, 1924, claimed that “Toluca Lake Park offers irresistibly all the alluring charms of Nature. Great oak trees, full bearing fruit trees, shrubbery, a picturesque park, a sparkling lake, an unchallenged breadth of view of surrounding mountain grandeur and stretches beyond.…”
The chief attraction for the area was the manmade lake, supplied by fresh water from the 27 natural springs situated at its bottom, which residents employed for boating, fishing and other recreation.
Nearby studios flocked to the lake for filming boat scenes. Actress Virginia Valli filmed a scene tipping over a canoe here in May 1924 for the Universal film “K – The Unknown.” The July 6, 1924, Times reported on an unidentified film shooting smuggling scenes on the lake, “The scene, depicting a rum-running fleet twelve miles out at sea, shows miniature oceangoing liners anchored on the center of the lake while small speed boats dash back and forth with their party of passengers.”
Residents who bought lots adjoining the lake would gain exclusive right to use of the lake up to 155 feet from the shore. The real estate promoters claimed that they would construct a park for residents on the west end of the lake where huge eucalyptus would provide an inviting canopy for picnicking or other pursuits. A nearby walnut grove would provide peaceful vistas. Eventually the trees would be cut down to make room for more homes.
A consortium of Hollywood businessmen, including comedy filmmaker Charles Christie, spent $400,000 buying 125 acres south of the lake on April 12, 1924, to construct the Lakeside Golf Club in 1925. The swanky club, a constant celebrity draw for decades, consisted of a modern Spanish hacienda with handmade tile and terraces offering attractive views of the lake, along with 18 holes of golf hugging the lakeside.
Toluca Lake Park immediately attracted film stars, thanks to its location only blocks from both Warner Bros. and Universal Studios, and just a short drive over the Cahuenga Pass to Hollywood studios. Matinee idols like Billie Dove, Mary Astor, Lupino Lane, and Charles Farrell built homes. Farrell constructed an elegant Norman estate along the lake in 1928. He introduced swans to the water and began canoeing along the banks. Richard Arlen and Jobyna Ralston soon built at 10025 Toluca Lake Ave. According to an interview in the newspaper, Arlen and Ralston bought and paid for their lot, before getting married and building their $8,000 Spanish house. The cinema colony also included Walter Huston, W. C. Fields, Frank McHugh, Dick Powell, Jack Oakie, Lyle Talbot, Belle Bennett, Herman Mankiewicz, and George Brent.
Actress Eva Tanguay built a home at 9936 Toluca Lake Ave., before auctioning off the home and furnishings in February 1930 after discovering that the man she married in 1927, Allen Parado, her accompanist at the time, was in fact only his alias. His real name was Chandos Ksiazkiewcisz. In 1933, Boris Karloff bought the residence.
In 1937, director Norman McLeod constructed a $25,000 home at 10010 Toluca Lake Ave. African American architect Paul Williams designed a home costing $40,000 for director Irving Bacon on the opposite side of Toluca Lake Avenue that same year, which actors Jennie Garth and Peter Facinelli owned before selling earlier this year.
Aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her husband, George Putnam, constructed a home on Valley Spring Lane in 1935 to be near the Burbank Lockheed facility. After her disappearance, Putnam remained here for a time.
Toluca Lake continued growing beyond the boundaries of the small development toward both North Hollywood and Burbank, soon reaching Riverside Drive by the late 1920s. Within decades, however, the little lake disappeared from public view, save for occasional glimpses through the Golf Club gates or beyond private fences.