Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Outpost

Barely visible in this rare photo, the Outpost sign lives again.

I am sure everyone is familiar with the Hollywood sign. Whether you have been there and seen it in person, or just viewed it on television or in know what it looks like. There is another one. It was once visible across the hills, just behind the Mann's Chinese Theatre. Some old photos show the sign perched atop the hills just above it, while others do not. Giant red neon letters long since forgotten, the Outpost sign has a very odd history.

"Hillside Homes of Happiness." That was the name of the development that spurred the largest neon sign of it's time. Constructed above Hollywood Boulevard's Grauman's Chinese Theatre in the late 1920's, it had been designed to be more visible than the "Hollywoodland" development's giant advertisement atop Griffith Park, just across L.A. Once World War II began, and the city was forced by military rule to go "black" at night to avoid Japanese air strikes, it had been virtually erased from memory until a chance encounter in Runyon Canyon Park in 2002.

**Remnants of the old sign rust atop Runyon Canyon, facing the more famous nemesis of a sign across the hilltop.**

Residents who lived in the old home development, unaware of the signs ever having been built, would trample the old metal remnants that lay just off the narrow trails atop the mountain. One day, one of them saw an electrical box with some twisted metal and remembered an urban legend about the old "Outpost" sign. Some residents tried to find out whether the sign could qualify as a city historical-cultural monument but learned it wasn't eligible because it was no longer standing. The wreckage still lies where it was dismantled during the war. The only proof of it's ever actually being real is a single photo taken of the facade of the Theatre, the Outpost sign clearly visible in the background.

Mr. Toberman bought the property, and kept the Outpost name. Neon was new when he put up the "Outpost" sign around 1927, in an attempt to attract buyers to the property. They were two-acre homesites and sold from $3,500 to $50,000; Toberman allowed only Spanish-style homes built in order to decrease the risk of brush fires. Despite the 1929 stock market crash, buyers continued to build. By 1931, actress Dolores Del Rio had built her home on the northwest corner of Hillside Avenue and Outpost Drive. In 1935, Toberman built an all-steel "termite free" house on Outpost Drive. Actor Bela Lugosi ("Dracula")
bought the home in 1936. Bob Barker also lives here, at 1851 Outpost Drive.

The old sign bits can still be visited, and easily thanks to a really popular road ride (best done early) along Mulholland Drive, from the 101 freeway near Universal Studios. A short but steep climb in gets you to the top gate of Runyon Canyon park, and you can take a short stroll along the hilltop to visit what was once the largest neon sign ever created. Go early, as traffic can be a bear on weekends. The views of L.A. and the Valley alternate as you straddle the top of the Santa Monica Mountains.

**Cresting the famous Rock Store climb on Mulholland Dr.**
You can start the ride from Griffith Parks' train musuem, and even throw in a trip to the Griffith Observatory and the original Hollywood sign, all on paved roads, mostly closed to cars! This route is used by most of the big road teams on their Saturday and Sunday warm-ups before heading out to the beach along Sunset Blvd.


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