It's in the '20s here

Special to The Times

Perched above the hub of old Hollywood, Outpost Estates is one of the original premier developments in Los Angeles. Touted as the "jewel in the hills" by its developer, the area reflects a glamorous bygone era with luxurious single-family homes set on vast lots with views.


Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, a veteran of the Civil and Spanish-American wars and first publisher of the Los Angeles Times, bought a large, undeveloped plot of hillside land in the late 1800s and referred to the only structure on it -- an adobe house -- as his "outpost." It functioned primarily as a clubhouse for his military friends until Otis sold it to Charles E. Toberman, who kept the nickname when developing Outpost Estates.

The roaring 1920s were in full swing when Toberman acquired the hilly area adjacent to the Hollywood Bowl and two blocks north of the newly opened Grauman's Chinese Theatre. It was a time when Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford were marquee favorites and flappers were all the rage.

For his Outpost, Toberman envisioned "one of the most exclusive and beautiful residential parks in the world," and he set out to build a development of luxurious homes to appeal to the city's emerging elite.

The Hollywoodland sign had gone up in 1923, and Toberman sought to draw similar attention to his neighboring development. His towering "Outpost" sign -- the largest of its kind at the time -- had red neon letters designed to outshine the competition.

Allowing only grand Spanish-style homes, Toberman oversaw his dream on lots of 10,000-plus square feet. Opulent homes featured courtyards with splashing fountains, elaborate tile work and beamed ceilings. The meticulously planned development also boasted modern utility lines that ran below the concrete roads and sidewalks.

Development continued despite the stock market crash of 1929, with clients from the entertainment and oil industries clamoring for homes.

Seeking fresh ideas, Toberman shifted styles in 1935, building an all-steel home that was designed to be "termite and fireproof, impervious to wear and shrinkage." Bela Lugosi, of "Dracula" fame, immediately purchased the home.

Today, Outpost Estates covers roughly 1 1/2 square miles and is bordered by Mulholland Drive to the north, Franklin Canyon to the south, Runyon Canyon Park to the west and Cahuenga Boulevard to the east.

Good news, bad news

Although the Lower Estates remained true to their grand Spanish design, homes built after 1950 in the upper hills did not.

To the dismay of many residents, these later homes were designed in a cornucopia of architectural styles. This prompted formation of the Outpost Estates Home Owners Assn. in 1967 with members taking an interest in preserving the neighborhood's original flavor.

When development threatened woodsy Runyon Canyon to the west, the association was key in halting the construction of housing. In 1984, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the city of L.A. purchased Runyon Canyon, designating the 130-acre area a city park.

The park, dubbed an "urban wilderness," has trails that provide hikers with magnificent views. Mature trees and brush safeguard local wildlife. Area residents often see deer, raccoons and the occasional cougar in their neighborhood.

Insiders' view

"Residents love the proximity to the central location where the city merges, yet enjoy the privacy and views the hills provide," said Ronald Goldhammer, an area Realtor. "Another bonus is that, unlike some areas, classic homes are treated with respect, with owners choosing to restore rather than to replace history."

On the market

The area is dominated by high-end single-family homes. There are 21 houses currently available in the Outpost vicinity, all priced above $900,000. Listings range from a small two-bedroom, one-bath home built in the 1920s and priced at $939,000 to the Vista de la Maravilla estate, which is on the market for $2,695,000. Built in 1931, the three-story home, set on a lushly landscaped 12,000-square-foot lot, provides hillside views from almost every room.

More than half of the currently listed properties are on lots exceeding 10,000 square feet, with nine of the 21 built between 1924 and 1938. The remaining listings were constructed primarily between 1950 and 1960.

Report card

The L.A. Unified School District serves the Outpost Estates area. Selma Elementary scored 692 out of 1,000 on the Academic Performance Index Growth Report in 2006, Valley View Elementary scored 765; Gardner Street Elementary, 814. Bancroft Middle School scored 694; John Burroughs Middle School, 760; and Hollywood High, 608.


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