A postcard of Lookout Mountain, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Long before the developers of Hollywoodland offered potential buyers the chance to enjoy the magnificent views at the top of the hill above their giant advertising sign, the real estate syndicate promoting Lookout Mountain Park smartly decided to construct a high-end resort at the top of the development. While Lookout Mountain Inn survived less than 10 years, it provided the grandest views of the Southland from its wide porches.
The Aug. 14, 1908, Los Angeles Times announced that a new real estate syndicate would soon start construction on a “pleasure resort” on the peak of Lookout Mountain, reached by scenic railway and automobile. Purchased for $98,000, their 280 acres of hill and mountainside loomed above West Hollywood with some of the most spectacular views anywhere around Los Angeles, ranking as one of its top tourist attractions. The newly formed Lookout Mountain Park Land and Water Co. would build a hotel and bungalows, develop and sell water, and reforest the hillsides with eucalyptus and pines.
Ads trumpeted the beginning of sales for the 745 lots in Lookout Mountain Park in mid-May 1909, each costing $250, for $5 down and $1 a week in payments. The Los Angeles Times noted in the May 23, 1909, edition that the “high-class resort and residential section” would attract residents from all over, with the location itself “world famous.” The easily accessible site with sweeping vistas offered visitors a chance to slow down and rest, and enjoy nature’s beauty. Visitors could take the Pacific Electric from downtown, switch to the Laurel Canyon car, and then travel by car to the summit. Construction of the new Sunset Boulevard would aid traveling to the spectacular location.
To help promote their development, the Lookout Mountain Park Land and Water Co. smartly produced and distributed postcards showing views of the inn and surrounding acres, a potent advertising tool for the virgin land.
The syndicate blanketed newspapers with advertisements in 1909-1910, offering hyperbolic praise for the beauty and uniqueness of the area. One such ad stated that “people of refinement and lovers of natural beauty who seek homes where the air is good, pure and healthful,” would find their perfect residence here.
The Oct. 2, 1910, Los Angeles Herald described how the neighborhood exploded from bare hillsides and rough trails into a well laid out development featuring outstanding views. The paper noted the large hotel and “many stately homes erected by capitalists” lining the hills. The 130-foot by 75-foot hotel featured wide verandas on three sides, offering unobstructed 270-degree views of Hollywood, Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, beach towns, Catalina and Santa Barbara Islands, Echo Mountain and other sights, as well as dining room and reception halls. These amenities welcomed newly arriving guests.
For $15 room and board, one could stay a week at the inn’s elevation of 1,500 feet, soaking in clean air, enjoying peaceful rest and taking in the million-dollar views. A Times article describing outstanding mountain retreats on June 2, 1912, included the inn, stating, “This modern, luxuriously appointed hostelry is open throughout the year and caters to the votaries of Los Angeles’ most exclusive social circles. It is a favorite resort for banquets, dinner parties, and social functions, and is reached by one of he most beautiful automobile trips in the world.”
Filmmakers also sought out its secluded and virgin locations for shooting. Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar Apfel employed the Lookout Mountain Inn as a set visited by the wealthy Easterner played by Jane Darwell in the 1914 Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Co.’s fourth film, “The Only Son.” Fan magazines noted that western star William S. Hart shot parts of his first Artcraft feature, “The Narrow Trail,” here in 1917, attracted by the narrow mountain roads offering great shots of chase sequences.
Stars gravitated to the inn as well, enjoying its somewhat private and secluded location as a perfect place to meet for Sunday breakfasts before riding horseback in the hills.
Automobile enthusiasts flocked to Lookout Mountain and its inn. Some enjoyed nighttime touring in 1914, while others sought out the steep roads offering dramatic challenges to the up-to-date engines and tires of their sports cars. Many enjoyed the thrilling adventure of racing their cars to the summit. Mrs. H. S. Carroll succeeded in driving her 1913 Henderson sports car to the summit, telling papers she attempted it for thrills, and hoped to do it again. Unfortunately, the first death occurred in 1914 when a drunk driver’s car drove over an embankment and flipped, killing passenger Mrs. Helen Newcomb.
Deep tragedy struck Oct. 26, 1918, during a Santa Ana. A group of teenage boys enjoyed a sausage bake over hot coals, but failed to completely extinguish them. Glowing embers quickly erupted a few hours later, and a fire wall with flames 500 feet wide covered the hillside, moving at the rate of a mile in five minutes. Fire torched 200 acres, and completely engulfed the inn. Owner J. H. Hartwick and employees waited too late to save much of anything, and were lucky to escape with their lives.
Developers never rebuilt the inn, as home sales continued to climb in the area without it. Over the decades, many stars resided in this area, including Chester Conklin in his $70,000, 10-room mountain retreat, Jill Esmond and Laurence Olivier in a “rambling ranch house,” Bert Wheeler, Joan Blondell and George Barnes, John Carroll, Lew Ayres, Burl Ives, Edward G. Robinson, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Ida Lupino, and Harry Houdini. Its soaring views still attract high-end customers.
Lookout Mountain still survives today as a high end, rustic residential section crisscrossed by winding and curving streets, minus the stunning inn and its dramatic vistas.