Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights — Los Angeles’ Forgotten J. B. Lankershim Monument

image Charles Owens’ drawing of the Lankershim monument in “Nuestro Pueblo.”

Los Angeles’ Boy Scout Camp Arthur Letts is a distant memory today, a large getaway in the Hollywood Hills offering camping, drilling and country escapes by area Boy Scout troops. Also largely forgotten is the monument built on its property to recognize the burial place of early San Fernando Valley founder, J. B. Lankershim. While the camp is long gone, the simple J. B. Lankershim Monument still forlornly stands on a narrow strip of land left over from Scouting days, a monument to a simpler time.

Lankershim, son of powerful Los Angeles’ resident Isaac Lankershim, who owned 62,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley, the southern half of what had originally been Rancho Mission San Fernando, was a prominent businessman and real estate promoter. He moved to the San Fernando Valley to help his father manage their vast property, and in 1887, led a syndicate to purchase 12,000 acres from the Lankershim Farming and Milling Co. north of the Cahuenga Pass, forming the small village of Toluca (later Lankershim, and now known as North Hollywood).

Mary Mallory’s ebook of her first “Hollywood Heights” posts, titled “Hollywoodland” is now available on Amazon.


The group began selling the land on April 1, 1888, under the name Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Co. to farmers eager to harvest the many peach, apricot, pear and walnut trees of the area. Within two years, 10,000 acres sold for $1.2 million, with young Lankershim holding on to the remaining 2,000 acres himself. Lankershim Boulevard honors him and his family’s memory.

Lankershim later built downtown’s Lankershim Hotel at Broadway and 7th, and the San Fernando Building at 4th and Main Street. He also served as the first president of the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

When Los Angeles-area Boy Scouts came seeking land on which to build a large camp in 1921, Lankershim donated approximately 20 acres north of Woodrow Wilson Drive and Nichols Canyon Drive on April 1, 1921. The Boy Scouts of America hired renowned architect Gordon Kaufmann to design a large auditorium enclosing an outdoor swimming pool on three sides, with individual barracks for each of area’s 39 troops also constructed on the property, per the Aug. 24, 1924, Los Angeles Times. The local council named it Camp Arthur Letts, after the prominent local businessman who helped found the Broadway and Bullock’s Department Stores, was a prominent national boy scout leader, and later constructed a mansion in Holmby Hills now known as the Playboy Mansion. This site served as the largest camp/gathering place for local Scouts.

Within a few years, Lankershim ceded control of his company, and began visiting his daughter Dora approximately twice a year at her home in Paris. He died Oct. 16, 1931, in Brooklyn’s Madison Park Hospital, two weeks after being removed from the ship Ile de France upon his return to America.

Lawyers submitted a will dated March 19, 1929, listing his two children Doria and John as beneficiaries, which specified that his ashes “be spread over some portion of the lands in the San Fernando Valley which where owned by my family and over which for many years I have had superintendence and management,” and to erect “a monument on some part of the present holdings in the San Fernando Valley in the form of an obelisk with a suitable inscription, from stone of the Madera quarries,” near his family’s Fresno County ranch.

Jne 2, 1939, Lankershim Monument

Attorney J. Wiseman MacDonald attempted to have the will revoked and replaced with a deathbed testament brought forward by Lankershim’s caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Foster, which gave a tenth of the estate to the Fosters, and a tenth to McDonald. After a court battle, Superior Court Judge Crail struck down the second will after MacDonald read a statement in court. Another court battle took several years after a former nurse of the businessman came forward with a note supposedly signed by Lankershim and giving her $500,000 upon his death. The California Court of Appeals eventually found for the family and resolved the estate in 1938, allowing for the monument’s construction.

Joe Seewerker and Charles Owens documented the obelisk in one of their Nuestro Pueblo pieces dated June 2, 1939, noting that it stood adjacent to Errol Flynn’s ranch with Lankershim’s ashes underneath.

The obelisk contains three plaques recognizing Lankershim and San Fernando Valley history. One details biographical information like birth and death dates and military service, another states, “Near here on the bank of the Los Angeles River was fought the Battle of Cahuenga February 22, 1845,” and the last states, “The Treaty of Peace between Gen. John C. Fremont and Gen. Andreas Pico was signed ½ miles North of Cahuenga on Jan. 13, 1845.”

By the late 1950s, the Scouts needed money, and sold the Letts Camp to a developer, who subdivided the land and built homes. The thin strip of land containing the monument remained untouched, sitting virtually forgotten for decades.

On Jan. 18, 1978, the J. B. Lankershim Monument was recognized as Los Angeles’ Cultural Heritage Monument No. 181. The obelisk and its tiny park-like grounds stand not far from Mulholland Drive at the top of Nichols Canyon Road, with its two short stairways in desperate need of repairs.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1921, 1939, Art & Artists, Books and Authors, Hollywood, Hollywood Heights, Mary Mallory, Nuestro Pueblo, San Fernando Valley and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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