Week 237: Griffith Park North—Toluca Hills to Burbank Overview

May 23, 2021

 Discovering Griffith Park #4, Powerline Trail, 3 miles. 

Casey Schreiber’s new-to-us and rarely traveled hike along the northwestern edge of Griffith Park quickly became personal for Barbara and me. Not only does this hike offer a near 180-view of the San Fernando Valley, it provides close looks at the two lots where Barbara and I each spent a major slice of our careers—Barbara at Universal Studio Animation and me at Warner Bros. Records. Where to start: park at Lake Hollywood Drive at the Wonder View Drive intersection. Instead of walking down toward Lake Hollywood, follow Wonder View east on foot to the black iron gate ahead, taking in the view of Lake Hollywood and Los Angeles on the right. Through the gate, follow the road to a 3-way intersection at a power tower and be sure to stay to the left (ignore the Burbank Peak Trailhead to the right.) The Powerline Trail starts with a careful scoot around a chain link fence and continues down an old road grade past powerline towers with a view that opens to the mountain-framed valley. To the left, the location where, in 1915, early film pioneer Carl Laemmle purchased a 230 acre ranch, called it Universal City, and charged five-cents admission for a box lunch and the opportunity to visit silent film sets. In 1950 Universal grew to 500 acres with 30 sound stages. Laemmle’s “let the public in” tradition continued on (for a whole lot more than a nickel) and became the Universal Studio Tour and takes up the upper side of the hill Barbara and I looked down at this morning. At the bottom of the hill, the studio and backlot—Jaws Lake and the streets and structures where movies and TV shows like Back to the Future, Psycho, Desperate Housewives, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were filmed. To the north we had a clear view of 1924’s Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca Lake. Hiking downhill to the next tower, our focus drew in closer and memories got stronger. We could see the Smoke House! The trail narrowed and hooked east. Stone walls on the right, sage scrub, rocky hop-skips, and groves of sagebrush edged a sharp drop on the left. And then a full view of the Burbank Studios. In 1926, First National Pictures built the 62 acre studio lot and two years later, fat with cash from launching the talkie era with the Jazz Singer, Warner Bros. purchased a majority interest in the lot. (Know that back in the 20s, the surrounding land was virtually EMPTY and sloooowly filled up with homes for studio employees and later aerospace employees.) Movies like 42nd Street, Casablanca, the Maltese Falcon, and La La Land were filmed on the WB backlot or on its 31 soundstages. Bugs Bunny showed up in 1940 and became the official company mascot. “I work for the Bunny.” The West Wing, Friends, and the Big Bang Theory made their homes on the soundstages. As we hiked farther, we got a clear view of the WB water tower built in 1927. Barbara joined the WB family in 2020 for the reboot of the Animaniacs, and filled me in with stories about the characters that live in the tower to create havoc on the lot. The trail dead ends at Tower 569 with views of Disney and Forest Lawn to the west. We sat for a rest and swapped stories of the old days, then retraced our steps for the real cardio of the day. The first half of the hike is all downhill, meaning the trail back is an uphill huffer-and-puffer. As we exited the gates and walked down Wonder View to the car, we had one last treat. Bill, the current owner of the house where Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel lived until the 1980s, stopped us for a lovely chat on the home’s history. Studios or not, this hike is amazing. Remote with absolutely stunning views—not too easy and not too hard. A wonderful part of Griffith Park most hikers miss.




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