When it announced its opening for business on March 31, 1923, the Hollywoodland real estate development promised quality homes, upscale amenities now considered de rigueur in gated communities, and beautiful surroundings to discerning homebuyers. The first to construct a business district inside its boundaries, the first to establish a jitney service, the first hillside housing development that built homes following the contours of the hills, Hollywoodland also proclaimed itself the first to establish a stable and riding school for its residents.
Located at the very top of Beachwood Canyon, the subdivision land and a total of 640 acres had been purchased by streetcar barons and real estate moguls Eli P. Clark and M. H. Sherman from Julia Lord on July 8, 1905. Two incredibly smart businessmen, Clark and Sherman bought acreage near their streetcar lines, waiting until the opportune moment to open them for sale. They owned land in Sherman (now West Hollywood), and out in the San Fernando Valley, as well as Hollywoodland and other areas. They also wisely brought Harrison Gray Otis on as partner, in order to receive plenty of free advertising, stories, or what could be called advertorials, in The Los Angeles Times. After his death, his son-in-law Harry Chandler continued the practice.
In order to sell the land and manage real estate activities, the Clark-Sherman Company brought in Tracy E. Shoults, long time respected Los Angeles’ real estate man, and his assistant, S. H. Woodruff. Shoults had begun selling land in South Los Angeles, eventually moving up to such upscale areas as Marlborough and Windsor Squares. Woodruff, on the other hand, sometimes played it a little shady, ending up being sued or causing problems from New York to San Francisco, where a case he was involved in went all the way to the California Supreme Court in 1912. As I discovered when writing my book, “Hollywoodland,” he also was arrested in 1919 in Los Angeles for defrauding through the federal mail regarding lands in Arizona. The case was dropped or resolved, as no mention of it comes up again in the Times. Woodruff became the head of the real estate selling in July 1923, when Shoults dropped dead of a heart attack.
1923 was a terrific time to begin building a lush housing development. The country had just come out of a recession, and business was starting to boom. Consumer credit was now being offered to the American public. Many were also eager to move on from the sadness and destruction of World War I and the flu epidemic.
Advertising was booming as well, coming into its own in the 1910s and skyrocketing in the 1920s, as companies learned to devise gorgeous lithographic art to push new products in magazines, newspapers, flyers, and even brochures. Hollywoodland’s own publicity man, L. J. Burrud, was a master in employing new forms of broadcast publicity to help sell the development.
English horseback riding also exploded among LA’s burgeoning middle and upper middle class citizens in the 1920s, with the Griffith Park bridle trails and stables very popular among residents. Irene Mayer Selznick notes in her autobiography that she and her father, Louis B. Mayer, spent many a Sunday riding its trails.
Eager to take advantage of their location adjacent to the Park, and as another in a long line of strong selling tools to upscale homeowners, Hollywoodland announced on July 22, 1923 in the Los Angeles Times that they would construct bridle trails in the upper reaches of the development, connecting to ones in Griffith Park. They were formally dedicated on November 11, 1923, with a riding party of 50 enjoying a breakfast ride over them. Several of the riders featured film connections, such as actress Lillian Rich, and Cecilia De Mille. Hollywoodland hired 46-year-old riding master Robert G. Bakefelt, born in Nebraska, and lately of Washington, D. C., as its riding master. In 1921, he served as owner and riding master of the Potomac Riding School and Academy. He took out ads in the May 30, 1921 Washington Times stating, “Learn how to ride and handle your horse correctly (avoid accidents),” as well as stating, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of the man.”
On May 31, 1924, Woodruff announced, “The Hollywoodland Riding Club has been formed, so that those who live in Hollywoodland may avail themselves of the horseback riding over the trails and in Griffith Park.” The Club and stable would allow residents to board or rent horses to ride throughout the hills, as a way to let off stress, gain exercise, or just find peace. The paper itself noted on June 8 that horseback riding had been revived all around the country for the pleasure it gave, its health-giving possibilities, and to enjoy nature.
When upper middle class Los Angeles residents did not purchase lots as much as Hollywoodland developers hoped, they conceived ways to reach those across the country. They established the Hollywoodland Community Orchestra that played local grocery store openings as well as broadcast nationwide on KFI. Developers began promoting a fancy rotogravure brochure called, “Hollywood: Five Minutes from Hollywood’s Great White Way,” displaying photos of homes, residents, and such amenities as horseback riding.
Unfortunately, Bakefelt seems to have been shy and suffered problems with women, feeling most comfortable around horses. On July 13, 1924, Bakefelt committed suicide by hanging himself from the rafters of the stable.There was no suicide note, only letters from and to a “Butterfly” the paper suggested was his wife. Letters suggest financial problems and leading separate lives led “Butterfly” to abscond with their child “Puffball,” and return to Washington. Further investigation in the LA Times reveals that on December 28, 1921, 43-year-old Bakefelt obtained a marriage license in Santa Ana to marry 22-year-old Doris Longworth of Nebraska. She declared in the last letter June 27, 1923, that their love was only physical and that she realized she wasn’t made to keep house. His 14-year-old son from a previous marriage discovered him after returning from a walk.
Hollywoodland seemed to employ George Peirson, a former British riding instructor, who had immigrated to America in 1906. His name only appears in the 1929 LA City Directory, noting that he and his wife live at 2458 N. Beachwood Dr., just outside the Hollywoodland gates.
The development really began to play up horseback riding starting in February 1925, stating in newspaper stories that they hoped to connect with other riding clubs going up all along Mulholland Highway from the East Valley to Hollywoodland, through the bridle trails following the highway. They began offering “discovery rides” and breakfasts to local riding clubs, hoping to drum up business. On April 1, 1925, the first “discovery ride” featuring 400 riders would traverse the Hollywoodland hills. Developers also began bringing up conventioneers meeting in Los Angeles to see the development and ride horses. Groups such as Shriners, real estate men, and architects toured the area. Mack Sennett, given a discount on land at top of the development, where he planned to erect a Spanish Colonial mansion, brought in bathing beauties in 1925 to pose through the development, including on the trails and riding ring.
As business cooled down, the Hollywoodland Riding School dropped prices. Rates dropped from $1.50 an hour to $1.00, while author prices stayed the same. People could obtain a ticket for 10 (2 hour) rides costing $18.00, or receive six private lessons at the ska price.
By the early 1930s, it appears that Peirson moved on, placing fourth in the saddler class saddle horses 3-gaited in the Beverly Hills Midwinter Horse Show in February 1931, with no listing as being.
Woodruff had begun concentrating on his planned new development, Dana Point, in 1927, leaving underlings to handle Hollywoodland. After the stock market crash, his Dana Point development died, and Hollywoodland hung on by threads. While they had advertised for years that sales were booming, in actuality, only half the lots sold. Woodruff attempted to reinaugurate sales during the 1932 Olympics, but that also seems to have failed. By 1935, he turned the land and development back over to owner, M. H. Sherman Company.
It appears that Sunset Ranch moved in around 1954, as they pop up in advertisements. An article stated that they began as Sunset Stables in Culver City in 1929.
Sunset Ranch still operates today, offering invigorating Western horseback rides through Hollywoodland, into Griffith Park, and over to Viva Fresh Mexican Restaurant adjacent to the LA Equestrian Center. They also offer shorter rides throughout the park.