Hollywood Oaks: Living on the edge of civilization

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Griffith Park Observatory at Sunrise by maveric2003 via Flickr/Creative Commons

Griffith Park Observatory at Sunrise by maveric2003/ Flickr/Creative Commons

I couldn’t imagine living anywhere but the Hollywood Oaks. I say this as an ex-New Yorker who grew up with 24-hour traffic noise and a steady bustle of sidewalk activity. Bordered on two sides by Griffith Park, the Oaks has neither. On particularly still nights, when the only loud noises are coyotes howling, my wife and I feel as if we live on the edge of civilization, not in the middle of a major city.

We love this dichotomy—the isolated and the dense within a mile of one another. It gives us access to the urban activities that have drawn us to cities throughout our adult lives and that our children, now 11 and 14, are slowly growing to appreciate. Yuca’s, voted the city’s best place for tacos in a 2009 competition, is five minutes away. So are the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, Skylight Books, and a slew of cool retailers on Vermont and Hillhurst Avenues. The drive is short to LACMA and Los Angeles’s reviving downtown. We can people-watch when we choose and then recharge on our balcony.

The Oaks is uniquely close. When we moved in 15 years ago on a cold, rainy late-December afternoon, our next-door-neighbor Margery loaned us blankets and a phone to track down movers who’d gotten stuck in their massive truck on a narrow street. Those were the days before cell phone service was guaranteed. A few days later, another neighbor dropped off a gift basket.

We’ve developed more than a half-dozen good friendships. These are people in whose homes we’ve celebrated occasions and who have celebrated in ours. There is nothing like an Oaks evening on someone’s patio with dusk falling on the mini peaks of Griffith Park—Lee with the Hollywood sign and Hollywood with the Observatory—and a table full of good food and wine.

The views from the upper hillside streets, hundreds of feet up, are sublime. Last February, a double-rainbow formed from one end of the valley below to the other.

We have great dogs in the Oaks. People know their names before they know their owners’ names. One neighbor carried a bag of biscuits. Until he passed away earlier this year, it was not unusual to find him surrounded by wagging tails. Now his widow carries the treats.

The annual July 4th picnic, Christmas party, and Halloween walk are killer. One home, whose boys are well past trick-or-treating age, stages elaborate costumed performances. One year’s act showed the aftermath of a nuclear disaster with family members and friends outfitting themselves in hazmat suits.

The Oaks has history, too. The first homes sprouted when the area’s roads were still unpaved. The architecture is an eclectic mix of Mediterranean Revival structures dating to the early decades of the 20th century; Tudor; Craftsman; and mid-century modernist works built by the disciples of Frank Lloyd Wright, including the architect’s son, Lloyd.

There’s star power, including the first couple of Hollywood, the Pitt-Jolies. The neighborhood knows that they are in town when the tinted limousines of paparazzi congregate near the entrances to their compound.

The wildlife is as rampant as in any national park, with raccoons, skunks, hawks that perch on our balcony railings, and snakes. I keep hoping to catch a glimpse of mountain lion “22” who moved into Griffith Park a year ago and has been feasting on the local deer herd. But even one of the park’s shy bobcats would do.

Every neighborhood has its appealing qualities. Ours seems to have more than most. And for those who like golf, there are two courses and a driving range within minutes. You may have to play around the deer.

James Peter Rubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the author of The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide. He wrote this for Zócalo Public Square. You can find more here.