Weird Houses of LA: Laurel Canyon

 

The architectural shell game pictured here can be found at 8582 Lookout Mountain Avenue, in the Los Angeles neighborhood known as Laurel Canyon

Tucked back into an area known locally as Wonderland, this nutty concoction, owned by a rental car heiress, fits right into a neighborhood steeped in a long, wacky and lurid history.

Laurel Canyon is a steep and winding ribbon of funky, closely-set homes, sprawling hillsides, and sweeping views that serves as a major artery between West Hollywood and the East San Fernando Valley (where we live).  The canyon snakes between two famous thoroughfares, Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive.

By the 1880s, L.A. was being touted by real estate developers like Charles Spencer Mann as an escape from the crowded, polluted cities of the East. Once water companies and the streetcar finally moved east to leafy Laurel Canyon in the ‘teens, celebrities soon followed.

 

Harry Houdini had a lavish mansion here in the 1920s, and its burned-out remains still stand on the east corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Willow Glen Road; it’s rumored to be haunted.  

Across the boulevard stands the creepy, dark “Bird House,” designed by star-crossed local architect Robert Byrd, and beside it a vacant lot (presently being parceled up for about $10 million) where once stood the former rustic cabin of western movie star Tom Mix. In the 1970s, this was also the home of psychedelic rock star Frank Zappa and ground zero for L.A.’s rock scene….until the house mysteriously burned to the ground

Laurel Canyon has long had an uncomfortable relationship with flammables.  

The 1930s saw more middle-class growth, but in 1947, the Army Air Corps brought the movies here again.  Having built an air force base-turned-top-secret movie production house atop Wonderland Park Avenue (1352d Motion Picture Squadron), the Corps shot military training films and documentaries here until the makeshift studio was decommissioned in 1969.  

In the 50s, Beat poet Wulf Zendik moved into the canyon with his lover, Arol, and started the first of many  incarnations  of his organic, sustainable, cult-like Zendik Farm. Conversely, modern architects came to grade hillsides and erect modern Case Study Houses and tract homes that had little to do with the canyon’s woodsy charm and everything to do with stylized glamour. During this time, Dennis Hopper, James Dean, and Marlon Brando all had homes here.

It was the 1960s and 1970s that gave Laurel Canyon its most lasting reputation: the Rock’n’Roll Canyon. The Mamas and the Papas, Dusty Springfield, Carole King, Linda Ronstadt, and Brian Wilson all lived here, as did Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash. While the latter two were living in the canyon together, Mitchell wrote “Ladies of the Canyon” and Nash wrote one of our favorite songs, “Our House,” for her.  

Perhaps not shockingly, the house Graham sang about in “Our House”…burned to the ground.

Jim Morrison, who also lived in the area, referred to Laurel Canyon and its famous Laurel Canyon Country Store in his song “Love Street.”  The store has actually been around since the 1930s, but its flower-power signage is a holdover from its ’60s heyday, when the famous musicians in the area would come here to jam. The LCCS is still popular today with neighborhood locals, and you can still see (semi-) hippies hanging outside in the sun, poring over the free LA Weekly and the community bulletin board.

But this era of the canyon wasn’t all peace and love. A few cults have been said to set up shop here, namely one in which children were ritually abused. Drugs sometimes sent residents out of their windows and into a different plane of reality.  

And some chilling deaths took place in them thar hills. In 1968, former silent film star Ramon Navarro was murdered by two male prostitutes in his home. In 1969, the body of a woman known only as Jane Doe #59 was found up near Mulholland Drive, having been stabbed an epic 157 times.  

 

 

One Laurel Canyon murder scene, though, trumps them all.  The drug-fueled party that had begun here in the late 1960s officially ended in 1981, with The Wonderland Murders. Three drug dealers and one unfortunate guest were brutally killed at 8763 Wonderland Avenue, while legendary porn star, John Holmes, and legendary club owner/drug dealer/gangster Eddie Nash, were there; both men were, at different times, the main suspects in the murders. If you ever want to see what life in Laurel Canyon was like during this scary time, be sure to watch the 2003 movie Wonderland.

Today, the canyon is once again a quiet place, known for the progressive and public Wonderland Avenue School,  high-dollar real estate, harrowingly narrow roads, and its enduring, trippy, crunchiness.  

 

Which brings me to the weirdest house in Laurel Canyon.  

8582 Lookout Mountain Avenue vibes like a mini-Winchester Mystery House, though it’s ironically rumored to be the former home of an East Coast Mafia transplant who surely had no qualms about guns.  

These days, it’s the home of Margaux Mirkin, daughter of Budget Rent-a-Car founder Morris Mirkin. Margaux herself had a rental car business; in the 80s and early 90s, Drive-a-Dream was a luxury division of Budget based in the heart of Beverly Hills. These days, she is a private dealer in rare and expensive automobiles, several of which are under wraps in front of her oddball home’s numerous gargoyle-studded garages.  

You can’t see her entire house from the street, so be sure to drive past it to Oakstone Way, the stop sign at the top of the hill.  

Take a right on Oakstone, then your first right on the dead-end Crescent Drive.  

Halfway along this narrow, viciously potholed lane, there’s a bit of a turnoff on the left; look over to your right, and there’s the whole house in all her churchy, turreted, creepy glory, deceptively tucked into the hillside.  

I fully admit that even with Adam in tow, I’m always too terrified to go to the door and ask to see the inside…or believe me, I would have those photos for you. 

Nonetheless, enjoy. Go check out this weird house (and Laurel Canyon) for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 







Comments

  1. Actually, the house that Graham Nash wrote about in “Our House” has not burned down. It is still owned by Joni Mitchell though she has rented it out and not lived in it herself for many years. 8217 Lookout Mountain.

  2. I have had the very rare opportunity of entering Margaux’s home. Very odd and very cluttered, but cluttered with amazing and extraordinary antiques. I love this place!!

  3. Tina, thank you for letting me know! I’ll have to go by soon and take a look. 🙂

  4. Jen, that’s so cool! I’d love to see the interior of this home — the exterior absolutely fascinates me.

  5. This house fascinates me to no end. I did a little digging and apparently there is a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” episode where they tour Margaux Mirkin’s house. I don’t know if it is this house since that is an old episode (1985) and difficult to track down.

    http://www.locatetv.com/tv/lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous/1113298

  6. agi gellen szecsenyi says:

    have been is this home many times. Margoux was my customer whenn I was altering her waste collection of vintage 1940- 50 costume collection for years, the home was just like Margaux herself. unbelievable! . I was aloud to take pictures inside and I will post them her, I know I tuck than away. from church seats what she purchased in South America taken apart and shipped here and build it in the home in and outside.
    of course it was mare then 20 years ago. everything e
    was eccentric like Margo herself lived with a monkey and many dogs.in that house. if she is still alive she is in her 70 -s now. she had a very interesting rich life.Agnes Gellen Szecsenyi

  7. You missed one? Blues From Laurel Canyon, the 1968 John Mayall album.
    I do remember going to a sweet party at Carole King’s cozy house back in the day…

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